Moderator: Margaret Webster, Director, Knight Visual Resource Facility, Cornell University
Sponsor: Visual Resources Division
The three speakers for this panel were John Taormina , Chief Curator, Visual Resources Collection, Department of Art History, University of Michigan, Lynda White, Management Information Services, Alderman Library, University of Virginia, Susan Jane Williams, Visual Resources Collection, Arts Library, Yale University and Jean Brown, who sat in for Carol Graney, University of Nevada, Las Vegas.
Margaret Webster introduced the topic by first providing a brief history of professional status surveys executed by predominant visual resource professionals since 1968. The data collected from the professional status surveys has been used to act as collateral to increase salaries and to recognize professional status, based on education, duties and collection size both within the institution and the professional community. The most recent survey, the VRA/ARLIS Professional Status Survey of 1999 covers personal data, qualifications, information about the position, professional activities, facts about the collection and institutional data.
What is the future of the profession given the ever evolving role of technology? The survey seems to show the current state of the visual resource professional are responsible for all the traditional tasks of the slide curator, plus a host of others, most of which involve technology. She quotes Jenny Rodda, who says that our jobs are taking on not only the roles of image curatorship, but also, “technology application implementation, and educational program development, and website development, and multi-media programming, and so on.” We still provide access to images, but what is changing is the variety of formats these images can now be delivered.
John Taormina provided background to the survey which was intended to investigate levels of education, years in the profession, institutional rank, salaries, along with size of collections, circulation and acquisition statistics, staffing levels, library policies, patron groups, and collection development. John also spoke of how the survey was designed to establish a body of questions in a reusable format so that similar gathering of information can be collected on a regular basis. The survey requested information in six areas: 1.) personal data, 2.) qualifications, 3.) position data, 4.) professional activities, 5.) collection data, and 6.) institutional data. In January of 1999, 727 copies of the survey were mailed to members and the return rate was 35%, with 251 surveys returned.
John then explained the results of the six areas of survey information.
Under personal data, eighty-three percent of the respondents were female,
with sixty percent of the respondents fitting into the age range of 41-55.
Almost all of the respondents have a bachelor’s degree (99%), with a significant
number having advanced degrees: 57% have an MA/MS, 32 % have an MLS and
8% have a PhD.
Under position data, were salary ranges. The largest percentage, 21% of respondents, fall into the $30,000-34,000 salary bracket, with $35,000-$39,999 coming in a close second at 18%. The $25,000-29,999 and $40,000-44,999 ranges almost tie for a close third at 14% and 12% respectively.
Under Professional Activities, John pointed out that most of the respondents, 88%, belong to the Visual Resources Association, 47% belong to ARLIS, and one quarter are members in the College Art Association. Collection data tells us that the average size of VR collections is about 250,000 slides with an average of 5,000 items being added annually. Finally, under Institutional Data, John pointed out that ninety-two percent of the respondents were from institutions in the United States and the average enrollment at these institutions was just over 11,000. Fifty-three percent of the institutions polled are public and forty-five percent are private.
Lynda White spoke about the survey itself, the problems associated with it, identified areas from which we can learn and offered suggestions for future data collection for the profession. Lynda then went through some specific key points:
Susan Jane Williams started off by discussing the graying population of the profession and asked where the young people were and why are we not engaging them into this profession? She felt that many younger people are turning more towards technology and internet based imaging companies. She feels the best path to a professional career in visual resources today would require a MLS or a Computer Science degree. Susan mentioned the VRA Educational Committee has been formed to deal with the problem of attracting the younger generations and also training the older generation the technological skills they need today. With the sheer analog physicality of VR collections, digital supplementation of these large collections will obviate the physical problems, even though Susan believes slides will be around for a long time.
Jean Brown spoke on the ARLIS Statistics Task Force. The task force is part of the current ARLIS Strategic Plan and was put together to create guidelines for and instruction in compiling and recording statistical data for use by the society. It is used to identify and report on models from other organizations, and to create a standard suite of statistics useful for documentation, budgeting, program and space planning, ranking, rating, accreditation, staffing and fund raising. What the Task force has done so far is gather input from ARLIS Sections and Divisions and drafted categories of statistics that could be shared with other organizations. Categories that have already been worked out include: collection, expenditures, salaries, library operations, personnel, She identified the need for members to spell out what is really important in keeping statistics so that it is useful.
The room was then opened up for questions. Susan Nurse from the Memorial Art Gallery in Rochester pointed out that she does not consider herself a full-time VR person and believes she is not the only person in the organization who feels this way. She is a librarian, a teacher, a VR person and filling out a survey of this type was difficult for her because of the various job functions she performs.
Mark Pompelia from Rice University wondered if we should focus in closer on job specifics when gathering statistics, or should we stay at a more broad-based approach. Margaret Webster felt there is a real need to collect statistics on a fairly regular basis. She suggested a web-based system for data collection. Charly Bauer from OhioLink wondered the average age different from five or ten years ago.
Eileen Fry from Indiana University expressed a need to distinguish between the broader type census surveys, which is what this survey was, and the smaller more, focused surveys. Maryly Snow from UC Berkeley, felt the spread of salaries in the survey should focus more on the high-end range and less on the low end. Katie Poole from M.I.T. wondered if the surveyors had specific ideas of what type of information they wanted to collect when the surveys were complete. John Taormina replied that the Board wanted more of a census type collection of information and this created problems with the overall survey. He wondered whether this committee should be a standing committee rather than an ad hoc committee then pointed out the the committee relates to the ARLIS educational task force in many ways. Since professional concerns are an ongoing issue, perhaps the committee should be ongoing. John then pointed out that membership in both VRA and ARLIS is dropping.
Eileen Frey stated that members must look at where our profession is going to be ten years from now. Greg Most from the National Gallery observed that there are not that many new faces joining the organizations and that salary disparities between an academic webmaster and a VR professional is enormous.
Margaret Webster pointed out that perhaps we should be looking at what webmasters make in academic institutions in comparison to a VR professional. Eileen Fry then pointed out that many M.A. and PhD students are currently expected to run slide collections and they are never counted in surveys of this type. She believes we should also be looking at what technical positions correspond to what we do and compare salaries: equal pay for equal work.
Sue Miller from Syracuse University said there is no more professional
training anymore and that we need to establish professional standards
for training newcomers to the field. John Taormina then asked, should ARLIS
& VRA play a more active role in advising these institutions about
bad practices with their VR people? Linda McRae from the University of
South Florida felt that surveys should be kept up, and that they should
also be sent to university administrators and used as educational tools
Eric C. Schwab
Knight Visual Resources Facility