Digital Asset Management

in the Liberal Arts Curriculum

Teaching with Digital Images in Classics & Humanities

Evaluation Criteria

Innovation: Many digital collections are based in college and university libraries, primarily for the purpose of providing access to special collections and archives. The Classics & Humanities collection extends well beyond mere access to images by providing tools and web resources explicitly to support undergraduate instruction.  The success of this project results from a multi-faceted approach that integrates systems, content, metadata and web interfaces to build a comprehensive, full-featured teaching resource that can be utilized in various ways to support both specialized study and cross-disciplinary work with visual resources.  By combining all these elements, we were able to create a system that effectively provides the benefits of a flexible research database combined with a user-friendly browsing interface, study guides, and classroom presentation tools.

The development of this instructional collection has benefited from an ongoing collaboration between Computing, the Library, the Visual Resources Collections, and our faculty partners.  Librarians, visual resource professionals and computing staff all have a shared mission to support the academic needs of our community, but we often approach this mission in very different ways.  Rather than creating disconnected systems and content "silos" we have worked together to create a unified system that capitalizes on the strengths that each department can contribute.  In the course of this project, our team has visited several other academic institutions and hosted a number of site visits for schools engaged in building digital image collections. Throughout these meetings, our collaborative efforts have consistently been remarked upon and complemented.

Benefits:  In it's first year, the Classics & Humanities site has had significant positive impact for both students and faculty.  The site is used by students and faculty in Humanities 110, Introduction to Western Humanities, as well as various Classics courses, directly benefiting more than 400 students and faculty.

In Fall 2007 we conducted a satisfaction survey of Humanities 110 faculty.  Faculty particularly appreciate the direct links to the specific materials used in class, combined with the ability to flexibly explore the collection, and readily zoom in on image details. This is especially relevant in the study of inscriptions on ancient artifacts such as coins, pottery, and sculpture.  Feedback from faculty who piloted site in the fall include the following comments:

"I think it is fantastic--far and away the best visual materials we have had and all of the staff personnel who have worked on it have done an excellent job, including teaching us lame faculty members how to use it and making sure every need was attended to."

"I feel confident about my actual ability to use the system…I've also found that its ease of use has encouraged me just to browse the slides more, even without a specific pedagogical purpose. I am, in short, quite happy with the system."

"Excellent easy access for showing students images in class, for which I'm very grateful."

In January 2008 we conducted several focus groups with students who use the system for both Humanities and Art courses.  Students vastly prefer the customized interfaces for reasons such as: ease of browsing, access to content for their courses and discipline, and overall superior look and feel, compared to the standard CONTENTdm interface.  Students liked being able to access the images on their own outside of class; not being able to do so was cited as a liability of traditional slides. The capability to zoom-in was also emphasized as a major benefit of digital images.  Students feedback in the focus groups included the following comments:

"The zoom feature is really helpful for viewing details in's also nice when there are multiple shots of something in the database, like the Primaporta, so you can see all different angles."

"The lecture image sets in CONTENTdm were linked from the online course syllabus. I liked how handy it was to access the images outside of class." 

Replicability:  CONTENTdm is a very widely-adopted digital asset management system in colleges and universities.  Within NWACC, more than 10 institutions have adopted CONTENTdm.  Many of the features created for the Classics & Humanities site are based on customization mechanisms that could be deployed by any CONTENTdm site. Required skills, which are widely available in many colleges, include web design and development, cascading style sheets, and the ability to customize existing PHP templates.  PHP and SQL database programming skills were required for the My Workspace module. The concepts of creating web-based collection browsing tools and study guides could be implemented more broadly with other web-based digital asset management systems

Costs: The direct costs for Classics & Humanities site were approximately $20,000.  This included a faculty stipend, a contractor with additional subject area expertise, student wages for cataloging assistance, and licensing of approximately 4,200 images.  (The images, which cost approximately $11,000, were purchased as part of a bulk acquisition from the Scholar's Resource.  If they had been purchased separately, the cost would be more than $30,000).

Additional staff support was provided by the Digital Assets Librarian and Digital Collections Assistant as well as the Academic Web Developer and Webmaster, both members of Computing & Information Services.  The combined contribution of these staff members over the last year has been approximately .6 FTE, with most intensive activity occurring over the summer.

This project is part of a larger grant-funded initiative "Integrating Digital Collections into the Small College Curriculum," focusing on images for Art and Humanities.  The larger project covered the initial CONTENTdm system costs, salaries for the Digital Assets Librarian and Digital Collections Assistant, project support, and image acquisition.  The initial cost of the CONTENTdm license and server was approximately $35,000.