Retrieving and using visual resources: Challenges and opportunities for research and education



Visual resources are used in a variety of settings for many different purposes. Technological advances facilitate numerous applications of digital images and other visual materials in work and leisure, resulting in increasing availability of and demand for such resources. A major challenge for information professionals is to organize digital visual resources effectively to meet the needs of users with different backgrounds and interests. For example, how do we provide access to the content of such resources and design an information system for the general public as well as subject specialists? A related challenge is the education of visual resource professionals because their roles and responsibilities have expanded in the digital era (Iyer, 2007). What knowledge and skills should visual resource professionals of the 21st century possess? How do we prepare them to facilitate the retrieval and use of digital visual resources and manage such resources for short-term and long-term access?

The proposed program is designed to facilitate a dialog among practitioners, educators, and a panel of researchers with experience investigating the retrieval and use of visual resources. To provide a context for the dialog, panelists will use the first half of the program to highlight what they have learned from their research and teaching. These brief presentations will be followed by a discussion between the audience and the panelists. The audience will be encouraged to share their views on the following topics and any additional topics of great interest to them:

  • How do users search for visual resources in the absence of information systems?
  • How do users find their access to visual resources supported or inhibited by the information systems put in place for them?
  • What are the opportunities for practitioners, subject specialists, researchers, and educators to collaborate and provide learning experiences with visual resources for LIS students?
  • What competencies are needed by information professionals in order to build and sustain good visual resource systems?

The program will be of interest to information science educators, specialists in digital asset management, and information professionals who work with visual resources (art and special collections librarians, digital librarians, archivists and museum curators).

(1) Martha Smith, “We're curious, not connoisseurs”: Information Use and Needs of Art Museum Visitors

Digital and Web technologies have created dramatic changes in art museum information systems which have in turn invited an expanding diversity of non-specialist art image and information seekers. Research is needed to support the organization of and access to basic visual art information content, and the vocabularies which frame this content, for the use of general audiences, whether they are using gallery-based or online information resources.

This study describes a qualitative meta-analysis of empirical studies of adult visitors to physical art museums in order to better understand (a) how visitors process information in the galleries among original artworks using physical, emotional, cognitive, and socially shared interactions, and (b) how visitors use museum-supplied information.

From this meta-analysis, the study presents a conceptual framework of the types of information-visual, contextual, and interpretive-that museum visitors use in combination with their information-gathering behaviors of artwork description, analysis and identification, and interpretation. The framework carries implications for museum information system design, including the creation of subject access to art information appropriate to the varying levels of art knowledge of general audiences.

(2) Youngok Choi & Ingrid Hsieh-Yee, Subject Access to Images: Query Analysis of OPAC Searches

Many institutions have created digital collections that provide previously unknown or inaccessible materials online. As the availability of digital images increases, so do the challenges related to digital image retrieval in these collections. One of them is the problem of mismatch between user needs and image retrieval by words or concepts. To resolve this problem, new types of image retrieval systems based on color, shape or texture have been developed. However, studies show that searching images by words remains the preferred method (Eakins, Briggs, & Burford, 2004), and concepts are considered important in image retrieval (Attig, Copeland, & Pelikan, 2004; Enser, 2000; Frost, et al., 2000). To support searching images by words, it is not only necessary to describe visual information to provide access, but also to understand user behavior in searching for images.

While image searching on the Web has been investigated recently (e.g., Goodrum & Spink, 2001, Jorgensen & Jorgensen, 2005; Pu, 2005), subject access to images in OPACs or metadata-based image collections is relatively new. Major concerns include what vocabularies are needed to support subject access effectively, how to adapt cataloging practices to address the unique descriptive needs of images, and how to address the needs of the diverse user communities of images. This presentation will highlight characteristics of user queries for subject searches of images in an OPAC and contrast the effects of retrieval by the Library of Congress subject headings (LCSH) and keywords on search success. The types of support needed for subject access to images will be discussed with the audience.

(3) Jane Greenberg, Engaging Students in the Metadata Enterprise for Studying Scientific Specimens

Specimen images are critical to scientific study and advancement of knowledge. Digital herbariums and scientific image repositories are growing in numbers and being used by scientists daily (Datta, et al., 2007). These sources also allow students, at all levels, access to primary scientific resources as they study scientific phenomena (Greenberg, 2000). Students studying any scientific discipline, and accessing these repositories, need to understand the value of metadata. Equally important is their need to engage in the metadata enterprise for organizing and accessing of their own specimen images as part of their learning process.

We are addressing this challenge in the “Bot 2.0: Botany through Web 2.0, the Memex and Social Learning” at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill. Students are learning about plant life in the piedmont region of North Carolina by participating in hands-on learning experiences, through both independent and collaborative approaches using social networking technology. An emphasis of our work is on plant identification and specimen labeling, including the creation of metadata for digital images. This presentation will present preliminary results of the first phase of our Bot 2.0 project, and the metadata component of the summer BotCamp experience. The presentation will identify key learning areas and review how we have integrated LIS organizing information and metadata into the curriculum.

(4) Hemalata Iyer, Visual Resources Management: Determining Professional Competencies and Guidelines for Graduate Education

This presentation is derived from the ongoing research funded by the IMLS Librarians for the 21st Century grant: “Visual Resources Management: Determining Professional Competencies and Guidelines for Graduate Education” and reflects the changing role of the visual resources professionals and the skills required of them. With the advent of digital technologies, the visual resource professional has broken out of the traditional mold of the slide librarian and museum curator. These professionals are entering into a variety of environments, and claim a diverse range of job titles and responsibilities. The research seeks to assess the competencies and skills required in the field of visual resources in the 21st century. The results of the content analysis of VR related job announcements and a web-based survey of VR professionals will be presented. The analysis of the data has uncovered trends that will have implications for the future of the profession. The skills and competencies needed by the professionals in different environments are assessed and the implications of the findings to education and training of these professionals are discussed.