The Harvard College Library's Fine Arts Library, in collaboration with the Harvard University Library's Office for Information Systems (OIS), will partner with the libraries of the University of California at San Diego (UCSD) and the Ingalls Library of the Cleveland Museum of Art in an effort to create a prototype Union Catalog for Art Images, or UCAI. The project, based at UCSD, is supported by a two-year grant from the Andrew W. Mellon Foundation.
"Unlike books, visual resources do not come with built-in metadata, such as the information contained on a title page. The way a visual resource is described is more subjective. Historically, the visual resources community has not applied common standards and terminology to catalog an item, relying instead on local conventions. Therefore, copy cataloging, or using the same record for an item across institutions, has not been possible. The goal of this project is to bring together metadata records describing art works and other images from three different institutions with different cataloging standards, and from this better learn how to share visual-resource information," said Robin Wendler, metadata analyst for OIS.
Ultimately, the project will have a great impact on the time it takes researchers to locate images. "Today, when researchers want to find a particular picture there is no easy way to locate it. There are no bibliographic utilities that will tell them that the Vermeer painting they are trying to find is owned by the Rijksmuseum in Amsterdam or that a collection of photographs of sod houses is owned by the Library of Congress. If researchers want to see several images of Rodin sculpture or aerial photographs of Jerusalem, they must browse through illustrations in books and magazines, or search individual museum web sites. By helping to standardize the data that describes images, and by enabling institutions to share records about their visual collections, the Union Catalog of Art Images project will help to address this challenge for researchers," said Katherine Martinez, Herman and Joan Suit Librarian of the Fine Arts Library.
Martha Mahard, curator of historical photographs and special visual collections at the Fine Arts Library, will serve as consultant for the content of the catalog records, while Wendler will consult on technical issues.
"One of the reasons Harvard was asked to participate in this project is because of our similar experience in creating VIA," said Mahard. VIA, the Visual Information Access system, is a web-based union catalog of visual resources at Harvard that includes information about slides, photographs, objects, and artifacts in the University's libraries, museums, and archives. "Working on VIA allowed us to take a look at just what is involved in attempting to create a unified system."
The prototype Union Catalog for Art Images will bring together approximately 500,000 metadata records describing art works and other images that were created at the three partner institutions. UCSD and its partners will attempt to address the technical issues surrounding the unification and display of diverse record structures and content to assess both the viability and utility of the database.
"We hope that the project will help the international visual resource community develop standard cataloging practices that will ultimately make visual collections more easily accessible to our users," said Wendler.