Visual resources collection a hidden treasure at NSCAD

The Visual Resources Collection, nestled in a corner of NSCAD University’s Administration Building in downtown Halifax, contains a wealth of rare materials, including Two Men and a Wardrobe, a 1958 silent film by director Roman Polanski.

But visual resources librarian Rebecca Young says students rarely take advantage of this resource.

When Young first started working at NSCAD in 2002, the room was bustling with students and professors. It was a social space, where students would gather to work on projects and chit-chat with professors.

NSCAD University student Merray Gerges sifts through the school’s Visual Resources Collection. (Photo: Sara Leslie)

Flash-forward to 2013, and the room sits mostly vacant.

The reason, says Young, is the Internet. “Most of our resources here and at the library are now available online.”

While it is often more convenient for students to access resources online, Young says a lot of the material in the collection can’t be posted due to copyright.  As a result, students are unaware of what it has to offer.

Merray Gerges, an art history student as NSCAD, helps out in the visual resources room. After cataloguing parts of the collection, Gerges says she was shocked by the preciousness of some items.

She walks over to a row of dark cabinets dotted with neon pink labels and pulls out one example: a small rectangular box housing a collection of black-and-white Polaroids.

Gerges flips to a photo of a foot, then a close-up of a man bearing a striking resemblance to Keith Richards.  Gerges explains it’s a collection of photographs taken by pop-art legend Andy Warhol. The school bought the limited-edition replica as part of its special collections archive.

Gillian Jiggs, a second-year student at NSCAD, has been to the room a few times, but only to check out documentaries and films.  When it comes to research, Jiggs says she finds most of her material online or in the campus library.

Young says it’s been a struggle to find the time to promote the collection since the library technician left last year. “We’re down one full person here.”

Given the shortage in staff, Young says she’s been focusing on digitizing some of the older videotapes and audio reels to ensure that the content is preserved.  She notes that the Administrative Building is more than 100 years old, and there is some concern that moisture in the building might ruin the delicate materials.

Lloyd Smith, a broadcast technician, says condensation can damage audio reels. “They have to be kept dry.”

Rebecca Young, visual resources Librarian at NSCAD, hopes more students will start to take advantage of school’s Visual Resource Collection. (Photo: Sara Leslie)

Once all the materials have been transferred to preserve them, Young says she can dedicate more time to cataloguing the collection and promoting it to students.

Young would like to see students take advantage not only of the collection, but the room itself.

“I think that we need to reinvigorate the space.”

Big arched windows flood the space with natural light, while rows of long wooden tables provide plenty of potential work space.

Young is confident that if students learn what the collection has to offer, more will take advantage of it.

“A lot of people are really charmed by the things we have here.”