The University is now almost halfway to its goal of digitizing 180,000 images in preparation for moving its collection of slides and mounted photographs to an off-campus storage facility.
When the History of Art Department moves into its new York St. building, the Library will move the Visual Resources Collection — which is composed of 360,000 slides and 190,000 mounted photographs — from its current home in Street Hall to the Library Shelving Facility in Hamden. Although many Yale professors have been using digital media for the past few years, some members of the University faculty have expressed concern about the potential consequences of moving the collection to an off-campus storage facility.
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The library recently received a gift of $100,000 for the digitization project, but it has not raised the total amount of money needed for the project, said Frederick Martz, the project manager of the Digital Production and Integration Program at the library.
“It costs around $3 to $5 an image to digitize a slide,” he said.
Because not all of the slides and photographs are in good condition, the full collection of images will not be digitized, Martz said.
Katherine Haskins, the director of both the Visual Resources Center and the Integrated Digital Image Resources Project at the Yale University Library, said the goal of the digital image project is to establish a sustainable model of library support and to enable the library to meet faculty and service needs.
“Digitizing content is a very important part of this, but we’re also looking at how we can best help students and faculty use these tools,” she said. “We are trying to coordinate the development of our resources with also the development of technology tools from the standpoint of what faculty and students need.”
The Integrated Digital Images Resources Committee was formed last spring to explore the consequences of this shift to digital media. Robert Nelson, a history of art professor and co-chair of the committee, said the completion of the digitization project and subsequent removal of the slides from campus will fundamentally change the way some professors work.
“We’re hearing the pain that might be caused by this,” Nelson said. “[But] we also want to encourage people to think about the great possibilities of this change.”
Nelson said students learn much better when professors integrate digital media into their teaching. The first time he taught a class using digital resources, almost everyone in the class got an A on their slide exams, Nelson said, most likely because they had been able to access and easily study the images online. History of art professor Sandy Isenstadt said before slides were digitized, art history students had to go to Street Hall to study mounted photographs of their exam material.
History of Art Department chair David Joselit said almost every university is now digitizing its visual collections.
“In terms of the future it’s pretty clear that this is the technology everyone’s going to adopt,” he said. “I don’t know of any place that’s going cold turkey the way we are, though.”
But some professors have resevations about the “cold turkey” aspects of the project. Benjamin Foster, a professor of Near Eastern languages and civilizations, said it is important to have the physical slides and photographs of the Visual Resources Collection easily accessible.
“I’m all in favor of digitization, but what I’m not in favor of is getting rid of what is being digitized,” Foster said. “It’s one of the worst decisions I’ve ever seen at Yale.”
He said he enjoys the flexibility of being able to choose the images he wants to show in his class just minutes before the class begins.
“They might as well throw [the slides] out,” Foster said, referring to the library’s moving the slides to LSF. “No one’s going to go to Hamden before class. They won’t have any way of retrieving them.”
Karen Foster, a history of art professor, said searching for digital slides cannot match the experience of browsing through physical images, since researchers will no longer be able to see the slides that might surround the one they are looking for, which may be unexpectedly helpful.
History of art professor Edward Cooke Jr. said the library is developing a catalog guide containing thumbnail images of available slides so professors will be able to approximate the experience of looking through actual slides.
In addition, Haskins said, if someone were to request to use the slides, they could easily be delivered to campus.
“The slide and photograph collections at Yale are an incredibly important archive collection,” Haskins said. “Their arrangement and their organization represent in a very important way what you might call the history of the history of art. They will be housed under optimal climate control conditions, and they will be available for recall on campus. They will be there as an archive, through finding aids, and also through cataloging efforts.”