Creating the Digital Art Library

October 13, 2007 (PRLEAP.COM) Business News
Most art librarians pay widely diverging prices to convert 35 mm images of artwork to
digital formats, according to Creating the Digital Art Library (ISBN 1-57440-) a new
study from Primary Research Group. The study is based on thorough interviews with
leading art and image libraries, including those from Cornell University, Ohio State
University, ARTstor, the National Archives & Records Administration, the Smithsonian,
McGill University, the National Gallery of Canada, the University of North Carolina, the
Illinois Institute of Technology and the Union Catalog Project for Art Image Metadata.

Art librarians are converting their 35 MM image libraries on a selective basis, as they re-
shoot images, acquire new ones from commercial providers, enter into consortium
sharing arrangements, and take other measures to digitize their collections.

The librarians interviewed discuss their digitization efforts commenting on the impact of
the mega-library and emerging resource ARTstor, consortium activities, costs and
benefits of in-house and outsourced image conversion, metadata development, copyright
and licensing issues and other topics in art and image digital librarianship.

View some of the study’s findings below:

The National Archives and Records Administration (NARA) is focusing first on
digitizing images and records for high use volume records of historic significance that
run some risk of damage when originals are loaned out. NARA’s Special Media
Preservation Lab would ideally like to use digital formats as the main distribution
medium while using microfilm/fiche as a difficult to alter backup for key documents and
images. NARA is actively seeking private sector partners to help digitize and market
aspects of its collection. The Organization has already received extensive interest from
organizations that sell genealogical services and World War II memorabilia.

The Smithsonian Institution Library has digitized more than 75,000 images in the past
year, of which 65,000 were outsourced to outside contractors. Photographs and images
taken from 18th, 19th and early 20th century publications were the primary source
materials. The Smithsonian Library has a small slide collection of about 10,000 slides but
it prefers mostly to re-shoot images rather than converting its 35 mm slides to digital

The Smithsonian’s plans for digitizing images include projects for 19th and early 20th
century trade literature, such as plant and seed catalogs, images of scientific instruments,
19th century graphic design-related materials, and taxonomic literature. The
Smithsonian’s digitization reflects the use of its collection as primary source materials for
historians and other scholars.

The Smithsonian library web site gets more than 4 million hits per month and about
220,000 visitors, and close to 90% of them are probably viewers of the sites digital
imaging projects.
The Knight Visual Resource Center of Cornell University has a slide collection of
approximately 450,000 35 mm images, as well as a growing collection of 17,000 digital
images. Cornell’s Knight Center plans to convert its 35 mm images base on an “as
needed” basis.

The Library of the National Gallery of Canada has a slide collection of approximately
180,000 slides. The Library has decided against digitizing the Library’s slide collection.
It is focusing its digitization efforts on support materials related to the Museum and to
Canadian artists in general such as exhibition catalogs and archival lists. The Library
hopes to digitize folders of press cuttings, invitations and other materials related to
Canadian artists.

The University of North Carolina’s Visual Resources Library has a collection of more
than 235,000 slides, 30,000 digital images and 40,000 photographs. The Library has been
making about 6,000 digital slides per year, as well as converting about 2,000 35 mm
slides to digital formats per year. The Library is focusing on converting slides in the
graphic arts: etchings, engravings and lithographs. Sculpture is another high priority area
for slide digitization. The Library is able to convert about 200 slides in about 4 hours of
labor time. The Library has recently completed a purchase of a collection of 3,500
images of Islamic Art.

McGill University’s collection of web sites based on the John Bland Canadian
Architecture Collection gets 400,000 hits per month. McGill’s Napoleon project, which
encompasses digital images of more than 13,000 prints and 1,000 maps, gets about
75,000 hits per month, and has been available since February 2005. McGill digital image
and text projects emphasize accessible web access and ease of use in database design.
Accessible site design fosters usability in an environment in which hard data is scarce on
the effectiveness of advertising and marketing budgets tend to be low – about 2% of
project costs in McGill’s case.

The Knowlton School of Architecture at Ohio State University converted only about 35%
of its 35 mm slide collection and in 2002 decided to build a digital library, largely from
scratch. The University Architecture Library and the stand alone Knowlton Digital Image
Library are working together closely to be able to catalog and present the emerging
digital image collection in the main library catalog. Currently the Knowlton Digital
Image Library averages 3,300 sessions per month; the School of Architecture has 550
enrolled students.

The Graham Resource Center of the Illinois Institute of Technology has a 30,000 slide
collection, of which about 80% was created by faculty and students. The School’s own
collection has recently been dramatically supplemented through its membership in the
Illinois Higher Education Consortium, which has acquired Content DM, a content
management system. The Consortium members plan to share images through Content
For more information, to request a review copy or to place an order, please contact James
Moses at Primary Research Group. A print version of the report is available for $80.00;
a PDF electronic copy, also $80.00. Both versions are available together for $125.00
with usage restricted to one institution. Orders for the print edition can be placed through
Primary Research Group or major book distributors. Orders for or including and
electronic version can also be placed through our website at,
or by calling Primary Research Group at 212-736-2316.