“Can I Use This?” How Museum and Library Image Policies Undermine Education

By Dr. Beth Harris & Dr. Steven Zucker | December 17, 2012

Is the discipline of art history (together with museums and libraries) squandering the digital revolution? We’re not the only ones with this concern. Just last week James Cunowrote a short article, “How Art History is Failing the Internet” and WIlliam Noeltweeted, “Calling on all other great libraries; follow @britishlibrary‘s example. Free your images!”

What we lost
Although eight years have passed since Eastman Kodak announced that it would stop manufacturing slide projectors, we have built only a fragmented system for distributing high-quality digital images—one that is failing our students, our discipline and the public. More has changed than the technology we use to illustrate our lectures. Pre-digital, we sought and created slides from the best available sources. We retained excellent older reproductions, purchased high-quality sets, and made new images on copy-stands. In each case, the guiding principle was to expand the slide collection with the highest quality images. One might think digital technology would have made it easier to follow this principle; unfortunately, the opposite is true.

 Ten years ago, to prepare for class, we went to the slide library, chatted with colleagues, and pulled slides. The slide library was a one-stop shop. Now, if we want the best images available, we spend hours cobbling together a presentation from a frustrating array of sources, each with its own restrictions. We often use our university’s own repository, ARTstor, Flickr, the Google Art Project, museum websites, the Web Gallery of Art, Wikimedia, and even more specialized sources.A culture out of step
Even though we live in a culture where high-quality educational resources are being widely and freely distributed (think iTunesUKhan AcademyedX), high-quality images remain expensive and using them for teaching is more complicated than ever. Even as access to educational materials becomes more open, and images become ever more ubiquitous, high-resolution images that reproduce works of art (with reliable metadata) remain highly restricted.

Read full post here. (Originally posted November 26, 2012)