Too Important to Fail


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Renate Wiedenhoeft, President, SASKIA Ltd. & Scholars Resource, Inc. presentation at VRA 28 Atlanta for the Vendor Slam.

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Too Important to Fail

  1. 1. Portland, ME<br />March, 2010<br />“Too Important to Fail”<br />Scholars Resource was presented to the members of the Visual Resources Association in 2005 in the lovely surroundings of a historic cloister in Miami. At SASKIA, it was our belief—and we had been warned--that alone we could not withstand the onslaught of the 800-pound gorilla named ARTstor. True to the American spirit to survive, however, it was fairly easy to convince Davis Art Images and Hartill Art Associates to join forces in the new institution that SASKIA was establishing and not allow us all to be pushed aside individually. In our effort to unite, Scholars Resource has grown to represent images from fourteen vendors and now offers over two hundred thousand images. <br />As we know, ARTstor paved the way for images to be housed in the main library, often eliminating the Visual Resources collection altogether, in some cases even the Visual Resources Curator. In principle, we, too, see the main library as the provider of digital content, especially since Scholars Resource licenses all images for the use of all students on campus. The library is the logical place to distribute such research material, not only to Art History students but to students in other disciplines as well. But college and library administrators are more accustomed to, and more easily swayed to budget for subscriptions rather than manage databases and provide individualized services for faculty. These changes have placed an undue burden on professors and teachers. Increasingly, when talking to the users of our images at College Art or directly, we hear resentment on the part of the faculty who feel that—even though the library pays large amounts of money for ARTstor—the university absolves itself of further involvement and obligation and core art history images are still not provided for. <br />In the age of networking on facebook, blogs and listservs, in downsizing services, programs and personnel, and decreasing safety in academic positions, many faculty members feel increasingly isolated and on their own. And we are not even speaking about the growing number of adjuncts, who in a digital age feel totally unsupported. Not so many years ago, the SASKIA booth at CAA included piles of sheets of slides—one pile to show new material and one with selections from previous years—and professors would sit, sometimes for hours, to write down catalog numbers to submit orders upon their return to school. <br />We are seeing a similar pattern now: professors working totally online and independently, regardless of whether they attended CAA or not. These faculty members are selecting images for their courses, sometimes even willing to pay out of pocket until they can, hopefully, be reimbursed by their department. The need for filling individual requests that spring from careful analysis or inspiration is as vital as ever. In this service-oriented country, sadly, it is service and support that are now often the first to be cut.<br />Listening and responding to our circle of devoted clients has resulted in substantial improvements in the few years that Scholars Resource has been on the scene. Managing an interactive website and distribution system requires an awful lot of technical support and improvements behind the scenes. Integrating images from different vendors requires a firm structure. So many small, incremental steps taken over the last few years do get us closer to the ultimate goal of being VRA Core 4 compliant. <br />With a robust infrastructure in place, attention then is given to our rich content. One way we are helping our users navigate to certain segments of our collections is to offer Image Sets and Textbook Sets. Twenty-three textbook sets are updated on a regular basis and illustrated on our website for easy comparison with the illustrations in the books: Another, apparently quite successful, feature is our group of Academic Image Sets: . Eighty-four Image Sets—and growing-- have been grouped now into the following larger groupings:<br />Art History<br />Architecture and Landscape<br />Non-Western Art and History<br />Humanities and Cultural Studies<br />Museum Collections<br />History<br />Natural History and Sciences<br />Vendor Highlights<br />Images for Selected Courses <br />Since the SR website keeps records of all orders, it is quick and easy to determine how many images in a Set have not yet been licensed and how much it would cost. Licensing fees can be determined for each Set by clicking on the Order the Set button and checking the Cart for the cost. The Set can easily be removed from the Cart as well. If multiple sets have been added, any duplication from amongst the sets will automatically be eliminated and a final cost be listed.<br />At Scholars Resource, we want to provide an experience and environment that allows for customized use of the resources we offer. We have recently initiated a subscription service that allows for access to all or part of our image collection. Let me be clear. You do NOT need to subscribe to our entire library of images. You can subscribe to an Image Set or a Textbook Set for just dollars a year. We firmly believe that licensing images in perpetuity, i.e. owning your images--at least those for basic courses—still provides the peace of mind that allows for developing ideas over time. But in times of belt- tightening, or for courses taught only once in a while, or for adding a few images whenever money is available, attention to individual needs becomes even more important. Our subscription program is catered to specific needs of faculty, library directors and/or visual resource curators. Subscribing to images relevant to a particular course or seminar for the duration of the semester makes economic sense; licensing and owning those images needed on a permanent basis is the foundation of a reliable visual resource collection.<br />There have been questions regarding duplication of Scholars Resource images and ARTstor images and I want to address this: the Metropolitan Museum gave the same images to ARTstor as it did to Scholars Resource, the Boston Museum gave about two thousand (?) images to ARTstor and 40,000 to Scholars Resource; Alec Hartill gave all his images created before 2000 to ARTstor; images created after that date have been coming to Scholars Resource exclusively. There are NO SASKIA images in ARTstor, NO Bridgeman images, NO Davis images, NO Toledo Museum images and no Archivision, Scibilia and Kiracofe images. Just think, all those grand Western European collections are covered by Scholars Resource alone!<br />SASKIA has been in business for forty-four years and in that time technology has changed how professors teach and students learn. Some things, however, remain the same. Just as in the age of slides, quality, service and relevance of images matter. A firm foundation of core art history images matters, as we move beyond single images as evidence towards online studies of virtual environments and towards the age of digital humanities. At Scholars Resource, we will probably never be able to accumulate a million images. ARTstor, Getty and Corbis each have their clientele and focus, but Scholars Resource’s emphasis will always be on offering those essential core images along with customized service so important to teaching. In an economic age when the largest companies are considered “too big to fail”, please consider that some services are just “too important to fail.” <br />Renate Wiedenhoeft<br />President<br />SASKIA Ltd. & Scholars Resource, Inc.<br /> <br />