Master’s student Devon Murphy wins ASIS&T arts and humanities research award

July 30, 2018

Pursuing dual master’s degrees in art history and information science at UNC-Chapel Hill has allowed Devon Murphy to combine her love of art with her interest in technology. Now she has received recognition for a paper that explores how art museum staff members leverage digital resources for their work.

Devon Murphy in front of the House Undergraduate Library during
its display of “Right Angles” by Chapel Hill artist Mary Carter.

The paper, titled "The Information Worlds of Art Museum Curators and Registrars," has won the 2018 Student Research Award from the Association for Information Science and Technology Special Interest Group in Arts & Humanities (ASIS&T SIG AH). The award includes a cash prize and one-year ASIS&T membership.  

Murphy adapted the paper from the thesis she completed for her Master of Science in Information Science (MSIS) degree from the UNC School of Information and Library Science (SILS).

“In my coursework at SILS, I read through many different bodies of work on information in art museum spaces, like digitizing projects or museum libraries, but noticed there was a large gap in applying information science concepts to the particular work of the museum, the curating,” Murphy said. “I wanted to explore that space further.”

Murphy was surprised to learn how much staff members used other art museum websites for their own research and how much difficulty they encounter because online records are insufficient or nonexistent.

“Even though these resources are incomplete, curators and registrars have come to rely on them for nearly all of their work, from research for an exhibition catalog to knowing which art piece can sit next to another,” Murphy said. “From that, I believe online catalogs for museums should be the next focus for these institutions.”

Murphy chose the dual degree path at UNC after deliberating between a Master of Fine Arts in studio art or a program that would lead to a career working in a museum, something she knew she enjoyed from past experiences. She noticed many new job openings for professionals who could manage a museum’s digital archives and image databases. 

“After some digging, I found UNC's dual degree program to be a perfect fit for preparation for those working environments,” she said.

In addition to her studies, Murphy works at the UNC Writing Center as a digital projects teaching assistant, helping with everything from graphic design to videography to records management, and at the Undergraduate Library as a research and design assistant. She also still devotes time to creating visual art, making paintings and illustrations for buyers and friends as well as for herself.

After graduating in 2019, Murphy hopes to find a position at an art museum or artist archive, digitizing materials or managing image collections and records. Long-term, she is still considering an MFA or a PhD in art history.

 “I love art so much and deeply enjoy researching and writing about it,” she said. “Honestly, any future with art in it is a good one to me.”