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Criteria for the Hiring and Retention of Visual Resources Professionals

Original (1995) version: English | French | Spanish

Adopted by the ARLIS/NA and the VRA Boards of Directors, August & June, 1995

The Art Libraries Society of North America (ARLIS/NA) and the Visual Resources Association (VRA) adopt the following standards respecting visual resources professionals, a copy of which will be sent to appropriate accrediting agencies such as the National Association of Schools of Art and Design and the National Architectural Accrediting Board, to other professional societies such as the College Art Association (CAA), the Society of Architectural Historians (SAH), and the Southeastern College Art Conference (SECAC), and to institutional members of ARLIS/NA and VRA under cover of a letter from the current presidents of both sponsoring organizations urging the said bodies to recognize these standards as appropriate to any academic visual arts program.

The elements covered in this document will be presented in expanded form in the handbook, Guidelines for the Visual Resources Profession, currently in preparation by the Taskforce that will include detailed guidelines covering criteria for assessing collection funding, collection development and coverage, services and access, conservation and preservation, and staffing and facilities. It will discuss the visual resources collection within the context of the unit and institution.


Visual resources collections exist in academic institutions, research collections, museums, archives, public libraries, governmental agencies, corporations, and small private institutions such as historical societies. The management of these collections includes the acquisition, classification, and maintenance of visual materials traditionally slides and photographs. As these established formats are augmented and transformed by electronic imaging and global networking, and as information is stored, shared, disseminated, and retrieved electronically, the barriers between media are rapidly dissolving. As emphasis shifts from the carrier or container of information--the books, the images--to the information itself, the importance of access to it is accentuated. The form that information takes and its physical location are becoming increasingly insignificant.

This shift in emphasis from form to content is also reflected in the changing role of the keepers of objects--whether artifacts, manuscripts, books, photographs, or slides--from a traditional curatorial function to one that incorporates both the management and the dissemination of information. Intellectual access to information, regardless of its format is the measure of effective collection management. Providing intellectual access requires in-depth subject knowledge and research skills, administrative experience, teaching abilities, and expertise in current technologies. All professionals entrusted with the management of information, whether librarians, archivists, museum curators, or visual resources curators, must acquire specialized education and expertise, and all should be accorded equivalent institutional rank, status, salary, and benefits.


The management of visual resources collections is a service-directed profession, providing access to information of a specialized nature. Those seeking professional status must be prepared to acquire skills in the organization and management of information as well as appropriate subject area specialization. To date there is no single degree program aimed specifically at providing such a combination of skills and expertise. Therefore the ARLIS/NA and VRA Joint Taskforce on Visual Resources Professional Issues makes the following recommendations:

  1. Degree Requirements: A graduate degree, either an M.L.S. or an M.A., or an M.S. in an appropriate subject area related to the visual resources collection is considered the minimal degree requirement for a professional position.
  2. Supplementary Course Work: Strongly recommended for an M.L.S. is additional graduate-level Course work in an appropriate subject discipline such as art history, and for an M.A., additional Course work in an information management field such as library science or computer science.
  3. Work Experience: At least three years experience in a visual resources collection.


The visual resources professional should be granted rank and status equal to those of other professionals with equivalent educational credentials and responsibilities within the institution. This includes equivalent salary levels; eligibility for promotion and tenure (where appropriate); participation in college or university governance; retirement; and other benefits. If academic status for visual resources professionals does not exist within the university or college, every effort should be made to reach parity with the academic librarians and/or faculty.

Appropriate ranks for visual resources professionals should parallel faculty and library models: Assistant Visual Resources Curator\Librarian, Associate Visual Resources Curator\Librarian, and Visual Resources Curator\Librarian. Intermediate ranks may be established. Normally, the initial appointment should be made at the assistant level; however, in specific cases appointments at other ranks are appropriate.

The assignment of rank should be independent both of job assignments and the number of visual resources professionals on the staff. Typically promotion to the associate level should occur after two three year terms at the assistant level and should either constitute a tenure decision or carry the equivalent weight. Review for promotion from the associate to curator\librarian level should normally occur after the candidate has been an associate for five years. Promotion at this stage should be neither automatic nor intended solely as a recognition of long service; it should not be requisite for continuing employment. Term renewals when relevant at the associate level and above should be made at appropriate intervals such as every five years and should be automatic unless it is demonstrated that the visual resources professional is not performing his or her duties effectively.


Academic institutions and their respective departments should provide an accurate job description for the visual resources position and should make all matters of reporting structures, renewal, retention, promotion, and eligibility for tenure(where appropriate)as clear as possible and in writing in a letter of expectation to all professional staff members. At the time of the original appointment, a tentative date should be set for consideration for promotion based on a performance review which allows at least one year in the initial rank before promotion. Conferences between the appropriate administrators and the candidate (for review, promotion, tenure, etc.) should be held regularly.
The evaluation criteria for visual resources professionals shall be equivalent to those of other similar professional positions in the institution. At a minimum they should take into consideration sound performance in the job, evidence of significant development, and the potential for growth. Evidence of appropriate professional activities within the institution, regionally, and nationally should also be included in the evaluation. The accomplishments of the candidate for promotion or tenure should undergo both an internal and an external peer review in addition to the departmental evaluation.

Should the institution's or department's standards change with respect to the visual resources position, the incumbent should either be allowed to continue under the initial employment standards or be given a minimum of 5 years to comply with the new standards.


It is essential that visual resources professionals attend and actively participate in the activities of relevant local, regional, and national professional organizations such as the Visual Resources Association (VRA), the Art Libraries Society (ARLIS/NA), the College Art Association (CAA), and the Society for Architectural Historians (SAH). They should be encouraged to attend conferences and relevant workshops, to engage in research, to travel, and to enroll in appropriate courses. Where the possibilities of teaching, writing, and publishing exist, the visual resources professional should be encouraged to do so. Institutional support for these activities is essential and should be equivalent to that which is available for other similar professionals in the same institution.


The visual resources collection must be adequately staffed in order to serve its users, to develop and maintain the collection, and to modify and improve services as new technologies develop and are adopted. The size of the staff will depend on the size, content, and composition of the collection; on the size and makeup of its clientele; and the services which are provided. In contrast to the librarian, archivist, or curator, who is often a specialist within a larger unit, visual information professionals are frequently involved with the entire range of intellectual, administrative, and technical responsibilities associated with their collections. The scope and complexity of these responsibilities should be considered when determining staffing levels for the visual resources collection. ARLIS/NA and the VRA encourage institutions to comply with the Standards for Art Libraries and Fine Arts Slide Collections (ARLIS/NA, 1995).


Visual resources collections should be included in program, library or departmental reviews. Reviews should be based upon a standard set of criteria including the guidelines that will appear in the forthcoming Taskforce document. Such criteria may be used for either external reviews conducted by accrediting agencies or internal reviews conducted by the department, library, or program for the purpose of self-evaluation. In either case, it is recommended that a self-evaluation of the collection, undertaken by the professional who manages it, precede the actual review. The visual resources professional should be the chief contact person for all collection reviews.


Listings for visual resources positions are often placed in the following publications: ARLIS/NA Update, CAA Careers, the Visual Resources Association Bulletin, and the Chronicle of Higher Education. They are also frequently posted on two electronic discussion lists: ARLIS-L@UKCC.UKY.EDU and VRA-L@UAFSYSB.UARK.EDU.

Detailed information which expands upon the position listing concerning position responsibilities and departmental policies should be supplied to any job candidate requesting such material. This information should include:

  1. A detailed description for the position including its ranking and reporting structure within the department and institution.
  2. A brief statement of departmental mission or philosophy with a listing of courses currently offered.
  3. A description of the current staffing--permanent and student--in the visual resources collection, including the average number of hours per week each employee typically works.
  4. A description of the facilities.
  5. An explanation of benefits, including a general salary range and the availability of support for research and professional development through the department, the library, the institution, etc.
  6. A brief description of the procedures, evaluation processes, and anticipated timetables used in making decisions about professional advancement. Examples: periodic meetings with the chair or dean, written reviews, external and/or internal peer referees or reviewers, etc.

During the interview for a professional visual resources position, the candidate should be invited to visit the institution and the visual resources collection. The interviewing process should provide the candidate with an opportunity to evaluate the collection, to meet the staff, to talk with the faculty and other relevant professionals in the institution with whom the visual resources professional would frequently interact, to review the benefits package, and to meet with administrators concerning the direction and future of the department and collection. The interview may also include a presentation by the candidate on a mutually agreed upon and appropriate topic.

Joint ARLIS/NA and VRA Taskforce on Visual Resources Professional Issues:
Margaret Webster, Chair, Cornell University
Linda Bien, Concordia University
Rebecca Hoort,University of Michigan
Ben Kessler, Princeton University
Kim Kopatz,University of Rochester
Linda McRae, South Florida State University
Martha Mahard, Harvard University
D. Jo Schaffer, SUNY-Cortland
Christine Sundt, University of Oregon

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