Wednesday, September 30, 2009

Boldly Going Where Not That Many People Have Gone Before

Over the past week or so, I have been researching at length digitized collections of artists' books available online. The upshot is that there aren't that many and, sadly, there are fewer that do it well ("well" meaning that the collections are easily navigable, the images are high-quality, the descriptions are consistent, etc.).

This morning, I sent a few representative samples to Caryn Radick, who was kind enough to invite me to her class yesterday on EAD. I'll share a bit about that later. But, for now, here are the examples I sent her:

  1. The Artist's Books Online site is a compendium of artists' books organized by title, artist, publication date (a misnomer, really it should be "creation date" in most cases), and by collection. What I like most about this collection is that in the individual records, users can see the metadata organized into nice chunks. Here's an example of a record: that shows what I mean. Data such as "reception history" is particularly interesting and unique. I haven't yet seen that elsewhere. Finally, probably the most useful for our project is the FAQs, where the site has all kinds of helpful info on the DTD, tags, etc.
  2. The University of Wisconsin Digital Collection Artists' Book Collection ( is a nice example of what can be done with the images to make them more accessible to users. However, the sizes of the images aren't listed. It's also inconsistent in terms of its metadata. But, it does give us interesting things to consider. Once you get into the collection, the navigation is somewhat improved, but I wouldn’t want to have folks stumble around so much right off the bat.
  3. One of the oldest and largest collections of artists' books in the United states is at the Otis College of Art and Design ( I really don’t like their nested scrolling, but I do like how they incorporated a way to manipulate the image to see it better or from different angles. They are the only place I’ve seen to do that for artists' books, but I have seen the interface used at other digital archives to achieve the same goals. They, on the other hand, implemented it correctly, hence no annoying nested scrolling.
  4. The State Library of Queensland, Australia provides the best intro page I've seen: While we wouldn’t need all of those links, this page is a great example of how to show users an easy way to find out more about the collection. This type of design will be especially helpful when the remaining artists books are added to our collection. Another page I really like is this one: It allows searchers to search by the type or theme of the work. It would also provide us a way to showcase N.J. artists. I’m not saying we would need a separate page for this, but we need to consider how people will search for these items. In individual records, I like that they include a "Conditions of Use" line. This feature makes it easy for users to find this important information for each item.
  5. The Victoria and Albert Museum ( has displayed a limited number of items in its artists' book collection. Their records are pretty elemental – simple, yet informative. The photo info is good as well because it tells users how to correctly caption photos should they obey the copyright and use an image, but (like most of the others) no image size is included. On individual record pages, at the bottom, it just says “Other Images of this Object” so it will excuse objects that only have one image.That will work well for us. One other thing I don't like is how the text flows around the image in some cases. It looks sloppy.

Overall, I was surprised to see how low the quality of the images were. I'm hoping that ours will surpass these. I have been opening them all to see their sizes and have found some to be quite satisfactory (although some will be unusable.

Regarding yesterday's EAD class, I wish I had thought to ask a few questions in advance, but I didn't. Chalk it up to a learning experience. Questions I wish I had asked:
  1. What is the name of this course?
  2. Can I please have a list of the links to the reading materials provided online?
  3. Who are the other students in the course (there were only 8 students in the class last night)?
  4. Where does the lesson on EAD fit with the rest of the course materials? (I.e., may I have copy of the syllabus?)
  5. What is the full name of the other person teaching the course (he introduced himself as "Tom")?
Otherwise, I was surprised to find that after doing only the cursory reading I've done on the topic, I was able to follow along. I'm still a bit lost as to how it fits in with the rest of the software and programming for an online library, but I'm sure that will come with time.

Caryn mentioned that it's unusual for folks to take the course without first having taken the archives course, but it's only given in the spring at Rutgers, so I have to wait for it.

The class seemed to be focused on finding aids, so that fit in nicely with what Caryn, Michael, and I will discuss on Thursday. The most useful part of the class was when she walked us through the code of the finding aid alongside the end version (which she called the html version, although we didn't see the code, we just saw the browser output). She also showed a finding aid the library had done that included some images and was trying to learn how to produce something like it for our project.

I hope that some of the items I sent her (above) will help her.

Last but not least, I'm trying a new way of handling references online using Zotero. It's a work in progress, but getting closer.

Artists' books (State Library of Queensland). (n.d.). Retrieved September 30, 2009, from
Artists' Books Collection - Otis College of Art and Design. (n.d.). Retrieved September 30, 2009, from
Artists' Books in the Collection - Victoria and Albert Museum. (n.d.). Retrieved September 30, 2009, from
Artists' Books Online. (n.d.). Retrieved September 30, 2009, from
University of Wisconsin Digital Collections Artists' Book Collection. (n.d.). Retrieved September 30, 2009, from


  1. Have you looked here?

  2. Hi Guru Bob,
    Thanks for stopping by and leaving a comment.

    In my travels for this project, I have looked at the site you mention.

    The object of my work is to digitize an already-existing collection of artists' books, complete with finding aids for the library in which they reside. While there are some amazing works at, the site is designed as a robust online community for artists rather than a digitized collection. In particular, I'm looking for collections that include metadata on the artists' books that can serve as templates and/or inspiration for my design. So, all that to say, unfortunately, it doesn't help me with the work. But it's always nice to have someone make suggestions. Thanks!

  3. V. nice, thorough job in overviewing digitized collections of artists' books. You note that few are done "well." Is there one that is recognized as "best" or is otherwise well noted that you could use as a benchmark? What are its characteristics that could be emulated? Or pick and choose from several, for example, the intro. page from the Queensland site. This is out of my domain, but I visited several and think they all might have some copy-able (??) characteristics.

    It looks like the finding aids work is gaining momentum, and that aspect will be interesting to follow.

    Regarding your reference list, do any of the ones you listed have authors? Groups responsible for the intellectual content.

    Overall a very inclusive, readable and informative report. Thanks!

  4. Deb -

    As we just discussed, grant funding may be a good approach but be careful of time commitments.


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