For arts and architecture scholars at Yale, a new electronic library project signals a shift toward a more digitized publishing industry.

The Andrew W. Mellon Foundation awarded an $840,000 grant to the Yale University Press last December to create a new e-portal for art and architecture books. While no formal work on the project has begun, the project’s leaders are in the midst of designing the new database and enlisting the help of collaborators, which currently includes the Art Institute of Chicago. Sarah Guernsey, the AIC’s executive director of publishing, said that the initiative to create an electronic archive for reference materials is reflective of an industry-wide change that increasingly supports the role of technology in arts and architecture.

“In the publishing world, everyone’s trying to figure out how to have digital publishing be a viable option, and no one has done it,” she said. “Having Yale and Mellon involved — there’s a chance we’ll find a way.”

Sheila Levrant de Bretteville ART ’64, a graphic designer and professor at the School of Art, said the overall relationship between online and print sources in media remains the same. She pointed out that graphic designers tend to be equally drawn to print and screen-based modes of expression.

De Bretteville said she believes that architectural photographers and architects who make exquisite models and drawings also create similar amounts of digital and print-based works. She added that these professionals would continue to publish such images in forms that can depict a high level of detail.

“Artists are very much enamored of the way the sequence of images can be best rendered by a book format,” she said.

Brennan Buck, professor at the Yale School of Architecture, said he thinks a comprehensive e-portal will aid most designers and design students, who do the bulk of their research and information gathering online.

Buck said the e-portal reflects the way in which the architects share information between one another has changed in recent years. Buck added that the e-portal seems like one effort among many to make content and information accessible on the web.

“The e-portal seems like it will make that a richer, more content-driven way of communicating, as opposed to a merely image-based way,” explained Buck.

Julian Bittiner ART ’08, a graphic designer and a lecturer in the School of Art’s graphic design program, said that he does not believe that the rise of digital publishing has made much of an impact in graphic design. He explained that a printed book’s appeal comes from its “autonomy,” referring to the fact that books are not dependent on digital databases or other electronic resources. He added that he thinks that color quality on a printed page is higher than on a computer screen.

“There is a fair amount of trepidation towards that medium, just because it works against everything that makes art publishing valuable,” Bittiner said.

Bittiner said e-publishing can diminish the field of artists who work in book design.

Guernsey and Bittiner both said the transition to eBooks has been far smoother for other publication forms, such as novels, where the physical design of the book is not as integral to the reading experience. Bittiner said he believes that over time, eBooks will bear an increasingly small resemblance to physical books.

“Book designers on the whole are not chomping on the bit to explore eBooks,” Bittiner said. “But that might change.”

The first items that the AIC will publish on the e-portal include works on Impressionism and Pre-Columbianism as well as a book on watercolors by American painter Winslow Homer.