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Liv Valmestad, art librarian/research librarian, Art and Architecture Library.

Coffee With A Co-worker: Liv Valmestad

March 25, 2014 — 

A perfect storm of interests leads to the passion of a career. Liv (pronounced “Leev”) Valmestad took a bit of an indirect route to her vocation. Starting off as with a Bachelor of Fine Art and then proceeding to her master’s in art history at Queen’s University, she spent inordinate amounts of time doing research in the library. She got to know the librarians quite well, in fact. So much so, that the day after her thesis defense she was asked if she needed a job. As Valmestad puts it: “I was totally broke, so I said ‘Okay!'”

Initially she filled in for a librarian on sabbatical; because she had the art history background, she also did reference searches in the afternoon.

How did she land in her vocation, then? “By chance,” she says. Loving research, it was like the light went on: she went on to pursue a second master’s in library science. “I found out —  ‘Wow! You can actually pursue a degree in library science — and do this for a career!'”


How did she land in her vocation? ‘By chance’


Art librarian is a very specialized position, in part because it requires both that library science degree and subject expertise. There are only about 30 in Canada, spread amongst art galleries, museums, universities and art colleges. Valmestad moved here for her position as art librarian/research and reference librarian in the Architecture/Fine Arts Library in 1997. In that role, she finds answers to questions for School of Art and Faculty of Architecture students and faculty — everything from city planning and interior design (subjects she had less background in) to art history and contemporary art styles.

In her academic role, Valmestad publishes articles on artists, art history, and mobile technologies and gives about 20 to 30 guest lectures per year on subjects such as how to research specific art and architectural histories. She also travels to librarian and academic conferences — she is past president of ARLIS Canadian (art/architecture/design librarians) and she’s represented Canada on the Executive Board of the Art Libraries Society of North America of North America (ARLIS/NA). She loves her position of art librarian because it “marries all her interests.”

But her favourite part is working with students. “The Faculty of Architecture students are very keen — and I also really enjoy the graduate students – I was very excited when the School of art got an M.F.A. I’ll get cold questions on things that I know nothing about, and I have to dig for information, but as long as I am one step ahead of them…. They’re teaching me something new every day.”

In addition to her academic research, her artwork and work at the library, Valmestad has taken it upon herself to champion the public art on campus.

“The sculpture on campus is in a sorry state of disrepair — I think they are working on it, but it’s needed attention for years,” she says. Therefore, the “librarian with an iphone” has catalogued all of the public art on campus on a blog — a big task.

“People may not know that librarians are often at the front end of technology,” she says. “In this project, for instance, I’ve been working with Augmented Reality (AR) — all of the sculptures are mapped out so you’ll see them come up on your screen, telling you how far you are, physically, to the next one.

“[The project has] kind of become my passion,” she adds.

– Mariianne Mays Wiebe


View the Public Art Google Earth Map and go on a virtual tour of U of M’s public art, or print off map and take a walking tour with your smartphone. Another aspect of the project are the QR codes located by the artworks. using your smartphone, download a QR code scanning app and scan the QR code. It will display the web pages found at this site loaded with lots of information about the artists and artwork.


Q & A

 Coffee or Tea? And how do you take it?

It’s ironic that I should be asked that right now because as of two days ago, I just cut down my consumption. I had stopped drinking coffee for 10 years and then went back on — and now it’s, like, three cups before heading out the door in the morning — and I panic when there’s no coffee in the house and I also have a tea at three or so in the afternoon. So, I’m trying to cut back again to one or two in the morning.

Name something that not too many people may know about you. I am a CFL football fan — especially the Riders. I used to compete in piano competitions and teach in SK and AB, but now I just torture my own kids. Oh, and I’m a visual artist:

What puts a smile on your face? Children, animals, my family and of course close friends. Bill Maher’s talk show, old Monty Python and SCTV skits (now I am dating myself)!

Dinner with friends or cooking at home? My feel-good comfort meal would be a mussel dish passed on to me by a friend from Brittany. Steam the mussels in white wine, green onions and pepper, then enjoy with melted garlic butter, white wine and a french baguette! You can even dip the bread in the mussel broth. I also love the Norwegian tradition of peeling cooked north Atlantic prawns (you can get them at Ikea) with the same accompaniments. Or a delicious, open-face sandwich with lettuce, prawns, mayonnaise, a lemon slice and a sprig of dill.


Something you do better than most people you know: Handmade marzipan fruits


Place you’d like to visit: My travels are organized around visiting family and friends, or cultural attractions. I have been to many European countries, but never Spain. Asia, nor South America. Since I love spicy food, and art and architectural history, these would be fascinating places to explore.

Something essential or enjoyable to do every day: A good workout!

You are always thrilled to spend any free time doing: Being in Nature. Biking to Assiniboine park and picnicking with my kids, mountain hiking and walking, going to the lake, reading on the beach and swimming. We just bought a used camper and hope to do some exploring this summer (although I will be travelling a lot). Next summer I want to park it at the Shuswap in B.C.

Something you do better than most people you know: I don’t know – handmade marzipan fruits??

 Guiding principle or motto? Being in the moment and trying to stay positive.

A goal: Get some more paintings finished for an art exhibition that I hang on May 23 at the Great West Life building, the night before I fly out to Prague!

Something eye-opening you’ve experienced: Becoming a mother. My children have brought out the inner child in me and allowed me to “play” again, something we forget about as adults.


Anything else you’d like people to know about Liv Valmestad? I did brush against Desmond Tutu’s thigh once …


Where did you grow up? I was born and raised in Saskatoon by Norwegian immigrants. I have always been aware of being slightly different (besides the fact that my mom always sent us to school in hand-knitted Norwegian sweaters) and hovering between two cultures, as no one can say my name right in Canada and when I go to Norway they can discern a slight accent and ask me if I am Danish….

Favourite childhood memory? I loved going to our cabin at Redberry Lake, the two road/camping trips we took to the Yukon and Alaska and the summers I would spend at uncle’s cabin by the ocean in Norway. Also, my mom was a breeder of Pekingese, so we would travel to dog shows across the country, meaning that we would swim in hotel pools and eat at restaurants.

Childhood hero? My mom definitely — who battled through adversity many times throughout her life, losing her own mom at 13 and living through Nazi occupation, and major health issues. She was always such a strong supporter of her children and encouraged us to try anything and to stand up for ourselves. I remember wanting to quit grad school at one point because of a particular prof, but she was able to talk me out of it and I am very thankful for that.

What you appreciate or admire in another person: Integrity and unpretentiousness.

Underrated: Good health.

Overrated: Our society’s obsession with popular culture and material goods.

Recent book you enjoyed? A crime mystery by Camilla Lackberg and a local book by Esyllt Jones and published by Manitoba University Press, Imagining Winnipeg: History through the photographs of L.B. Foote, which my kids and I looked at together, as we all love history.

Anything else you’d like people to know about Liv Valmestad?

No, they know too much already!

Well, I did brush against Desmond Tutu’s thigh once — not as racy as it sounds. I was at a college in Norway and sitting on the gym floor waiting for Tutu (who had been given the Nobel peace prize some days earlier) to arrive and speak. All of a sudden he appeared at the back door and made his way through the crowd of people to the stage, and he walked right by me and my excited, outstretched hand! I am a lucky rabbit and things always have a way of working out.

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One comment on “Coffee With A Co-worker: Liv Valmestad

  1. Lindsey Wiebe

    Thanks for this article. It was very timely, as I needed to look into our art on campus and wouldn’t have had such an easy way to go about it otherwise.

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