Tuesday, February 10, 2009

"Hand Bookbindings: Plain and Simple to Grand and Glorious."

This digital image collection is one of nine online exhibits currently available through the Rare Books and Special Collections Department at Princeton University Libraries. Originally created in 2004, the online collection mimics what ran as an extensive physical exhibit from 2002 to 2003 (containing “211 exhibits”). The digital collection provides images of rare books with the intent of displaying their binding structures. While it is not explicitly stated, it appears that these rare books (out of about 200,000 rare books in the physical collection of the department) were selected for digitization because they represent the most relevant or beautiful examples of hand bookbinding genres. The criteria employed in creating the online collection were the same as the criteria applied in designing the physical exhibit.

The overall metadata is relatively brief, though it seems likely that more information existed with respect to the analog exhibit at the time it was installed. Beyond the general exhibit introduction, each individual genre of bookbinding contains an introductory description. The metadata for each book contains the title, date, physical location, call number, and dimensions. Since these materials probably contained more detailed bibliographic information in the physical exhibit, the online metadata seems thin. There is no information pertaining to recommendations like “conditions and terms of use,” or “authority…authenticity.” Additionally, the digital collection does not seem to be intended for long-term use or curation since it has not been updated in four years, and no information is apparent that specifies details about the digital image. The site is a little difficult to navigate since the homepage is not visibly retrievable (one has to click the top of the page where it says “hand bookbindings”).

The digital object may offer some advantages over the physical display, which enhances the value of the online exhibit. For example, a “magnifier” permits more detailed view of the book and bindings, and each image can be expanded. But these are the only manipulations available. The book cannot be rotated, and only the covers and bindings are captured.

The audience for the physical exhibit seems to have been the general public. The digital exhibit also seems to have the same intent, though some neat features (like the “magnifier” for zooming) may make this suitable for a researcher.

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