Image Databases (ILS 603, Fall 1995)


This course explored the issues involved in managing visual information, particularly in the creation of image databases. The class examined standards and procedures for describing and accessing resources in electronic form in general, and visual resources in particular. Students were exposed to standards for description of both objects and metadata (MARC, Dublin Standard, AITF, VRA, etc.) and for indexing (AAT, Nomenclature, MeSH, etc.), and examined the benefits of thesaurus structures, network gatherers, etc. And the class explored the problems posed by multimedia information in a networked environment, as well as the implications of client-server architecture.

This was a hands-on course where students engaged in a wide variety of activities. It was also a class that relied heavily on collaboratory work, and students engaged in cooperative projects with several groups during the course of the semester. After group site visits to repositories early in the term (see for visit reports), students continued to work collaboratively with local archives, museums, libraries, and visual collections throughout the term.

A pedogogical focus of the class was project-based learning, particularly in groups. The entire class collaborated on building an image database of approximately 650 Tshirts (see for the prototype). And (usually working with repositories) 9 groups of 3 students each built working image databases as final group projects (see Each student also completed an interesting paper ( and project ( The course also experimented with mounting a wide body of curricular support materials on the WorldWide Web (see


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.


* The course attracted auditors from a number of local repositories and special collections. The most consistent auditors were from Hatcher's cataloging department and from the Bentley Library.

* In December the Ann Arbor News did a story on the class' Tshirt database and on the instructor's underlying Tshirt collection.

* One of the group projects was to create a kind of departmental "gossip column" and "popularity contest" (Beverly SILS 48109) complete with images and a database of information about students and faculty ( This project proved engaging both for the designers and for hundreds of users within the School, and the students working on the project gained a great deal of experience in issues of digital images, databases, automating database update, user interface design, privacy, etc.

* Several of the repositories have expressed interest in the School maintaining online access to the prototype database that students built from their collection. These repositories lack the ability to build and maintain such a nice-looking face to the world.

* Several individual student papers and projects were used in a presentation to the Graduate Library's Special Collections department to help them to identify and focus on the issues of whether (and how) to place their images on the WorldWide Web.

* Student contributions were used extensively in a talk the instructor gave at a Berkeley conference on "Ethics and the Internet".