Wednesday, May 6, 2009

The History of Medicine

The History of Medicine (IHM) has built a collection of about 70,000 images related to medical practice in several countries around the world. The collection contains images of portraits, photographs, caricatures, posters and graphic art. The images range in date from the 15th to 21st centuries and were gathered from the History of Medicine and the U.S. National Library of Medicine.

The images themselves are quite interesting and the interface is easy to use. Users are given the option to browse all the images and then narrow their browsing by selection a format, country or time period. When you select an item a small scale appears near the bottom which allows you to zoom in and out of the image. Although this is a really useful tool, it can be difficult to see on black and white images which make up a significant portion of the collection. Also, some of the images don’t hold up well when zooming in as close as possible.

The interface also allows many tools which allow you to share and interact with the images although some of these (such as creating a presentation) are only available to people with usernames and passwords.

Each image has a lot of metadata which is listed in a column on the left-hand side of the screen. They include information on copyright status but also make it clear that it is the user’s responsibility to determine whether or not they can use an item.

Although I didn’t use the tool, the collection is also searchable in Locator Plus which offers a completely different interface in which to display the results. Although I think this site is used primarily by people at IHM and NIH, they want the images to be useful for private study and research as well.

The interface looks really nice and is simple to use and the images themselves are really interesting. I would like a little more information on the collection itself however. Although the metadata includes information on which organizations publish the images, it’s unclear how they were used. I wanted more context for some of the images.

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