Beyond Google Images Part 4
This series of posts is adapted from the Library Information Seminar “Beyond Google Images”, which looks at issues and problems faced when sourcing images from the web and gives examples of a range of useful image resources available to College staff and students.
For Part 1: Introduction, click here.
For Part 2: Google Images and other search engines, click here.
For Part 3: Why use image databases?, click here.
Part 4: Finding image collections on the web discusses the types of image collections available and provides advice on how to find them.
Part 4: Finding image collections on the web
The previous episodes have hopefully illustrated the benefits of looking in specialist image collections and databases. However, before we start our search we need to know where to look. This episode provides suggestions for finding collections of images relating to Art and Design and other subject areas, and identifies some useful tools for locating image collections.
Finding Art and Design image collections
These range from simple portfolio sites for individual artists to massive databases provided by national and international museums and galleries. As ever, the general advice applies: where you should look depends on what you are looking for. If you know which physical collection holds a particular work, you might check its online collection database. Different collections also have different strengths in terms of the subjects, disciplines, styles, movements, etc. represented. You will usually find a statement of a collection’s particular strengths on the insitution’s website.
For images of contemporary works, try a designer’s own portfolio site, or the site for the gallery or galleries that represent or exhibit an artist. The larger galleries or museums of modern and contemporary art and design, such as the Tate Modern in London or the Museum of Modern Art in New York, are also worth a look. Regardless of the source, your options for reproducing or re-using contemporary images may be very limited as the work will still be in copyright. Artists’ websites and commercial galleries are likely to have strict restrictions. Publicly-funded galleries and museums may offer greater freedom for educational use, but bear in mind that different rules can apply to contemporary works even on these sites. If the situation is unclear, remember you can always ask for permission: you may find even smaller galleries are willing to allow reproduction for an essay or project.
For historical imagery, our options are much wider – assuming the work we are interested in is out of copyright. Images from the history of art and design can be found across a range of personal web galleries and institutional sites, as well as through search engines. Other possibilities include resources created by academics for teaching purposes, and new socially-created repositories of public domain content such as Wikimedia Commons. Of course, in these circumstances the major museums and galleries come into their own. However, even with works that are in the public domain copyright law is not always as simple as we might think: some galleries claim copyright on the photographs of the artworks in their collections as opposed to the artworks themselves.
The role of educational databases
Image quality can be a issue, and not just on amateur sites. Some galleries provide only low-resolution images of their artworks, most likely to deter illegal reproduction or to encourage sales of prints throught their own shops or picture libraries. So it is worth getting to know which sites allow you to download high-resolution image files (the Victoria and Albert Museum’s online collection is a particularly good example, allowing registered users to download very high-resolution images of out-of-copyright works for specified educational uses). As previously suggested, you’ll find that image databases aimed at users in education often provide the best quality images. These databases often have the added benefit of covering both historical and contemporary imagery. There is also the reassurance that their contents are licensed for educational use.
Other subject areas
Beyond the arts, many major museums and research institutions in other disciplines such as science, transportation etc. have extensive digital collections. So if you’re looking for images within a particular subject area, it can be worth searching for a museum’s website to see if they have an image collection – it will usually be prominently featured on their homepage. If you’re having difficulty locating collections you can get additional help from web gateways and other resource-finding tools.
An alternative to finding a subject-specific database is to try one of the huge general-interest collections that are available. Major national and public libraries often have significant digital collections, including images. University libraries, too, may make their research collections, including images, available to the public.
Where to start looking for image collections
With all these options, where do we start?
- Search for a particular artist, designer, gallery, museum, library or research institution on a search engine and see if they have a website with an online collection.
- Try the page on image databases on the University Library website: http://www.ed.ac.uk/schools-departments/information-services/library-museum-gallery/finding-resources/library-databases/databases-subject-a-z/database-image-dbs. Here you’ll find links to a number of high quality image sources, including some databases accessible only to College staff and students as well as a range of public-access web resources covering various subject areas.
- Try a web gateway or directory. These provide lists of websites divided into subject categories. Some like the Yahoo Directory have very broad coverage, while others focus on a particular area. Slightly less than a full directory, but still very useful, JISC Digital Media provides a list of subject-specific web resources across a range of media, including links to a large number of public museums and galleries. You could also try the Google Cultural Institute website of museum and gallery related images: https://www.google.com/culturalinstitute/home?view=grid.
This episode has suggested strategies and tools for locating image collections. For Art and Design images, your choice of collection will depend on whether you are looking for contemporary or historical images as well as the subject matter you require. For other subjects and disciplines, museums and other institutions can be good sources. Rather than using them to search for images directly, search engines can be used to identify useful websites for searching. Other very useful finding tools include the image searching page on the College Portal and web directories aimed at general and academic audiences.
Forthcoming episodes will focus on particularly useful examples of online image collections.