Jumpstarting the Visual Resource Center

Pomelo tree on campus

In January I joined the Visual Resource Center of the Art History department at UC Riverside. I’ve been in the new gig for approximately two months. Its been a joy getting to know the campus community which functions very much like a small city. I was surprised to learn that UCR is the 5th oldest university in the UC system. It is home to the Citrus Experiment Station, the campus is surrounded by citrus groves and there are many public fruit trees on campus. I am about a foot too short to reach the remaining pomelos right now and I have given serious thought to investing in a fruit picker basket. The university is UCR is incredibly diverse and has an aggressive strategic plan to position itself as a premier research university. It is currently in a period of growth and expansion, this includes the Art History department which is in the midst of a search for an Islamacist. Visual Resources is at the crossroads of art, technology, teaching, and research. I feel very lucky that I get to learn something new everyday.

My first priority I’m working on is getting our DAM configuration settled and web galleries published so they are accessible to faculty and students. We have a general purpose digital image collection that is available to students and faculty but we’d really like to see active use of web galleries for private faculty collections as well as galleries created for specific classes. The DAM tool we are using (Portfolio 2016) does a pretty seamless job out of the box, but we’ve made a few tweaks to meet our workflow & metadata needs. It’s important to acknowledge all the work that goes into the creation and management of these assets, before the images get to publishing stage. First there is image capture via camera or scanner. Sometimes there is editing of images supplied by faculty, perhaps phone snapshots taken while researching in the field or in libraries/archives. There is art historical research involved in identifying and cataloging the object depicted, which then gets translated into metadata for search-ability and image metadata involved so that the right assets are discoverable at the right time.

Portfolio Web Gallery

One of the workflow tweaks I made was to match the cataloging fields with exact names in the cataloging tool so that the use is clear and so that import/export will be that much easier. Another was to lower the dependence on Smart Galleries as part of the workflow because too full/too many dynamic galleries drags the speed and performance of Portfolio. We now have one smart gallery driven by metadata, that tells us when archive images are ready to be processed into access files. This gallery also serves as a checksum to verify recently processed images. I foresee continual optimization of the workflow, but this seems to be working well for us and I couldn’t be happier. I’m also thrilled to report that our current workflow, metadata schema, and legacy documentation is now published to an internal wiki so it can be a resource for future training or upgrades.

Right now, we have a class gallery for a professor teaching Latin American art that is updated shortly after the end of class each week. Many of these images are protest art, a relevant topic for 2017, and are not found in the usual repositories. The content provided to the VRC by the professor via PDF’d powerpoint are then sourced for better quality images, object/image catalogued, and ingested into the DAM. Within a day or so, the students can then access a (responsive!) web gallery to study from. I am told that this gallery is much easier to navigate than the repository made available through the university’s online learning system. We were able to host video too which is very exciting! More work to be done in this area, but we are looking forward to supporting more video formats and other a/v materials. What other multimedia file formats might we support; VR, GIS, data vis, 3D models or architecture?

Don’t Blink, Summer’s Gone

Summer flew by fast! Here are a few things I’ve been up to:

June – August 2016 A quick 10 week Summer Session, classes on Information Architecture and Information Professions. Here’s a project I did for the Information Professions course: Museum Information Professionals Essential Skills

August 15, 2016 at Laguna College of Art + Design, I presented on Viewing Stereographs with Your Smartphone at Endless Images: A SoCal Summer Program. A one day mini-conference organized by members of the Visual Resources Association (VRA), Society of CA Archivists (SCA), and Art Libraries Society of North America Southern California Chapter (ARLIS/SC).

August 2016 Fall Session began, taking classes on Digital Asset Management and Digital Curation.

September 28, 2016 at Western Museum Association Annual Meeting in Phoenix, AZ, I presented on Visitor Photography in the Age of Open Content.

October 2016 I’m published in the VRA Bulletin writing about Stereographs on Your Smartphone.

Mapping and Web Archiving Instagram

SP16: INFO-200 Sec 10 – Inf. Comm – Blog Post #6

One of the key features of Instagram is the ability to add geotags based on the location that the photo was taken. This is useful in adding context to the photo so that viewers know where the user was. This also helps other users in the same place find photos of nearby users.This feature is often used during large events like concerts, marathons, or at college & university functions. It works in addition to any hashtags that were added to the photo caption.

Instagram users can search for a known location while posting their photo. There is also an option to create a custom location. Businesses and organizations often add their name as a location so that users can browse photos on site as a part of their social media marketing strategy. For example, here are photos that have been marked with a geotag for “Getty Museum.”

There are a multitude of services that will create a map visualization of all photos in a certain location. Below is an interactive map from a web service called Instamap that pulls up a number of photos from a specified location. Each photo can be enlarged for viewing and there is a click through to view in the Instagram app. These photos are ones found at or around the Getty Center.

From the museum’s perspective, it could be useful to see how people are engaging with the artworks. The museum can also use this information to interact with visitors by liking their posts and commenting or answering questions. This tool might also be useful for visitors to view other people’s photos from the museum to see what highlights they missed or other things they want to see while visiting.


Another emerging technology that is useful to the Instagram community is web archiving. Web archiving is still nascent in its development and use. Web archiving collects and preserves portions of the internet for future use and study. The Internet Archive has been archiving websites for nearly 20 years but websites and technology are ever changing. The Internet Archive uses a technology called Archive-It. It is a subscription based service and the Internet Archive hosts the WARC files. The New York Art Resources Consortium has been arching important art websites and they area viewable here.

The new kid on the scene is Rhizome and their Webrecorder. It is open sourced and the WARC files are self-hosted. Anybody can record a website for preservation into a WARC file for future playback by visiting Webrecorder.io and entering the URL of the website you’d like to save. You can download the Web archive player here. A cool example of an interactive web project archived using this tool is the Instagram account @veteranas_and_rucas. The archived version is viewable here. As you can imagine the static text and image sites are easier than more complex media rich sites or things with interactive and dynamic content. Rhizome just won a $600k Mellon grant for further development of this tool.

Using Webrecorder, I created a WARC of Instagram photos located at the Getty Center. The WARC file can be downloaded here:


Don’t forget, you’ll need to download the Web Archive Player to view the file.

Archiving the ephemeral nature of social media is an exciting frontier to be a part of. As technology moves forward, it is important to find ways to save content, both for nostalgic purposes and for future analysis and study. These tools, mapping interactives and web archiving are useful to the Instagram community in understanding the impact one social media platform has on their lives. It is also useful to see how the community as a whole has changed over time.

Web Archive player