ILS 603: Image Databases

Fall 1995 class
Instructor: Howard Besser, 764-3417,
Office hours: Friday 11-12, 403B West Engineering, and by appointment
Student Assistance: Wendy Burnett (
Class meets: Fridays, 1:00-4:00, 409 West Engineering
Class homepage:
class summary

Course Goals and Objectives
Course Description
Topics Covered
Assignments and Grading
Readings and Resources


Students will learn all the issues involved in creating databases of visual materials. Though the course focuses on still continuous-tone image, students will also learn about document imaging and multimedia databases. Students will study how repositories of image material organize and provide access to that material (both in automated and non-automated ways). They will gain experience in the various aspects of image database construction (scanning, database design, user interface design, cataloging, providing access). Students will gain project management experience in designing their own image databases. And students will create a product that will visually demonstrate what they have learned.


This course will explore the issues involved in managing visual information, particularly in the creation of image databases. At the start of the term the class will undertake a collaborative project (building an Image Database of T-shirts) that will expose students to all major aspects of an Image Database. Early in the semester groups of students will visit libraries, museums, archives, and other repositories to examine how they currently manage collections of slides, photographs, manuscripts, objects, and other visual materials. Many students will continue to work with one of these repositories throughout the term, and will construct a prototype image database for that repository as part of their final class project.

We will look standards and procedures for describing and accessing resources in electronic form in general, and visual resources in particular. Students will be exposed to standards for description of both objects and metadata (MARC, Dublin Standard, AITF, VRA, etc.) and for indexing (AAT, Nomenclature, MeSH, etc.), and will examine the benefits of thesaurus structures, network gatherers, etc. And the class will explore the problems posed by multimedia information in a networked environment, and the implications of client-server architecture.

After briefly reviewing existing computerized systems for managing collections of images, the bulk of the class will be devoted to analysing the issues involved in the design of image databases. We will look at issues of standards, image capture, storage, display, networking, copyright, social change, and overload. Students will gain hands-on experience working with a variety of image databases, and will create their own WorldWide Web-based image databases. Students will also participate in the Museum Education Site License Project. as end-users and will closely monitor the internal workings and developments in this project.

This is a hands-on course where students engage in a wide variety of activities. It is also a class that relies heavily on collaboratory work, and students will engage in cooperative projects with several groups during the course of the semester. Students who are not self-motivated will have a difficult time in this course.


Physical Description & Indexing -- systems to ensure consistent terminology usage and access by both subject and form

Developed automated systems (a brief review of several existing systems and products)

Forming Image DBs--issues that must be considered in planning image databases

Copyright issues

Issues of increased use

Social issues

Standards Issues

Other advanced projects

Geographic Systems



Most of the academic requirements for the course are covered in the section below (Assignment and Grading). In addition, there will be a number of readings assigned, some of which will be available from the library and others through the WWW.

Financial obligations for the course may include the purchase of a course reader and paying for several rolls of slide film. The total cost for the reader, film, and processing should be in the $30-$50 range.


There will be four major projects required for this course: an individual paper, an individual project, a group report on a local media collection, and a final group project. These are outlined below. All written material must be turned in in HTML format. Grading will be weighted as follows:


It is expected that students will regularly read items from the subject bibliography, synthesize what they have learned from the readings, and use this to contribute positively to class discussions. Class participation includes the discussion and evaluation of image DB products, as well as work on the Tshirt Image Database.


In groups of about 4 students you will visit an image collection in a local archive, museum, library, or teaching environment and report back to the class (in the form of a group 3 page paper and oral presentation). You will explain the tools they use for organizing and providing access to their collection. Pay particular attention to the procedures they follow for "bibliographic" description and access, as well as to any computerized retrieval tools they have already developed or are planning. This will lead us to a discussion of the differences between how images are handled in these various types of environments.


5 page research paper (+citations) on some topic we will cover in the class. Ideally it should be a review of the set of issues involved in a single particular area, relying extensively on readings from the subject bibliography. Most students choose to write their individual paper as preliminary work on their individual project. Paper topics include: image capture, storage, networking, or display issues for computer-oriented students; indexing or physical description issues for library-oriented students; or GIS systems or discipline-specific issues for students in Environmental Design, Geography, or Anthropology. This paper should not deal with the needs of any particular collection or system, but rather should deal with more general issues and trade-offs.


Write a paper about a particular collection or design a very specific tool. Do something very specific related to topics covered in class. The project is usually a follow-up to the individual paper. Students might choose to analyze the needs of a particular collection of visual materials, or build a subject-oriented index to images on the WWW. Computer-oriented students might want to design (or even build) a system for removing scratches from photographs or restoring faded slides, design a tool to track or evaluate the use of images on a WWW site, or build some devices to make Quicktime VR easier to use. Library-oriented students might want to compare a given thesaurus to other indexing structures. Students could evaluate a given product for use in a particular setting. This is not a report on issues or what others have done, but is original.


In groups of three (ideally matching one student familiar with programming, one student familiar with cataloging, and one student familiar with the discipline of the collection) build an image database. For this you need to identify a collection, determine its scope, develop a system for physical description, determine access points, define necessary terminology, develop a database structure, capture a sample set of at least 50 images, create at least 100 text records, and place all these within some image database system. It is likely that you will work with someone who manages that collection, and it is mandatory that you obtain permission to electronically reproduce images from that collection. You must present your project to the rest of the class at a scheduled time in one of the last several class periods, and you must turn in written documentation of your system along with your rationale for why you made all the decisions that you made (such as why you captured images at a particular resolution, what storage issues your system will eventually pose and how you plan to handle these, etc.).


Museum Education Site Licences Project documents

Other peoples' imaging documents

Document Images--Image Quality, Conservation, Long-Term Issues


Dates are subject to change. Highlighted assignments are due on the date noted. Italicized highlighted items are milestones (students do not have to turn items in on these dates, but will be behind if they are not completed by then).

















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