The TFAO Free Online Digital Library


(above:  Edmund Ashe, Hunter with Mule, c. 1920, oil on  masonite, 24 x 20 in. Johnson Collection, Spartanburg, South Carolina.  Public domain, via Wikimedia Commons)



Acquisition of content

Through its online publication Resource Library, Traditional Fine Arts Organization (TFAO) provides content accessed freely through the Web. TFAO seeks to provide content that either is relatively difficult to access from original publishers (often museums) in its paper-printed state or is not readily available through physical libraries. For more information on TFAO's conversion program and others see Digitizing Initiatives and TFAO's Special Projects section. Resource Library receives texts and images in digital format from museums and other sources concerning exhibitions and from a variety of sources relating to other topics.

Resource Library contains articles and essays by acclaimed authors plus other texts and related images provided mainly by nonprofit art museums, galleries and art centers and academies, associations, ateliers and societies. Pages on services to institutions and scholarly text from private sources describe how the publication serves both the public and its sources of materials.

Institutions often send to Resource Library much more information than usually sent to media organizations. They may send new or previously published essays, blog texts, magazine articles, gallery guide texts, wall panel and labels texts, audio tour scripts and checklists. Materials relating to exhibitions published in Resource Library often include elements infrequently published online or on paper. Resource Library does not inject its own critique or opinions into published texts.

Texts and images from institutions are usually sent to Resource Library by staff members including curators, executive directors and media relations personnel. Certain texts not attributed to an author -- such as gallery guide texts, wall panel and labels texts, audio tour scripts and checklists -- are usually written by curators. News releases are usually written by media relations staff, who gather information form curators before composing the releases. See descriptive information on staff positions and definitions in TFAO's Museums Explained. Less frequently, news releases are written by media relations firms retained by the nonprofits.

TFAO offers -- without charge -- authors, publishers and other copyright owners a means to serve the public good while still realizing the commercial value of their assets. Published authors are named and their biographies provided whenever possible so that readers may gauge the quality of the texts.

Resource Library identifies the sources of published materials and directs readers how to contact the sources, as described in its content presentation guidelines. To provide oversight of source authenticity, TFAO's director has approved all content for publication since Resource Library's inception.

Protection of intellectual property rights is of vital concern to private owners of copyrights. Copyright owners who submit materials to Resource Library and grant permission for digitization and free public access to their copyrighted intellectual property -- primarily in the form of texts and images -- seek assurance that the materials will available for the intended purpose and not be commercially used by TFAO. TFAO, as a non-profit charitable corporation, provides a channel for free public access on a perpetual basis yet allows copyright holders undiminished rights to realize the economic value of their intellectual property during the period of copyright protection and beyond. TFAO's Resource Library dissuades individuals from copyright infringement and plagiarism in its User Agreement page and encourages students to thoroughly learn about plagiarism. TFAO encourage teachers to explain the meaning of plagiarism, how it may occur, the harm it causes and the legal penalties for its practice. TFAO covers plagiarism and copyright infringement in the General Resources section of its Resources for Collectors and Students of Art History.

Obtaining permissions for digitization of copyrighted texts is often difficult and time consuming. A thoughtful report by Denise Troll Covey titled Acquiring Copyright Permission to Digitize and Provide Open Access to Books, published by the Digital Library Federation, documents a project that studied the procedures, costs and success rates for groups of researchers seeking permissions from publishers to digitize in-copyright texts. Figure 5 related to one of the studies covered in the report contains an interesting chart that displays response and success rates for various types of publishers including museums, scholarly associations, university presses and commercial publishers. The conclusion of a random sample feasibility study was:

The random sample feasibility study revealed that it is indeed possible to secure permission to digitize and provide open access to books, but the work is tedious and often comes to naught. We learned that even determining the copyright status of a book can be difficult and time-consuming. When we conducted the study, we had a fledgling understanding of U.S. copyright law, but knew very little about foreign copyright law. When in doubt, we assumed that a work was copyright protected and sought permission. In the course of the study, we mistakenly requested permission for four titles that were no longer copyright protected. One publisher denied permission to digitize and provide Web access to three of these titles. Whether this means that the publisher did not know the copyright status of the books, or whether they believed their permission was required regardless of the copyright status of the books is unknown. The feasibility study also demonstrated that identifying and locating current copyright owners, particularly of older books, is a difficult, time-consuming, hit-or-miss, sometimes futile process. We agreed that future studies would track the transaction costs.

Other studies covered in Covey's report include graphs indicating approval rates and transaction costs relating to the work.


Future additions to content

Be early 2013 the aggregate body of information contained in TFAO's digital library, plus the amount of additional information on the websites of other sources accessed by links provided by TFAO, had reached nearly a level of critical mass for most users. The curious mind, whether student or member of the public, was able to self-generate via combination keyword searches through the contents of TFAO's digital library the equivalent of thousands of special exhibition brochures and catalogues. Scholars with more in-depth needs would be still reliant on deeper research. There are several reasons for this arrival at a state of near critical mass. The main reason for using the word "near" is that events of, and artists active in, the last decades of the 20th century and first decades of the 21st century were exceptions to the rule.

The knowledge components of future special exhibitions focused on artistic activity from pre-colonial times through the early decades of the 20th century are largely already available to TFAO users via internal combination keyword searches. Many future exhibitions will continue to focus on aspects of the careers of popular deceased first tier artists. TFAO defines first tier artists as those artists whose works sell at auction for over $250,000 in 2013 dollars. The core career facts in the related catalogues will be repeated, with additive material based on topics. Often extensive biographical information on these artists, as well as less popular artists, is alternately available via TFAO's America's Distinguished Artists catalogue. For topical exhibitions the same idea holds true. The basic topical idea -- such as California Art History, racial or ethnic art -- will usually be covered via TFAO's Topics in American Art catalogue and mixed with biographical and/or other topical information. Many other future exhibitions will be based on works in a museum's collection, due in no small part to financial considerations. Some will have companion catalogues or brochures. The biographical or topical content of the exhibitions will by largely accessible via TFAO combination keyword search.

As a result of TFAO's activity to date, addition of future content will largely be limited to second tier artists featured in museum exhibitions -- active or deceased and not well covered in America's Distinguished Artists -- plus recent topics. There will still be opportunity for obtaining sources of related online information or obtaining information directly from sources.


Instructions for acquisition and management of TFAO website contents

A special feature of TFAO's Web site is that comprehensive instructions for acquisition and management of its contents are visible to volunteers and readers via its online pages. This feature is also helpful to other organizations interested in developing similar sites.

Pages providing instructions for core operations:

For America's Distinguished Artists, please click here
For National Calendar of Art Exhibitions, please click here
For Resource Library see Submitting materials, Content presentation guidelines, Linking within pages and Errors and omissions
For researching the Web to find URLs outside of TFAO which may be referenced in the editor's notes of previously published Resource Library articles and in TFAO representational American art topics please click here.
For catalogue and database management please click here
For other volunteer opportunities please click here.


Deselection of content

It is the intent of TFAO to store content within the TFAO Digital Library as long as TFAO has the means of doing so. TFAO reserves, however, the right to remove previously published materials at its discretion. Because of TFAO's procedures to obtain approvals from copyright holders, this is a rare occurrence. For more information please see the Errors and omissions page within the Resource Library Web site. Resource Library is a publication of TFAO. Also please see Durability and protection of content.


Alternate online models


Wikipedia is the largest multilingual free-content encyclopedia on the Internet. It is written collaboratively by volunteers from all around the world. Wikipedia does not list a page author because there may be many collaborative authors. Any reader can edit an article, which may lead to degradation of content. See Wikipedia's page "About Wikipedia" for a discussion of strengths and weaknesses of its content.


Knol was a venture, discontinued by Google in 2012, that provided free content by named authors on a non-exclusive basis. Readers were not able to change authored Knols, but were able to rate a Knol or write a review of it. Knols also included references and links to additional information. A Knol was like a blog but more structured. Google did not serve as an editor.

The Public Library of Science (PLoS)

The Public Library of Science (PLoS), a nonprofit scientific publishing venture headquartered in San Francisco, CA. This model contemplates the creation of specialty journals with free access. PLoS charges "...authors a fair price that reflects the actual cost of publication. However, the ability of authors to pay publication charges will never be a consideration in the decision whether to publish."


Go to

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. 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 web sites, 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.

*Tag for expired US copyright of object image:

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