April 9-12, 2008
Montréal, Québec, Canada

Art History Images on the Web Site of Siberian Federal University

Inna Kizhner, Siberian Federal University, Tatiana Kocheva, Bouryat Scientific Centre, Russian Academy of Sciences, Siberian Branch, Anna Koulikova, Siberian Federal University, Raissa Lozhkina, and Eugenia Popova, Siberian Federal University, Russia


Art history images essential for teaching art history and art appreciation courses at institutions of higher education are important for universities’ stakeholders (students, faculty and staff, local museums, and the neighbouring community). Digital images displayed on the Web sites of universities worldwide are generally made available through digitizing slide collections, subscribing to digital libraries of art history images, making use of faculty’s personal images and using university library catalogues. When creating a collection of art history images, Russian universities are severely limited by budget constraints, staff problems and change-management difficulties. But creating a visual resource base can be made possible through launching a volunteer research project with researchers from various university departments. Siberian museums and research centres contributed by studying standards of creating visual information resources, building an art history image database, developing cataloguing tools, and involving students in research projects, as well as doing the practical work of creating an art history image library.

Keywords: cultural heritage, digital images, education, research projects, Siberian ornaments


Digital collections are crucial for distributing knowledge about cultural heritage, especially in higher education institutions. It is desirable that they combine world art treasures and local artwork. This educational resource is important for a large university located in a Siberian city of one million people with a high proportion of educated residents but limited access to cultural heritage due to its distance from European, American and Asian cultural centres, and its limited ability to use art history digital resources provided in English.

Museum and educational Web sites presenting cultural heritage on-line cannot usually display a variety of images, either because they can show only their own resources or because there are legal constraints. But University Web sites presenting cultural heritage on-line are able to take into account legal matters (access is limited to university staff and students) and to display various images covering both art treasures worldwide and local art work.

In addition, universities may have the human capital and information resources necessary to turn a university collection of images into a research centre presenting an amalgam of scholars working on their research projects, and graduate students from various departments assisting researchers in their work and forming specific collections of images related to their research topics. Museums and local art centres could also collaborate in this work, providing digital pictures and descriptions for the objects they want to show to the international public. Neighbouring communities could benefit from the derived collections of images illustrating a particular topic.

Building a university collection of images in the universities of North America usually involves subscribing to digital libraries of images available on-line, buying images from commercial vendors, digitizing slide collections, and making use of teachers’ images. Digital libraries of images, as well as commercial software applications constructed for cataloguing images and filing them for teaching purposes, allow for creating slideshows and folders as well as sharing them through “specific access points made available by the institution for specific assignments and study purposes” (Wagner, 2007).

However, according to a recent study (Green, 2006), faculty image use at liberal art colleges in the USA is still based on teachers’ personal collections of images supported by PowerPoint software (50 per cent of respondents). Twelve percent of respondents used ARTstor (as an image database and presentation software), while only five per cent of respondents applied specialized image management and presentation software (Luna Insight, CONTENTdm, MDID). The report’s author recommends action “to build and share easy-to-use, open-source tools to assist faculty to use and present images more fluently” (Green, 2006).

Even if art historians and teachers have personal collections of images to rely upon for their teaching and research purposes, visual resource centres serve the university community and university stakeholders. These university stakeholders involve students (sometimes from departments other than the Art History Department), university faculty and staff, and, indirectly, the local community. Database management tools and creative opportunities presented by visual resource centres in terms of research project results added to the collection and available to the general public are invaluable instruments for disseminating knowledge on civilizations and cultures, especially in the context of globalization and the necessity for knowledge of European and Asian cultural heritage to be transmitted in both directions.

Collections of Art History Images at Russian Universities

Financial constraints significantly limit acquiring library resources in Russian universities. Obtaining digital resources of images through subscription or purchase is, unfortunately, next to impossible. Art history teachers tend to use personal and shared collections of scanned images both because they have budget constraints and because they do not feel they need licensed images or images from free on-line collections. An art historian with whom one of the authors talked said that, “it was useless to download images from the Web because of their bad quality. Images scanned from scholarly monographs produced much better results in terms of remembering and understanding an art object”.

However, according to Robert Nelson, Art History Professor from Yale University, teaching with digital images and giving students an opportunity to access them on the university Web site moves art history courses from the stage of memorizing images to the stage of reviewing them after classes and knowing them thoroughly. Other advantages of using PowerPoint presentations with digital images include:

inserting quotations and referring to text materials, finding on-line images of the current state of a monument, bringing music and other kinds of media in, lecturing off a Web site, bringing personal digital pictures and experience of monuments into the classroom. (Nelson, 2006)

In spite of having the set of problems indicated by Ken Hamma, Executive Director for Digital Policy and Initiatives at the Getty Trust, in his interview for Academic Commons; that is, the cost and difficulty of running a collection of art history images as well as “high entry barriers (software license, maintenance fees, technology staff, infrastructure development, professional services),” Russian universities join the general feeling that “we are falling behind as a community by not fully participating in the online information environment” (Hamma, 2007).

Russian experience of building image database management tools on-line includes a famous digital collection of the Hermitage Museum. As of 2006, the digital collection had 10,000 high-resolution images in twelve categories. Images can be retrieved and enlarged, and a specified fragment can be downloaded in higher resolution. Textual information is provided both in Russian and in English.

Russian universities belong to the institutions “that are not doing anything and are not going to do things that are more expensive and time consuming”. This happens due to budget constraints and due to the difficulties of “content, development and maintenance, staff training, and change management”. Ken Hamma’s ideas of digital policy development as “stewardship and dissemination of knowledge, digital preservation…” could serve the community of scholars and general public, if they could be turned into a real project of a

nonprofit service model: management and collection cataloging software for institutional and individual collectors. It might manage software as an integrated suite of web applications along with centralized data storage and other required infrastructure at a single point for the whole institutional community. (Hamma, 2007)

The Getty project is based upon a recently developed data standard CDWAlite, which is a shorter version of CDWA, “a framework to which existing art information systems can be mapped and upon which new systems can be developed”(Hamma, 2007). The framework will create vocabulary resources and descriptive practices to make image resources in art history aggregated at various institutions more compatible and more accessible.

If such a data standard, combined with the possibility of harvesting data from a network of institutions, were created, it would benefit the community worldwide and the educated public in poorer areas, in particular.

Visual resources centres, although nonexistent in Russian universities, could be created to disseminate knowledge on cultural heritage and to serve as research centres that provide information and library services for student research projects in art history and adjacent subjects, as well as the possibilities of hands-on experience in creating separate collections as parts of students’ coursework. These possibilities could be extended to involve students from the Department of Computer Science, Department of Translating and Interpreting, and the Department of Museum Computing.

Art History Images on the Web site of Siberian Federal University

The Department of Information Resources, Siberian Federal University, launched an Art History Project to be hosted on the university’s Web site in 2006. The project aims at creating an on-line resource base of high-resolution images supported by a search engine for advanced search, as well as a number of services. About 300 images have been catalogued using several parameters. The resource base is an MS Access relational database designed for cataloguing images according to their creator’s name, title, period, medium, culture, country and subject.

The team has done research on best practices of cataloguing and displaying images on museum Web sites. The project coordinator studied European and American museum Web sites in terms of their image resolution and zooming, search options, educational services, opportunities for browsing and copyright policies, and opportunities to source images already in the public domain. The sources studied included fifty European, American and Asian museum Web sites. The main findings include:

  • very few museums present high resolution images, for obvious reasons of protecting their copyright and receiving financial gains from licensing the use of high resolution images;
  • half of museum Web sites studied provide zooming options so that at least fragments of pictures are available in high resolution;
  • search options mainly include “collection highlights” and “quick search”; some museums also provide “advanced search” or “type of art” selection;
  • several museum Web sites have various educational services, adding value to visiting the Web site and providing additional browsing options
  • very few museum Web sites provide additional browsing opportunities that differ from the search organized by subject tagging (the Metropolitan Museum offers additional features that enhance browsing opportunities)
  • copyright policies for using images for educational purposes vary dramatically across countries, but in most cases they allow for a flexible approach. (Visitors are encouraged to establish contacts to find out whether images can be used on educational Web sites provided they are protected by a password; many museum Web sites openly declare it to be their policy in relation to educational institutions)

In addition to its basic function of serving as a source of images for the faculty, the image archive on the Web site of Siberian Federal University is expected to help students to review images after classes, to create their own slide shows, and to publish them on-line for comparison and evaluation. Additional features soon to be added to the archive include a glossary of architectural terms with links to relevant images; artists' biographies; random search; and excerpts from selected art readings, with appropriate links to the images from the university collection.

A special Web site feature is monthly exhibitions prepared by art history students as part of their course work. Another special feature is the introduction of local art work. The site will show a selection of images presenting Siberian decorative patterns (ornaments) with links to their European, Asian and Siberian sources. This part of the site is provided with a special search engine and cataloguing tools specially developed by the authors for advanced search of ornamental motifs. Images can be retrieved according to their country of origin, motif type, period, and object on which the ornament is depicted. The catalogue is being developed by Dr. Batorova, Dr. Lozhkina and Dr. Kocheva, scholars with significant experience in investigating Siberian ornaments.

The digital collection is designed as an educational tool for university students and art history teachers working in secondary schools in the community. Project Advisor is Dr. Raissa Lozhkina, Associate Professor of Art History at Siberian Federal University. All the textual information is sourced from museums, translated by the Project Coordinator and provided in Russian.

The experience of the Hermitage Museum where one of the authors spent four days studying good practices of building and maintaining the museum digital collection of images was especially helpful for understanding the practice of building thesauri for describing images.

Researchers involved in the project represent various university divisions. Images are selected with the help of an Associate Professor of Art History from the Department of Ethics, Aesthetics and Culture, Siberian Federal University. They are classified and catalogued by Inna Kizhner, Project Coordinator from the Department of Information Resources. All the textual information sourced from museums is translated into Russian and ascribed to appropriate images through the image database. The project is technically maintained by the Department of Information Resources under the supervision of its head, Anna Kulikova. It is created as an educational resource within the university Web site. Images for monthly exhibitions, a special Web site feature, are prepared by the undergraduate students from the Department of Art History. They are advised by Dr. Mirkes, Associate Professor at the same department. The software for exhibitions is developed by the undergraduate students from the Department of Mathematics and Computer Science as a part of their coursework. They are advised by Dr. Popelnitsky, Associate Professor from the Department of Computer Science. Images for the local artwork section are presented by Dr. Lozhkina and Dr. Kocheva, Senior Researcher from the Department of Physical Problems, Bouryat Scientific Centre, Russian Academy of Sciences.

The team’s research on university collections of art history images benefited greatly from a visit to the Slide Library, History of Art, Hebrew University of Jerusalem, Israel. One of the authors had an opportunity to learn about the practice of building a university collection of images and to discuss its challenges, ranging from legal constraints to the resolution of images to digital preservation, with Ms Renee Doron-Gorochovski, Slide Library Director.

The team has done research on building university collections of images, and cataloguing software and thesauri, and studied twenty Web sites of visual resources centres at various American universities. The main findings include:

  • most visual resources centres have digitized slides as the foundation of their collection;
  • the majority of visual centres under study add digital libraries (ARTstor, CAMIO, Grove Art Online) available under subscription or buy images from commercial vendors (Saskia Art Images Collection);
  • many visual resource centres try to integrate faculty’s images;
  • from the information available on the centre’s Web sites, it can be assumed that very few centres collaborate with faculty and students to create further features to add to their collection and to promote research work as well as create liaison Web sites to disseminate scholarship;
  • a third of the centres studied have commercial software or open source software for cataloging images or for using them in the classroom;
  • many large universities create Web-based union catalogues to involve all digital images available at university libraries (Cumulus image database server at Boston University; Almagest (Princeton University Image Database); Harvard University Library Visual Information Access).

Creating a collection of art history images on a Russian university Web site under heavy budget constraints and without a slide library seems both a challenging and a viable project. The main challenges are:

  • obtaining permissions to publish images on the university Web site (some museums may not permit a university to post images on its password-protected Web site);
  • sourcing high resolution images (although the Metropolitan Museum gave its permission for the use of 1700 high resolution images via ARTstor for scholarly publications, it is still unusual for high resolution images to be publicly available);
  • creating a team of researchers, visual resources librarians and IT specialists working for a volunteer project.

The viability of the project is based on its relative novelty for Russian educational institutions. While building a university collection of digital images, faculty, staff, students and other interested parties feel they participate in the on-line information environment, develop research projects, contribute to their institution’s development, introduce new forms of teaching, and work on a creative project to meet the local community’s educational needs.


The authors would like to express their gratitude to Ms Xenia Pushnitskaya, Head, Slide Library and Digital Collection, the State Hermitage Museum, Russia; and Ms Renee Doron-Gorochovsky, Slide Library, History of Art, the Hebrew University of Jerusalem, Israel; for their kind attitude to the project and fruitful discussions that helped us to better understand the issues and challenges of creating a university digital collection of art history images.


Green, David (2006). “Using Digital Images in teaching and learning: Perspectives from Liberal Arts Institutions”. Academic Commons (October 2006), consulted January 20, 2008. Available at

Hamma, Kenneth (2007). “Museums, Cataloging & Content Infrastructure: an interview with Kenneth Hamma”. Academic Commons, submitted by David Green, December 16, 2007, consulted January 17, 2008. Available at

Nelson, Robert (2006). “Digital Image Interview Series”. Academic Commons, submitted by David Green, November 30, 2006. Consulted January 15, 2008. Available at

Wagner, Gretchen (2007). “Sharing Visual Arts Images for Educational Use: Finding a New Angle of Repose”. EDUCAUSE Review, vol. 42, no. 6 (November/December 2007), pp. 84-105. Consulted January 10, 2008. Available at

Cite as:

Kizhner, I., et al., Art History Images on the Web Site of Siberian Federal University, in J. Trant and D. Bearman (eds.). Museums and the Web 2008: Proceedings, Toronto: Archives & Museum Informatics. Published March 31, 2008. Consulted