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VIA Scope

What qualifies as a 'visual resource'?
VIA access guidelines

VIA content guidelines


What qualifies as a ‘visual resource’?

Visual materials encompass not only images per se, but also objects held by Harvard that are interpreted visually, such as furniture, costume and artifacts, whether or not there is an intermediate image of the work.

While individual slides and photographs have not traditionally been part of libraries’ mainstream cataloging processes, other visual materials such as maps, videotapes, and motion pictures have been treated much like books and serials and are included in HOLLIS. For these materials, several factors – including topic, as described above – influence whether cataloging appears in HOLLIS, in VIA or in both.

VIA access guidelines

VIA includes catalog records for objects or images owned, held, or licensed by Harvard. Access to the catalog itself is open to the general public. All catalog records in VIA are available to everyone. Some version or representation of each image or object described in VIA records must be available to the entire Harvard community (though not necessarily online). Exceptions are made in unusual cases such as fragile material awaiting conservation treatment or archival materials which are legally closed, where the object cannot be viewed at all but where information about the object is valuable to researchers.

Thumbnail images, when available, are displayed in the VIA record. The records contain links to larger, reference images which, for the most part, are stored in OIS’ Digital Repository Service (DRS). Digital images are not required for inclusion in VIA and many records in VIA lack online images. Contributing repositories are responsible for insuring that digital images available online meet the University Counsel’s guidelines for copyright clearance.

VIA is one of several public union catalogs at Harvard, including HOLLIS and OASIS, the database for archival finding aids. Inevitably, there is overlap in both scope and content among these systems. An overarching access menu, (MetaLib, SFX, cross catalog searching), allows users to search across all union catalogs at Harvard and receive an integrated set of results. Materials accessible through more than one catalog may be described differently in each. For example, a group of photographs in an archival collection might be represented in a HOLLIS record for the collection, in OASIS describing the collection in detail, and in records for each individual photograph in VIA. Ideally, a researcher discovering materials in any of these catalogs will consider them in their broader context in order to identify related items or to get a more detailed description by following links between systems.

VIA content guidelines

Summary of guidelines. VIA focuses on artistic and cultural materials, and leaves aside the natural and physical sciences. This is not a repository-based distinction; rather it is intended to reflect the characteristics of the materials, the way the materials are described, and the capabilities the user requires in an access system. Materials excluded from VIA at this time will be analyzed at a later stage to determine what functionality they require and whether they can be fruitfully incorporated into VIA or would be better served by a separate database.

Materials that can be found in VIA include images that document art, architecture, archaeology, ethnography, and material culture. Materials that are unlikely to be found in VIA include images that document astrophysics, biology, botany, geology, medicine, and material science.

Reasons behind the guidelines. Visual resource collections at Harvard are truly vast and encompass not only study slides and photographs but also object collections. Items range from original art and artifacts to natural history specimens, from renderable satellite telemetry to medical and astronomical images. There are no clean boundaries between these categories. For example, a photograph might document a botanical specimen and be a work of art in its own right. A manuscript page can be valued for its textual content or for its visual or artifactual qualities. The context of an item – the nature of the library, archive, or museum that holds it and how it came to be acquired – determines how it is described and consequently how it can be found and used. Given the need for multiple databases that perform different functions, no organizational scheme can collocate all the materials needed for one field of study in a single database without splitting material relevant to other fields of study across databases or replicating data.

Two criteria suggest narrowing the scope of VIA from the entire universe of visual materials.

  1. Is the metadata that describes the various resources compatible?
    The metadata for various kinds of visual materials (or for similar visual materials described for different purposes) may have widely divergent characteristics. The data elements themselves may have little overlap or the same element could have such different kinds of values that searching them together would be meaningless. For example, relevant dates could be so differently conceived that one could not effectively search across collections, such as geologic eras vs. fractions of a second.

    If there is little overlap in the access points created for different materials, putting the metadata into a single union catalog can create an environment which is too complex – one for which it is difficult to design an interface, one which is difficult to document and difficult to use. For example, completely different access points (e.g. artist vs. specimen collector) may be relevant to different materials. Metadata supporting access methods crucial to some disciplines (e.g. geographic coordinates) may be present for only a small segment of the collection. In these cases, the interface must either be simplified and critical distinctions lost, or elaborated to account for the discrepancies. It would be impossible to produce appropriate information to users to clarify which materials could be retrieved by any given search type.
  2. Are the functional requirements similar?
    The research tools and methodologies needed by different communities to make the use of visual resources vary significantly. Some functions, such as comparing, grouping, or zooming images, may be common to all applications, but the ability to calculate temperature or distance in an image or to isolate changes in a time sequence might be central to the use of some materials and irrelevant for others