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In the Fall 2004 "From the Editors" column, Reference & User Services Quarterly editors Danny P. Wallace and Connie Van Fleet issued a call for manuscripts addressing issues raised by incorporating digital image archives into library services. The editorial board of RUSQ wanted to encourage discussion of effects of digital image projects on public and user services functions in libraries. In this column, Loanne Snavely begins to explore some of the issues surrounding instructional efforts related to digital imagery. Snavely brings a unique perspective as an instruction coordinator with awareness of the use of images and imagery in instruction.--Editors
Images, Text, and Libraries
Much is new in the library world relating to the visual world. Librarians and libraries are involved with visual images in many ways, from archiving print images to creating digital ones, from creating image databases to using commercial databases of digital images; from cataloging these images and creating metadata and access for them to teaching with and about them, and helping students find and interface with them. Most of these are roles librarians did not play in the past. This column will explore a series of these relationships between the realm of the image, the library, and information literacy.
The digital age, the information age, the age of the Internet, whatever it is called, has brought images to the forefront, moving from a time when images were very much subsidiary to text, to one in which they are gaining importance and prominence at a rapid rate. The time may come, or possibly it has already arrived, when images overtake the word as the dominant medium for communication.
Images have long been prized for their narrative value. Much of humanity's earliest art and sculpture is related to spiritual and later religious teachings. Images were used to illustrate stories at a time when most citizens did not read or write in their own language, much less in Latin, nor did they own books, and therefore had no access to religious teachings other than that conveyed by the clergy. They heard and learned the stories as an oral tradition, and the images served as visual cues to remember stories and moral tales. Royalty and the wealthy also provided secular commissions, broadening the scope of the pictorial content. Images were used in the creation of early handmade books and manuscripts, and were seamlessly integrated.
The advent of the printing press created a new set of challenges for incorporating images. The earliest printed books were largely text, with the occasional hand-embellished capital letters. But woodblock prints and wood engravings were soon integrated into the printing process. Some books, such as emblem books, were early ways of relating ideas through visual symbolism, and demonstrated the popularity of illustrated books. As printing techniques developed for text, images followed suit, with developments leading to intaglio, lithography, and many other types of image reproductions. These processes were used for both independent art works as well as for prints incorporated into books and other printed documents such as broadsides, pamphlets, and ephemeral materials of all kinds. Sometimes they were combined, and the ability to create beautiful, large-color illustrations along with the detailed fascination with scientific and unexplored regions led to some extraordinary publishing projects.
Audubon and other naturalists took the illustrated book to new heights, often selling subscriptions in advance for works with elaborate full-color plates to finance their expeditions to remote jungles to locate the "curiosities" they wished to record. The creation of the works themselves also involved extensive planning and hard work, including sketches in the field, final drawings, the creation of the printing plates from the drawings, and the printing and hand-coloring of the editions. These elaborate and costly projects were many years in the making. The combination of scientific curiosity, art, and book--and printmaking produced a wealth of illustrated works over many years. Word & Image: A Journal of Verbal/Visual Enquiry is devoted to exploring a wide array of issues relating to text and images, including those that go beyond the merely illustrative purposes to perceptual and conceptual images. (1)
Fortunately, all of these provided fodder for the collector. Book collections, libraries, museums, and other private and institutional collections developed as a result. Libraries, for the most part, concentrated on collecting and providing access to books and texts. Whether they included images was secondary. Special and rare book collections sometimes included art and design materials. The advent of photography brought …