Monday, March 24, 2008

More information from the VRA conference

On Thursday March 13th the VRA Membership dinner ended the day of conferencing. (We had chicken. What a surprise.)

Our keynote speaker was Dr. Maurizio Seracini, Director of the Center of Interdisciplinary Science for Art, Architecture and Archaeology (CISA3) at the University of California, San Diego. Dr. Seracini is searching for the lost mural the Battle of Anghiari by Leonardo da Vinci, which was destroyed (supposedly) when the Room of the Five Hundred in the Palazzo Vecchio in Florence was enlarged by Vasari by order of Cosimo I.

Dr. Seracini feels that the original Leonardo battle scene was somehow encapsulated beneath the later work by Vasari by an ingenious pocket of air over the fresco. (I have never been fond of Vasari, who was kind of a weasel, so I have trouble envisioning him as a hero!). The CISA3 investigation of the Room of the Five Hundred uses infrared, x-ray, radar, and thermographic cameras (and other non-invasive tools) to study the walls and their frescoes.

Dr. Seracini feels that traditional study of art, architecture, and archaeology (the three As) can not fully understand the complexity of the work (the object) since we are accustomed to studying the work visually with the human eye. Using other, technological and scientific means of examining and conceptualizing the objects can expand our knowledge of the work, and allow us to know the art and the objcts more fully. The potential for investigations of architecture and archaeological sites is exciting.

He was an inspiring keynote speaker because his enthusiasm for his work and his love of cultural objects and their stories. It is refreshing to see someone maintain this energy throughout his career.

The next day, Friday, a session called "Improving Your Image: Marketing Visual Resource Collections" was very engaging. Visual Resources Curators are not in the habit of thinking about "marketing" and advertising their collections. Collections are usually integral to the curriculum and community of a department or college and outreach is not necessary. As the information age becomes more complex and faster-paced, and as the nature of academia changes, visual rseources collections have to change with the times.

This session dealt with ways of encouraging faculty to seek new technologies and digital information from the "traditional" slide collection, which many faculty (and students) still equate with 35mm film, dust, and librarians. Ideas like newsletters, featured images or websites, blogs (Hmm. Let's make a BLOG!), cookies, crashing meetings, door prizes, you name it - were talked about at the session.

Brooke Cox, the session organizer, and Jessica Bozeman, one of the presenters, are from DePauw University, and they devised a clever "advertising" campaign for their Visual Resources Center using videos that they posted on YouTube. They have been sending links to the videas out over the VRA's listserve (much to our enjoyment!) and so I will share one here in this blog.

There is a series of these parodies and they are rather funny.

In my next posting to this VRC BLOG*, I will write self-importantly about the Sunday March 16th session on Architecture that I organized - and about a promising new project that SAH (the Society for Architectural Historians) is undertaking for a shared images resource.

Perhaps I will have an open house and serve cookies as my next advertising attempt.


Heather Seneff, Director
Visual Resources Collection
College of Architecture and Urban Planning
University of Washington

* blantant marketing schtick

Thursday, March 20, 2008

New ideas from the VR community

I just returned from the annual VRA (Visual Resources Association) conference in San Diego. The conference was from March 12 to March 17 - the first time a VRA conference has spanned a weekend, that I can remember.

Wednesday the 12th was a busy day for me; first I attended the plenary session on "Image Rights: Perspectives from Copyright Owners" in the early morning.

Then I went to a session of "Social Tagging in Online Collections" - which was really great! There were four speakers, Adam Lauder from McGill University, Billy Kwan from the STEVE project at the Met, Laurie Allen from the University of Pennsylvania, and Margaret Kipp from Long Island University. Social tagging (or folksonomy) has been somewhat controversial in the VR community, where many image curators are reluctant to relinquish any control over vocabulary assigned to images. These four speakers, however, illustrated how social tagging can be incorporated to add a richness and depth to image cataloging that can work in tandem with a controlled vocabulary to the benefit of students and faculty.

Margaret Kipp, who is a professor and Doctoral Candidate in Information and Media Studies, has studied patterns in tagging that are very fascinating. Most social tagging falls into two categories: time-and-task tagging, and affective tagging. The former includes people tagging articles and websites "toread" or "todo" as a reminder to themselves. Affective tagging is more emotional and perceptive to the subject, such as "cool" or "fun" or even "boring." Margaret was mostly examining academic articles (scientific, news, arts) and social bookmarking sites like, but her findings seem to hold true for social tagging in general.

(I have often been bemused by the fact that some people feel compelled to comment (tag) on things that really don't need commenting on - such as the tag "cool" on images on Flickr. As though they can't help themselves. Must comment. Perhaps it creates a feeling of inclusion into a community?)

Laurie Allen (from the University of Pennsylvania) spoke about the PennTags Project on her campus, which was really cool (haha). UPenn has created a means of social bookmarking within their own university sites (including the library and slide collection), using their equivalent of the MyUW page.

The session was very thought-provoking and timely. The Library of Congress added a large collection of digital images to the image-sharing Flickr website earlier this year, encouraging the public to tag the images. I have enjoyed looking at and tagging some of the images, and reading the tags that other viewers add (including "cool"); you can see the images at Flickr here:

I would love to see tagging incorporated as part of the digital image database software that we use in the VRC, the MDID. The MDID developers have been concentrating on interoperability in conjunction with the MLIS grant they received last year, but maybe they will be encouraged to work on the tagging aspect, as well.

I will describe more about the VRA conference later!


New Blog for the VRC!