Enhancing Educational Access to Art




Higgins, Jessica
Karadkar, Unmil P.
Pavelka, Karen
Zinser, Catherine

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Art museums are an important unit on several university campuses. These museums bring value to the university community by serving as custodians of paintings, sculptures, prints, and drawings. These museums serve as a resource of unparalleled importance in education related to art, architecture, language, and culture by providing instructors with access to rare artifacts of cultural significance. While the museum staff is committed to helping faculty locate items of interest, they are hard pressed for time and do not always possess the domain-specific vocabulary used by instructors in diverse disciplines. Artifacts in the museums are organized and described by museum professionals, while they are used by academics. The resulting disconnect between the expectations of both groups affects the use of these artifacts. We aim to address this issue by enhancing a collection of prints and drawings at the Blanton Museum of Art with a rich, domain-specific description that meets the expectations of a multi-disciplinary faculty.

Instructors in several departments at UT Austin use the Prints and Drawings Collection as a teaching tool. This collection includes over 13,000 artifacts, which were executed over four centuries. This is a closed collection and the collection manager provides access to specific prints and drawings upon request. The metadata related to the prints can be accessed only through computers situated in the museum, further limiting access to it. Thus, instructors are unable to browse the collection at their convenience and rely heavily on the Blanton staff to provide suggestions for relevant works. This practice results in a small pool of items being viewed repeatedly, while other prints of interest go unnoticed.

We take a used-centered design approach to create a prototype of a richly described repository of artifacts from this collection. We started by conducting interviews of faculty in the areas of Art, Art History, French, and Architecture to gain an understanding of their challenges in accessing the collection and their needs for effectively locating items of interest. Based on the responses from these instructors, we have made two modifications to the infrastructure: firstly, we populated a repository using CollectiveAccess, an open source repository software, with representative samples of prints used by these instructors to enable long-distance, internet-based access. We also augmented the metadata contained in the museum’s proprietary cataloging software to include fields and content desired by the instructors using the Getty Institute’s CDWA Lite schema. The resulting repository is thus based on open standards, improving the potential for its use by various demographics on campus, as well as, improving its visibility for remote users and repositories through interoperability protocols.

We are currently evaluating this prototype repository. In the first stage, we are evaluating our design with the help of the instructors who set the expectations for this repository. This evaluation will help us fine tune the interface features, repository architecture, as well as our use of the CDWA Lite schema.


Presentation slides for the 2012 Texas Conference on Digital Libraries (TCDL).