University of Illinois Library

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Urbana, IL, 61801



The Digital Services and Development Unit has a combined focus on technical imaging and visual information access and retrieval, enabling us to develop optimal methods for creating and providing access to experimental electronic files of visual information, as well as studying its use in the digital environment. Projects and research conducted by the program have addressed the following five critical issues that face both research and practice in the area of digital imaging:

Several exploratory projects have been carried out that have enabled the Digital Services and Development Unit to develop expertise in digitizing and providing access to the Library's collections, as well as materials from other cultural heritage institutions. Since 1995, the program has worked with such diverse collections as historical maps and deteriorating aerial photographs, unique costume and set design sketches, emblem books and illuminated manuscripts, half-tones and photographs from the Lorado Taft papers, magazine tear-sheet advertisements from the D'Arcy Advertising Collection, and photographs and archival materials from a number of institutions for several cultural heritage projects.

Examples of Projects


Content Based Retrieval Return to Contents

At the same time, the Library had begun collaborative research with scholars in the Beckman Institute, which was supported by the National Science Foundation's Digital Libraries Initiative (DLI) Program to identify new methods of image retrieval based on the content of the image. The result of this collaboration was a database called Multimedia Analysis and Retrieval System (MARS), an image database management system supporting ranked similarity queries based on keywords and image attributes of color, texture, color/texture layout and shape. Members of the Digital Imaging Initiative Unit were involved in the evaluation of MARS.

Eastman Kodak Pilot Project Return to Contents

Also in 1995, the University Library and the Eastman Kodak Company launched a pilot project to test the feasibility of operating a production imaging workstation in a library setting, and to collaborate with Kodak to determine the best methods for capturing archival, high-quality images from film and through the use of a digital camera. Materials were selected from several areas on campus that have rich graphical image collections to test whether there would be a variation in the amount of resources needed to digitize various types of materials-human, financial, and technical. Approximately 2,000 images were converted from 35mm film negatives or transparencies to Photo CD format during the pilot test. Results of the final test are published on the web as The University of Illinois/Kodak Digital Imaging Project: A Report on the Use of the Photo Imaging Workstation and Related Imaging Projects.

Digital Emblematica Return to Contents

Emblem 6 from Emblemata

Emblem 6 from Emblemata
Rare Book and Special Collections

As an extension of Humanities Image Database, the Digital Imaging Initiative Unit began working with a professor in the German Department who had been extensively studying and cataloging the University's collection of German emblem books. Emblem books are illustrated books, published from the sixteenth to the eighteenth century, usually accompanied by a motto or short verse, and explanatory text. For the past few years, international interest has been growing in this field of study, together with the desire to preserve the intellectual content of these rare and antique books, makes this collection ideal for digitization. The Digital Services and Development Unit how hosts a database of online emblem images, as well as portal for the emblem community, OpenEmblem.

Global Cultural Memory: Champaign County Cultural Memory Project Return to Contents

Gaseous Electronics Laboratory

The Gaseous Electronics Laboratory in 1958
University of Illinois

In early 1997, discussions began on the Global Cultural Memory project, a collective archive of digital information (text, images, and, in future, sound & video) that documents both everyday and singular events, lifestyles, and achievements that have influenced the most recent fifty years of cultural memory.

This project integrates cultural heritage information from many types of institutions-museums, community groups, schools, historical societies, archives, and libraries. It is a model for a future virtual distributed repository to which institutions contribute multimedia information from their collections-such as curatorial records, images, oral histories, and educational program materials.

The Proof of Concept, Champaign County Cultural Memory is publicly available. The database contains images and text specific to Champaign County, IL, but pertaining to national social, cultural, and instructional themes from the last fifty years. The user is able to browse images about particular themes, or within a particular decade, or perform a search for a specific theme in a specific decade. Through this type of virtual archive users at all levels and geographic locations will be able to make connections between their personal lives and their shared cultural heritage. For more information, please see the Global Cultural Memory Phase 2: Report, submitted to the Getty Information Institute in August 1997.

Historical Maps of Illinois and the Northwest Territory Return to Contents

Township and sectional map of Illinois

Gaylord Watson's new
township and sectional
map of Illinois.
1872, c1869
Map and Geography Library

Also in 1997, a joint project between the University of Illinois Library and the Follett Corporation was set up to scan and digitize historical maps from the collections of the Map and Geography Library and the Rare Book and Special Collections Library. The eighty-four indexed images represented maps depicting North America, the Northwest Territory, the state of Illinois, and counties and townships within the state, and range in time from 1650 to 1994.

In 2000, the Library digitized another extensive group of historical maps from the collection. At the same time, the Library received funding from the Illinois State Library to digitize topographic maps of Illinois. There are now over 1,500 digitized maps publicly available.

Humanities Image Database Project Return to Contents

In 1996, the Digital Imaging Initiative Unit teamed up with the Advanced Information Technology Group at the University to begin the Humanities Image Database Project (HID). The goals of this project were: to provide networked access to images, using consistent metadata to humanities scholars for both research and instructional purposes; to encourage use of the Web as an instructional tool; and to promote sharing of visual resources among humanities instructors. HID empowers faculty to manage their own collections by providing them access to a networked database application system, and by offering resources for how to use cataloging and classifying rules and tools. Currently, images are cataloged using a commercial image database application, Cumulus, a client-server package that runs on a Mac operating platform, created by Canto Software. Currently, faculty from The School of Art and Design and the French Department are cataloging images to be used by their colleagues and students.

View this Collection (Available to University of Illinois Accounts only)

Illinois Aerial Photograph Digital Archive Return to Contents

Will County, Illinois - 1939 and 1954

Portion of aerial photo

Portion of aerial photo
Will Co., 1939.
Map & Geography Library

Mid 1997 saw the beginning of the Historic Aerial Photos Imagebase Project, a joint project with the Map and Geography Library and the Geographic Modeling Systems Laboratory at the University of Illinois. The goals of the project are to conserve a rapidly deteriorating collection of the most comprehensive collection of aerial photographs of all 102 counties in Illinois, dating back to the 1930's using digital imaging technology, and to provide innovative electronic access to digital information. The proposal for this project is available online as History From a Bird's Eye: Illinois Aerial Photographs: A Prospectus for Creating a Digital Archive.

A test database of 270 aerial photographs taken over Will County, Illinois in 1939 and 1954 is accessible for evaluation purposes . This pilot project is being supported by the Illinois State Library, and Scantech Color Systems, Inc. of Champaign, Illinois.

LSTA funding was received from the Illinois State Library in 2004/'05 to digitize Aerial Photograph Indexes for Illinois.

Lorado Taft Sculpture Photographs and Finding Aid Return to Contents

Taft with Fountain of Creation figures

Taft with Fountain of Creation figures
ca 1927
University Archives

Sculptor Lorado Taft (1860- 1936), a native of Illinois, is one of the most outstanding graduates in the history of the University (B.A. 1879, MA 1880). In addition to being a prominent and successful artist, Taft was an instructor at the Art Institute of Chicago, lecturer of art history at the University of Chicago, and, later, a non-resident Professor of Art at the University of Illinois. In addition to lecturing, Taft wrote a great deal about the history of art and was very active in professional societies. The University owns several of his works, including two statues in front of the Main Library. His greatest legacy to the University remains the Alma Mater statue, which stands in front of Altgeld Hall at the corner of Green and Wright streets in Urbana.

The web site is a digital finding aid to University of Illinois Archives Record Series number 26/20/16, and includes an item list of the series, as well as images representing photos of Taft, his studio, and some of his works.

Motley Collection of Theatre and Costume Design Return to Contents

Costume design for Jessica in Merchant of Venice

Costume design for
Jessica in Merchant of
Venice, 1967
Rare Book and Special
Collections Library

The Motley Collection of Theatre and Costume Design is a rare collection of original costume and set designs, sketches, notes, photographs, prop lists, storyboards, and swatches of fabric comprising over 5000 items from more than 150 productions in England and the United States. The entire collection was acquired for the University of Illinois in April, 1981, by University English Professor Michael Mullin, and is housed in the Rare Book and Special Collections Library.With the support of Eastman Kodak and the Follett Corporation, digitized images of sketches from six Shakespearean productions are fully indexed and available on the Web. Links to production notes for that performance are also provided.

Museum Education Site License (MESL) Project Return to Contents

Portion of a painting by Grant Wood

Portion of a painting
by Grant Wood
National Gallery of Art
Washington, D.C.

In 1995, the University became one of seven sites selected to participate in the Museum Educational Site Licensing program (MESL), sponsored by the Getty Information Institute. This two-year project, which was extended an additional year, enabled the Library, in collaboration with the College of Fine and Applied Arts, to make accessible across the UIUC campus network 10,000 digital images from six major U.S. museums and the Library of Congress.

The MESL project explored ways to cross-walk metadata from diverse museum collection databases to a common format enabling searching across collections and to build search engines to search many collection of diverse information, and promoted use among University faculty of licensed museum images on a local, controlled network. In 1997, The Digital Imaging Initiative Unit conducted statistical research on instructor and student evaluation of the database. Findings are published as The Use of an Art Image Database in the Classroom: Instructor and Student Evaluation Report (1). This project was completed in 1998.