Criteria for the Hiring and Retention of Visual Resources Professionals

Adopted by the ARLIS/NA Executive Board and the VRA Boards of Directors August & June 1995; revised in October 2002.


Visual resources collections exist in diverse administrative structures including but not limited to academic institutions, research collections, museums, historical societies, archives, public libraries, governmental agencies, and corporations. The creation, development, and management of these collections that traditionally consisted of slides and photographs now involves the acquisition, cataloging, and maintenance of a wide range of visual materials in many different formats. As established analog formats are augmented and transformed by electronic imaging and global networking, and as information is managed 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 its content is accentuated. The form that information takes, the way in which it is classified and described, and its physical location are becoming increasingly fluid and complex.


The Joint ARLIS/NA and VRA Taskforce on Visual Resources Professional Issues was established in 1991 by the Art Libraries Society of North America and the Visual Resources Association to gather and summarize information on the status of the visual resources profession and to make recommendations about the appropriate education and training for a position in the field. The following statement created by the Taskforce was adopted by the ARLIS/NA and the VRA Boards of Directors in August & June, 1995, and revised in October, 2002.

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. This document is available on the web sites of ARLIS/NA, VRA, and CAA.

The elements covered in this document are presented in expanded form in the handbook, Guidelines for the Visual Resources Profession, published by the VRA and ARLIS/NA in 2000. It includes detailed guidelines covering criteria for assessing collection funding, collection development and coverage, services and access, conservation and preservation, and staffing and facilities. It discusses the visual resources collection within the context of the unit and institution.

Because visual resources collections now serve an ever-growing clientele representing numerous disciplines, the primary focus of many collections has shifted from traditional art and architectural forms and media to include all aspects of visual culture as well as visually perceived social practices. These new areas demand new knowledge bases and approaches to descriptive classification, the use of controlled vocabularies from a variety of discipline-specific thesauri, as well as new methods of delivery and presentation.

This shift in emphasis from form to content is also reflected in the changing role in the stewardship of objects--whether artifacts, manuscripts, books, photographs, slides, or electronic media--from a traditional curatorial function to one that incorporates the creation, the management, and the dissemination of information. Intellectual access to information, regardless of its format is a critical measure of effective collection development and 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 creation and management of access to 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 administration of visual resources collections is a service-directed profession that provides resources as well as access to information of a specialized nature. Those seeking professional status must be prepared to acquire skills in the development, organization, and management of visual 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 make the following recommendations:

Degree Requirements:

An M.L.S., an M.A., or an M.S. is considered the minimal degree requirement for a professional position. The M.A. or M.S. must be in a subject area appropriate to the visual resources collection.

Supplementary Course Work:

Strongly recommended with an M.L.S. is additional graduate-level course work in an appropriate subject discipline such as art history, and for an M.A. or M.S., additional courses in information management such as those offered in library or information science programs.

Work Experience:

At least three years supervised experience in a visual resources collection for an entry level position and five years for positions that begin at the associate level or higher.


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 professional 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. The initial appointment will most frequently be made at the assistant level; however, when the professional already has experience and expertise, appointments at a higher rank are appropriate. Working titles such as director, head, and cataloger are often used to describe functional job assignments.

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 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.


Institutions 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. 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 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 an opportunity to comply with the new standards.

Professional Development

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), the Society for Architectural Historians (SAH), the Southeastern College Art Conference (SECAC), the Museum Computer Network (MCN), the American Library Association (ALA), and the Special Library Association (SLA). 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 that 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 ARLIS/NA Staffing Standards for Art Libraries and Fine Arts Slide Collections (Art Documentation (Winter, 1995), pp. 27-32).

Accreditation and Review

Visual resources collections should be included in program, library or departmental reviews. Reviews should be based upon a standard set of criteria including those published in the Guidelines for the Visual Resources Profession, ed. Kim Kopatz (Art Libraries Society of North America and the Visual Resources Association, 2000) (ISBN 0-942740-18-1). Such criteria may be used for either external reviews conducted by accrediting agencies or internal reviews conducted by the program, library or department 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.

Hiring a Visual Resources Professional

Listings for visual resources positions are often placed in the following publications: 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 and VRA/L--as well as in the JobNet on the ARLIS/NA website and on the current job opportunities page on the VRA website.

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

  • A detailed description for the position including its ranking and reporting structure.
  • A brief statement of institutional and/or departmental mission or philosophy with a listing of courses currently offered.
  • 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.
  • A description of the facilities, the present budget, and an indication of the anticipated future budgetary support.
  • An explanation of applicable benefits, including a general salary range and the availability of support for research and professional development through the department, the library, the institution, etc.
  • A brief description of the procedures, evaluation processes, and anticipated timetables used in making decisions about professional advancement. Examples: the frequency of periodic meetings with the chair or dean, the nature of written reviews, and the identity of external and/or internal peer referees or reviewers.

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 (1995, 2002)
Linda Bien, Concordia University (1995, 2002)
Norine Duncan, Brown University (2002)
Rebecca Hoort, University of Michigan (1995)
Ben Kessler, Princeton University/University of Chicago (1995, 2002)
Kim Kopatz, University of Rochester (1995, 2002)
Linda McRae, University of South Florida (1995, 2002)
Martha Mahard, Harvard University (1995, 2002)
D. Jo Schaffer, SUNY-Cortland (1995)
Christine Sundt, University of Oregon (1995, 2002)
Mary Wassermann, Philadelphia Museum of Art (2002)