Career Paths: Visual Resources

Are you interested in issues relating to the organization, access, and preservation of visual information? Interested in careers relating to data management, digital collections, cultural heritage, or art information? You should consider exploring the field of visual resources. Visual Resources is the management of images and media.

I began my route of visual resources while I was in undergrad at an art school. I majored in Sculpture and Art History but worked at the school’s library part-time. After finishing art school, I knew I wanted to help art students and faculty with finding relevant resources in and outside of the library. After finishing my MLS degree, specializing in Art Librarianship & Digital Collections, I got a job at a private liberal arts college in the Art Department. Currently, I design, manage, and provide technical support for digital teaching projects developed in collaboration with art faculty and VRC colleagues. Additionally, I identify  and catalog images for inclusion in the digital collection and fulfilling current faculty image requests.

Visual Resource Environments include (but are not limited to):

Departments, Schools, or Colleges and Libraries:

Historically, most 35mm slide and photograph collections originated in academic departments in order to provide the spontaneous, front-line services necessary for image-intensive teaching, research, and study by the department’s faculty and students—services and tasks still important with the use of digital technologies. In recent years, more visual resources operations have moved from academic departments, schools, or colleges to libraries. Faculty in many disciplines acknowledge that digital images have revolutionized their teaching. The visual learning of students now takes place primarily in a digital realm. The skills and responsibilities of visual resources professionals have expanded in scope.


The role of museum visual resources has changed rapidly in response to digital media. Such units were once most commonly aligned with education departments or museum libraries to provide slides and, more recently, digital images for instructional purposes to curators, education staff, docents, and occasionally the general public. Visual resources professionals now leverage their multiple and varied skills to provide new services and address essential museum needs, particularly in the area of digital asset management. All museum functions stand to benefit from centralized visual resources services, including: forwarding research and education, documenting objects, developing a Web presence, producing publications, archiving institutional history, developing interactive media, and contributing to digital learning. The responsibilities of visual resources managers have started to extend into each of those museum functions, and also into rights management – providing image permissions for works in the museum and acquiring and licensing external images. Combining visual resources services with general oversight for a museum’s digital image assets has multiple benefits.


In 1983, Visual Resource Curators from Mid-America College Art Association/Visual Resources (MACAA/VR), College Art Association (CAA), and Art Libraries Society of North America (ARLIS/NA) launched the Visual Resources Association (VRA).Today, the VRA is a dynamic, multidisciplinary community dedicated to furthering research and education in the field of image and media management within the educational, cultural heritage, and commercial environments.

Their international membership includes visual resource curators, digital librarians; digital image specialists; information resource specialist; photograph and digital archivists; art, architecture, film and video librarians; registrars; museum curators; architectural firms; galleries; publishers; image system vendors; data managers; rights and reproductions officials; photographers; art historians; artists; scientists; metadata librarians; visual resources librarians; and more. VRA is also affiliated with organizations such as the Digital Library Federation, Art Libraries Society of North America, CAA, Society of Architectural Historians, and more.

Opportunities & Resources:

Related Hack Library School posts:

Art Librarianship – Annie Pho

Summer Practicum in the Repository & Digital Curation Dept – Kendra Werst

Further Reading:

Visual Resources Association: Professional Status Task Force. (2016). 2015-16 Professional Status Task Force Report.

Visual Resources Association: White Paper Task Force. (2009). Advocating for visual resources management in educational and cultural institutions.

Hattwig, D., Bussert, K., Medaille, A., & Burgess, J. (2013). Visual literacy standards in higher education: New opportunities for libraries and student learning. portal: Libraries and the Academy, 13(1), 61-89.

Mayer, J. (2014). Visual Literacy across the Disciplines. In Research within the Disciplines, 2nd ed., 277.

By Guest Author Kendra Werst

Kendra Werst graduated from Indiana University in Bloomington, Indiana, joint specializing in Art Librarianship & Digital Libraries. She is currently working at Williams College as the Assistant Visual Resources Curator in the Art Department. While at IU, she worked as the Curatorial Assistant for the Visual Resource Center at IU’s Fine Arts Library and is a Catalog Specialist at the Kinsey Institute for Research in Sex, Gender, and Reproduction Library and Archives. Kendra also held a leadership position in the Society of Art Librarianship Students – a special interest group for graduate students interested in the field of art librarianship, visual resources, and anything related. After being born and raised in Kansas City, Missouri she successfully received a Bachelor of Fine Arts degree in Sculpture and Art History from the Kansas City Art Institute. Her interest in librarianship sparked in her final year of undergrad while working with art students at the Jannes Library and Learning Center. You can find her on twitter @werstgerl

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