Sunday, March 22, 2009

The Illuminated Books Project

The Illuminated Books Project is an independent digital collection that primarily features illustrations from books published between the 1880s and the 1920s. Even though The three individuals who are responsible for the site's content wanted to provide free access to materials that are not generally accessible to an average user due to the image's condition, rarity or location. Frustrated with their own searches for the illustrations by such artists as Walter Crane, William Morris and Kate Greenaway, they began digitizing books (their own and presumably those loaned to them) "in their own integrity and in reasonably high resolution." The images are hosted by Weatimages.

Metadata is primarily given in a book's introduction - known information about original publications, exhibitions, and relative biographical information on the author/illustrator. There is no data on current ownership of the book, loan information, date of digitization, scanning details, or cross-references. Users are given the options to view the JPEG images in different sizes and a one-click enhancement can give a close-up. According to the "Using the Website" page, the "intention is to provide high quality images with no heavy compression artifacts. Most images are available at the original size of the page (or spread) and at 150dpi for each full-sized JPEG/JPG image. File sizes with resolutions of 150dpi can be quite large and time-consuming to download for those visiting with low speed modem connections. In the event that a book is presented at a resolution higher than 150 dpi, the size will be posted in the page of the specific book."
The project includes both adult and children's books. Books are organized by author/illustrator without any keyword or Boolean search options. Each book is digitized cover to cover with double or single-page spread thumbnail images to click on. There are no user functions for developing individual metadata or personal collections. So even though the site's intent is to feature these decorative images, a user will have to contend with pages of text while searching for an image. It is hard to tell when the site was last updated or if it is still being maintained. The most current date I could locate was 2006. The Spanish language option is still under construction.

Although the collection is small compared to those hosted by universities and there are no search options to locate specific images, I think the images are digitized well. The site designers want people to be able to look at the images closely, and they made that possible. It is obviously geared toward an audience who is interested in highly decorative illustrations and willing to browse through entire texts to find them. A researcher may find the illustrations useful but probably not for academic research.

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