Shared Shelf: Partnership plans to launch networked image management platform

July 14, 2009

ARTstor, eight partner colleges and universities, and the Society of Architectural Historians have embarked upon a new initiative for the management and sharing of digital images called "Shared Shelf." The institutional partners include Colby College, Cornell University, Harvard University, Middlebury College, New York University, University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign, University of Miami, and Yale University. Harvard and Yale are serving as lead partners. The project intends to make it practical for institutions, large and small, to combine images created by individuals, those held by the institution, and those in ARTstor's database—and to do so without the need for local on-site infrastructure.

Partners are contributing significant staff knowledge and time, in addition to investment funds, and ARTstor is developing the common software platform. The goal is to create an efficient and innovative infrastructure informed by the shared expertise of key participating institutions.

James Shulman, President of ARTstor, acknowledged the value of the partnership to ARTstor's efforts to serve the educational community. "Working with such experienced partners will help to build a system to unlock images from archives all around the campus as well as from scholars' own collections. ARTstor's collections are a good starting point, but a platform that enables all of us to standardize and share material promises to be both efficient and effective."

The initiative will enable institutions to build, manage, access and share visual content across their own campuses, with other campuses—or, in the case of the Society of Architectural Historians, across a geographically distributed community of scholars. Because the platform will enable institutions to integrate their own images with ARTstor's digital image library (of more than one million images) and also allow campuses to share content in a range of ways, the platform will facilitate the expansion of a trusted and collaborative network of institutions, and their individual users. The project also aims to lower institutions' costs in supporting the management of image collections by developing a common infrastructure upon which this content can be stored and accessed.

The project has developed from ARTstor's pilot "hosting" program, which now includes almost two million images from 130 colleges, universities, and museums. Each institution's images are served back to the institution (or consortium) via ARTstor's online library platform, and each institution's images are seamlessly integrated and cross-searchable with ARTstor's own collections. This ability to bring together institutional and ARTstor collections has been very valuable to scholars and teachers in many different academic fields.

During the past year, the Society of Architectural Historians and ARTstor launched the first use of Shared Shelf, called SAHARA (The Society of Architectural Historians Architecture Resources Archive). SAHARA allows SAH members to upload their own images and metadata to their own shared online archive as well as to download the shared images for teaching and research. Commenting on the transformative nature of SAHARA, SAH Executive Director Pauline Saliga stated: "The leadership and members of the Society are excited about the potential of this user-contributed, shared online academic resource. Our expectation is that it will dramatically change the way we do research in the field of architectural history by providing vast amounts of data and thousands of images that can be used to provide comparative examples, test theories, and challenge our common wisdom about both world monuments and the ordinary buildings of our everyday lives."

Perspectives from Institutional Partners:

With input from a committee of current hosting institutions, as well as from the Shared Shelf partners, design and development of the platform is underway. The new Shared Shelf initiative anticipates a launch—as a fee-based service—by January 2011.

Updates on Shared Shelf are available by writing to ARTstor at The partners and ARTstor will also report on progress and future directions throughout the year at library, scholarly meetings, and community fora.