Towards a Shared Cataloguing Tool for VR
Planning for the DLF's Academic Image Cooperative (AIC) demonstrated that a shared, web-accessible
cataloging database comprising rich descriptions of art
historical works promises to be of enormous value to educational
and cultural communities. Like comparable bibliographic utilities
(OCLC, RLIN), it would serve both scholars and catalogers. For
scholars and students it would act as invaluable reference tool.
For custodians of visual resource collections in libraries and
other institutions, the database would inform and facilitate
local cataloguing activities; begin to minimize the redundant
effort that image cataloging activities presently involve, by
providing an authoritative, critical mass of cataloging records
available for local repurposing; and ultimately foster
appropriate local implementation of standard controlled
vocabularies. The database, finally, could have a number of
potential business applications, for example, to those active in
the private market for art historical objects.
Although a prominent feature on the want lists of appropriate
professional communities, the construction of such a database has
so far proved too complicated to try.
- High-quality descriptive information exists in
machine-readable form but is created with very different metadata
standards and encoding schemes.
- Harmonization, if feasible, is itself problematic. In stark
contrast to bibliographic records, it is impossible, indeed
undesirable, to agree a single authoritative description for an
art historical work. Attributes change over time (architectural
structures are renovated; paintings are cleaned) and descriptions
are contingent upon authors' perspectives and upon the users'
Yet recent developments afford an unparalleled opportunity to
successfully assemble the database described above.
- Professional consensus has emerged around the Core Categories
for describing art historical works as proposed by the Visual
Resources Association. The Core, until recently an evolving
concept, has stabilized to a large extent with the recent
publication of version
3.0. Because the Core is not proposed as a prescriptive
standard, it supplies a common framework within which it may be
possible to present a single, unifying view of fundamentally
heterogeneous descriptive data. Because it has emerged from
within a professional community that is exclusively concerned
with visual resources, the common ground it proposes is richer
than that supplied by other metadata standards such as the Dublin
Core. At the same time, the visual resources community appears to
be more accepting of the notion that its descriptive information
is likely to be more informative and more useful if it is
developed and presented with variance in tact, rather than
shoe-horned into constraining and prescriptive metadata
- SGML, and now XML, provide syntaxes capable of representing
multiple views of a single record. Although the capability is
well known there has until recently been little implementation
experience of it within the educational and cultural communities.
At present, it is possible to point to relevant work at a number
of sites which demonstrates capability in robust operational
- Software applications capable of supporting a genuinely
distributed and dynamic approach to collection development - one
that relies upon data development at two or more participating
sites - are more well developed today than they have been in the
past. OCLC's CORC, the University of Washington's Content
software, and version 3.0 of Luna Imaging's Insight software
offer dynamic collection development tools that are operated in a
- Through its work developing and demonstrating a prototype
image service, the AIC is in receipt of several offers in
principle to supply machine-readable records describing the works
of art that are housed in a number of very large visual resource
collections. In addition, it has received expressions of interest
from the Universities of Michigan and Washington, and from Luna
Imaging, Inc., to participate in various capacities in processing
any records that are supplied and to make them available through
some uniform view in a web-based utility.
The AIC accordingly proposes a prototyping initiative that
Assemble a prototype database of between 300,000 and 500,000
descriptive records sourced from between 3 and 6 institutions.
Records will be supplied in their native formats and mapped by
the AIC to a specified implementation of the VRA Core. Once
assembled, the database will be evaluated by a small group
comprising scholars and visual resource professionals. The DLF
and the AIC will also evaluate technical, organizational, and
business implications involved in transitioning the prototype
into operational service.
Although more detailed functional specifications for the
prototype will be developed at an initial stakeholders' meeting,
the following service description is offered as a starting point
for discussion and derives. It derives from a meeting of the AIC
held in New Haven on 3-4 August 2000.
The prototype will at a minimum:
- Integrate between 300,000 and 500,000 descriptive records
sourced from different machine-readable catalogues. Records will
be mapped by the AIC to a uniform implementation of the VRA Core
Categories version 3.0 but also available in their native
- The database will supply web-based browsing, searching (both
fielded and keyword searching), and retrieval of sorted result
sets and it will be possible to display records within a result
in brief and full modes.
- The application will incorporate controlled vocabularies to
enhance searching and to aid visual resource professionals in
cataloguing. Introduction of controlled vocabularies will be
phased and the prototype is likely to begin with a single
vocabulary such as Union List of Artists' Names, Art and
Architecture Thesaurus, ICONCLASS, Library of Congress Subject
Headings, Thesaurus of Geographical Names.
- The database will supply tools to enable bona fide "trusted"
users to edit existing records and add new ones. Such users will
be able to amend existing records and to relate individual
records to one another either because they refer to the same work
or because they exist in a parent-child relationship. Trusted
users will also be able to assign key terms derived from
implemented controlled vocabularies to a record or an element
within a record. The database will attribute all amendments to
the authoring individual.
- Resource export ("copy cataloging"). To support local
cataloguing efforts, users will be able to export records (as
amended) in some common format for importation to and use in
their local catalogue databases.
The project is expected to take place over the course of 2001
and to run in tandem with a test distribution of the Academic
Image Cooperative service. It will begin by identifying
stakeholding participants including data suppliers, data users,
and applications developers, and representative domain
specialists. Stakeholders will be convened in a meeting to
develop a detailed functional specification for the prototype and
its evaluation as well as and key milestones for the project's
progress. Thereafter, the prototype will be built according to
specification and subjected to formal evaluation and review by
1. The REACH and
VISION projects played a
significant role in the promulgation of metadata standards for
art objects and provided valuable data about the complexities and
challenges of creating and sharing image- and object-based
information across communities and systems. The REACH project
attempted to extract information of interest to researchers from
commonly-used museum management systems, and to assemble that
information into a single database with a Web interface.
Overtaken by other developments, including the tandem evolution
of the VISION project, the project was terminated. REACH differed
from the current prototype in at least one fundamental respect
insofar as it attempted to integrate information about objects in
a heterogeneous group of museums. The collection scope of the
current prototype is more rigorously defined by fine art and
architecture, and further circumscribed by virtue of the
prototype's focus on image collections created in support of
overlapping and in many cases common academic curricula. The
VISION project was similarly constrained to art historical images
from academic visual resources collections and other research
collection but also less ambitious than the current prototype.
Fundamentally it set out to evaluate application of the VRA Core
Categories. The project is documented in VRA Bulletin
25:4(winter 1998). VISION and REACH are compared in Elisa Lanzi's
contribution to Art Documentation 17:1(1998).
2. See http://www.oclc.org/corc/,
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