About Networked Images

From Laser Disk to Internet Access

A Visual Text: The Catalogue of the History of Architecture (CTHA)

(Available to Virgina Tech campus only)

Begun as an experiment in 1995 (?), SCP personnel extracted architectural images from a digital video laser disk to give the Virginia Tech community timeless access to the historical architectural images. Staff rekeyed and scanned the index (sometimes OCR worked!) and linked the images to the index. While the complete catalogue is available online, the quality of the images is quite low (black and white with a bisecting horizontal line). With additional funds, the original slides from which the laser disk was created could be digitized to restore the quality of the networked catalogue.

As more and more people use the Web, SCP fields a growing number of requests for access to the images, especially by students and teachers. These requests are forwarded to the author of the laser disk, Professor Humberto L. Rodriguez-Camilloni.

From Photos and Negatives to Internet Access

Special Collections

In the spring of 1994, the university's PhotoGraphic Services unit began digitizing images from the Libraries' Special Collections Department. Two sample collections became available: original watercolors of cadet uniforms worn by Virginia Agricultural and Mechanical College and Virginia Polytechnic Institute students, and fragile glass negatives from the Norfolk & Western Railroad Archive including railroad engines, bridges, and advertisements.

Experiments in digitizing, storing, identifying, and presenting non-textual files was a new challenge. SCP staff added brief text and appropriate hypertext links that connected, for example, N & W railroad pictures to the Virtual Railroad, or an older style cadet jacket to its later version.

Interest has grown steadily in providing networked digital images and encouragement from VIVA, the Virtual Library of Virginia, lead to preliminary scanning projects focusing on historical resources unique to southwest Virginia. The Special Collections Department received additional support in the form of staff, equipment, and software resources from the Scholarly Communications Project. Several small collections from the Special Collections Department, including its University Archive, were included in this early experimentation, following close on the previous spring's initial efforts to provide Internet access to the detailed finding aids. Special Collections staff to select materials for scanning, resulting, in part, in the first digital exhibition, The Lyric Theatre. Building the links from the descriptive guides and finding aids to selected digital image collections continues to be a high priority and many links now follow the initial design of the online image database, such as American Civil War Resources, including the "Letters of Felix Voltz," a Union "drummer boy," and H.E. Valentine Scrapbook."


Early in 1996 a small working group * developed a tactical plan as part of the University's Information Systems' strategic plan. This plan called for digitizing 300 art/art history slides and entering identifying information into several fields in an online form, linking the images and their descriptions into a database or "ImageBase." These digital images would then be incorporated into an Impressionist/Post-Impressionist art history course being taught fall semester 1996 by the Art & Architecture branch librarian, Dr. Annette Burr.

The working group envisioned many advantages to networked digital images over the typical analog slide collection. Instructors could display the images in any order during a lecture and would no longer be tied to the order the slides were placed in the carousel. Students could view the images outside of class at any time--whether the slide library was open or not. With the success of this prototype, slide collections around the university could be digitized for use in classroom lectures, EReserve course materials, student study guides, and much more, independent of the unit owning the original images--an advantage for the entire university.

Several challenges had to be addressed for the plan to be fully implemented. In addition to requiring resource allocations for staff to digitize well over 100,000 known slides, classrooms lacked good projection and display equipment for art slides to be viewed with the clarity--sharpness, distinct lines, and vibrant colors--now available with 35mm slides. These challenges remain, but the fast campus network connections and the continually growing disk storage space did not keep the prototype from being designed and tested.

Financial support from VIVA during 1996/98 contributed to hiring student assistants and digitizing local, regional, and Civil War history images housed in University Libraries' Special Collections. ImageBase has over 13,000 images (as of Aug. 1998) that are retrievable by 19 fields including subject, title, and creator. Both small, "thumbnail," images and larger, full-screen, images are available to the Virginia Tech community. "Archival" TIFF images are stored for security as well as future migration to newer technology and for the use of PhotoGraphic Services in providing copies. Reading Room staff report increasing use of ImageBase. In 1998 remaining funds should contribute to partial funding of a new digital image server, so that the single SCP server can be relieve of some of its current load. This will improve access time as well as archival issues.

Search the VT ImageBase

Information Systems' Digital Images Working Group: Annette Burr, Art/Architectural Librarian; Gail McMillan, SCP director; James Powell, SCP technical director; and Gary Worley, director, PhotoGraphic Services.