Art Librarians Pay Widely Diverging Prices to Convert 35 mm Images of Artwork to Digital Formats

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According to Creating the Digital Art Library (ISBN #1-57440-074-6) art librarians are paying widely diverging prices to convert 35mm images of artwork to digital format.

The new study from Primary Research Group is based on thorough interviews with leading art and image libraries, including those from Cornell University, Ohio State University, ARTstor, the National Archives & Records Administration, the Smithsonian, McGill University, the National Gallery of Canada, the University of North Carolina, the Illinois Institute of Technology and the Union Catalog Project for Art Image Metadata.

Art librarians are converting their 35 MM image libraries on a selective basis, as they re-shoot images, acquire new ones from commercial providers, enter into consortium sharing arrangements, and take other measures to digitize their collections.

The librarians interviewed discuss their digitization efforts commenting on the impact of the mega-library and emerging resource ARTstor, consortium activities, costs and benefits of in-house and outsourced image conversion, metadata development, copyright and licensing issues and other topics in art and image digital librarianship.

View some of the study’s findings below:

The National Archives and Records Administration (NARA) is focusing first on digitizing images and records for high use volume records of historic significance that run some risk of damage when originals are loaned out. NARA’s Special Media Preservation Lab would ideally like to use digital formats as the main distribution medium while using microfilm/fiche as a difficult to alter backup for key documents and images. NARA is actively seeking private sector partners to help digitize and market aspects of its collection. The Organization has already received extensive interest from organizations that sell genealogical services and World War II memorabilia.

The Smithsonian Institution Library has digitized more than 75,000 images in the past year, of which 65,000 were outsourced to outside contractors. Photographs and images taken from 18th, 19th and early 20th century publications were the primary source materials. The Smithsonian Library has a small slide collection of about 10,000 slides but it prefers mostly to re-shoot images rather than converting its 35 mm slides to digital images.

The Smithsonian’s plans for digitizing images include projects for 19th and early 20th century trade literature, such as plant and seed catalogs, images of scientific instruments, 19th century graphic design-related materials, and taxonomic literature. The Smithsonian’s digitization reflects the use of its collection as primary source materials for historians and other scholars.

The Smithsonian library web site gets more than 4 million hits per month and about 220,000 visitors, and close to 90% of them are probably viewers of the sites digital imaging projects.

The Knight Visual Resource Center of Cornell University has a slide collection of approximately 450,000 35 mm images, as well as a growing collection of 17,000 digital images. Cornell’s Knight Center plans to convert its 35 mm images base on an “as needed” basis.

The Library of the National Gallery of Canada has a slide collection of approximately 180,000 slides. The Library has decided against digitizing the Library’s slide collection. It is focusing its digitization efforts on support materials related to the Museum and to Canadian artists in general such as exhibition catalogs and archival lists. The Library hopes to digitize folders of press cuttings, invitations and other materials related to Canadian artists.

The University of North Carolina’s Visual Resources Library has a collection of more than 235,000 slides, 30,000 digital images and 40,000 photographs. The Library has been making about 6,000 digital slides per year, as well as converting about 2,000 35 mm slides to digital formats per year. The Library is focusing on converting slides in the graphic arts: etchings, engravings and lithographs. Sculpture is another high priority area for slide digitization. The Library is able to convert about 200 slides in about 4 hours of labor time. The Library has recently completed a purchase of a collection of 3,500 images of Islamic Art.

McGill University’s collection of web sites based on the John Bland Canadian Architecture Collection gets 400,000 hits per month. McGill’s Napoleon project, which encompasses digital images of more than 13,000 prints and 1,000 maps, gets about 75,000 hits per month, and has been available since February 2005. McGill digital image and text projects emphasize accessible web access and ease of use in database design. Accessible site design fosters usability in an environment in which hard data is scarce on the effectiveness of advertising and marketing budgets tend to be low – about 2% of project costs in McGill’s case.

The Knowlton School of Architecture at Ohio State University converted only about 35% of its 35 mm slide collection and in 2002 decided to build a digital library, largely from scratch. The University Architecture Library and the stand alone Knowlton Digital Image Library are working together closely to be able to catalog and present the emerging digital image collection in the main library catalog. Currently the Knowlton Digital Image Library averages 3,300 sessions per month; the School of Architecture has 550 enrolled students.

The Graham Resource Center of the Illinois Institute of Technology has a 30,000 slide collection, of which about 80% was created by faculty and students. The School’s own collection has recently been dramatically supplemented through its membership in the Illinois Higher Education Consortium, which has acquired Content DM, a content management system. The Consortium members plan to share images through Content DM.

For more information, to request a review copy or to place an order, please contact James Moses at Primary Research Group. A print version of the report is available for $80.00; a PDF electronic copy, also $80.00. Both versions are available together for $125.00 with usage restricted to one institution. Orders for the print edition can be placed through Primary Research Group or major book distributors. Orders for or including an electronic version can also be placed through our website at, or by calling Primary Research Group at 212-736-2316.


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James Moses