Jill Straub

The 1990s witnessed the gradual emergence of digital technologies, databases that store and deliver information in a digital format. The Library of Congress’s American Memory is a prime example of a digitalized technology, which strives to digitalize images of the LOC’s primary resources. Users can use American Memory to search photographs, newspaper clippings, sound recordings, maps, letters, and various other formats of publications. While American Memory digitalized a wide array of primary resource materials, other digitalized technologies specialized in more discipline specific information. Among these digital technology databases, JSTOR was launched under the creation and control of the Arthur W. Mellon Foundation. JSTOR specialized in digitalizing scholarly journals. Because JSTOR delivered immediate access to full-text scholarly journal articles, it became it a quick success to its subscribers. Subscribers, which were mostly libraries, were better able to assist patrons in acquiring reliable information in a speedy format, sometimes reducing the reliance on a somewhat cumbersome interlibrary loan service.
During this time, the visual arts began struggling with trying to digitalize its artifacts. They, too, begin questioning how they could transfer their images from an analog catalog into a digital image collection. JSTOR provided the inspiration. Also, funded by the Andrew W. Mellon Foundation, ArtStor, a non-profit organization, was launched and ready to begin serving the public, most notably the teachers and students of higher education. To ensure that users enjoy a high-quality and meaningful experience with ArtStor, the Mellon Foundation designed its mission to “use digital technology to enhance scholarship, teaching, and learning in the arts and associated fields” (“Mission and History,” para. 1). Carrying out this mission, ArtStor developed three specific goals that set the framework of the organization. The three primary goals are:
1. To assemble image collections from across many time periods and cultures that will, in the aggregate, have sufficient depth, breadth, and coherence to support a wide range of educational and scholarly activities;
2. To create an organized, central, and reliable digital resource that supports noncommercial use of images for research, teaching, and learning; and
3. To work with the arts and educational communities to develop collective solutions to the complex challenges that are an inescapable part of working in a changing digital environment (“Mission and History” para. 6-8).
ArtStor’s initial project illustrated how these goals would be carried out. Collaborating with the U.S., China, France, and the U.K., ArtStor built the digital collection, the Mellon International Dunhuang Archive. The Dunhuang Archive consisted of 40 cave grottoes in the Gobi Desert. These grottoes comprised one of the world’s largest Buddhist art sites, and to accompany the grottoes were silk banners and manuscripts. Images were taken of the 40 cave grottoes, silk banners, and manuscripts, and digitalized to form ArtStor’s first image repository. This project was a far-reaching effort, which extended beyond cultural and geographical divides. While the 40 cave grottoes resided in China, the silk banners and manuscripts were brought to France and England at the turn of the 20th century. Hence, piecing together this initial project required the effort from various countries. Yet, once completed and digitalized into ArtStor, it became a collection that could be utilized in one physical setting and
by people from around the globe (“Mission and History,” para. 11).
The success of the Dunhuang collection soon lead a burgeoning palette of digital collections. Among the collections were included “190,000 old master drawings originally photographed at over 100 different repositories, 20 years of contemporary New York City gallery shows, archives of Islamic textiles, the restored Ghiberti ‘Gates of Paradise,’ African masks, medieval manuscripts, images of all exhibitions shown at MoMA, and many others” (“Mission and History,” para. 12).
Since the initial creation of ArtStor, the art repository database has grown to include 22 subject guides, which were distinct, discipline-specific collections. The subject guides included: African-American--American Studies; American Studies; Anthropology; Architecture and the Built Environment; Asian Studies; Classical Studies; Design; Decorative Arts; Fashion and Costume; History of Medicine and Natural Science; Languages and Literature; Latin American Studies; Maps and Geography; Medieval Studies; Middle Eastern Studies; Music History; Native American Studies; Photography; Religious Studies; Renaissance Studies; Theatre and Dance; and Women’s Studies (“Subject Guides,” para. 1-22).
ArtStor has ardently kept up with the quick pace of evolving technology to meet the needs of the educational community. James Shuman and Neil Rudenstine, President and Chairman of the Board, state that over 1,375 educational institutions use ArtStor for some sort of academic or curatorial purposes. Because of this, ArtStor designed more tools to make ArtStor more versatile for teaching purposes. These tools include PowerPoint presentations and digital flashcards accessible on an iPad or iPhone.
In addition to these features, ArtStor recently developed “Shared Shelf,” a new cataloguing and image management system that educational art institutions can use to better manage their own local collections. Another additional key tool to better serve ArtStor’s cliental, is ArtStor’s “Images for Publication” feature. Started by the Metropolitan Museum in 2007, “Images for Publication” collaborates with Bryn Mawr College, Yale University Art Gallery, the Indianapolis Museum of Art and other art educational institutions, to allow scholars to use images on ArtStor for publication use at no extra charge. This is particularly advantageous to scholars needing to use images as a focal point of their research, and subsequently, publications (“Letters from the Chairman,” para. 3).
The heart of ArtStor, however, is in its functionality as a database. A user can utilize ArtStor in a variety of ways. Images in ArtStor can be browsed by collection, classification or geography, and searched for keyword and advanced terms, which include options such as time, date, geography, field, classification, or collection. Users can search through keywords or exact phrases, using wildcard symbols, such as quotation marks, question marks, asterisk, or dollar signs. Once images are retrieved, ArtStor offers the capability to organize them. Once the users begins collecting images, the images can be organized into groups, which can then be placed into folders. Instructors are granted the added benefit of creating multiple folders of the images that students can access.
ArtStor allows instructors to add images from a personal collection or from an institutional collection. When instructors add images from a personal collection, the images initially can only be viewed in the instructor’s personal collection; however, once adding personal images, the user can make the added images accessible to users within the same user institution who have access to the same folders. Institutions subscribed to ArtStor can also upload and post institutional digital images with ArtStor’s digital images. The institution then can allow other subscribed institutions access to the digital images if so chosen to do so.
Because ArtStor is primarily a teaching tool, it offers two formats to present images: Offline Image Viewer (OIV) or a presentation tool of the instructor’s personal choice. With OIV, users can use digital images up to 3200 pixels to present in a classroom. Over one million images, including an instructor’s personal images, possess the capacity to be shown using the OIV. With this feature, users can view images side-by-side, zooming in on the images, panning the images, and comparing and contrasting them. Yet, the instructor can also choose to use a different presentation software, such as PowerPoint or Keynote. Equally, slides from a PowerPoint or Keynote presentation can be imported into the OIV presentation (“Presenting Images,” para. 1, 2).
As long as images are shared with other ArtStor subscribers, three formats exist to share the images: individual, image groups, and through an OIV presentation. Valid URL addresses can be integrated into emails, Word or Page documents, syllabi, and course websites. Users can click on the URL, where, if properly subscribed to ArtStor, they are taken to the image to scan, pan, and zoom the image. Similar to sharing individual images, image groups have the capability to be incorporated into email, word processing software, syllabi, and course websites. Image groups open with the first image, where users can proceed to the next images in the group.
The OIV also serves as a format to integrate images into. Saving the OIV presentation as “read-only,” students can have access to the OIV presentation through a course website, email, Word, or Page document (“Integrating with Courseware & Local Systems,” para. 2-7).
A large part of what makes ArtStor the success it is today is the searching functionality behind the scenes. ArtStor uses ArtStor XML Gateway. The XML Gateway additionally is supported by the Search and Retrieval Url Service (URL). The Search and Retrieval System, which is a Web-based product, searches keywords and retrieves results. Further enhancing this service is the Common Query Language (CQL), another keyword search. Designed to submit search queries, CQL is a versatile service, which can search both both simple and complex queries, as well as to assist in decoding human writing (“Metasearch into ArtStor,” para. 1-3).
In an early review of ArtStor, “As the Image Library Turns One Year Old, It is Finding an Expanding Audience Across Disciplines,” written by Barbara Rockenbach and Max Marmor, one of the database’s toughest challenges was noted--balancing the needs of the content users while respecting the rights of the content owners. While the United States has developed “fair use” exemptions to copyright laws for educational purposes, it is significant to remember that copyright laws do not exist in most countries. Hence, it is tougher to enforce “appropriate” use of content on the users while still respecting the varying cultural perceptions of artists on an international scale. Rockenbach and Marmor attest that this challenge requires compromise, both from the content users as well as from the content owners. Content users must respect that downloading and interoperating images in other software is prohibited, while content owners should understand and focus on ArtStor’s reason for existence--to build and encourage a thriving educational community, where owners can share their work and users can gain the educational benefits of of observing, discussing, and interacting with valued pieces of art (para. 14-15).
I would add another challenge to ArtStor’s mission: to gain the actual understanding and use of this powerful database across the disciplines, particularly the sciences and to an extent, the social sciences. As a former Humanities instructor, many of us in the department used ArtStor as a teaching tool. The depth and breadth of ArtStor makes it an excellent resource when educating our students about the artistic contributions of a specific culture in a specific time period. The visual abilities to scan and zoom in close enough to see a paintbrush stroke help the bring the piece of an art as close to the viewer that he/she may ever get. Yet, at least in my institution, ArtStor is not widely used across the disciplines. While instructors of Art History and the Humanities might make smart use of it, it is not a resource used in a variety of disciplines. Yet, the richness of ArtStor’s vast collections span a multitude of disciplines, including the natural sciences, theatre, geography, and literature. Without the full recognition of ArtStor’s power as a resource that can benefit an amazingly wide audience, it may remain an undiscovered treasure.

“Integrating with Courseware & Local Systems,” ArtStor. ARTstor Inc. n.d. Web. 22 Oct. 2011.
“Letters from the Chairman and President.” ArtStor. ARTstor Inc. n.d. Web. 14 Oct. 2011.
“Metasearch into ArtStor,” ArtStor. ARTstor Inc. n.d. Web. 23 Oct. 2011.
“Mission and History.” ArtStor. ARTstor Inc. n.d. Web. 14 Oct. 2011.
“Presenting Images.” ArtStor. ARTstor Inc. n.d. Web. 22 Oct. 2011.
Rockenbath, Barbara and Max Marmor. “As the Image Library Turns One Year Old, It is Finding an Expanding Audience Across Disciplines.” Library Journal. 15 July 2005. Web. 14 Oct. 2011.
Roncevic, Mirela. “Using ArtStor.”Library Journal. 15 July 2005. Web. 14 Oct. 2011.
“Subject Guides.” ArtStor. ARTstor Inc. n.d. Web. 23 Oct. 2011.