January 27, 1997
Margaret N. Webster
The Knight Visual Resources Facility
College of Architecture, Art, and Planning
Office of the Dean, Sibley Dome
Ithaca, NY 14853
Dear Ms. Webster:
After careful review of "Criteria for the Hiring and Retention of Visual Resource Professionals," adopted by the Arts Libraries Society of North America (ARLIS/NA) and the Visual Resources Association (VRA) in 1995, the governing Council of the Society of American Archivists (SAA) at its meeting on 24 January 1997 declined to endorse the criteria nor recommend their use by SAA members.
In addition to textual and electronic records, archivists manage diverse forms of visual materials -- including photographs, moving images, works of art, maps, graphic materials, and visual ephemera -- in a variety of public and private settings, such as governmental, academic, institutional, and corporate archives. Indeed, the Visual Materials Section of SAA is devoted to the particular concerns of its more than 400 member archivists, all of whom are professionals with collection-management responsibilities for visual resources.
The "Criteria" document begins by describing a broad context for its guidelines:
Visual resources collections exist in academic institutions, research collections, museums, archives (emphasis added), 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...
With no other definition provided for "visual resources" or "visual resource professionals," the document thus suggests that the criteria presented are applicable to a diverse group of professionals -- including archivists -- with responsibility for the management of visual materials. In reality, however, the document is directed towards academic librarians with responsibility for collections of art-related visual resources that are not original materials; for instance, copy slides and prints.
While the guidelines may be appropriate for professionals employed in academic visual arts programs, they are not appropriate for visual resource professionals employed in an archival setting or charged with the responsibilities comparable to those of a visual materials archivist. The educational needs of visual materials archivists, for example, are more complex than those specified in the current criteria document, as can be seen by examining the SAA's professional education and training criteria: the Guidelines for the Development of a Curriculum for a Master of Archival Studies Degree and Guidelines for the Development of Post-Appointment and Continuing Education and Training (PACE) Programs (currently in draft form). Both documents are enclosed.
It is our hope that any future revision of the criteria or any new guidelines that may be developed by the Task Force on Visual Resources Professional Issues clearly define the type of professional to which they apply. If the guidelines are intended to reflect the needs of all archivists, the active involvement of visual material archivists should be sought early in the development of the guidelines.
The SAA and its Visual Materials Section would welcome the opportunity to work with ARLIS/NA and VRA on issues of joint concern, and I would be happy to put you in touch with the appropriate SAA contacts.
Susan E. Fox
cc: Penney DePas, ARLIS/NA
Joseph A. Romano, VRA
Judi Hoffman, Chair, SAA Visual Materials Section