The art of DH: Reflections on an ARLIS/NA 2015 workshop 1

How are the Digital Humanities finding their way into art libraries? In this post, Sarah Long (Hirsch Library, Museum of Fine Arts, Houston) reviews a DH workshop preceding the ARLIS/NA annual conference.  

The Art Libraries Society of North America (ARLIS/NA), a professional organization of librarians in the arts, holds¬†a week-long conference of sessions, workshops, tours, and meetings. The 43rd annual conference in Fort Worth, TX, explored the theme ‚Äúnew frontiers‚ÄĚ of librarianship and the arts. Shining bright on the horizon is digital humanities, which made several appearances during conference week. Although I couldn‚Äôt attend these two sessions, I was lucky enough to attend a¬†workshop, The art of DH: an introduction to digital humanities tools for art librarians.

Workshop¬†instructors Sarah Osborne Bender (Visual Resources Curator, American University); Sarah Falls (‚ÄéHead of the Fine Arts Library, Ohio State University); and Jenna Rinalducci (Art and Art History Librarian, George Mason University) structured the event around an introductory group discussion, followed by¬†experimentation with tools.¬†Osborne Bender distributed two articles in advance of the workshop:¬†Micah Vandegrift’s “What Is Digital Humanities and What’s it Doing in the Library?” (2012)¬†and James Cuno’s “How art history is failing at the Internet” (2012). Vandegrift’s article acted as a primer for the questions, complexities, and the future of DH¬†and libraries¬†while Cuno‚Äôs article¬†set the tone of the workshop – emphasis on collaboration and the use of born-digital material in research¬†that the tools will explore.

The tools presented were grouped into three categories and approaches: multimedia and interactive tools for presentation and library instruction, collections and data analysis tools for organization and visualization, and lastly, reverse image search tools for research and image analysis.

In the first part of the workshop, Rinalducci shared three programs – Animoto, ThingLink, and StoryMap – for using and presenting images in a more powerful way by creating interactive links and dynamic slideshows. These tools allow the user to tell moving stories and teach engaging lessons.

You may be familiar with Animoto, an elder statesman at nine years old. With this tool users can upload video, images, music, and text to create thirty-second video slideshows, which are easily exported to YouTube. Because you can create via the app, it is great for quickly presenting ideas.

ThingLink lets users create interactive images by annotating with live links, text, video, and audio. The application is easy to use and supports quick creation. The image is presented as a link that can be embedded, shared or posted with the annotations. I was able to create two ThingLinks during class time and tweeted them through @arlis_na:


ThingLink‚Äôs basic and educator accounts are free, with¬†‚Äúpro‚ÄĚ and ‚ÄúVIP‚ÄĚ account options available for a fee.

StoryMap is an impressive free tool that is supported by the Knight Lab at Northwestern University. More involved than the other presentation tools, it maps events and creates interactive and dynamic timelines. Users can track current or historical events or share images corresponding to geographical locations by embedding links, text, pictures, videos, and even links from other websites such as Twitter, Vine, SoundCloud, and Flickr. The main StoryMap website shares news outlets who have used the tool to enhance their stories. The Gigapixel option lets users navigate an image such as a work of art or custom map. An example from the website uses Gigapixel to show Arya Stark’s journey across Westeros (Game of Thrones spoilers). One major downside: it is not compatible with Internet Explorer. One feature, SnapMap, takes the last twenty geo-tagged images from an Instagram account and creates a map of your own journey.

Moving along from tools aimed at custom image presentation, Osborne Bender demonstrated Photogrammar, a site that searches photographs created by the United States Farm Security Administration and Office of War Information, as an example of how data can be organized and reimagined. The site allows you group the results by county (photographs) or dots (photographers).

Osborne Bender then presented two open source tools to visualize and analyze data. We began with a brief description of how unstructured and structured data can be analyzed. With unstructured data you can track word use, see words in context, extract names, or compare contrast multiple texts. Voyant took our unstructured text file and gave us word clouds and instances of a word in text. With Voyant you can upload multiple texts to compare. Structured data enables you to identify variations and duplicates, and visualize data. ViewShare takes structured data in the form of CSV or XML MODS files and allows the user to organize and refine the data with different views and charts. We uploaded data from a museum collection and played around with the options. To get your data clean enough to use ViewShare, Osborne Bender mentioned tools like OpenRefine, but we did not have a chance to explore it.

For the final part of the workshop, Falls took us through several tools for conducting a reverse image search and image recognition ranging from the general, TinEye and Google, to the more specialized function sites, ImageRaider and RevImg. TinEye is a reliable resource, returning exact matches sorted by size, date, and relevance and¬†can be used to ascertain the origin or occurrences of certain images. Google Image Search digs a little deeper with the results, with the focus on identification and research. It not only ‚Äúguesses‚ÄĚ the subject of the image and provides a range of similar images, but the first few links relate to the subject matter with occurrences following. ImageRaider is an image recognition tool that promotes its strength in helping artists find unauthorized use of their work. Options include long-term monitoring and repeat searches. The idea behind RevImg is that a part of an image can be searched against an encyclopedia. Can‚Äôt identify that flower? Isolate the plant in the image and search botanical indices. James Cuno states “with new improvements in image recognition software, we should be experimenting with ways of compiling archives of formal and iconographic incidents across hundreds and thousands of images‚Ķ‚ÄĚ, but currently the number of websites and galleries sharing with RevImg is very limited.

Workshops like this aim to not only share and discuss new tools and ideas and their application to libraries, but also to introduce them to librarians who are curious about the role of digital humanities in their own community. Conferences and workshops always have a way of reinvigorating my enthusiasm for my job. Seeing what my colleagues have discovered and implemented, sharing what I have learned, and in this case, finding a whole lot of new and fun tools that I can experiment with, in the name of library instruction and art research.

Creative Commons LicenseThis work is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution 4.0 International License.

Sarah Long

Sarah Long is the Acquisitions Assistant at the Hirsch Library, Museum of Fine Arts, Houston. She received her MLIS from the University of Washington.

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  1. Pingback: Editors’ Choice: The Art of DH | Digital Humanities Now

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