Wednesday, February 18, 2009

“After Columbus: Four Hundred Years of Native American Portraiture”

Hosted by the New York Public Library, this digital collection showcases the history of Native American Portraiture through a set of photographs, studies, and paintings currently in the library’s possession. The collection is divided into 10 sub series, representing genre, form, or image origin.

The origins of the physical collection are discussed in the exhibit introduction. Dr. Wilberforce Eames, a former librarian and bibliographer with the NYPL purchased and donated a portion of the collection. Additionally, some funding came from J.P. Morgan. The online exhibit “draws upon” a physical exhibit presented in 1994, though it is not clear what the selection criteria were at that time, or in the present online exhibit.

The metadata for the overall collection includes the history described above. It also summarizes the contents and date range (1595-1954), and informs visitors of other NYPL related resources and collections about Native Americans. The collection can also be searched, viewed in its entirety, or browsed by categories. The Metadata for each work of art includes the date, creator, title, and a Digital ID, which provides a link for metadata about the actual digital object. This seems like one of the unique and sophisticated aspects of this collection. Each digital object is documented with additional detail, including the date of the image capture (and any updates), a description of the source from which it was drawn (size, etc.), a catalog number, a digital ID and Record ID, and the medium. The metadata contained in the digital ID, however, does not contain information about the quality or resolution of the image, or the file format, and there are no immediately apparent terms of use. It is not until one selects the image for “My Selections,” found in the top bar of the browsing pages, that this information becomes apparent. The “My Selections” folder permits patrons to view image quality and file formats, and make a request for editorial or creative use.

The digital object presents advantages over the physical object. For example, the image can be resized, magnified, and rotated. Additionally, the object can be purchased as a print. One of the perceived weaknesses is the structure of the image-viewing tool. It is a bit clumsy. The zoom feature forces the object to refresh in order to be enlarged or reduced. The image cannot be “moved” smoothly, as any change must also be refreshed, which is time consuming. As such, the collection principle for supporting future and current use has not been observed, since this feature appears outdated compared to some other more sophisticated manipulations available in other digital collections. However, the quality of metadata will likely facilitate updates and future preservation of these digital objects, since they are well organized and easily retrievable.

The audience for the collection seems to be the general public.

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