How did I get here?

Political cartoons are an interesting combination of image and text that provide learning and research materials for areas of study including art, graphic design, history, political science and journalism. For my final collection project paper, I sought to draw upon and synthesize what I have learned so far about the visual digital landscape and to apply it to a proposal for a family collection of political cartoons and drawings produced by a great uncle, Guido Janes, from about 1920 to 1950.

Most of the objects for this collection are currently in storage so I was somewhat limited in the ability to get down to the specific items in the collection. I wanted to provide the background information that could be used to present the concept to family members as well as to an academic library that might be interested in actually building the collection. Since this was a class project, I also wanted to include some of the general concepts that apply to digital collections.

In the future, I would like to start adding more of the detail that will apply to this specific collection. There are a two links below that can illustrate how a collection of this type might be utilized by a university library.  

The final link shows a collection that features an aunt of my great uncle, Cora Benneson. One of his pen and ink drawings is included in the collection but unfortunately no cartoon examples. The Cora Benneson site could also serve as another type of option for this collection that would have a regional historical application.

Example of an academic library political cartoon collection:

George Washington University Guide to the Clifford K. Berryman Collection: Collection Organization, Subject Terms, Detailed Descriptions of the Records


Clifford K. Berryman Collection: About This Collection


Cora Benneson Site:

Alliance Library System: Early Illinois Women, Cora Agnes Benneson , Childhood home – (example of pen and ink drawing by Guido D. Janes, nephew)



Some final thoughts…

As we have been examining the use of images in the digital landscape, we have hopefully addressed some of the issues that are faced not only in using images but the manner in which profound changes are taking place in the evolution of the meaning we find in visual information as it continues to evolve. The ability to bring together so many vast resources is both exhilarating and overwhelming. Those of us in libraries and in the role of educators have great opportunities to make some of those meaningful connections for our patrons and students. We at least can be a part of providing the environment in which individuals can seek out that meaning on their own.

For learning, resources must be contextualized to determine situational relevance and meaning. Resources also need to be recontextualized to enable the use of information gleaned from various resources (Hill and Hannafin 2001, 38).

Images can bring such richness to our world as well as create controversy. So much visual information comes and goes so quickly and much of it is not analyzed as to the information content that is being communicated, exchanged or manipulated. The power inherent in the visual and the speed with which it is increasing makes the use of visual information in the learning environment more vital than ever.

Our ability to use images for instruction now goes far beyond what has been possible in the past. The following is no less true for images than for any other type of information.

Multiple resources may be aggregated within a single application, but can be reused in theoretically unlimited combinations…Meaning is influenced more by the diversity than the singularity of the perspective taken. Multiple resources are accessed and interpreted for meaning, evaluated for veracity and utility, compared with competing perspectives… (40).

The dynamic nature of  the digital environment challenges all of us with technical and legal considerations that become an everyday part of our efforts on behalf of our patrons and/or students. For this among other reasons, it is important for us to retain an understanding and appreciation of the pre-digital world of images in order to better serve their use in the digital landscape.

As we have traveled over some small portion of the visual digital landscape, I might have started with the words of Nicholas Burbules when he states that:

I would like to begin this essay with the experience of getting lost on the World Wide Web…Movement along this path represents a decision by the user to leave the known content of the page on the screen to an unknown page whose content may edify, surprise, or confuse.

I am still  wandering at best and not nearly content with where I have gotten. In my next addition to this journey, I will present an explanation of a final paper for my Digital Collections class. The exercise poked holes in the coherence of my journey and I may need some time to regroup before I am ready to start out again. I find myself in that very painful state of aporia but as Burbules also goes on to say, “There is no way to remain open to the possibility of happening upon (new things) if we are not prepared to accept getting lost.”

Burbules, Nicholas C. 1997. Aporia: Webs, Passages, Getting Lost, and Learning to Go On. (Accessed 12/5/2008 http://www.ed.uiuc.edu/EPS/PES-yearbook/97_docs/burbules.html)

Hill, Janette R. and Hannafin, Michael. 2001. Teaching and learning in digital environments. Educational Technology Research & Development 49(3): 37-52

Last time we touched a bit on the issue of copyright and the use of images in the academic environment. In the VIUS study that we looked at, student users were found to be utilizing primarily Internet sources for their images. I recently came across a 1998 study, predating the VIUS study, that examined student use of images taken from the Web.  The authors used web pages created by students and examined the homepage of the site for any intellectual property right infringements.

As we know (or maybe not) from copyright law, it is difficult to determine if the use of materials is an infringement or not. Students may be aware that Copyright Law protects use for “scholarship and research” but not be aware that the protection is not absolute. The law is kept purposely vague so that each use can be examined on a case by case basis. As stated by the research authors,

Given the nature of copyright law, it is not possible to say definitively that any particular use of protected material constitutes an actionable infringement. Only after the property owner claims that an infringement has occurred is it necessary for the court to determine whether a particular use is fair or whether it is a violation of the Copyright Law. Recognizing this fact, it is not possible for an objective observer to say with confidence that a particular use of intellectual property is an infringement.

In the research study, the authors developed a 3 tier system to evaluate the use of images by students. The first level was the most exact and included the use of images that specifically showed a “copyright, reserved, or trademark seal” (Herbeck and Hunter 1998, 59). The next 2 levels were left more to the interpretation of the researchers. Level 2 included those images that the researchers felt exhibited “probable use of intellectual property (such as) photographs of professional sports teams and celebrities…syndicated cartoons and television characters” (59). Level 3 included such things as “school specific graphics, including images of institutional photos, seals, logos, shields, mascots, and fraternity and sorority seals” (59).

Taken collectively, the researchers found “that 42.5 percent of pages contained some form of likely violation” (59). Since this study was done 10 years ago, I would suspect that the problem is even greater today. The authors rightly felt that students did not fully understand the implications of their use of images. It seems that students are not alone in this. On the other hand, we see the “chilling effect” on the use of images that comes from the growing fear of litigation by other groups such as faculty.

Another point brought up by the researchers was that of the institutional responsibility that the university might have in allowing students to improperly use protected images. One of the important aspects of information literacy instruction is teaching students to use materials ethically and responsibly. It is no less important with images than with text based materials, but the confusion over the line between “fair use” for scholarship and research and the violation of intellectual property rights leaves us all in a state of uncertainty. This leaves me with more concern about the nature of the electronic environment and our ability to manage it in such a way that does not impede the potential for intellectual inquiry that is it’s great promise.

Herbeck, Dale A., and Christopher D. Hunter. 1998. Intellectual property in cyberspace: The use of protected images on the World Wide Web. Communication Research Research Reports 15(1): 57-63. Communication and Mass Media Complete, EBSCOhost (last accessed November 23, 2008)

Academic Image Use

Well, I am not sure what happened but I just lost an hours’ worth of writing! This will be a bit shorter than I had intended but I am continuing on with my thoughts on the use of images in the academic environment. I had mentioned a user study in an earlier post, the Visual Image User Study (VIUS), that had some interesting findings. Although the study was started in 2001 and completed in 2003, there were many issues raised that are just as applicable today. The study found a high demand for the use of images across many academic areas. There was, as expected, higher image use in the arts for example but also some unexpected results such as higher digital, versus analog, image use in environmental studies as compared to the arts.

While faculty and students were interested in the idea of a campus integrated image delivery system, both user groups were concerned about the content of such a system in contrast to the image sources they were primarily using. While art history faculty might have been relying more on collections of analog images in the form of 35 mm slides, student users were utilizing Web resources. For this reason, library image database use was only moderate even though demand for images was high.

On of the other issues of concern to faculty was copyright. I would suspect that this is even more of a concern 5 years after the completion of the VIUS study. In our current economic and regulatory climate, I am a bit disheartened by an atmosphere that is increasingly restrictive in a time when it is even more important to study the use of images as we are experiencing such an explosion of visual information.

In the writing that I lost, I delved a bit more into copyright issues which I will have to return to at a later point. Suffice it to say, that an integrated campus image delivery system might be a way to address copyright concerns for users and copyright holders. Users concern for content however, is not a matter of copyright issues alone. There must be sufficient quantity and quality of images as well. Just knowing that images are available for use is not enough if the images are so limited as to discourage utilizing the database.

An article by Henry Pisciotta, written before the results of the VIUS study came out, addresses this problem. Pisciotta states that, “…critical mass is defined as a problem of matching sufficient quantity of database images to a sufficient quantity of users.” Studies such as the VIUS study can provide the support for the development of image databases that will provide the type of content that users want. The challenge will be to compete with the Web. As noted by Pisciotta in his 2003 article,

The Web apparently contains more than ten billion pictures…However, even if incorrect by a factor of ten these numbers soar far beyond the numbers of digital imaging projects undertaken specifically by libraries, archives, and museums. These types of cultural institutions have lost the race if we consider ‘critical mass’ to be a quantity of images and users (127).

Pisciotta goes on to discuss the nature of user image searching on the Web and a number of image use models that have been applied in the academic environment. One aspect of these models mentioned by the author that we have seen evolving in sites such as Flickr, is “Users’ direct contribution of metadata to a centralized database…as a means of describing the multiple readings of a picture” (132).


Pisciotta, Henry. 2003. Image delivery and the critical masses. Journal of Library Administration 39(2/3): 123-138.

Visual Image User Study (VIUS). 2003. Summary Report: Penn State University Libraries. (last accessed 11/15/2008 http://www.libraries.psu.edu/vius/SummaryReport.pdf)

I love all of the concepts and controversies surrounding images, their meaning and all of the ways that this involves the way we see the world. It now seems that my academic background running as it has through education, fine art, mass communications and library science has brought me to an interesting juncture in our current electronic evolution. According to James Marcum in his 2002 article Beyond visual culture: The challenge of visual ecology,

Today we live in…a visual culture in which print and graphics, television and telecommunications, videos and movies, and computer displays…convey information of such intensity that it diminishes the dominance of speech and print media. (However)The library profession remains grounded in textual, print media, creating vulnerability amidst a culture increasingly characterized as visual (189).

I know…just what we need, another reason to predict the demise or diminishing role of the library in our society. My love for images, visual information, signs and symbols etc. does not alter my love for the printed word but I do think that Marcum is right in the sense that visual materials are often placed in a second class status within some environments including libraries. “Historically, modern society denigrates the role of the image” (191). It is not that images or visual information are not represented within the conventional library, but the perception at times seems to be that the use visual elements, on the OPAC for example, is seen as dumbing down the system. Particularly in an academic environment, users are expected to be beyond needing “pictures” to get around and therefore less in need of graphic elements to navigate. We desperately need to draw students to our systems but we are often still insisting on raising their levels of perception to print versus images in the way we choose to design our systems. It seems to me, at times, like the internal struggle in dealing with student use of Google. We denigrate it in favor of “real” resources in the library instead of working with students to integrate all sources of information into search strategies. “For the visual ecology to prevail in the world of academe requires providing intellectual access to images” (199).

I remember somewhere in my class text the example given of research that shows that the human eye is able to process thumbnail images more quickly than text-based information. This is simply the way we are wired. It only stands to reason that information retrieval systems that are more visually oriented will be more user friendly. Hence the GUI (graphic user interface). This also makes me think of Steve Krug’s book Don”t make me think: A common sense approach to web usability. It does not improve our standing within our culture if we, as librarians, let the bias against visual navigation and representation within our systems affect how we design access to our digital or electronic resources. “The idolization of language and the reduction of cognition to a processing of codes and symbols – mathematical and textual – have marginalized the study of the image” (192).

Edward Tufte, The Visual Display of Quantitative Information, is another author who comes to mind who has done much in elevating the ability of visual design or images used to represent quantitative data and to represent information in a way that is more immediately grasped by the human mind. As Marcum goes on to state,

Information must be simplified and managed into presentations that have meaning in order to fully utilize and comprehend the vast reservoirs of scientific, business, and public data that are accumulating, and a growing number of researchers are using visualization to analyze and present their data better (196)…It requires but little reflection to determine that librarians cannot leave these skills and techniques to others without jeopardizing the future of the profession (198). The rise of the digital library is an important step in the development of the library as a cultural resource. The effort remains focused overmuch, however, on text and the digitization of text for greater access. The greater challenge is to visualize the total culture, the visual ecology, in order to select wisely what should be preserved for posterity (201).

Marcum, James W. 2002. Beyond visual culture: The challenge of visual ecology. portal: Libraries and the Academy 2(2): 189-206.

In mylast blog entry, I ended with the intent of looking a bit more in depth at the VIUS user study that examined the image use behaviors and needs of students, faculty and researchers in several academic areas of study. I was also interested in taking a bit of a detour into the concept of visual culture in order to explore the implications for librarians and information professionals due to the increased use of visual information in the online environment. Ihave found since the last post, however, that my reading and class discussions have veered into some additional related areas that I would like to discuss in this blog and perhaps revisit the VIUS study and visual culture in a later post.

This all started, I suppose, with a discussion in my class archives group about archival “provenance” or “original order.” Both terms relate to the manner in which archival materials are organized. Organization can be seen as a structure within which the meaning content of the archival object is described and most importantly the means by which the object is placed within the context in which the object was first created. Most of my thinking is currently based, of course, on how this applies to visual objects such a photographs. I had come across an ALA featured digital collection of the week, ( http://www.shorpy.com/shorpy ), which I posted as an example for my archives collection discussion group. I saw this collection as an example of the manner in which digital images could be reorganized into new and meaningful collections.

This does, however, bring up some questions pointed out by one of my classmates about the organization and significance of digital image collections. When an image is taken from or lifted out of  the original order of the archive in which it has previously been collected, do we not lose some or all of the meaning content within the image? There is also the question of the manner in which a digital collection may merely replicate what is already being done in a conventional archive. What is the justification for going to all of the lengths and costs of creating a digital collection, or reconfiguring a collection, if these things are already being done?

My own thoughts are that, while it is no less and perhaps even more important to preserve provenance and original order, the digital environment offers new ways of considering/configuring and “seeing” visual information. One of the things that stuck in my mind from some of my readings is the reality that much of the visual information now in archives has no individual description. As stated in our class text,

An important issue with special collections is that they may not be cataloged down to the individual item level. Collections of photographs, for example, may simply be placed in folders at the level of perhaps 100 photos per folder, and the entire folder given a catalog record…As a result, one cannot pick a photograph at random from this file and assume… (what the picture is “about”) Collection-level cataloging makes it difficult for the user to decide whether there is an answer to a question in a particular folder. In traditional libraries this was dealt with by delivering the entire folder to the user and having the user flip through it” ( Lesk 2005, 241- 242).

While our text also goes on to say that , “Digitally, browsing may be more tedious and complex and not serve the purpose” (242), does not a digital collection perhaps offer the opportunity to lift out images from their folders and present them in a way that users can decide if there is an image that does provide an answer to a question or an information need or also simply make them aware of unexplored connections between the vast amount of visual information that we currently have in store?

While I am optimistic about the great promise of digital collections, I do agree that,

…individual evaluation is necessary to decide when…the digital image may be more useful that the original, and when the digital image is likely to be only a finding device…(since) Special collections may sometimes be valued as artifacts, which poses additional problems in the digital realm…they often contain unique items…the digitization must not destroy the original, and users are more likely to insist that a digitized version serve merely as a finding aid, rather than a substitute for the original”  (2005, 244-245).

There have been several other articles in our class readings this week that addressed some of these issues involved in determining what materials should be digitized or that have the type of significance that justifies the time, expense and on-going commitment needed to preserve digital collections. Also, when we are considering the organization of digital materials and how we provide access to users, we get into the question of how traditional library standards of organization apply in the digital environment. While the advent of digitization has brought great challenges, it also brings the opportunity for us to reconsider how we organize information and how this will serve users now and into the future.

As stated in an article by Bob Pymm, “…the question of acquiring, selecting and preserving our documentary heritage, in whatever form, has reawakened the debate into how libraries, as one of the institutions charged with the responsibilities for preserving the cultural memory of their society, select material for permanent retention” ( 2006, 61-62). Pymm goes on to discuss examples of how we might apply criteria for determining significance in order to better decide on which materials to place into digital collections and assure preservation of our cultural memory.

In addressing the manner in which we organize information or digital collections, an article co-authored by Kimmo Tuominen states that,

A difference in perspective leads to a different articulation (combination of terms). As information professionals, we have to ask how particular ways of linking terms and representing phenomena affect the ways in which the world is presented to us. Ultimately, this is the question that makes librarianship such an important profession…traditional classification languages have in practice become deeply embedded in…the physical organization of library collections…in digital libraries, it is much easier to introduce alternative orders enabling users also to challenge existing perspectives, classifications, and vocabularies (2003, 563-564).

Tuominen’s article considers several conceptual approaches to information organization and the subsequent application to digital collections. It is very exciting to consider the various conceptual ideas and how the very nature of knowledge production can be impacted by the organizational structures that we are now developing. Also for further reading along these lines is an article by Andrew Bullen. Bullen proposes a model and tools for image digital collections based on concepts from Library 2.0. He sums up a lot of my impressions when he states that,

As professionals, we have embraced the concept of preserving materials as digital objects, defined a wide-ranging series of increasingly sophisticated cataloging (metadata) systems, and developed quality assurance and trusted repository programs. in my very humble opinion, however, we have yet to embrace the next logical step, which is to provide context for the images in our collections. Our image repositories are grouped together with as much relevance as posters in display at a neighborhood head shop; except for an overarching collection theme, our digital objects exist in splendid isolation, beautifully cataloged but bereft of supporting and defining context (2008, 31).

Bullen presents the concept of a “nodal image” as an one that has connections or relationships to many others. Through these connections, he proposes a “…great chain of linkages the ‘long tale,’ a design concept that allows digital repositories to explore all of the connections between narratives and images. The long tale takes a discrete object and expands out its connections” (34). In contrast to the idea that we would be taking images out of context by suggesting other relationships, Bullen proposes the opposite. It is by exposing these other relationships or connections that we further put the images in context.

The model Bullen sees, is one that would depend on audience participation. This is due to the fact that most institutions would not have the necessary resources. By including audience participation, the digital collection site expands its “author and editor base…Each population brings some part of the narrative to share” (35). Bullen ends his article with these words, “We have any number of resources that we, as a profession, have digitized and made available online. I believe that our next step is to tie them together” (35).


Bullen, Andrew. 2008. The ‘long tale’: Using Web 2.0 concepts to enhance digital collections. Computers in Libraries. 28(9): 3-35.

Lesk, Michael and Michael Lesk. 2005. Understanding digital libraries. Boston: Elsevier.

Pymm, Bob. 2006. Building collections for all time: The issue of significance. Australian Academic and Research Libraries: AARL. 37(1): 61-73.

Tuominen, Kimmo, Sanna Talja, Reijo Savolainen. 2003. multiperspective digital libraries: The implications of constructionism for the development of digital libraries. Journal of the American Society for Information Science and Technology. 54(6): 561-569.

User Studies

The question this week is, how do we provide for user needs when we develop digital image collections and services. First, of course, we must know what those needs are. In my class chapter reading for this week, author Michael Lesk states that, “Talking to users about what they want is useful…But talking to users about how searching should be done is not likely to be effective…It is hard to guess what people might want, and more effective to ask them” (2005, 227). He later goes on to say, however, that, “Users, unfortunately, aren’t very good at saying what they want, and we haven’t done very well at building systems to help extract this from them” (231). In other words, how might we build information/image retrieval systems that in effect replicate reference interviews in order to engage with the user while negotiating the information/image need.

We have addressed to some degree the issues involved with assigning metadata or descriptions to images by which users access and retrieve image content.  Even if we had many of these issues solved, such as a system that allowed us to effectively categorize and describe image content, the user is likely to come to our system with a need that is not fully developed or a mental model of the system that does not reflect the actual system organizational model.

Training users to use information retrieval systems falls under the scope of information literacy instruction. Within information literacy, images and visual literacy will increasingly take on greater importance. Visual information is increasingly taking on a prominent role in the online environment. In a 2005 article, “Visual Images and Information Literacy”, author Loanne Snavely states, “The time may come, or possibly it has already arrived, when images overtake the word as the dominant medium for communication” (27). She emphasizes the need for librarians to consider the increase in visual information and work to incorporate this into library user sources, services and training.

…as various disciplines continue to rely more and more heavily on visual materials, librarians are and will be teaching more about information literacy issues in the visual realm, about effective searching strategies, appropriate sources, and evaluative techniques for assessing images (2005, 32).

We still need to provide an intermediary between the system and the user. It does not seem likely that users are uniformly going to develop the type of search skills that will consistently interface with image retrieval systems. The ideal information retrieval system, as one that is user centered, is not yet a reality. Many digital image collections were built more with the content in mind and are not easily accessible by users. As Snavely states, however, “Finding the right content to digitize, and providing reader and instructional services for them have become much higher priorities” (2005, 28).

User studies can be used to gain additional insight and provide direction in determining user needs for digital images. The Snavely article illustrates this with a review of the Visual Image User Study (VIUS) that was performed at Pennsylvania State University. This study examined and compared the use of images by students and faculty in a variety of academic disciplines. If you would like to review some of the findings, the link is provided below. For next time, I would like to explore this study in more depth and later perhaps look a little more at the evolving nature of visual information in our culture (visual culture).


Visual Image User Study  (VIUS)


Lesk, Michael, and Michael Lesk. 2004. Understanding digital libraries. Boston: Elsevier.

Snavely, Loanne. 2005. Visual images and information literacy. Reference & User Services Quarterly 45(1): 27-32.