Draft report on a meeting to explore
possibilities for developing a shared VR cataloguing service
hosted by NYU with support from the DLF on 22 January 2001
Present: Lee Chamberlin (NYU), Murtha Baca (Getty), John Weise
(Michigan), Linda Barnhart (UCSD), Greg Zick (Washington),
Sherman Clarke (NYU), Michael Ester (Luna Imaging), Heike Kordish
(NYPL), Jane Murray (NYPL), Susan Williams (Yale), Chris Sundt
(Oregon), Elisa Lanzi (Smith), Ann Whiteside (Harvard), Daniel
This report summarizes consensus that emerged at the meeting
about the design, use, and benefits of a visual resources
cataloguing service, and the next steps that should be taken in
the development of that service.
For the benefit of participants, the report concludes with
comments that distinguish this initiative from others in which
the DLF is involved, notably the Academic Image Cooperative and
the Open Archive Initiative metadata harvesting testbed.
1. Aim of VR cataloguing service
(Note, the term "service" is currently under discussion and
may well be replaced by "workstation" or "tool").
The service will support and promote the shared development of
high-quality, consistent, reliable, and professionally developed
descriptions of visual resources.
2. Service development and functions
- The service will consist initially of VR descriptions
supplied by a small number of institutions.
- Initial contributions will be solicited in order to ensure
the broadest possible thematic coverage and the minimum degree of
- Contributed descriptions will be stored in their native
formats and presented either in their native formats or in some
unifying view to be developed.
- The service will include a range of tools with which users
can clean, enhance, amend, and "improve" existing descriptions
according to agreed guidelines. Tools will also allow users to
create and add new descriptions, again, according to approved
guidelines. A list of editing tools is supplied below.
- Tools allowing some users and/or service administrators to
cluster descriptions that refer to a single work. Some research
will need to be conducted into how and to what extent that
clustering can be automated and how clustered descriptions can be
- Tools enabling users to search and browse descriptions and
clusters descriptions that refer to the same work
- Tools enabling users to edit, amend, and enhance existing
- pick lists that assist in the selection and application of
controlled vocabularies and vocabulary key words;
- mechanisms for including/uploading thumbnail images or links
to web-accessible images where images are considered to be key
- Tools enabling some users and/or service administrators to
upload collections of image descriptions in their native
- Tools that allow users to output records for local use, e.g.
as printed labels, in standard file formats for inclusion in a
local catalogue database, as links to authoritative records in
- Tools allowing users to suggest key terms and to submit these
for review by some approved editorial board.
- Tools allowing users to group, interpret, supply, and
"publish" as part of the service additional contextualizing
information for individual images and image sets.
3. Levels of use
The service will permit different levels of use including the
- Level 1.Users will be able to search, browse, and export
records (e.g. for printing labels, populating local catalogue
databases, or supplying links to authoritative records in the
- Level 2. Level 1 functions plus ability to add descriptions.
Added descriptions may provide supplemental material for works
for which descriptions already exist. Alternatively they may
supply records for new works. Level 2 users will also be able to
submit candidate authority terms for existing or newly created
- Level 3. Level 2 functions plus ability to approve and
implement authority terms. In this respect, at least some level 3
users are likely to serve as members of specialist editorial
panels or review bodies and take responsibility for reviewing and
approving key terms submitted for review by level 2 users.
- Level 4. System administrator.
4. Audience(s) and benefits
The catalogue service will have a number of direct benefits
for VR cataloguers and slide and art librarians. For members of
this community it will:
- reduce redundant cataloguing effort;
- encourage, support, and provide examples of good cataloguing
practice and in this respect provide an important professional
training and leadership function;
- ensure convergence of and leverage complementary but
fragmented streams of activity within the VR community e.g. on
controlled vocabularies, agreed metadata formats and application
The service may also have a number of indirect benefits for
other communities as follows:
- As cataloguing effort is shared, VR collections will become
more accessible and as such will do more to support and enhance
teaching and research. In these respects, the service will
benefit students, teachers, and scholars.
- Scholars, students, and teachers may also benefit through
some direct access to the cataloguing service or to some
middleware applications developed by VR and library
professionals. There are a number of research questions here
about what access might be provided to scholars, students, and
teachers and/or what middleware applications might be
- The catalogue service, by providing a common set of
high-quality descriptions, might encourage greater collaboration
between libraries, special collections, archives, art libraries,
museums, and galleries that share a common interest in the visual
resource. How a service initially targeted at the community
represented by the Visual Resources Association might benefit
this broader group is at least initially a research
5. Scenarios and incentives
Description contributors. Institutions with online VR
catalogues will be more likely to contribute records to the
service if the service supplies them with tools capable of
enhancing records in those catalogues.
Contributions from trusted "level 3" users (those
specialists able to add or approve authority controls) may be
sought in a variety of ways:
- By leveraging and supplying good cataloguing tools to
existing catalogue initiatives whether they are taking place
within a single institution (e.g. the Huntington collection) or
in a consortium (e.g. AIC).
- By integrating this kind of activity into fellowship,
internships and other professional development and professional
Service developers. Previous efforts in this area have
been limited by their heavy reliance on voluntary effort.
Accordingly, any initiative that may be undertaken to fulfill the
goals set out in this document should seek appropriate support
and develop from the outset with organizational and financial
sustainability as a pre-eminent goal.
6. Technological issues
The service will need to investigate use of different
approaches for updating and searching respectively, possibly
putting updating on an incremental as opposed to a dynamic
Design of an effective user interface will be challenging
given that the service will need somehow to present users
(cataloguers) with multiple descriptions, authorities and
vocabulary choice, etc
Architecturally, the service should be developed in a manner
that will cost effectively support the evolution and extension of
7. Next steps
Steps to be completed by end March 2001
- Host focus groups at upcoming VRA and ARLIS meetings to get
input from VR cataloguers about the tools they would wish to see
in a cataloguer's workstation.
- Investigate architectures and functionality of existing
cataloguers workstations and tools as developed for bibliographic
materials e.g. RLIN, OCLC, LC.
- Develop an initial implementation of a common record view;
that is, the view with which all descriptions will be available
from the service irrespective of native format.
- Develop prioritized list of controlled vocabularies that need
to be included in the service.
Preferably steps listed under 2 should completed by end
- Document costs and requirements of an initial prototype.
- Present initial thinking about the service to members of
communities that may have an interest in such a service e.g.
museums and galleries, archives and special collections, etc.
Will serve important community building and design
- Assemble initial contributions of VR descriptions.
- Develop and review prototype (timing contingent upon 2
8. Relationship of VR cataloguing service initiative and
other potentially complementary DLF initiatives
- Open Archives Initiative (OAI)
The OAI is an international initiative that has developed a
metadata harvesting protocol. The DLF supports the OAI but is not
the OAI. Information about the OAI is available from
Using the OAI metadata harvesting protocol it may be possible
to assemble VR descriptions stored and managed in a single place.
In this respect, metadata harvesting might provide one means for
a cataloguing service to assemble raw VR descriptions.
The metadata harvesting protocol is relatively untried; its
application is highly experimental.
In the meantime, the real effort for the VR cataloguing
service is not assembling VR descriptions but developing the
tools for editing, enhancing, and disseminating descriptions.
Accordingly, although the OAI harvesting protocol might
contribute a single, relatively small component to a VR
cataloguing service, its experimental nature suggests that any
prototype work be conducted on the basis of physical assembly of
This should not preclude work on experimental or prototype
harvesting services that focus on visual resources. Indeed the
DLF is actively hoping to encourage the development of such
- Academic Image Cooperative (AIC)
With funding from The Andrew
W. Mellon Foundation and the support of the College Art Association, the AIC
was initiated in January 1999 as a planning process to develop a
scaleable database of curriculum-based digital images for survey
courses in the history of art. The planning process was completed
formally in August 2000 and resulted in a prototype database and
image collection. It also developed technical, organizational,
and policy frameworks that have the potential for sustaining a
more ambitious online service; one capable of identifying,
developing, and disseminating a far large number of
curriculum-based and scholarly image collections.
Since the completion of this planning process, ongoing
discussions between the DLF and The Andrew W. Mellon Foundation,
have focused on how the AIC's image collection - and the learning
derived in its development - might contribute to a broader
initiative under consideration by the Foundation and
provisionally named ArtSTOR. Briefly, ArtSTOR is looking to do
with visual resource materials something analagous to what JSTOR
did for periodical literature in the humanities and social
sciences: create an essential digital library that responds to
widespread scholarly needs.
The result is a collaboration whereby the DLF is helping the
foundation to develop circumscribed, strategically identified
image collections that respond to widespread teaching and other
specialist scholarly needs. It is envisaged that these
collections, including the one developed by the AIC, will be
incorporated into the evolving ArtSTOR service, which eventually
will be managed as a project of the Foundation or an organization
that they designate.
For a programmatic and preliminary description of the ArtSTOR
initiative, please consult the 1999 President's Report available
from the Mellon Foundation website at http://www.mellon.org/President
annual report 99.pdf. These pages document the AIC's
development as a DLF initiative.
- VRA implementation guidelines
The DLF wishes to support the VRA in its development of
implementation guidelines. Obviously such guidelines would make
an important contribution to any VR cataloguing service. Work on
the service is viable in advance of any such guidelines being
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