Saturday, April 4, 2009

Images of Russia and Caucasus Region 1929-1933

Images of Russia and Caucasus Region 1929-1933

The University of Wisconsin at Milwaukee (UWM) created the digital collection, Images of Russia and Caucasus Region 1929-1933, in 2007. The digital collection contains "over 700 images of Russia and the central Caucasus including the Republic of Georgia and Dagestan from the William O. Field Collection housed at the American Geographical Society Library (AGSL)," which is located at UWM. The collection is further supplemented "by Field's diaries and travel notes, and a selection of maps of the Caucasus region". UWM goes on to state that "the photographs were researched and indexed as part of the project to provide additional points of access". Thus, though no specific collection development policy is provided, this author came away with the impression that UWM sought to create as full and as accessible a digital collection as they could based upon this very geographically and chronologically specific collection of William O. Field's photographs.

One area where this collection produced by UWM largely excels is in the breadth and consistency of its metadata fields. These fields include such obvious fields as Title, Photographer, and Subject while also regularly employing less expected fields
such as Original Item Size, Digital Publisher, and Repository. In every record and image this author viewed these fields were listed, filled, and in most pertinent cases clickable with ceaseless regularity while also being. Such regularity allowed UWM to employ a feature this author has yet to come across in any other digital collection he has viewed for this collection: advanced searching based upon the elements and terms used in UWM's metadata schema. One can mix and match these elements and terms to create a customized search that uses the precise vocabulary UWM used itself. The end result should have been quite a streamlined and user-friendly system that increases efficiency. However, this author found this system to be frustratingly shoddy and disappointing in light of the transformative power such a system could have on the ease with which users access information.

UWM is explicit with regards to the process of creating the digital objects in this collection. They declare that "the images were scanned from film negatives and slides, when possible" and, when not possible, "photographic prints were used as a source for scanning." These scans resulted in TIFF files that UWM stores itself. They then created JPEG derivatives and uploaded these into CONTENTdm software for web access. It is difficult, however, to discern the bit depth and resolution of these JPEG derivatives. They first appear at 46.9% their normal size. Two levels of zooming are allowed which bring the viewer to 100&. One cannot zoom any further beyond this. Yet UWM does offer a few extras from this point to the user. The user can, for instance, focus the image on a specific portion by panning in different directions or by clicking the portion on which (s)he wishes to focus. This is a nice option to have. However, much like UWM's advanced search function in this digital collection, this option does not work quite as well as one would have hoped as it can be both disorienting at first and disappointing once one becomes familiar with its limitations (i.e. it refocuses on a certain part of the image, but does not enhance the context or understanding of the image in any notable way that this author observed).

It is hard to judge UWM's intended audience for this digital collection. The time that must have gone into creating its 'enhanced' functionality suggests a scholarly or research-based bent. However, the catch of this digital collection is that UWM and AGSL demand "permission to reproduce materials in this collection for publication or distribution" while also offering high-resolution digital images at a base cost of $10 for those outside the University of Wisconsin system. Thus, there is also somewhat of a profit or business model - for lack of any better terms - here as well. Then again, the first protected - i.e. free - uses mentioned by UWM are those for "individuals or libraries for personal use, research, teaching or any 'fair use' as defined by copyright law" should these parties have a need to use the images. This, then, would seem to make the case that UWM's most expected audience is a scholarly one seeking to research Russia and the Caucasus after its revolution and before its entrance into WWII. Nonetheless, the images in this collection are, without question, really quite riveting.

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