A TFAO Report: Digital Libraries and Initiatives



Digital libraries

A digital library is an integrated set of services for acquiring, cataloging, storing, searching, protecting, and retrieving information in a digital format. Digital libraries are a collection of a large number of digital records and files, comprising various types of material and media accessed through computers. Digital libraries can include converted media or original material produced for the World Wide Web.[1]


The TFAO Free Online Digital Library

See the TFAO digital library overview


Digital libraries for museums

See TFAO's section on Digital Libraries for Museums


Digital libraries for art dealer associations

See TFAO's section on Digital Libraries for Art Dealer Associations


Digitizing initiatives

See TFAO's sections on digitizing initiatives not intended for profit, and digitizing initiatives with profit aspects


Online Museum Catalogues, Brochures and Gallery Guides

See TFAO's section on Free Online Museum Catalogues, Brochures and Gallery Guides


Behavioral Bias


TV did not replace radio. Videos and and DVD's did not replace people going to the movies. It's still easier to read a book by hand than online.

-- Paul LeClerc, president and chief executive of the New York Public Library [2]


New ways to obtain information does not equate to acceptance. In an article by David Becker titled "Have e-books turned a page?" published August 27, 2004 in CNET News.com, Becker says

Current book reading habits are the result of centuries of accumulation, notes Gary Frost, conservator of the libraries [at] the University of Iowa in Iowa City.
Reading text on a screen and in search-equipped formats represents a profound behavioral shift, equivalent to the transition millennia ago from scrolls to multipage codexes, Frost said. Even digital enthusiasts will need time to adjust, he said.
"Think of how long it took the manuscript book to develop and transform itself into a print book," he said. "Here we are a decade into real online reading, and we expect to have the skill all developed. It takes generation of time to make a shift like that."


The library is not so much a space where books are held as where ideas are shared.

-- Geneva Henry, executive director, digital library initiative at Rice University in Houston [3]


There is increasing interest in and rationale for developing digital libraries. Stephen M. Griffin, Program Director: Special Projects Digital Libraries Initiative for the National Science Foundation said in a July 1998 article:

Many Americans and others around the globe are increasingly turning to Internet-based repositories as the primary source of information about many subjects. People of all ages and backgrounds, it turns out, love to browse, explore and accumulate new knowledge -- in short, to learn.

From a demand standpoint, Web connectivity and usage by national populations is growing steadily. According to Internetworldstats.com 68.3% of the population in North America had Internet usage as of September, 2004. The Internet users count for the Unites States was 202,452,190. A September 2004 Bandwidth Report published by WebSiteOptimization.com found that as of August, 2004 broadband penetration grew to 51.4% among active Internet users in the United States. This data for broadband usage has promising implications for the collection of multimedia material by digital libraries.

An October, 2004 news release by the University of Wisconsin-Madison stated that "Today's UW-Madison student spends an average of 26.5 hours a week online, a dramatic increase from 14.2 hours just four years ago. Forty-two percent use a cable modem to connect to the Internet. Campus computer labs are also popular venues for accessing the Internet, with 38 percent of students using College Library and 23 percent using Memorial Library, the two largest labs."

A report by the Office of International Information Programs, U.S. Department of State cited the 2002 Pew Internet and American Life Project which found that "Nearly three-quarters (73%) of college students say they use the Internet more than the library, while only 9% said they use the library more than the Internet for information searching."

A December 18, 2004 New York Times article by Felicia R. Lee reported that a 2004 study by the Electronic Publishing Initiative at Columbia University, of which Kate Wittenberg is director, "completed a three-year study of research habits that included 1,233 students across the country. The study concluded that electronic resources had become the main tool for gathering information, particularly among undergraduates."

University libraries are developing digital libraries at a steady pace, although with less enthusiasm than at the start of the millennium. Public library systems are cautiously establishing digital divisions for general audiences. A support organization named the Digital Library Federation establishes best practices and a forum for innovation. Its partners are mainly universities. Unit cost increases and proliferation of books and periodicals have outrun budgets at many physical libraries. Digital libraries, often embedded in existing libraries, provide financial relief in certain instances. Independent general and specialty digital libraries are also adding their services to online patrons.

A October 3, 2002 by Scott Carlson for the Chronicle of Higher Education titled "Students and Faculty Members Turn to Online Library Materials Before Printed Ones, Study Finds" cited a study conducted for the Digital Library Federation from November 2001 to January 2002. He said that the study found that "Use of electronic resources varied from discipline to discipline, as researchers in law, business, and biology tended to rely on electronic information as much as 78 percent of the time, while researchers in the arts and humanities used online sources only 36 percent of the time." He reported that while "96 percent of the people polled said they verified online information through some other source, either an instructor or print material...Almost 90 percent of researchers said they went online first, then consulted print sources. About 75 percent of students said they used the Internet first, then went to a professor or librarian for assistance, and consulted print sources last." Mr Carlson quotes Daniel Greenstein, the executive director of the California Digital Library: "The real change is a cultural one, and it's deep...Users are telling us it's all about access, and libraries are all about ownership, and this is a problem. [Users] are telling us that the place doesn't matter."

The conversion of analog photos of art works to digital images, or original digital photography of art works, followed by cataloging and online assess, has been a focus of American museums and cooperative image libraries for several years.

Examples of museums with online image search:

The database of over 82,000 objects in the Fine Arts Museums of San Francisco collection are searchable in several ways on the Museum's web site.
The Getty ArtsEdNet: Image Collection from the museum's permanent galleries and temporary exhibitions is searchable by artist, title, and date.
The Los Angeles County Museum of Art permanent collection includes nearly 100,000 works of art. The LACMA website offers access to an online database of over 58,000 works their collection with search by various options including "popular themes."
The Minneapolis Institute of Arts website features an online catalog of the collection searchable by country, artists and title.
The Museum of Fine Arts, Boston online collections database features keyword search with a check box to select objects currently on display.
Visitors of the National Gallery of Art web site can search the collection by artist, title, subject, expanded search, provenance, or accession number.
The Smithsonian American Art Museum Web viewers can search for specific artworks by artist name, type or subject.

Examples of museum joint image repositories are ARTstor and AMICO Library.

As of 2012, the largest free online repository of images of American art works located by Traditional Fine Arts Organization (TFAO) is maintained by Google Images.

For texts, JSTOR is an archive of backfiles of traditional serials, excluding museum catalogue essays and other texts. Access to the contents of these three services is fee-based. Some museums are recently publishing on their web sites texts from contemporary exhibition catalogues, checklists and even PDF images of exhibition brochures and catalogues.

P.S.1 Contemporary Art Center, an affiliate of the Museum of Modern Art in New York, operates WPS1, a Web-based radio station devoted to the arts. WPS1 also serves as an audio digital library. MOMA received from the Skowhegan School of Painting and Sculpture a set of CD-Rs containing artists' lectures digitized from analog recordings of Skowhegan's artist faculty. The lectures were originally intended for use by the School's students and other artists. Through a grant from the Henry Luce Foundation the lectures were digitized and placed on DR-Rs, then disseminated to institutions including MOMA, where they are available to researchers. WPS1 is in the process of obtaining permissions from the artists to have selected archived lectures broadcast on the Web. WPS1 is also reviewing the technical quality of the recordings to determine if they are of sufficient quality for broadcasting.



1. There are alternate definitions of digital libraries.

"Digital libraries are repositories of electronic texts, images, and other materials. Digital libraries are generally found on the Internet, although large collections of remotely-accessed CD-ROMs could also be considered a digital library. Materials in a digital library may have been "born digital" or they may have been digitized using a scanner." (from the University of Idaho Libraries)

"Digital Libraries basically store materials in electronic format and manipulate large collections of those materials effectively."(from the University of New Mexico).

Tufts University describes its Perseus Digital Library as follows:

Perseus is an evolving digital library, engineering interactions through time, space, and language. Our primary goal is to bring a wide range of source materials to as large an audience as possible. We anticipate that greater accessibility to the sources for the study of the humanities will strengthen the quality of questions, lead to new avenues of research, and connect more people through the connection of ideas.

2. Felicia R. Lee, "Questions and Praise for Google Web Library," New York Times, December 18, 2004.

3. Ralph Blumenthal, "College Libraries Set Aside Books in a Digital Age," New York Times, May 16, 2005


Individual pages in this study will be amended as TFAO adds content, corrects errors and reorganizes sections for improved readability. Refreshing or reloading pages enables readers to view the latest updates.

Links to sources of information outside of our web site are provided only as referrals for your further consideration. Please use due diligence in judging the quality of information contained in these and all other Web sites and in employing referenced consultants or vendors. Information from linked sources may be inaccurate or out of date. Traditional Fine Arts Organization, Inc neither recommends or endorses these referenced organizations. Although Traditional Fine Art Organization, Inc. includes links to other web sites, it takes no responsibility for the content or information contained on those other sites, nor exerts any editorial or other control over those other sites. For more information on evaluating web pages see Traditional Fine Arts Organization, Inc.'s General Resources section in Online Resources for Collectors and Students of Art History.

Return to Research Projects, Reports and Studies

How to find content on our site using search engines:

Conduct keyword searches within TFAO's website and Resource Library, a collection of articles and essays honoring the American experience through its art, using the advanced search feature of these search engines:



Or, before entering keywords in a basic search, enter site:tfaoi.org.

Also see Indexes and information retrieval for more information.


Links to sources of information outside of our website are provided only as referrals for your further consideration. Please use due diligence in judging the quality of information contained in these and all other web sites. Information from linked sources may be inaccurate or out of date. TFAO neither recommends or endorses these referenced organizations. Although TFAO includes links to other websites, it takes no responsibility for the content or information contained on those other sites, nor exerts any editorial or other control over them. For more information on evaluating web pages see TFAO's General Resources section in Online Resources for Collectors and Students of Art History.


Search Resource Library


 Copyright 2021 Traditional Fine Arts Organization, Inc., an Arizona nonprofit corporation. All rights reserved.