Archive for the 'Visual Resources' Category

LC and Flickr – 3 months later

Thursday, March 27th, 2008 by Günter

We had the good fortune today to talk to Helena Zinkham, Michelle Springer and some additional staff members from the 12 people team at LC which worked on the LC-Flickr project. We were also joined by George Oates, who shepherded the collaboration from the Flickr side. The conversation highlighted a number of interesting facets of the collaboration which I hadn’t fully appreciated yet, and I thought they’d be worth sharing

  • In a very elegant way, Flickr solves the authority conundrum of exposing collections content to social process. No need to worry if some comments or tags are misleading, arbitrary or incorrect – it’s not happening on your site, but in a space where people know and expect a wide variety of contributions. On the other hand, LC selectively reaps the benefit of these contributions. Over 100 cataloging records have been changed through input from the Flickr community.
  • Identifying and siphoning off the information of use to LC is a time-consuming and laborious process. While Flickr offers a number of ways to look at user interactions with the content, LC has started building its own database, which pulls in information through the Flickr API for more convenient evaluation. Social tagging in this framework doesn’t mean letting others catalog your collections for you – it really means offering up materials for a conversation which you have to follow closely to extract the bits worth bringing back.
  • We had an interesting discussion about what I’m tempted to call the “absorbency” of Flickr. The 3k+ images LC posted in the prototype seemed a reasonably easy chunk of material for the Flickr community to process, meaning tag and discuss. (In some instances, images actually have reached their Flickr-imposed limit of 75 tags.) The group speculated that a larger upload of images would have perhaps caused a less thorough review of the photographs, and this thinking also seems to have influenced LC’s decision to keep updating their Flickr stream 50 images at a time. George commented that Flickr has made 1000 Flickr friends through the project so far, and 50 images at a time probably seem delightful to them, while 10s of thousands at a time might be overwhelming.
  • While at a pace of 50 images per week, the entire photographs of the Bain collection (50k) will take about 20 years to expose on Flickr, I think that piece of math may miss the point: from the conversations I noted a much greater interest in deep engagement with the presented material rather than in comprehensiveness. The evidence suggests that this deep engagement has been achieved – see, for example, the discussion surrounding these two photographs. Those with the desire and need to see all of Bain can always do that on the LC website – Flickr compliments this offering by turning parts of the collection into conversation-starters. LC staff seemed so impressed with the value of the interactions on Flickr that they felt linking back out to the Flickr pages from the catalog was as important as bringing back salient corrections and updates into the catalog.

    For LC, Flickr is still a prototype – commitments on a policy level will be discussed after the prototype has been thoroughly evaluated. For Flickr, working with cultural institutions seems to become a way of life. George commented that she has about eight more cultural institutions ready to be launched over the next 8 months, ranging from very large to very small. There will be new and different things to be learned from the next launches – how will the material fare without the boost the LC-Flickr project enjoyed as the goundbreaking initiative? I’m looking forward to continuing the conversation with our LC colleagues, and I’ll be watching out for those next cultural heritage collections on Flickr…

    V&A – no more academic reproduction fees

    Friday, December 1st, 2006 by Günter

    On the VRA listserv, Christine Sundt pointed to a brief article about a new policy at the Victoria and Albert Museum in London (V&A) – our friends in the UK have decided, so the headline of the article, to “scrap academic reproduction fees” for their images early next year. Alan Seal, Head of Records and Collections Services, talked briefly about this move during MCN, commenting that the V&A is poised to put upwards of 30k digital images in high resolution online very soon. It looks as though the V&A will use OAI and CDWA Lite to make the images available – Alan has been participating in the monthly conference calls of our Museum Collections Sharing Working Group, and seems well poised to become a major implementer of this suite of standards.

    I recently guest-spoke in the JFK University Museum Studies Program, and it never fails to amaze me how alive & well expectations of significant revenue through reproduction still are. I had two quotes from Simon Tanner’s study for them, which I think made some of the students reconsider:

    “Museums do not carry out image creation or rights and reproduction activity because of its profitability.”
    “Everyone interviewed wants to recoup costs but almost none claimed to actually achieve or expected to achieve this.”

    I’m thrilled to hear that the V&A has made the gutsy move to value the increased circulation of their materials higher than the (comparatively small) revenue stream they have achieved by licensing it!

    Not yet laid to rest – Digital Images in the Classroom

    Friday, November 3rd, 2006 by Günter


    I live in San Francisco’s Mission district, a neighborhood teeming with Mexican and Latin American immigrants, where Dia de Los Muertos gets honored with a fantastic parade and exhibit of altars in Garfield Park. During a pre-parade party at a friends house last night, I met a woman who teaches studio art as an adjunct at Stanford and UC Santa Cruz. We had a lively conversation, which quickly turned to the use of digital images in the classroom (don’t all cocktail conversations?)… and her frustration with said topic. Since she mainly teaches contemporary sculpture, she finds it extremely difficult to get her hands on anything worth projecting in digital form. She tried ARTstor at Stanford, but claims that the interface confused her to a degree that she just gave up. I oracled that I was certain her local art librarian would be delighted to show her the ropes, and she acknowledged how wonderful librarians are once you take the time to talk to them. More frustration: even if she can find an image of a sculpture, it usually doesn’t quite show the angle of the piece bringing out the particular feature she’d like to discuss. She also mentioned that a slide projector on eBay was about $40, and she just bought one. I’d claim this is a user we should strive to serve better!

    All of this caused flashbacks of the conversations me and some of my program colleagues had with faculty at Stanford, UC Berkeley and University of Southern California a couple of years ago, and it also reminded me that there are two brand-new studies in this area which I still haven’t gotten around to digesting yet. A CLIR/Rice University report on Art History and Its Publications in the Electronic Age states as its number 1 recommendation:

    Organize a campaign to break down barriers to access and distribution of images, in all media and at affordable prices, for scholarly research and publication.

    While this recommendation speaks to the availability of digital images, a report commissioned by NITLE and Wesleyan University (based on four hundred survey responses plus three hundred individual interviews with faculty / staff at 33 colleges and universities), authored by David Green, makes its number 1 recommendation faculty tools for enhanced management and sharing of the images:

    Develop and share tools and services to assist faculty in organizing, cataloging and managing their personal digital collections, in a user-centered content model.

    The little I have read of both reports makes me want to read more (and I hope I managed to wet your appetite as well), and it gives me hope that at another cocktail party in the not-too-distant future, I’ll find the faculty members present more impressed with the image resources available to them.

    MDID ingenuity

    Tuesday, May 2nd, 2006 by Günter

    Another week, another conference. Now I’m getting ready for the annual Art Libraries Society (ARLIS) conference, which will take me to Banff this year. (For those amongst you who are jealous, I personally think it’s only fair, since I’ll also have to go to DC 3 times this summer.) I’ll give a talk on the changing landscape of licensed digital resources called “No data is an island, entire of itself”, and in gathering my materials, I e-mailed with Christina Updike and some of the programmers who work on the Madison Digital Image Database, better known as MDID. They’ve devised an ingenious way for bringing images from CAMIO into their instructional technology tool, which allows instructors to select, arrange and project digital images. CAMIO has a feature which lets a user e-mail an image to an address of their choice. Release 0.7.0 of MDID exploits this functionality. An instructor e-mails an image to a generic local MDID account; the MDID application checks the account, ingests the image along with the descriptive metadata (supplied by CAMIO as a csv attachment) and adds it to the instructors’ personal image collection. Furthermore, it also suggests the image to the visual resources curator for the MDID installation as a potential addition to the database.

    I think this is a great way of getting images out of the database and into the classroom, and letting your users help with content selection to boot. In an upcoming release, MDID will also make use of the XML Gateway for RLG Cultural Materials to seamlessly integrate that content into its interface, and ARTstor has promised to do the same.

    If you still hunger for more visual resources news, consider downloading the new report “Use and Users of Digital Resources: A Focus on Undergraduate Education in the Humanities and Social Sciences” from the Center for Studies in Higher Education, UC Berkeley. Enjoy!

    Handcrafted Metadata

    Friday, February 24th, 2006 by Günter

    Last week I went to WebWise in LA, now a conference sponsored jointly by IMLS, the Getty and OCLC, where about 350 folks had gathered to explore the theme “Inspiring Discovery – Unlocking Collections.” Part of unlocking collections, as we all know, is describing them so others can find them, and the conference exposed some interesting takes on that theme. Dan Greenstein (CDL), for example, questioned “the value of hand-crafted metadata” and called for more automation in generating descriptive metadata. His plenary was followed by a panel on which Elisa Lanzi (Smith College Imaging Center) called for more and better metadata, only to hand the microphone to Bill Moen (U of North Texas SLIS), who presented a study which showed that of the existing 2000 MARC fields and subfields (up from a measly 278 in 1972), only 36 are used in 80% of the records he analyzed. As you can see, a clear case of mixed messages about the whole metadata thing (ramp up or demolish?), which the audience eagerly jumped on.

    In retrospective, I think the confusion stemmed from the fact that everybody was talking about the same thing (metadata), yet as applied to different materials in different communities. Dan could comfortably call for more automation, because the materials on the forefront of his mind (books) lend themselves to that approach – a lot of the metadata going into a MARC record comes straight from a book’s cover so to speak, and if you digitize the cover and the rest of the book to boot, you have enough data for a record and a full-text search – voilà. Elisa, on the other hand, spoke about visual resources collections, which (so far) have not suffered from the overblown treatment a MARC record (according to Bill Moen’s data) could afford them – and, no surprises here, of course Murtha Baca (Getty) seconded her during the discussion, since museum records tend to suffer from a lack of standardized description rather than from an excess of it. Furthermore, it’s hard to see how you could do anything but handcraft when describing a painting or a sculpture – where else should the description come from?

    I cherished this discussion not only because description and descriptive practices in different communities are a long-standing hobby-horse of mine (see the RLG Descriptive Metadata Guidelines I had the distinct pleasure of working on), but also because we recently announced our 2006 RLG Member Forum with the title “More, Better, Faster, Cheaper: The Economics of Descriptive Practice.” I think the real question isn’t “to hand-craft or not to hand-craft,” but rather how to best invest our scarce resources of people and time to create descriptions which truly serve our audience. Bill Moen wants to take his study one step further to look at which MARC tags genuinely support FRBR User Tasks (Find, Identify, Select, Obtain), and I think that’ll start adding a critical dimension to this debate which is all too often only present in our speculation about them, and that’s our users.

    Walled Gardens vs. Picket Fences

    Thursday, December 1st, 2005 by Anne

    OK, so I’m a little late learning about “walled gardens.” I heard this term used several times during two recent events – first at the Berkeley Digital Media Conference and then again at a recent SDForum Search SIG meeting held at Microsoft in Mountain View. I thought this must be one of those terms like “the long tail” that came up in some magazine that I don’t read as often as I should. So I looked it up in wikipedia and realized that of course I know what walled gardens are, in fact I work for an organization that sits on quite a few of them. We call them “online databases available by subscription.”

    I’m not going to get into the free vs. fee-based models of access to content because we all know nothing is free even though it may appear to be. I am more interested in sharing some examples on how we are making our own walled gardens more like gardens with picket fences. My first example is RedLightGreen, a wonderful union catalog of books available freely on the web. It is derived from our mature service, the RLG Union Catalog and designed for optimizing undergraduate library research. Its design was generously subsidized by the Andrew W. Mellon Foundation as a proof of concept project. It is beautiful and free and wants to stay that way. However, when advertising started to appear, the outcry was heard round the world, and the advertising went away. So, how does it stay free?

    Well we still have the walled garden of the RLG Union Catalog that includes way more than the books in RedLightGreen. It has journals, musical scores, maps, visual materials, archives, manuscripts and special collections all searchable together. It is available by subscription.

    Here’s another model, Trove.net. Partial content from RLG Cultural Materials, a digital image database, is available on the web. You can look at it for free and then you have an opportunity to license images that you would like to use for any number of purposes. And we still have RLG Cultural Materials that is a much richer research resource and it is available for subscription. In this instance, you can look through the picket fence and see the great treasures but you can’t pick the flowers for free and you can’t bring your dog in.

    So, what are the economics of open content? This is a very important conversation that has to happen across all our cultural institutions and with the great big content aggregators that are clamoring to make our content “open”.

    you’re so not a book

    Friday, September 9th, 2005 by Günter

    As a “friend of UCAI,” I was recently informed that the project to create a Union Catalog of Art Images won’t continue past its research and development stage to spawn a fully fledged service. For those of you not familiar with this Mellon-funded initiative, UCSD and various partner institutions investigated how to bring copy-cataloging to the slide library – what if visual resources curators had authoritative data available for download and integration into their local catalog, instead of duplicating the work of describing their slides or digital images? The project wound up clustering about 750,000 records from six partner institutions into a database – one of the core issues of the UCAI team consisted in fine-tuning the clustering algorithm so it would “know” which records describe the same art works represented by the images, and unite it with its brethren in a fashion reminiscent of the RLG Union Catalog.

    The proposition of creating a joint resource to realize the benefits of copy cataloging seems intuitive, but I think what UCAI has shown is that at least for now, images just aren’t books. The descriptions among the partner institutions varied widely, which turned clustering into a formidable challenge. Seeing the clusters from the test database in the many presentations UCAI staff gave at ARLIS, VRA and other conferences impressively drove home the point that standardized description equals interoperability and all the benefits it entails. In the end, I believe that this area is where the lasting impact of UCAI will be felt: UCAI and its staff were instrumental in galvanizing the visual resources community around further standardization of their practice. They played an active role in the development of Cataloguing Cultural Objects (CCO) (a little more on CCO also here on this blog), and were instrumental in the development of an XML schema for the VRA Core (authored by UCAI staffer Esme Cowles), which will be unveiled on the VRA website soon. Widespread implementation of these emerging standards will eventually result in a descriptive landscape and technological infrastructure which makes efficient data sharing possible in the visual resources community, and that’s when it’ll get really interesting again.