Screenshot of a template information page on the CollectionBuilder site. At the top is a header reading “GH - Github Pages.” In the left column is a screenshot of their demo site, in the right column has the following text: “A Lightweight framework to get you started. Build a digital collection totally online using GITHUB AND GITHUB PAGES for all configurations and object storage.


Reviewed by:
Alex O’Keefe, Research + Instruction Librarian
John M. Flaxman Library, School of the Art Institute of Chicago

This page displays a large featured image banner with overlaid site title CollectionBuilder-GH. A navigation bar has links for “Home / Browse / Subjects / Locations / Map / Timeline / Date / About” pages. A column to the left features stacked boxes with the titles “Description” and”Sample Items.” Stacked boxes on the right have the titles “Time Span,” “Top Subjects,” “Locations,” and “Objects.”
Screenshot of the CollectionBuilder-GH demo site

CollectionBuilder offers open source templates enabling  GLAM (gallery, library, archive and museum) institutions to create digital collections and exhibits without proprietary tools. This project seeks to simplify designing infrastructures and interfaces for sustainable, static sites in alignment with collections as data principles. While the idea of using open source tools like GitHub and Jekyll may be daunting to some, the CollectionBuilder documentation is written in a friendly, understandable tone. The project is managed by librarians in the University of Idaho Digital Initiatives department, who use what they describe as Lib-Static methodologies to offer three public templates through GitHub with two more in development. While the projects produced using these templates are intended for general audiences to engage with collections, the site itself is designed to support GLAM staff creating these digital collections or online exhibitions.

As a general introduction to CollectionBuilder, the site employs a conversational FAQ format explaining the goals and methodologies of the project. An overview of each template offers a brief description, a list of its best uses, and a link to use the template. The Github and CONTENTdm templates additionally provide a demo version users can explore.

Summary of Attributes For the Github Template Opti

Even with these top-level introductions, staff with no prior experience using GitHub or Jekyll may find viewing the templates overwhelming at first glance.  However, for those concerned about engaging with new systems, the asynchronous workshops and documentation pages offer in-depth, robust directions and suggestions, allowing users with various skill levels to work through the development process at their own pace.

The screenshot shows a long list of files listed by file name and brief description. The right of the screen includes information on contributors, citation guidelines, and coding language used.
Screenshot of the collectionbuilder-gh GitHub page

While  the trade-off is less out-of-the-box usability than options hosted by third-party vendors, CollectionBuilder templates offer GLAM institutions complete control over content and data. Each CollectionBuilder project has three main components: metadata in a spreadsheet, digital objects, and the GitHub template. Preparing the metadata and organizing digital objects are likely familiar tasks, but those less familiar with GitHub or Jekyll will require the documentation when configuring and deploying the site. Additionally, the developers host a CollectionBuilder GitHub Discussion Forum, and welcome direct feedback on making the tools more usable. They also invite development collaborators, noting four partner institutions at the time of this review.

Several dozen digital collections produced by various GLAM institutions using CollectionBuilder are featured on the site, and many have a familiar look and feel when compared to other small digital collections. As shown in the CollectionBuilder GitHub Pages template demo site, the landing page offers top-level navigation with multiple avenues to explore the collection. The digital materials are browsable and searchable, and visualizations could additionally include maps, timelines, word clouds, and infographics. The about page can offer audiovisual elements alongside text thanks to the flexibility of Markdown and Bootstrap. In addition, the CollectionBuilder templates are designed to support the collections as data movement by offering users options to download the dataset powering the site.

While the documentation doesn’t have a section addressing accessibility specifically, the Lib-Static methodology means the resulting site should meet accessibility standards and improve experiences for users with less bandwidth. An  explanation of how these templates address various accessibility needs could be more clearly laid out in the documentation for those beginning to engage in designing a site without vendor support. 

CollectionBuilder is useful for GLAM institutions interested in gaining more control over the presentation, usability, and technological support of their digital projects. This could require staff time in order to learn the processes and tools, but could save the institution money and time needed for migrations in the long-term. The Lib-Static methodology additionally makes this option ideal for faculty creating online collections with classes, as many of the outcomes support Open Pedagogy best practices. CollectionBuilder offers GLAM workers the opportunity to learn and apply new skills with helpful documentation to support this growth, and ultimately helps to produce sustainable digital projects that should be easier for institutions to preserve.

Bloomsbury Applied Visual Arts

Reviewed by:
Jack O’Malley, Metadata Lead
Frick Art Reference Library

Bloomsbury Applied Visual Arts, a library of 170 titles published by Bloomsbury Publishing, aims to provide students in the visual arts with practically minded resources for inspiration, technical advice, and career development. The digital resource library is organized according to major visual arts disciplines: fashion and textiles, design and illustration, photography, film and animation, architecture and interiors, and marketing and advertising. Within each discipline there are a number of “Basics” and “Fundamental” series, fit for practitioners of all levels. More intermediate resources include both hands-on exercises and more theoretical “required reading”, as well as instruction on career management.

The homepage of Bloomsbury Applied Visual Arts

Individual pages (also serving as subject guides) further break down the disciplines into a number of sub-topics. At a glance, these pages communicate the key areas covered by the resources. The “Explore Key Topics” side-panel brings users to an index of chapters tagged by topic, while the links at the bottom of the page bring users to entire e-books. Users can otherwise only see a list of e-books by turning to the “Browse Books” page, which lacks the filtering features users can apply to chapters. The search feature also indexes by chapter with filters available to narrow down searches by key topic. Both the key topics side-panel and the search bar bring users to the same results, but the advantage of the search feature comes primarily from full-text searches of chapters.

The Bloomsbury core disciplines.
The Film and Animation discipline page.

The books and chapters themselves are excellently rendered, with (according to Bloomsbury) 150–250 full color images per title, the option for personal download of chapters via the print button, and a smooth and functional full-screen viewer. On mobile, many of these features are diminished by layout changes and screen size, but all the content remains available. Many chapters contain further sub-sections captured in a side-panel table of contents, which facilitates use of these resources as reference material. The contents accurately reflect the resource’s commitment to providing granular, practical introductions for new to intermediate students in the visual arts. The titles take nothing for granted when explaining how to point a camera or craft a portfolio. 

The page view for a chapter of the book The Fundamentals of Digital Photography

The resources in Bloomsbury Applied Visual Arts have been aptly selected for the target audience of visual learners, especially for students who may want to frequently refer to reference material in a specific chapter as they move through the learning process. Delivering these titles digitally makes sense for the same reason, especially given the quality of the digital titles. The limitations of the search and browse features can make discovery more difficult than necessary, but it is still possible to consistently find the right resource. Bloomsbury also adds new resources on a regular basis. Applied Visual Arts also supplies the title list as an Excel Sheet, which has some additional metadata and may aid collection development selectors in evaluating the resource.

Librarians interested in the benefits of Bloomsbury Applied Visual Arts, such as facilitation of self-learning, explicit focus on applied basics, and breadth of coverage, will have to balance them with the financial cost. Although Bloomsbury offers a free thirty day trial, institutions will ultimately need to request a quote and pay to secure ongoing access for their users. Bloomsbury does not provide general pricing information. Comparable open-access resources include MERLOT, Open Textbook Library, and other introductory titles in the library catalog, among others available online, and librarians will need to choose between curating resources that fit their students’ needs with the broad coverage and disciplinary topics of this resource.

Play a Kandinsky

Reviewed by:
Tonya D. Lee, Instructional Technology & Online Learning Coordinator
Moore College of Art & Design

A screenshot of the homepage of Google Arts & Culture’s, Play a Kandinsky, including an image of Wassily Kandinsky’s 1925 painting Yellow-Red-Blue with seven interactive hotspots. The image includes a blue “Launch Experiment” button.
Homepage of Google Arts & Culture’s, Play a Kandinsky, including an image of Wassily Kandinsky’s 1925 painting Yellow-Red-Blue with seven interactive hotspots. To begin the four-step resource, participants choose to “Launch Experiment.”

The Google Arts & Culture Experiment Play a Kandinsky is an interactive digital resource that provides participants a unique opportunity to delve into the question “What if you could hear color?” Using the writings of abstract painter and theorist Wassily Kandinsky, Play a Kandinsky demonstrates the complex neurological condition of synesthesia using simulation technology. A collaboration between Google Arts & Culture and the Center Pompidou, this free resource combines interactive visual elements with musical interpretations by sound artists Antoine Bertin and NSDOS, who created audio samples from music in Kandinsky’s library.

Play a Kandinsky uses Kandinsky’s painting Yellow-Red-Blue (1925) to explore the interconnectedness of color, shape, and sound experienced by those with synesthesia. The resource uses experiential learning practices and includes four scaffolded interactive exercises that deliver content through visual, audible, and kinesthetic activities appropriate for various learning styles and audiences. Each exercise is tiered in complexity and engagement, resulting in a user-created unique and shareable musical score generated by Google’s machine learning neural network, Transformer.

The resource can be accessed through a web browser or Google Arts & Culture’s mobile app. Because this resource uses visual and audio elements to demonstrate synesthesia, one must have speakers to gain the whole experience. Once launched, audio narrates the transitioning text as pop-up boxes detail actions to take to interact with the content in the first step of the resource.

A screenshot of the first step in Play a Kandinsky, showing a dark red circle on a medium red background with the instructions “Keep clicking the circle. Each color represents a sound.”
The first step in Play a Kandinsky, participants are introduced to synesthesia by interacting with moving shapes to hear different sounds representing different colors.

In the first step, participants click on a moving circle to play samples of sounds the artist might have heard when seeing different colors. In addition to introducing the basic principles of synesthesia, this activity establishes the foundational knowledge and technical know-how needed to engage with the remaining steps. Navigating between steps is either automated or initiated using the navigation bar at the bottom of the page. In future iterations, creating greater consistency in the transitioning between steps would improve the predictability of the user experience.

A screenshot from the second step of Play a Kandinsky, showing a dark blue circle on a light blue background. Text on the image reads “BLUE” “which Kandinsky heard as an ORGAN” “and associated it with emotions like HEAVENLINESS.”
The second step in Play a Kandinsky highlights three shapes from Kandinsky’s painting Yellow-Red-Blue and asks participants to interact with each to hear color and sound associations described in Wassily Kandinsky’s writings. The sounds are artistic interpretations by sound artists Antoine Bertin and NSDOS, who used Kandinsky’s music library to create music samples.

Navigating to the second step, participants interact with three shape elements from Kandinsky’s Yellow-Red-Blue to read and hear about the relationship between color, shape, sound, and emotion. By clicking on the blue circle, one hears organ music that represents the artist’s belief that round forms best represent “soft, deep colours” like blue, and the darkest blues generate the sounds of an organ (Kandinsky 1977, 39). In this step, the developers missed an opportunity to connect the content directly with Kandinsky’s writings. Adding citations that substantiate the content would provide participants with avenues for continued learning and firmly root the lessons in texts of historical significance and relevance.

A screenshot from the third step of Play a Kandinsky, showing seven play buttons on top of Kandinsky’s “Yellow-Red-Blue.”
In the third step, Yellow-Red-Blue is presented with seven interactive hotspots that play music samples that allow participants to “hear” the painting.

In the third step, Yellow-Red-Blue is presented with seven interactive “movements” that, when clicked, play Antoine Bertin and NSDOS’s music samples to allow participants to hear the painting. In this third step, the interface provides a set of variables that yield unique and differentiated outcomes based on the individual’s interactions.

A screenshot from the fourth step of Play a Kandinsky, showing a pop-up box outlining the instructions on how to create a user-generated musical composition and share the results.
In the fourth step, participants use their emotions to create a unique rhythm that is the foundation for a user-generated musical composition. Upon completion, the composition can be shared using the share icon.

The intentional skill and knowledge scaffolding, combined with increasingly personalized interactions, results in a final step that embraces experimentation and creative freedom.

In the last step, participants select their current mood to play sounds that provide the rhythmic foundation for an original and shareable user-generated musical composition created by interacting with elements in Yellow-Red-Blue. Because the composition is based on the order and frequency that each hotspot is initiated, the combinations are seemingly limitless. It is essential to mention that the interactive “emotion” buttons in the web browser version Play a Kandinsky have contrast issues that would be an accessibility concern.

Using interaction design principles combined with experiential learning methods, Play a Kandinsky provides an engaging introduction to the complexities of synesthesia through a well-produced digital technology that engages participants of varying experiences and learning styles. Google Arts & Culture and the Center Pompidou have created a tool that engages participants in a unique sensory experience that would be further enhanced by considering the mentioned areas for refinement.

Listen to the author’s unique musical composition created by Play a Kandinsky here: