Teaching with Slides: The History of the Visual Resources Collection at Yale


Slide Library, Street Hall, Yale University: The slide room, with faculty reserve shelves on wall, light tables, and slide cabinets. ca 1973.

This online exhibition is a celebration of the history of the Visual Resources Collection and the key partners who contributed to the impact and evolution of this collection at Yale Library. 

The Yale University Visual Resources Collection dates back to the 1930s and is comprised of approximately 370,000 slides (both lantern and 35mm) and 187,000 mounted photographs related to global art, architecture, and material culture. The collection was formed in response to curricular needs to support teaching and research in the Arts and Humanities.  Yale’s VRC slide library was an independent entity located on High Street (now part of Yale University Art Gallery) until 2008 when it was folded into the Robert B. Haas Family Arts Library operations and collections, and physically moved to the Arts Library.

The history of this collection mirrors the development of many visual resource collections in the 20th century: from analog to digital and from small operations within art history departments to responding to the need for images across campus and outside the university. 

Initially, the collection was built almost entirely from donations. During the 1930s, two rooms in Weir Hall (now part of Jonathan Edwards College) were used for slides and photographs. These images came from a variety of sources-- faculty, students, staff, and alumni donated slides. They might have been photos the donors took themselves while traveling and researching. They might have been purchased at a museum or church gift shop, where sleeves of slides or postcards used to be commonly available. If a professor had a colleague they knew would be traveling, they might request that the colleague take or purchase slides of certain items. The first head of the photo collection,  Elizabeth Chase (1906-1999), and Cally Rollins, both docents at the Art Gallery, would often cajole people they knew to donate. It was haphazard and not uncommon at the time. 

In 1955, Slides & Photographs merged with the Art & Architecture Library, and in 1964, the collection moved to Street Hall. Slides became more affordable, and the collection was growing. 

Curated by Sarah Coe, Visual Resources Support Specialist at Yale University Library; Tess Colwell, Arts Librarian for Research Services at Robert B. Haas Family Arts Library; and Maria Zapata, Technical Assistant at Robert B. Haas Family Arts Library