I am thrilled to say a few words about Brenda MacEachern in honour of her being a recipient of the prestigious Western Award of Excellence.
Brenda has been the curator in the Richard and Beryl Ivey Visual Resources Library in the Department of Visual Arts since 1970. She acquires, catalogues and manages 150,000 slides in the library’s collection (in addition to a host of other visual art resource materials and equipment) – a collection of images which covers the history of Western art from pre-historic time to the present. She also manages staff and work-study students, and interacts with faculty, students and the public, whom she graciously assists every day.
It is not at all an exaggeration to declare that Brenda, virtually single-handedly, has made the Ivey Library what it is today: one of the best university visual resource libraries in Canada.
Indeed, she is on the cutting-edge of implementing at Western the latest technological advancements in her field. And, all the while, in her 36 years of service, she has captured the spirit of Western staff. She is a dedicated, enthusiastic, warm and dignified employee, who, simply put, loves her job – and conveys this in countless ways.
I came to know Brenda when I was an undergraduate Art History student at Western from 1984-88. That’s when she became my ‘everyday hero.’ I remember having so much respect for how she helped the students acquire slides for seminar presentations and essays, always inquiring about their topics so she could offer suggestions of images which could enhance their assignments.
She created those magic moments for students when one recommendation from her enabled them to understand the direction of their research.
In 1991, I became re-acquainted with Brenda when I returned to Western as a faculty member. Having had weekly contact with her for the past 15 years, I still rely on her for her expertise, as do other faculty, and members of the public. When one is looking for that perfect image that will prove a thesis in an article or a point in a lecture, she suggests it, discusses it and finds it.
Brenda is constantly adding to the database system to enable students, faculty and the public, greater access to an increased number of images. Just within the last year, for example, she has added almost 9,000 image records to the database, and acquired and catalogued 700 new slides and 3,500 digital images. She also created new authority files for 300 artists, almost 200 sites, and nearly 300 subjects.
When the Visual Arts department opened in 1967, and began acquiring slides, they were kept in Talbot College (reportedly in shoe boxes).
Brenda became the library’s first and only official full-time curator, a facility that came to be housed in a crude portable. In the early 1990s, when the John Labatt building was conceived, it was Brenda who designed the layout of the new Richard and Beryl Ivey Visual Resources Library (opened 1994). It has since been ranked by the Visual Resources Association (VRA) as one of the ten most beautiful visual resource facilities in North America – the only Canadian facility on the list.
Brenda’s career has included many highlights which showcase her professional abilities. Most recently, in 2005, she was the co-director of an $80,000 Academic Development Fund (ADF) grant project to develop digital holdings for the Visual Arts Department at Western. In 2004, she received the Nancy Kendall Award for exceptional service and commitment to the membership of the Professional and Managerial Association (PMA) of Western. In 1998, she earned the Visual Resources Association Distinguished Service Award – the first Canadian to be recognized by this American-based association. That same year, she also organized and oversaw the 30th Anniversary Celebration of the Visual Arts Department at Western.
The Western Award of Excellence is a fitting tribute to Brenda MacEachern. In her 36 years of service at Western, she has been invaluable in building up the collection, and profile, of a library she, virtually single-handedly, made one of the best, and most beautiful, university visual resources libraries in the country.
Undoubtedly, anyone who is familiar with the impressive Richard and Beryl Ivey Visual Resources Library at Western defines it by the excellence of Brenda MacEachern.
Sonia Halpern is a Department of Visual Arts professor who teaches in the Department of Women’s Studies and Feminist Research.