Newsletter Archive: Spring 2003
Academic Information Enters the Digital Age
The Academic Information Services Department (AIS) is dedicated to supporting
teaching, learning and research in the Courtauld Institute by providing
outstanding resources in the form of books, images, online and IT support.
It is managed by staff who are familiar with the wealth and scope of the
collections and who are able to promote their use within the Courtauld and
the wider art history community. The formation of the Department began two
years ago with the initial linking of the Book and Conway Photographic Libraries
into a new Academic Information Services structure. It now includes the
Witt Photographic Library, the Photographic Survey, the Slide Library and
Courtauld Colour Slide Scheme and IT Centre and Support.
The resources are significant; a Book Library of 160,000 items, the largest collection in the subject within a teaching institution in the UK, growing by some 3,000 titles a year and now an increasingly important part of the national collection due to the extent of purchase (over 40%) in non-English language of publication which are acquired each year; some 3,000,000 images of painting, drawing, sculpture and architecture in the Witt and Conway Photographic Libraries and Photographic Survey of Private Collections and a Slide Library containing over 250,000 transparencies. In January 2002 we opened a new IT Centre in space previously occupied by the Book and Witt Libraries. By some extraordinary sleight of hand both libraries managed to continue to hold on open shelves all the books and green boxes affected by the reorganisation of space. The IT Centre, designed as an essential part of the learning support structure, offers an environment in which students can use books, photographs and online data and write, scan and print in a single purpose-built space. The demand for this has exceeded all our expectations.
All of these libraries and resources have been in existence for many years, so why was there any need to create a new structure in which to formally associate them together? The departments have always had much in common. They are concerned with managing and making accessible information whether as text or image, a combination of both or, more recently, electronically; a common strategic direction and joint discussion and articulation of purpose makes good sense. The Institutes Strategic Plan notes that 'this inclusive structure will encourage the development of cohesive strategies for enhancing academic information support across the Institute, raising funding and promoting public access in appropriate areas. By adopting a structure for Academic Information Services familiar in Higher Education in the UK we are able to facilitate this process.
The advantages of the enlarged department have been increasingly evident, even in the first few months of its existence. Digital developments are of immediate concern to AIS; funding from the New Opportunities Fund is enabling us to digitise and catalogue some 35,000 photographs from the Conway collection. The practical experience of managing such a project on a daily basis is proving invaluable when considering the potential of other digital projects in the Witt and Photographic Survey, which may have a dramatic impact upon the way in which the libraries operate in the future. All of the AIS departments are identifying their individual requirements with respect to developing an Institute-wide database, potentially embracing all of the many and diverse databases, both traditional and digital, which describe the varied aspects of the image collections.
All of the image libraries and collections both build their own collections and sell photographs to external users and therefore have a vested interest in photographic services within the Institute. A new Photographic Users Group has enabled discussion to take place across the board rather than in a piecemeal manner. Conditions in the negative store are of concern, and again the common structure has facilitated discussion and planning towards resolving the issue. A co-operative attempt to deal speedily with the most at-risk material in the negative store is underway. The review of the Slide Library last autumn resulted in greater co-operation and task-sharing with the Courtauld Colour Slide Scheme. The presence of the IT Centre and Support within AIS has been of great value in informing much discussion and co-ordinating a common approach. The physical presence of the IT Centre in the Book Library has meant that the two departments have found a joint solution to achieving extended evening opening hours for both services. Copyright issues are of constant and increasing importance and the pooling of knowledge and similar experience has been beneficial across AIS.
A new Academic Information Services Committee, a sub-committee of the Academic Board, now meets each term and has provided a much needed formal mechanism for identifying needs, recognising and publicising departmental achievement and change. It is proving to be an important forum for bringing forward all areas of academic information support provision in the Institute.
SUE PRICE — Head of Academic Information Services