Musical Instrument Museums Online (MIMO)

Reviewed by:
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 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. 

Map showing the location of MIMO contributing institutions, with the majority centered in western Europe.
Map showing MIMO contributing institutions

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.”

Instrument Makers tab showing the names of persons, corporations and families that begin with the letter "C" associated with producing musical instruments. Dates showing the lifespan or most active period for a maker are also present.
Instrument Makers tab showing the names of persons, corporations and families associated with producing musical instruments. 

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.

Record for “Synthétiseur Synthi A” that includes video content showing how an instrument is played and documenting the music the instrument makes.
Record for “Synthétiseur Synthi A” showing video content. Note that while English is selected as the language, most metadata for this record appears in French (only labels and instrument family are translated).

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.

Example from the MIMO Digitization Standard indicating the required views for upright keyboard instruments. Three images of an upright piano are included. For upright keyboard instruments, a vertical position with a frontal view is recommended and it is required that the keyboard flap is open.

Transcription: Upright keyboard instruments: Vertical position and frontal view. The keyboard is facing the camera in a horizontal line. The view with open keyboard flap is mandatory. The view with closed keyboard flap and - for organs closed doors, if existent - is recommended. For stringed instruments, a view with removed front panels to show the construction is recommended.
Example from the MIMO Digitization Standard indicating the required views for upright keyboard instruments. A vertical position with a frontal view is recommended and it is required that the keyboard flap is open.

Digital Cicognara Library

Reviewed by:
Natalia Lonchyna
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. 

Logos of participating Institutions of the Digital Cicognara Library

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.

Record result which includes both the microfiche version and the digitized book version.

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.

Internet Culturale homepage

Internet Culturale

Reviewed by:
Spyros Koulouris, Cataloging Librarian
Gennadius Library – American School of Classical Studies at Athens

Internet Culturale is a multiyear project that aims to bring together in one platform the digital assets created by Italian repositories. This national network of partners provides access to thousands of materials made available by libraries, archives, and museums. The platform is managed by ICCU – the Italian Central Institute for the Union Catalog, which is part of the Italian Ministry of Culture.

Currently 175 repositories across the country share their materials through the aggregator. Collections within the platform are organized by subject and/or medium. These include resources documenting visual arts, music, history, architecture, literature, and the sciences from the 8th to the 20th century in a variety of formats such as books, maps, images, manuscripts, drawings, music scores, and audio visual materials. Collections are displayed as online exhibitions that comprise objects from one or more libraries. A brief introductory text gives some summary information about the content of each exhibit, while users can either browse the collections, search for specific terms, or use the facets. Full-text searching is available for some of the resources.

Italy is notorious for its rich art historical collections that are spread all over the country. One of Internet Culturale’s strengths is that it makes visible the resources owned by small libraries, no matter if they are located in big cities or remote towns. Of additional value is that the records of some other Italian shared catalogs have been exported and are part of the platform. For example, records from SBN (the network of the National Library Services), Manus online (a database of manuscripts dating from the Middle Ages to the 19th century), and EDIT16 (the census of the 16th century Italian editions) are searchable through Internet Culturale. In some cases links to external catalogs are used for digital content that is not hosted in the platform. Among the many interesting collections currently available that users can find are the Autografi Palatini collection of the National Library in Florence (which includes 1200 autographs from significant personalities such as Orazio Rucellai, Benvenuto Cellini, Angelo Poliziano, Lorenzo the Magnificent, and Michelangelo), the maps collection of the Biblioteca Marciana in Venice, and the Judaica of the Biblioteca Palatina in Parma (with more than 180 incunabula and 16th century books). Another key aspect of the catalog is that digital content is provided under a CC BY-NC-SA Creative Commons license. The metadata created by the repositories have a CC0 1.0 universal public domain dedication, making it easy to distribute and reuse information without asking for permission. One potential concern is that the last import was made in 2020. Hopefully, the platform will continue to be updated in the future.

Screenshot of the Internet Culturale book viewer showing the book Liber quartus Vribium praecipuarum totius mundi

Currently, the site is only available in Italian, and therefore users will need to be able to read Italian to use the resource. With some targeted metadata improvements, Internet Culturale has great potential for expanding accessibility to an international audience. This can be done by increasing the use of multi-lingual controlled vocabularies and thesauri. Organizing the metadata in a more structured way would help surmount language-related barriers, supporting access for everyone. 

Overall, Internet Culturale has the potential to become the main hub to document and access hidden collections of Italian art and culture. In the post Covid-19 era, small repositories that do not have the staff and resources to manage their digital assets can benefit from it, curate their online collections, and offer them to the broader community. The platform can become a model for national-level catalogs to be used by  students, librarians, and researchers in a variety of disciplines: historians, musicologists, art historians, archaeologists, botanists as well as artists in different fields like music, acting, and visual arts.

Art Institute of Chicago Online Collection

Reviewed by:
Peter Klubek, Reference and Research Services Librarian
Edith Garland Dupré Library, University of Louisiana at Lafayette

The Art Institute of Chicago online collection is a freely accessible web-based platform that provides access to the most complete virtual version of the resources and collections of the museum. The site is full of detailed visual, textual, and multimedia material for more than one-hundred and sixteen thousand objects, showcasing the best possible representation of the museum’s holdings less a visit to the museum in person. This resource offers many opportunities to explore various aspects of individual artworks and the museum at large, including research guides, teaching resources, bibliographies, links to the museum’s library and archives, and other tools for exploration and learning.

The landing page features images of some of the most famous items in the Art Institute’s collection, tiled below a search box and a row of small clickable thumbnails to browse the items by genre, era, subject, object type, or medium. The larger images of artworks are displayed four images across with roughly 50 artworks per page, with lesser-known works shown on numerous following pages. When a user clicks on a thumbnail of an individual artwork, they are taken to a page displaying a brief written piece that covers the artist, history, and content of that particular work, with links to museum audio tours, more detailed information on artists and artworks, and personal reflections by museum staff and others. The writing throughout is clear and accessible, and could be used as a starting point by researchers at any level. Item-level metadata is more extensive than comparable museum collection websites, and a wide set of criteria on the left column allows users to filter and sort items. Users can toggle to display only items currently on view in the museum or in the public domain, among other selections. Some metadata is searchable but not displayed; for example, a search for “rabbits” reveals some items that depict rabbits even though the word “rabbits” does not appear in the public display of the corresponding item record.

An example of brief text in an artwork item record.

Users that could benefit the most from this resource include historians and arts educators, as well as artists and art students needing high-resolution images to explore technical aspects of an individual work. Scholars of art history will find useful the downloadable high-resolution images, exhibition histories, provenance details, and lists of publications related to each artwork. Developers can make use of the museum’s public API. Arts educators will appreciate the option to check the box in the filter menu that reads “Has educational resources available,” which displays over one hundred items with attached Educator Resource Packets to help with classroom instruction. Multimedia resources linked from artwork item records include videos and audio tours, along with links to past exhibition websites that include a wide range of materials.

Accessibly options could be improved, as it is difficult to locate the alt text of an image and keyboard control options appear limited. Despite these factors, the website is easy to navigate, with a logical delivery method and good performance on all tested browsers. The mobile version of the site is seamlessly adapted from the desktop version, offering the ability to enhance a museum visitor’s experience in the physical space of the museum, while also thoroughly serving users who are accessing the collection as a virtual-only experience. In the COVID-19 era, virtual options for using and viewing the museum collection are invaluable, and the AIC online collection is well-designed to meet the challenges brought by the pandemic.

On the whole, the structure of the online collection is coherent, well-organized, and suitable for both non-expert and expert users. The Art Institute of Chicago online collection provides an enjoyable and comprehensive virtual experience that exceeds the virtual platforms of comparable museums. The St. Louis Art Museum virtual collection offers many of the same features, including downloadable high-resolution images, but it does not share the additional in-depth written material included in the Art Institute of Chicago online collection, nor the extent of cataloged objects (about 6,000 objects). The Museum of Fine Arts Boston virtual collection is also similar, but is chunkier in its execution and usability. Overall the Art Institute of Chicago online collection is an excellent tool that could be useful in any art or research library.

V&A Explore the Collections

Reviewed by:
Matthew Garklavs, Electronic Resources Librarian
Pratt Institute Libraries

The Victoria & Albert (V&A) Museum in London launched Explore the Collections in February 2021. This dynamic new platform was a project two years in the making. It’s an ambitious endeavor that brings together silos of information from the V&A’s collection, online editorial content, holdings from the National Art Library, and the museum archives. 

Homepage of the V&A's Explore Our Collections showing a search bar and a section labeled "latest", under which are exhibition titles and images
Homepage of the V&A’s Explore Our Collections

Explore Collections was largely driven by user feedback. A usability study published on the V&A website in 2019 explains a lot of their design decisions. From a user experience standpoint, Explore the Collections is very intuitive and easy to navigate. A new user can easily get oriented by simply browsing within the various categories on the landing page. Experts can utilize search tools, facets, and filters that are germane to library research databases. 

The landing page is like a museum lobby, prompting you to explore new exhibitions and engage with the permanent collection. For instance, their current exhibit on Beatrix Potter, the renowned English children’s book writer, has a dedicated section rich with resources that was recently featured on the homepage. Users who go down this rabbit hole (pardon the pun) will find highlights from the exhibition and learn more about the artist through interactive materials. 

The Beatrix Potter exhibit exemplifies how seamlessly Explore the Collections interoperates with the V&A’s catalog. If you click on the “Search Collections” option below the highlighted materials in this section it generates a catalog query for “Potter, Beatrix”. That button redirects users to an interface where they can explore the collection by performing searches and utilize facets to navigate through results. 

Search results page showing a box under the search bar reading "person: Potter, Beatrix", filters, and a results grid
Results after clicking “Search the Collections” on the Beatrix Potter exhibition page.

Explore the Collections is a work in progress. Only half of the V&A’s collection is discoverable in the system as of Spring 2022, so it’s difficult to assess how well it will scale to the items from their library and archives. Based on the limited bibliographic materials accessible now, there are several discrepancies between the metadata available in the National Art Library’s catalog and the new system. For example, one of the resources users can discover in Explore the Collections is William Morris’s The Wood Beyond the World. What the user won’t learn in this instance is that there’s a corresponding catalog record for this book in the National Art Library’s OPAC (hosted on Worldcat Discovery). This omission is unfortunate because the OPAC record offers a robust description that is rich with subject headings, local notes about unique physical characteristics of the book, and an external link to a digitized copy that is openly accessible on Internet Archive.

One of the key takeaways from the aforementioned usability study is the importance of making the V&A more transparent with their digital assets. In fact, it specifically mentions the need to share “further relevant information in the archives or the National Library.” Hopefully the designers working on “Explore the Collection” will continue collaborating with their colleagues in the library and archive to ensure that project achieves its vision while fulfilling the needs of stakeholders from the libraries and archives. 

Overall, “Explore the Collections” stands out as a promising proof of concept. The project still has a long way to go, but it provides a digital foundation for the V&A can build upon and optimize. For those of us who cannot visit the museum in person, “Explore the Collections” is a viable way to view a collection of valuable resources “that span over 5,000 years of human creativity.” 

Manuscripts of the Muslim World

Reviewed by: 
Christine Anderson, Administrative Coordinator
Coastal Carolina University

ARLIS/NA Multimedia & Technology Reviews
February Issue 2022

Manuscripts of the Muslim World is a University of Pennsylvania-led project hosted on their domain OPenn. The collaboration with other heritage institutions has sourced digital editions of over 1,200 Islamic works for free digital access. This curated list combines pieces from multiple repositories, allowing users to easily search by the topic of Muslim works instead of by the original collections to which they belong.

OPenn is home to over half a dozen similarly curated digital collections. According to their Read Me section, each curated list “contains complete sets of high-resolution archival images of manuscripts from the University of Pennsylvania Libraries and other institutions, along with machine-readable TEI P5 descriptions and technical metadata.” OPenn creators chose this particular design for the collections as it ensures longevity of access and preservation. 

The OPenn site also offers a Technical Read Me page with technical and nontechnical manuscript cataloging descriptions. Each item is well described and offers rich metadata, though the metadata of items within collections are not all required to follow the same format. Depending on the research, this lack of congruity could cause some discovery issues. Digital access and preservation aside, this style of cataloging allows items to be organized by topic, theme, or project, which makes it an easy landing page for researchers.

The collection of Manuscripts of the Muslim World features digital versions of more than 500 manuscripts and 827 paintings from the Islamic world. These works come from multiple institutions, with the main contributors being Columbia University, the Free Library of Philadelphia, and the University of Pennsylvania. Bryn Mawr College and Haverford College were both significant contributors and the collection itself is funded by the Council on Library and Information Resources.

As a collection, Manuscripts of the Muslim World represents a wide breadth of Islamic art and history. It covers the cultural heritage of the Muslim people from1000 to 1900 AD. The collection covers subjects such as mathematics, astrology, history, law, literature, art, the Qur’an, and Hadith. The bulk of the collection is in Arabic and Persian. There are some manuscript examples in Coptic, Samaritan, Syriac, Turkish, and Berber.

While Manuscripts of the Muslim World can be freely accessed by anyone, OPenn has geared its lists of resource toward a research audience. OPenn collections are focused on “aggregators, digital humanists, and scholars.” These resources are for researchers looking for high-resolution images of manuscript pages, not casual users. All manuscripts on OPenn are given machine-readable TEI manuscript descriptions and HTML access to the files. Manuscripts must be studied page by page by clicking on the individual images of each page. There is no scrolling through the entire document.

Users not seeking high-quality images may find searching the collection’s home institution websites easier. Many of the institutions with items in the collection offer more user-friendly, page-turning applications on their own websites.

OPenn is a “living” website, meaning that works are regularly being digitized and uploaded to the repository lists. As collections evolve at participating institutions, so do the OPenn collections. OPenn collections are open access under public domain or have been released under Creative Commons licenses as Free Cultural Works. OPenn is to cultural heritage what SocArXiv is for social sciences or CORE is for humanities. It is a collection based on topic and un-reliant on boundaries of individual institution collections. Thanks to institutional collaborations, these open access repositories are allowing researchers to overcome limitations such as funding and location. Now multiple resources from a variety of institutions can be studied freely from one place. As open access repositories continue to multiply and grow, so too will access to creative and scientific research. This open sharing could make for greater leaps in all areas from tech to artistic endeavors.