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Shared Cataloguing Tool for Visual Resources

Report of a focus group meetingon functional requirements Convened at ARLIS/NA Annual Conference, Getty Research Institute, Sunday April 1, 2001 1:00-4:00 pm

This was the final of three meetings on the topic of a shared cataloging utility or service for the VR community. Sponsored by the DLF, these meetings have envisioned the strategic development of a service that will facilitate and promote the shared development of high-quality, consistent, reliable, and professionally developed descriptions of visual resources. DLF has been prepared to invest in a prototype development in 2001 should these meetings indicate that such a development is desirable, feasible, and cost-effective.

Attending: Max Marmor (DLF/Yale and presiding); Murtha Baca (Getty); Linda Barnhart (UCSD); Brett Carnell (LC); Sherman Clarke (NYU); Michael Ester (Luna); Elisa Lanzi (Smith); Vicki O'Riordan ((UCSD); Bill Parod (Northwestern/Dun Huang project); Barbara Rockenbach (Yale and recorder); James Shulman (by phone; Mellon); Chris Sundt (U Oregon); Ann Whiteside (Harvard GSD); Greg Zick (U Washington)

Max reviewed previous discussions of the need for and feasibility of developing a prototype shared cataloging utility for VR collections. He summarized the results of two previous DLF-sponsored meetings on this subject (22 Jan 2001 at NYU, 1 March 2001 at the VRA annual conference). He defined the purpose of this final focus group meeting as 1) to test, revise as appropriate, or affirm the understandings arrived at in the previous meetings and 2) to update those understandings in view of a major development, the likely adoption of this initiative by the Mellon Foundation as part of its nascent ArtSTOR imaging initiative.


Max briefly reviewed the genesis of ArtSTOR, its relationship to a planned art history phase of JSTOR, and its likely development trajectory. His summary was amplified and expanded upon by James Shulman, who has been appointed executive director of ArtSTOR and who participated in the meeting via speakerphone. Discussion revolved around the project's likely advisory structure and the possible role(s) of a shared cataloging tool within ArtSTOR. [Press releases concerning ArtSTOR appeared shortly after this meeting, alleviating the need to summarize in detail this part of the discussion here.]

Focus group issues

Max then summarized the shared cataloging utility discussion to date, emphasizing these accomplishments:

  • successful identification of ArtSTOR as a likely administrative host providing central support and ownership (compare Getty as a home for the Getty vocabularies)
  • successful identification of candidate institutional contributors of more than 500K cataloging records for a prototype development. Contributed descriptions should be stored in their native formats and presented both in their native formats and in a unifying view (to be developed) based on VRA Core 3.0
  • successful preliminary identification of the most desirable authority tools for incorporation into a prototype VR "Catalogers Desktop" comparable to the LC Catalogers Desktop. Candidates: AAT, ULAN, TGN, Iconclass, LCNAF, LCSH

These accomplishments, especially the identification of ArtSTOR as the service's likely administrative home, allow DLF to set aside for now several unresolved issues for resolution in the specific context of ArtSTOR's own development.

Issues "off the table" for include:

  • need to identify an organizational home
  • need to define in the very near term a provisional "work record" structure to which records in native formats can be mapped for presentation in a common "unifying view" within a prototype
  • need to prioritize candidate contributors of cataloging records for further negotiations and prototype development
  • need to prioritize authority tools for a prototype development
  • need to address the development of a prototype software
  • need to model the cost of prototyping such a service

Remaining "on the table" for purposes of this meeting were the following process issues, and the group was asked to provide a "reality check" on present assumptions about these issues:

  • need for better understanding of potential audiences and uses
  • need for better understanding of administrative maintenance issues


The catalog service will have a number of direct benefits for VR catalogers and slide and art librarians. It will:

  • reduce redundant cataloging effort by providing a central repository of shared records
  • encourage, facilitate, and provide examples of good cataloging practice
  • ensure convergence of and leverage complementary but fragmented streams of activity within the VR community e.g. on controlled vocabularies, community metadata formats, application guidelines, etc

Other audiences: The group affirmed that the service may similarly benefit scholars, teaches and students, as well as curators outside VR narrowly defined (archivists, art librarians, library catalogers, museum professionals). Linda Barnhart observed (to general concurrence) that this development presents an opportunity to rethink the very nature of shared cataloging as it is generally understood in the library community, precisely because this development arises at a moment when distributed technologies offer new opportunities for addressing the need for collaboration.

Users and uses

Levels of use and responsibility:

The service will permit different levels of use including the following

  • Level 1. Users will be able to search, browse, and export records (e.g. for printing labels, populating local catalog databases, or supplying links to authoritative records in the catalog)
  • Level 2. Level 1 functions plus ability to add descriptive records to the service and to recommend candidate authority terms. Added descriptions may provide supplemental material for works for which descriptions already exist. Alternatively they may supply records for new works. Level 2 users may also submit candidate authority terms for existing or newly created descriptions.
  • Level 3. Level 2 functions plus ability to approve and implement authority terms, which will be conveyed by system administrators to producers of authority tools employed by the service.. In this respect, at least some level 3 users might serve as members of specialist editorial panels or review bodies and take responsibility for reviewing and approving candidate authority terms submitted for review by level 2 users
  • Level 4. System administrator

Affirmed by the group as appropriate.

Tools to support these levels of use:

The service will include a range of administrative tools with which service administrators and authorized users can, as appropriate, amend, enhance, and normalize existing descriptive records according to agreed-upon guidelines. Tools will also allow users to create and add new descriptions according to approved guidelines, and to adapt and otherwise employ descriptions in local use.

Administrative tools must include:

  • tools allowing service administrators and other authorized users to cluster descriptions that refer to a single "work"
  • tools enabling service administrators and other authorized users to upload collections of image descriptions in their native formats for integration into the service
  • tools enabling service administrators to generate from records in various native formats a presentation record in the to-be-developed unifying "view"
  • tools enabling service administrators and users to attach via download or link to thumbnail images and/or web-accessible images where such images are considered to be key descriptive elements ("visual metadata")

User tools must include:

  • tools enabling users to search and browse descriptions and to cluster descriptions that refer to the same work
  • tools enabling users to repurpose, edit, amend, and enhance existing records for local use, including pick lists that assist in the selection and application of controlled vocabularies and other authorities
  • tools that allow users to output records for local use, e.g. as printed labels, in standard file formats for inclusion in a local catalog database, as links to authoritative records in the catalog
  • tools allowing users to recommend candidate terms for review by some approved editorial board

Affirmed by the group as appropriate.

Addenda to agenda

After the meeting concluded, Michael Ester demonstrated the work Luna Imaging has been doing on cross-collection searching for its forthcoming release of Insight 3.0. This feature works by resolving the metadata model employed for any given collection against one of a handful of standards (Dublin Core, MARC, VRA Core 3.0, etc.). The user can view collection metadata in native format or in any of these standard "views."

Greg Zick then demonstrated the CONTENT software developed at the University of Washington for digital asset management. The CONTENT website is at http://contentdm.com and a 60 day trial subscription is available.

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