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Design Council Slide Collection: an online guide to the resource

Dr Simon Ford and John Davis - Manchester Metropolitan University

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The Slide Collection

The Design Council Slide Collection has its origins in the Photographic Library that was set up by the CoID in 1945. As part of the Council's broadly educational role, it built up a collection of photographs showing various aspects of design and these included slides that were used by CoID staff to give illustrated lectures.

The Design Council slide library in 1981The Design Council slide library in 1981

Core Record

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Slide collection area in the Young Designers Centre, 1989Slide collection area in the Young Designers Centre, 1989

Core Record

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The CoID's annual report for 1953-54 referred to a 'Slide Library' with a collection that comprised 2,000 different slides (i.e. not including duplicates). A loan service that enabled members of the public to borrow slides was available and according to the annual report the Slide Library issued a total of 4,800 slides to borrowers over the year, chiefly to lecturers, teachers, designers and students. Over the next ten years the level of borrowing almost doubled and in 1965 a catalogue of the collection was published. This was followed by regular supplements as the collection continued to grow. A new 243-page catalogue was published in 1968, by which time the collection comprised 6,000 different slides. The catalogue was a useful aid for those wishing to borrow slides, but it also provided the CoID with the means of selling duplicate slides by mail order. In 1968 users of the loan scheme could borrow five slides for 5 shillings (25p) per week, 6-20 slides for 10 shillings (50p) per week and 6 pence (2.5p) for each additional slide over 20. In 1972 a survey of mail-order sales of the slide library's catalogue found that almost two thirds were purchased by educational institutions. The Design Council built on this educational market by producing and selling themed sets of slides for use as teaching and learning aids. The first series of slide sets was produced in collaboration with Educational Production Ltd in 1974. Titles included Modern Furniture Design, Modern Lighting Design, Modern Tableware Design, Modern Textile Design, Modern Kitchen Equipment, and Modern Storage Design. Two further titles - Interior Design and Floors & Walls were added in 1976. After these the Design Council became the sole publisher of the slide sets and the subjects began to include historical themes. History of Domestic Appliances, Kitchen Planning, Utility Furniture, Looking at Streets, Planning for People, and Town Art were published in 1976, followed by Tubular Steel Furniture and a series of five sets on Houses in Britain 1-5 in 1977. The Furniture of Ernest Gimson and the Barnsleys and British Wireless Cabinet Design 1920-50 were added in 1979. In January 1986 a new Educational Publishing Unit was established by the Design Council specifically to produce materials for schools and colleges. It used a much wider range of media than just slides, including videocassettes, posters, computer software, books and leaflets.

Between 1974 and 1979 the collection more than doubled in size, from 9,500 to 20,000 different slides. The demand for slides was great enough for the Design Council to employ two members of staff to carry out the day-to-day running of the Slide Library. The Slide Librarian and Assistant Slide Librarian also worked closely with other Design Council personnel, including the Industrial Officers and staff from Design magazine to select slides for inclusion in the collection. These working relationships meant that the slide collection developed in a way that reflected the changing scope, policies and ethos of the Design Council, and it is possible, broadly speaking, to relate the contents of the collection to the shifting agendas and priorities of the organisation over a period of time. For example, many of the slides show products that were selected for 'Design Index' or those that featured in the Council's annual awards scheme. The slides were acquired from a variety of sources, but the majority were produced in-house by the Design Council's own staff photographers.

This resulted in a degree of consistency in terms of the visual style and quality of the images, and meant that the Council also owned the copyright. The photographers were particularly active in documenting the temporary exhibitions and displays that were held at the Design Centre.

In the 1980s the rate of growth of the slide collection slowed considerably as cuts to the Design Council's funding took effect, although in 1986 a grant from the government's Department of Trade and Industry enabled the Slide Library to begin a computerised database of its holdings. By the end of the decade the Slide Library had been re-branded and re-housed as part of a broader resource area in the newly created Young Designers Centre - an educational space within the Design Centre aimed at schoolchildren and students in colleges and universities.

However, the findings of the Sorrell Report and the subsequent closure of the Design Centre meant that, by 1994, the future of the slide collection was in doubt. Fortunately the Design Council recognised the historical and educational value of the images and sought to identify a suitable new home for the collection. After discussions with a number of potential partners the collection was deposited with the Manchester Metropolitan University in 1995. Since then considerable work has been undertaken to develop the accessibility of the collection. In particular, this work has included a series of cataloguing and digitisation projects that have resulted in nearly two-thirds of the images being made available online via the VADS website. It is hoped that this account of the collection and its historical contexts will enhance the value of the resource and suggest fresh possibilities for its use in learning, teaching and research.



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