We’re excited to announce the December issue of ARLIS/NA Multimedia and Technology Reviews. Follow the links below to read the reviews in the ARLIS/NA Commons CORE Repository.
Gavin Goodwin, Creative Arts Librarian
Mount Allison University
Produced by the RKD – Netherlands Institute for Art History, RKDartists& makes up one part of the institute’s digital search platform, RKD Explore. Launched in 2014 and offering over 380,000 records at the time of review, the freely accessible database provides a comprehensive and authoritative resource for biographical information on Dutch and foreign artists from the Middle Ages to the present day.
While the ampersand in the database name may be confusing at first glance, it signifies that the scope goes beyond only artists, with biographical information for art dealers, art collectors, and art historians. The database features international artists, with a heavy emphasis on artists of the Low Countries. A faceted search by location reveals Amsterdam, The Hague, and Antwerp have the most hits. Likewise, “painter” is the most frequent qualification, while “oil paint” is far ahead of other medium/technique terms. Despite this slant towards Dutch artists and artistic styles, the sheer number of artists featured means those interested in art from outside the Netherlands can still find worthwhile information.
RKDartists&’s extensive controlled vocabulary is a major strength, covering places, nationality, artist qualifications, medium/technique, artistic subject and movement, and institutional or association affiliations. The controlled vocabulary utilizes terms from major thesauri like the Getty Art & Architecture Thesaurus as well as regionally significant terms. The result is a robust and flexible thesaurus. Given the extent of the controlled vocabulary, a more user-friendly method of browsing the hierarchy would be helpful; clicking terms within a record opens a browsable pop-up window, but it is cumbersome and not easily navigated.
Most metadata is derived from the RKD’s library and archives, and as such some records feature a greater amount of detail than others. For example, Vincent van Gogh’s entry is as extensive as the accompanying documentation at the leading Dutch art history institute would suggest. Other artist entries are much less developed. Depending on the nationality of an artist, alternative resources may offer more information.
Perhaps the greatest strength of RKDartists& is the integration with other RKD databases, like images, portraits, and the library and archives. The crosswalks between databases allows users to view artworks directly from biographical entries, or to search the RKD’s library and archives for resources about an artist.
RKDartists& is available in both Dutch and English and generally the translation is excellent. One area which could pose problems are Dutch-specific spellings not adapted for English (e.g., Den Haag vs. The Hague; Parijs vs. Paris) though these minor differences did not pose major barriers during review. More significantly, scope notes for controlled vocabulary terms are not always translated, particularly those specific to the Low Countries.
While RKDartists& might be most useful for those consulting the physical collection of RKD, the wealth of authoritative data in addition to an interactive map of places of birth, death, and artistic activity, makes the database a helpful reference tool. The inclusion of many contemporary artists makes this database useful for uncovering new artists who might otherwise be difficult to discover. Additionally, integration with the RKD archival resources allows easy discoverability of primary sources. Beyond artists alone, the inclusion of art dealers, collectors, and historians opens new research opportunities and the robust controlled vocabulary allows RKDartists& to be used as a thesaurus for other cultural heritage institutions.
While other name authority databases like the Getty Union List of Artist Names or the Virtual International Authority Files offer similar biographical data, the true strengths of RKDArists& come from its accessible and attractive interface, flexibility in search with facets like medium, location, or product, and the deep integration with the other RKD databases; as such, its full potential is realized when considering RKDArtists& as part of the larger RKD Explore platform rather than as a siloed resource. Large amounts of biographical and historical information are still housed in physical format in the Netherlands, but RKDArtists& allows discovery of otherwise difficult to uncover connections between entities without needing to consult primary resources as well as offering access to the growing catalog of digital resources made available through RKD Explore.
The Living New Deal
Catalogue Raisonné/ Provenance Researcher
Roy Lichtenstein Foundation
By initiating “a national database of information, documents, photographs, and personal stories about the public works made possible by the New Deal,” The Living New Deal is building a comprehensive registry of projects completed between 1933 and 1942. Currently, over 17,000 entries represent “hundreds of thousands” of public works, from heroic murals to humble sewers, making it the only reference source of its kind.
Researching New Deal projects can be a challenge. Multiple agencies were involved, and the records are spread among federal repositories (National Park Service, National Archives, Library of Congress, and National Gallery of Art) as well as state and local agencies. Navigating these primary sources can be daunting, while secondary works tend to be either very broad or highly specific. Living New Deal edits this material into concise narratives organized geographically—much like the WPA American Guides series published under the Federal Writers’ Project.
For an average researcher, the Living New Deal website is a good place to get oriented to the era, with a companion iPhone app handy for searching on the move. Users will need to download the app directly from the Apple App Store, since no link is available on the website. Donation-driven, there is no paywall or account to create. The About section outlines the organizational structure and includes contributor biographies as well as annual reports.
The interface is basic: a simple header with seven categories and drop-down subsections supplemented by a keyword site search. For reference purposes –the focus here – the meatiest sections are Map & Sites and the confusingly titled The New Deal, which features substantive entries on programs as well as a timeline, glossary, and footnoted interpretive essays. The index of agencies is especially useful, as is another grouping projects into categories such as Historic Preservation and Labor Law. A timeline and list of landmark acts situate the programs in world events and domestic legislation. The biographies section features concise and sourced entries, with helpful cross-referencing to particular projects. Wikipedia and other sources (National Archives, DPLA, for example) cover many if not all of these topics, but Living New Deal provides welcome focus on material culture.
Interactive mapping standards are getting higher by the day, but here the Mapbox and OpenStreetMap platforms work well enough, with standard click and zoom features, as well as searching by location (city, state, zipcode). Unfortunately, the standard search box includes unrelated locations and no artist index, making map searches indirect. This means that locating works such as the South Side Community Arts Center involves clicking through a state and city index, then manually paging through alphabetical listings.
Another workaround: exit the map, do an advanced search, and click through the results to get back to the map. Moreover, the database structure includes categories for artist, contractor, and architect, but not engineer, photographer, or writer. Use of these fields appears to be up to the contributor, so that even if mentioned in the descriptive text, figures such as Hilyard Robinson or Louis Kahn are not indexed and therefore can only be found by keyword searching the whole site.For future iterations, the organizers might look to the integrated design of sites such as Mapping Inequality: Redlining in New Deal America, and consider releasing Living New Deal as an open-source dataset to make the material portable, interlinkable, and open to wider interpretation. In the meantime, Living New Deal’s 17,000 entries are a unique and valuable compilation.
Reimagining Blackness and Architecture
Winifred E. Newman, Ph.D.
Long overdue, Reconstructions: Architecture and Blackness in America was the title of an exhibition at the Museum of Modern Art (MoMA) in spring 2021, complemented by the online course Reimagining Blackness and Architecture, organized and taught by Sean Anderson, the Associate Curator, Department of Architecture and Design, MoMA and Arlette Hernandez, Assistant Educator, Department of Learning and Engagement, MoMA. The online course elucidates the ten commissioned exhibition works by architects, artists, and designers, addressing the questions, “How does race structure space in America?” and “What does it mean to create and occupy space?” The focus is on Blackness as lived experience and identity, but the scope is liberal. As the artist Garrett Bradley asserts, this is “…not just black history, but American history.” MoMA created Reimagining Blackness and Architecture with support from Volkswagen of America and Bloomberg Philanthropies.
There is ample scholarship on race in America, but not surprisingly, less that addresses spatial inequities. In American histories of architecture, Black landscapes are barely mentioned. The plantations, Black towns, or neighborhoods of northern migration rarely figure into narratives of public space, either in design or planning. The ambition of Reconstructions: Architecture and Blackness in America and Reimagining Blackness and Architecture is to fill this gap with stories whose narrative drive and intimacy open discussion about the more significant social, economic, political, and intellectual challenges of those under the yoke of racism in America. This exhibition is the fourth in the Issues in Contemporary Architecture series and the only one with an online course.
Six one-week course modules include five themes based on the exhibition projects: Imagination, Care, Knowledge, Refusal, and Liberation, with subthemes. Modules introduce a cast of artists, academics, museum directors, and curators through videos and lessons. Learning outcomes precede modules, and assignments or quizzes follow. The course offers a certificate if one opts to pay, but otherwise is free online with registration and is suitable for learners at the high school level and above. Course materials include digital images of the physical works from the exhibition and drawings, photographs, artist’s maps, newspaper clippings, magazine layouts, video, and audio. A dictionary of key terms is given for the course and prompts guide the learner to the additional discussion, including comments, threads, and online forums. Including multiple examples of artwork, architecture, and design to contextualize the themes the course offers alternative points of view. Coursera hosts the course and will track your progress, organize a calendar, and download reminders.
If there is any criticism of this collection of stories and scholarship, it is the underdetermination of the term ‘Blackness’ outside the American context to Black identities. There is a rich history of artwork, buildings, landscapes, and places outside of the United States that are likely not mute in the circum-Atlantic discussion of race and diaspora. The idea surfaces in Germane Barnes’ A Spectrum of Blackness in Miami, Florida and Emanuel Adammau’s Planetary Scar, but the reading in the course doesn’t open a broader discussion of the global phenomena of what Senegalese poet Léopold Sédar Senghor called negritude or “the sum of the cultural values of the black world, that is, a certain active presence in the world…” (Senghor, 1970). Perhaps that is the subject for future iterations of what is a welcome focus in architecture, design, and art.
In “On the House,” K. Michael Hays, Catherine Ingraham, and Alicia Kennedy wrote, “Architecture is fictional at a fundamental level. Yet its fictions are not just make-believe worlds, but the making of worlds, constitutive of our social being.” This course is a testament to the capacity for history—our collective, complex, and contested story—to shape who we are and may want to be.
Senghor, L.S. 1970. ‘Negritude: A Humanism of the Twentieth Century.’ The African Reader: Independent Africa. Edited by W. Cartey and M. Kilson. New York: Random House, pp. 180.
Hay, K. M., C. Ingrahan and A. Kennedy 1995. “On the House.” Assemblage: A Critical Journal of Architecture and Design Culture 24, (August 1994) Cambridge: MIT Press, pp. 6-7.
Akademie Schloss Solitude
Carlos Alberto Della Paschoa, Librarian, Vice President of REDARTE/RJ
Biblioteca Nélida Piñon, Instituto Cervantes Rio de Janeiro
Akademie Schloss Solitude is a public-law foundation that promotes artists and scientists through an international, transdisciplinary residency program. The Akademie Schloss Solitude website provides access to publications and residency projects.
Online publications that can be freely accessed via web browser include Solitude Journal, containing a selection of thematic essays and articles. Untranslatable Terms of Cultural Practices – A Shared Vocabulary, examines terms that do not translate into other languages; the approach conveys new values and perspectives.
The Web Residencies program promotes web-based experimentations. Several times artists are invited to respond to a topic put forth by a curator. Following the residency, the process and online work is shared via the Digital Solitude website and newsletter.
Solitude Blog, highlights artistic works and scientific research, as well as interviews and texts by former fellows, digital residents, and curators. Studio Visits invites readers into artist studios through written interviews. For those who wish to be informed about its activities, the Solitude newsletter covers current events, fellows, and ongoing residency calls.
Schlosspost, the old website, is maintained as an open archive. Schlosspost features more than 1,800 contributions, including journal issues, videos or lectures and performances, and interviews posted from 2015 to 2020. In contrast to the current site, it is easy to navigate. The information is clear and well-organized.
While Akademie Schloss Solitude provides access to an impressive array of projects and publications, the navigation can be confusing. The page is very long, one has to scroll the vertical bar five times to see all the information. There are too many colors, fonts in different sizes and styles. The distribution of spaces is not homogeneous. There is a lack of cohesion between links and this prevents fluid navigation between topics and groupings. Some entries lack metadata and there are broken links. Although the site is bilingual German-English, there is plenty of content only available in one language. The introductory texts are somewhat superficial, which makes it difficult to understand the breadth and scope of the site. Only after navigating through the full website, and social media accounts (Facebook, Twitter and Instagram), can one realize the importance of the residency program and the quality of information available on the Akademie Schloss Solitude site. With some improvements in the visual and aesthetic organization of the page and the restructuring of its contents and metadata, it is possible to increase the quality, effectiveness, access and usability by users.
On the whole, the art and residents’ project on Akademie Schloss Solitude are a relevant and important resource not only for those who intend to submit an Artist-in-Residence project, but also for artists, researchers, historians, critics and information professionals.
Musical Instrument Museums Online (MIMO)
Meredith L. Hale, Metadata Librarian
University of Tennessee, Knoxville
Musical Instrument Museums Online (MIMO) is an open access database that aggregates metadata and images of instruments from over 240 museums located on three different continents. The MIMO project, funded by the European Commission, ran from 2009 to 2011, but new museums have joined as recently as 2019. In its initial project phase, the University of Edinburgh was the lead partner with 11 institutions in total participating. The project’s goal was to establish a single access point to digital content and information on musical instruments. As the site’s URL https://mimo-international.com/MIMO/ implies, the resource is “international” in scope and this fact is reinforced through features like multilingual access. Users can access the database and its metadata in 12 languages. Currently, the database shares 64,166 records of musical instruments held in public collections.
This resource has the potential to be beneficial to a wide range of users, from those interested in tracking how instrument families have changed over time to those researching the design and business of instrument making. In terms of temporal coverage, instruments described in the database were produced between 1700 and 2000. Western Europe is most strongly represented in the database, but works from Asia, Africa, South America, and North America are also present. To navigate through these resources, users can complete a keyword search, use facets, or browse lists found on three tabs on the site’s header. The tabs include “Instrument Families,” “Museums,” and “Instrument Makers.” The “Instrument Makers” tab will be particularly helpful to those researching the design and business of instrument making. Users can browse controlled terms for makers by the categories of “Persons,” “Corporations,” and “Families.”
Content found on individual records differs based on the object and standards of the contributing museum, but each record includes fields for a title, maker, creation date, creation location, instrument family, description, inscriptions, and measurements. Note that while multilingual access is highlighted, only select fields in the metadata are translated based on the language selected by the users. Those wanting to identify literature associated with particular pieces will also be pleased to see that some works include a reference tab that acts as a bibliography of the instrument. Approximately 2,000 records also include access to audio and videos that document the way a person interacts with the selected instrument and its musical range. Closer examination of this content reveals that unfortunately many of these records share broken media links. Several links out to full metadata from the providing partner are also broken (e.g. Elektronisch Instrument). While link rot over time is expected, additional quality control is needed to find and address issues like these.
In addition to users whose primary goal is to search the database’s musical content, staff in libraries, archives, and museums will also find the extensive documentation on digitization, metadata sharing, and project management invaluable. The MIMO Digitization Standard provides guidance on how to best represent musical instruments digitally, by defining mandatory and optional views for all instrument families. It also established guidelines for contributors for mapping and sharing records using the LIDO schema and OAI-PMH. The longevity and reach of MIMO are noteworthy. The project began soon after Europeana was established in 2008 and predates the launch of the Digital Public Library of America (DPLA) in 2013. MIMO has shared content with Europeana from its beginning, which likely contributed to its thorough documentation of procedures and standards. Like DPLA, MIMO has a membership model to ensure its sustainability. There are three membership levels that require tiered payments from partners based on desired services. Current agreements with data providers are valid through the end of 2023 and will likely be renewed, so MIMO intends to endure and grow. While online resources have changed greatly since MIMO was established thirteen years ago, the database continues to act as a valuable open access resource that serves the unique need of providing a single access point to digital content on musical instruments.
Penguin First Editions
Courtney Stine, Assistant Professor and Director
Bridwell Art Library, University of Louisville
The UK-based Penguin Publishing Group was originally founded in 1935 by Sir Allen Lane, who wanted a brand of affordable, yet attractive paperback books that could be “bought as easily and casually as a packet of cigarettes” (Penguin.com, “Our Story”). Since then, the Penguin imprint has become an icon known among other things for its minimalist and innovative book cover designs. The books are so beloved that an educational charity called Penguin Collectors Society (PCS) was formed in 2001 to promote the study of Penguin books. A PCS member and hobbyist collector, Alec Atchison, created the website Penguin First Editions to provide a visual record and information about its titles.
The Penguin First Editions website is a lot to take in at first glance. Text is presented in various colors and formats which can be straining on the eyes and difficult to read. At the top of the homepage there is a search bar powered by Google that retrieves search results within the site. A series of links on the homepage provides access to lists of series, illustrators and cover designers, and translators for English language editions, as well as a brief history of the Penguin Books imprint. These links are colorful and formatted to look like the design of Penguin first edition covers.
A page index and site map are essential for understanding what content is available, and for fully navigating the website. External links point to sites including the Penguin Collectors Society, videos by a memorabilia buff, Penguin merchandise, and bookstores. The site’s look and feel probably has not changed much since it was launched in 2013. It is not formatted for modern browsers, so there is a lot of white space. The site URL is not secure (no https://) and the copyright is dated to 2019. Despite its outdated appearance, the homepage mentions the COVID-19 pandemic, so it is still getting updated.
Penguin First Editions is an informative and comprehensive resource primarily focusing on first editions released between 1935-1955. Over the years the website has expanded to over 150 pages of content and over 8,000 entries and images. The site entries provide basic information for each book, including series name and number, title, author, publication date, printer, and original price. Thumbnail images of book cover designs accompanying each entry open in a new tab to show a large image. The images are a bit grainy but legible and better than other examples found on the web. Each cover and logo has been reproduced with the permission of Penguin Books Ltd., who retain copyright and intellectual property.
Many librarians and archivists were credited with contributing to the site through digitization of books and other efforts. In particular, the Stirling University Library, which contains the Mitchell Penguin Collection (3500 books collected by Dr. Angus Mitchell), was mentioned as a major partner.
This is a niche resource that will prove useful to anyone interested in Penguin books and the history of early twentieth-century publishing, graphic design and typography. For further research, the Penguin.com website has an interactive timeline about the history of the publishing group and descriptions of its series. The Penguin Series Design blog contains visual examples and contextual analysis of book designs, artists, and themes for various series under the Penguin imprint. The publication Classic Penguin: Cover to Cover, edited by Paul Buckley, provides a visual overview of the Penguin Classics book covers for book design and classic literature enthusiasts.
Digitized Historical German Weeklies
Grant G. Mandarino
Independent archivist/art historian
According to those responsible for this collection, the goal of this digitization project was to “make the most important political satire magazines of the last century available in full.” With backing from the Deutsche Forschungsgemeinschaft (DFG), they did so in 2014, resulting in the site under review. It offers a full run of the German satire magazine Simplicissimus from its founding in 1896 to its closure in 1944, as well as digital runs of two other important publications: Jugend (1896-1940) and Der Wahre Jacob (1884-1933). In lieu of accessing physical copies, rare outside of Germany, there is no better means of interacting with these primary sources that reflect critical eras in Germany’s eventful twentieth-century history.As a scholarly resource, the site is exceptional; as a model for digitizing serial publications, it is exemplary.
Academic libraries and archival repositories have joined many museums in making high resolution digital surrogates of their unique collections available for research. Responsibility for this site belongs to the Klassik Stiftung Weimar (KSW), connected to the Herzogin Anna Amelia Bibliothek in Weimar, in collaboration with the Deutsches Literaturarchiv Marbach and faculty at the Rheinisch-Westfälischen Technischen Hochschule Aachen, who oversaw the digitization of Simplicissimus. The Jugend and Der Wahre Jacob collections, on the other hand, come from the Universitätsbibliothek Heidelberg (UBH), who concurrently held a grant from the DFG to digitize their own holdings of German and foreign satire magazines, and at some point became a further contributor to the project. One can find a broader array of publications via a UBH site, but the interface is clunkier and requires a considerable amount of scrolling and clicking to get to individual issues.
A peculiarity of the KSW site is that there is no central homepage for the three digitized periodical titles; instead each has a separate start page (Startseite) accessed from tabs at the top of the site. Each start page applies the same interface design and accesses shared features. The pages provide an intuitive browsing structure, as well as contextual essays and linked databases that aid navigation, whether one is browsing for pleasure or researching a specific topic. Locating and examining individual issues of Simplicissimus, Jugend, and Der Wahre Jakob on the KSW’s site is a breeze.
From the “Issues” (Blättern) page of each start page one is given a chronological list by volume. From there it is just a matter of choosing an issue number, listed alongside its publication date, with a thumbnail image of the front cover. Pages are scanned in color, ideal for documenting these examples of early commercial color printing; the image resolution online is adequate for reading and study, and a “lupe” is provided to magnify page details. Full issues can be viewed online or freely downloaded as PDFs, albeit in lower image resolution. The site does not offer OCR for the digitized titles.
Supplemental pages provide further tools for access as well as context. Of special note are the linked databases. One (Personenliste) indexes every contributor (writers, illustrators, and caricaturists) in the three magazines and links to issues their work appears in; the other (Schlagwörter) lists thematic terms, places, or historical people referenced in the magazines, with identifying biographical/historical information culled from Wikipedia and the catalog of the Deutsche Nationalbibliothek. A search field on the homepage accesses both lists, but search results are inconsistent and do not compile data from all three publications. Contextual pages outline the history of the publications (Zeitschrift), contain a thorough bibliography (Literatur), and introduce the project (Gesamtprojekt) and its various contributors (Grates; Kontakt).
According to the team, the site was mainly constructed with open-source components (e.g., MySQL, PHP, Typo3). If upgrades could be implemented, the ability to compare two issues at a time or generate virtual collections would greatly improve usability. As currently configured, the site remains nevertheless a boon for scholars of German print culture and political thought.
Visualizing the Virus
Dana Statton Thompson, Research and Instruction Librarian
Waterfield Library, Murray State University
Visualizing the Virus is a cross between an online repository of original content and bibliography of existing resources. The purpose of the international and interdisciplinary project is to showcase both how the COVID-19 pandemic has been visualized and the inequalities it has revealed. The project was founded and is led by Dr Sria Chatterjee, an art historian and environmental humanities scholar who is the Head of Research and Learning at the Paul Mellon Centre in London. The project is made possible by a grant from DARIAH EU, support from the Institute of Experimental Design and Media, FHNW, and project partner Princeton Center for Digital Humanities. There are 75 individual contributors to the project so far with four ways to participate as an outsider: collaborating, curating a cluster, featuring existing work, and submitting new work.
This free-to-access project provides relevant information about 43 entries and counting, be it a summary of a podcast, explanation of artwork, or link to a peer-reviewed article. Entries range from original essays to summaries of other projects centered on visualization and the virus, are extremely diverse and include websites, films, poetry, and even a recorded conversation between two anthropologists with accompanying images. Each entry is included on the homepage and include such varied titles as “COVID-19 and Art in South Africa: The Voids of Thuli Lubisi’s Apart,” “Indian Migrant Workers & Lockdown: Trapped in the Inner Cities,”” “Smartphones and the Pandemic: Navigating care, surveillance, and Connection in Japan.” Some entries are linked through two different types of ‘clusters.’ A ‘curated cluster’ is a group of individual entries by different contributors which have been linked by theme by a member of the project team or a guest-curator. Currently, there are 4 curated clusters: White Privilege and Covid-19 (2 entries); Visualizing COVID-19 as a Zoonotic Disease (5 entries); Covid Denialism (5 entries); and Covid-19 in the Context of Protests in Hong Kong (3 entries). Each curated cluster includes an introduction by the curator introducing the connecting thread between the entries. Somewhat confusingly, there are also 50 ‘themed clusters’ which are entries that are linked by keywords applied to each entry such as activism, art, bats, capitalism, care, colonialism, data visualization, gender, labor, lockdown, public health, race, surveillance, and trauma.
The Index page can be organized in five different ways: alphabetically by title of the entry, by ‘macro-cluster’ (which refers to a keyword associated with the entry), by cluster (which refers to the entries organized into curated clusters), by date, and by contributor(s). The newly-introduced term ‘macro-cluster’ apparently refers to themed clusters which are broader in scope than intentionally-curated clusters, are not presented with any type of unifying context or introduction like the curated clusters, and are linked by keyword. .
Interestingly, the title of each entry on the homepage slowly circles the image representing the entry. Entries included in curated clusters bounce in between the confines of the image, also a stagnant image, also in the shape of a circle. It is possible to halt the motion of the animation by clicking the ‘Accessibility’ button included on the top right of each website page and selecting ‘No Motion.’ The Accessibility information included on the site states that they want as many people as possible to be able to site and includes inclusive practices such as alt text and navigating the site using speech recognition software. However, it is never clearly outlined why the animation is included, although the assumption is that since this is a project about visualization, movement creates its own type of interesting visual display.
Although several sites showcase visualizations about COVID-19 or have dashboards based on COVID-19 data, this site is singular in that it is a collection focused on COVID-19 and inequality and injustice. The project centers entries, either directly presented on the site or introduced and linked to about COVID-19’s impact, with a social justice lens. This resource is appropriate for the general public and serves as an excellent example of visually stimulating web design that foregrounds accessibility. However, the success of this is slightly minimized by the problematic navigation and naming conventions of the clusters.
Digital Cicognara Library
Retired Librarian (formerly at the North Carolina Museum of Art)
Libraries are all about accessibility. One may have the most beautiful library in the world and yet, if no one knows about it, it is only available to those who can physically be in the space and experience the tomes tactilely. We now live in the exciting time of digital resources which has made a significant difference to scholarship, has made resources available to those who lack the funds to travel, and has opened an incredible world to all researchers for scholars and amateurs alike. Although the experience of seeing a book in person is always preferable, it is quite remarkable to have access to such treasure troves as the Digital Cicognara Library.
Count Leopoldo Cicognara (1767-1834) was a renowned art historian who amassed over 5,000 books in his library collection–art, art history, archeology, and related disciplines. Cicognara published an inventory of his library collection, Catalogo ragionato de’ libri d’arte e di antichità. This serves as the guide to his collection which was purchased in its entirety by Pope Leo X and became part of the Vatican Library. Phillip and Reina Fehl began a decades-long project to produce a microfiche collection of the contents. Subsequently, the microfiche collection and digitized books held in participating libraries became the Digital Cicognara Library.
This digital resource is available free of charge and is easy to navigate and search. In addition to the search box, the homepage provides the following headers: About (history of Cicognara and his library), Community (participating institutions), Contact (e-mail content provider), News (relating to the development and status of the project), and the option to subscribe to Twitter (if you would like to follow the tweets produced by this project).
The simple search box will give results of titles, no matter the language. For example, if you type in architecture, the result list will contain the works in the language of the appropriate subject, not only in Italian or Latin, but English, French, German, and Spanish. Dropdown menus can further refine the user’s search by language, year, and other options. An advanced search is also available. On the “Browse full catalogo” page, access to the bound version of the original catalog is provided through an external link to the Vatican’s website as well as the listing of the catalog for browsing by subject matter according to Cicognara’s categories (for example, “Architettura teatrale antica”). In both the search results page and the browse page, the list of titles includes the Cicognara catalog number, the hyperlinked title of the book, and, if available, an annotation in Italian. If you search using the Chrome browser, the Google translate option appears. The translation can be a hit or a miss but does provide the gist of the annotation.
In both the search results and the browse page, the titles of the books are hyperlinked to the microfiche version and the actual book held at the Vatican or participating library if available. The digitized versions, whether the microfiche or the books from the participating institutions, are powered by IIIF (International Image Interoperability Framework), which allows the user to turn the pages and zoom in closer on images or text. One can download the microfiche version in its entirety as a pdf or individual pages from the books of particular libraries. For text, the digitized microfiche version is very readable; for images, the digitized book form will be more desirable. A need to see another version of the same title comes into play most when viewing illustrations. The sidebar for the entries indicate the possible versions available. As an aside, those who are interested in the physical aspect of the book can also examine and zoom in on the binding and endpapers. The expanded cataloging record underneath the viewing platform explains the version that you see, as well as comments on the imperfections and useful information, i.e. lack of digitized pages and others.
Many digitized libraries require memberships or subscriptions; however, the Digital Cicognara Library is an open access source for professional researcher and amateur alike. The fact that this project is supported by many different libraries (The Vatican Library, Getty, Princeton, Harvard, National Gallery of Art, etc.) gives gravitas to its importance in the world of scholarship. Because of the partnership, the Digital Cicognara Library is available through many different venues, which makes it accessible to even more researchers than through a single point of access. The Getty Portal, Hathi Trust, Internet Archive also provide access, as well as the individual libraries that participate in this project. Researchers therefore have numerous options for accessing these titles, among them the richly contextual Digital Cicognara Library website. Scholars not only of art history and architecture, but of the historical time period (16th through 19th centuries) will hopefully be delighted to have these digital resources at their fingertips.