April 11-14, 2007
San Francisco, California

Museum Images on-line: Meeting the Needs of Educators

David Green, Knowledge Culture; Robert Lancefield, Wesleyan University; Diane Harley, University of California, Berkeley; Sherry Hsi, The Exploratorium; Günter Waibel, RLG Programs, OCLC; Susan Chun, The Metropolitan Museum of Art; and Layna White, San Francisco Museum of Modern Art, USA


Still images, often sourced from museums, are the most heavily used type of digital resource in higher-education institutions today. How can museums ensure that digital images from their collections are effectively distributed and used by educators? After summaries of the key findings of recent studies on the use of digital images in higher education, we present reports on three examples of different kinds of innovative initiatives that connect digital images from museum collections with the needs and practices of teachers. Sherry Hsi discusses how The Exploratorium’s Web site and digital library have been developed to be an effective image repository to support science teaching at all levels, and Günter Waibel outlines the efforts of an RLG Programs/OCLC Working Group that provides support for museums interested in implementing technologies for sharing digital images and metadata more widely. Susan Chun introduces an initiative of The Metropolitan Museum of Art to make high resolution digital images available for use in scholarly publishing free of charge. Layna White concludes with key lessons from the evaluation of the usefulness for teaching of the Web-based museum collections of the Museums and Online Archive of California (MOAC). This paper was designed to set the stage for discussion by session participants of these findings and initiatives, in light of experiences at their institutions. What other new approaches are there for building a robust and useful on-line image resource base? Which approaches seem most likely to work given the economic and technical infrastructures in museums today?

Keywords: images, teachers, distribution, high-definition, education, on-line resource base

1. Introduction (David Green and Rob Lancefield)

How can museums ensure that digital images from their collections are effectively distributed and used by educators? Recent reports offer key findings about how digital images are currently being used in higher education, and a variety of innovative initiatives are under way to enable digital images from museum collections to serve more effectively the needs and practices of educators in the humanities, arts, and sciences.

According to the evidence, still images, often sourced from museums, are the most heavily used type of digital resource in higher education today. With greater availability and flexibility than their analog counterparts, digital images are beginning to affect much teaching practice. This, in turn, leads to increased demand for suitable images, and thus to new opportunities for museums. These rapidly expanding areas of practice in image production, delivery, and pedagogical use raise a host of questions such as these:

To propose answers to some of these questions, this paper brings together a variety of viewpoints. First, it summarizes the major findings of two recent reports on how digital resources in general, and digital images in particular, are used by educators, what their emerging needs appear to be, and what the implications might be for museums. This is followed by a brief review of just three examples of innovative initiatives seeking to connect digital images from museum collections with the needs and practices of educators—in the sciences as well as in the arts and humanities. We conclude with key lessons from the evaluation of the usefulness for teaching of the Web-based museum collections of the Museums and Online Archive of California (MOAC).

2. Use and Users of Digital Resources (Diane Harley)

Use and Users of Digital Resources (Harley et al., 2006) is a two-year study recently published by the Center for Studies in Higher Education at the University of California, Berkeley. The project investigated how, how much, and even if digital resources are being used in targeted Humanities and Social Sciences teaching and learning contexts among diverse higher education communities. The research included discussion groups and a survey of full- and part-time faculty and graduate students from two types of higher education institutions. In order to elicit responses as unbiased as possible, the report assiduously avoided judgments about the “value” of specific resources. Major findings included:

  1. Personal Teaching Style: The degree to which personal teaching style and philosophy influence resource use was striking. There is a broad spectrum of user types, ranging from the non-user, to the inexperienced-novice user, to the highly proficient and advanced user of digital resources. Non-users included those who were passionately opposed to the use of technologies in their classroom for a variety of valid pedagogical reasons (e.g., these technologies cannot substitute for a faculty member’s preferred teaching approaches). Non-users also included self-described enthusiasts frustrated by technical and non-technical barriers, and those simply without time to think about, let alone use, technology in teaching.
  2. Sources: Faculty use almost every conceivable type of digital resource, many of which fall outside of what are formally called “collections” or “educational.” Images and visual materials were the most frequently used resources, and they were often used for classroom presentation or posting on the Web. News and other media resources, video, and on-line reference sources were also heavily used. Google-type searches were the most frequent way in which faculty found resources. A faculty member’s own “collection” of digital resources was the second most frequent source of material (70%). Curricular materials were relatively low on the list of what faculty said they used.
  3. Uses: Faculty respondents used digital resources to improve their students’ learning, to integrate primary source materials into their teaching, to provide students with context for a topic, to include materials or teaching methods that would otherwise be unavailable, and/or to integrate faculty research interests into a course. Less frequently cited were teaching critical thinking, increasing convenience for themselves and/or students, and/or meeting expectations held by their students or their colleagues. Faculty in different disciplines require different types of resources, and they use them in different ways and for different reasons.
  4. Obstacles: The foremost reason for not using digital resources was that they simply did not support faculty’s teaching approaches. Lack of time was a major constraint. Faculty—including those active and enthusiastic in their use of digital resources—identified many obstacles to using these resources for teaching, including how to find, manage, maintain, and reuse them in new contexts. Oft-cited obstacles to their effective use were the availability, reliability, and expense of the necessary equipment, both in the classroom and for personal use. Many want to build their own re-aggregated resources, using their own materials and mixing them with resources they have collected along the way. There may be an array of tools available for collecting, developing, managing, and actually using resources, but the efficacy and interoperability of these tools is questionable.
  5. Discovery: Faculty use a variety of strategies for negotiating the digital morass. For most, the path of least resistance is the one usually taken—a Google search, a walk down the hall or an e-mail to a colleague, a visit to the Web site of a trusted archive, or often a personal and eclectic “collection” of digital stuff. What is deemed “good enough” for users will depend on the problem at hand; a single individual may have different standards and strategies that are determined by the immediate objective, time constraints, budgets, personal and institutional equipment, and support staff, among other variables.

We should not expect faculty, whom we can assume know more than non-specialists about teaching their subject, to shoehorn their approaches into a technical developer’s ideas of what is valuable or the correct pedagogical approach. Tools and resources must be developed to support what faculty want to do.

The challenges faced by those charged with building tools to re-aggregate varied resources for easier use include:

3. Using Digital Images in Teaching and Learning (David Green and Rob Lancefield)

A smaller study, more specifically focused on digital images than was the Harley study, was commissioned in 2005 by Wesleyan University and the National Institute for Technology and Liberal Education (NITLE) to examine the impact of the use of digital images on teaching practices in liberal arts colleges in the Northeast. The study, Using Digital Images in Teaching and Learning: Perspectives from Liberal Arts Institutions (Green, 2006), made it apparent that digital images are revolutionizing many teachers’ approaches to their students and their teaching despite a fleet of obstacles—from difficulties in finding the right material efficiently, or in optimally displaying it, to the often colossal amount of time taken by faculty (often in lieu of sufficient institutional support) for aggregating and integrating images from different resources, as well as managing and cataloging personal collections.

More than 500 faculty and staff in a wide range of disciplines at 33 institutions participated in the study. Faculty were self-selected, mostly convinced by the digital promise that abundant images in a flexible format could ease and animate their teaching. So while this is not a statistically valid sample of all faculty at liberal arts colleges, it does chart important trends and address serious policy questions. Survey responses and interviews showed that in many cases, image-based investigations are supplementing or even, in a few instances, replacing text-based knowledge. This emerging practice is having a major impact on teaching and learning, and it presents great opportunities despite potential obstacles. Appreciating the abundance and variety of images available, faculty are using more images, more often, in more contexts—and they are demanding more from these visual resources. How do they find the right images for the job?

Image Sources and Invisible Resources

Digital images come from multiple sources. Most popular are faculty’s own personal digital image collections (used by 90% of faculty). While these collections comprise images from many sources (including scans from books and personal slide collections), most of their content comes from the Web. The Web was used as an image source by 85% of faculty in this study. Only 30% used licensed resources, 19% used departmental resources, and 14% used their campus libraries as places to find digital images.

Celebrating the abundance of images found on-line via image search engines, faculty insistently call, however, for more dependable, higher-quality resources than Google Images typically turns up. Many cultural institutions, government agencies, scholarly associations, and individuals have assembled such databases; but ironically they were often unknown by the image-using faculty in this study—they were consulted by just one third. The National Science Digital Library, for example, has a structure for creating peer-reviewed, discipline-based teaching resources that individual faculty can contribute to, working with lead organizations designated for a particular field—for example, with the American Association for the Advancement of Science and its BiosciEdNet portal for biological sciences ( However, frequently faculty who could benefit from such a resource knew nothing of it.

What can be done to connect potential users with museum Web resources? In the survey responses, faculty rarely cited museums as on-line resources: seven mentioned specific museums, and three referred to museums in general. Yet museums have the potential to be more substantial partners in the image-based revolution transforming much of teaching today—and with image-based subjects, transforming the canon. How can museums best produce, present, and distribute images to be more useful to faculty?

Educator Needs

Key requirements for making images useful to educators are increasingly clear. Museums that design and provide access to digital images in ways that help meet these needs will encourage more and better educational use of these resources. First is the ability to discover “just right” images without having to negotiate multiple search locations and interfaces, via the kinds of aggregation or federated search that many museums have long been working towards; the powerful attraction to faculty of at least some sense of “one-stop shopping” is clear in the study’s findings regarding the widespread use of Google Images.

Second is the ability to easily download—and to aggregate and seamlessly integrate—such discovered images on the Web with others from private collections on local, personal computers for educational use. Following from this is the need for a range of metadata to be incorporated in or closely associated with images. Such metadata not only assists in the integration of images into local collections; it also facilitates their easy discovery and retrieval for a variety of purposes.

Educators also need to be assured of the copyright status of images and to be unintrusively informed, in clear and simple language, about how they can and cannot use them. This might include information about re-directing and sharing images with other faculty, either locally or via systems such as the Penn State Lionshare authenticated peer-to-peer network (

Opportunities for Museums

This set of needs suggests a number of opportunities for museums. Many of these opportunities resonate with long-lived topics of discussion and effort in the museum community, and many connect to programs and projects under development:

Already attractive to many museums as general avenues for sharing the visual riches they hold, these areas of work also provide more specific opportunities to help serve teaching and learning in ways we now more clearly understand.

We will now briefly visit three examples of work being conducted by and with museums to connect museum visual resources with educators.

4. The Exploratorium (Sherry Hsi)

At San Francisco’s Exploratorium (“the museum of science, art and human perception”), educators (including K–12 teachers, informal educators, university professors, and parents) are one of three primary target audiences for the museum. “Educate,” a portal to serve educators, can be found at the top level of the main Web site of the Exploratorium ( As many as 136,000 unique on-line visitors and over 10,000 educators, who have participated in the Exploratorium’s museum-based teaching programs, regularly use this area of the Web site not only to acquire activities, table-top exhibit designs, podcasts, digital videos, computer interactives and on-line exhibits but also to contribute newly developed learning resources to the collection.

Digital library collections offer an important way to organize and access digital resources for educators. Metadata is key here, especially given that on-line search tools often cannot discover or locate the Exploratorium’s many unique digital resources. As a consequence, the Exploratorium's digital library includes different sets of metadata that index digital resources to metadata standards for learning objects and to vocabularies used by teachers, so that resources can be searchable by other libraries.

For example, the Learning Resources Collection ( includes metadata vital for teachers: teaching tips, school grade levels, and various curricular areas, for example. These resources gain more visibility and use through open metadata standards and interoperability with other libraries, such as the National Science Digital Library.

The Exploratorium’s Digital Asset Archive (, institutionally the largest and most historic on-line collection, contains over 13,300 digital images related to interactive exhibits and scientific phenomena. The archive allows users to search by scientific phenomena, author, exhibit, date, exhibition, media type, and other criteria relevant to museum staff and educators. To make access easy for educators, no logins are required to gain access; and media, including low-resolution images, are available free of charge.

One example of how educators use the Exploratorium’s image resources can be seen in its Microscope Imaging Station exhibit ( Here, high-magnification images of life forms, such as stem cells and cells undergoing mitosis, catalogued in the digital library, can be printed out and used in the classroom to ask students, for example, what phase of mitosis is being shown and under what sequence of biological development the images should be placed. Using a calculator and ruler, teachers can also use these images as part of a math activity, for example by measuring the relative size of the nucleus to the cell cytoplasm in images taken in a time lapse to estimate growth rates.

Using the Web site as a content repository to support science teaching is the most common way educators have been using Exploratorium resources. The Web site is also used as a market and audience research tool. For example, the Institute for Inquiry Web site ( has an on-line form that collects additional information about visitors using a Java-based pop-up window. on-line visitors interested in downloading a resource guide are first asked to provide demographic information and resource preferences, and to answer other questions that can opt them into on-line educator communities, e-newsletter subscriptions, and other resources. This embedded data collection verifies that educators, in particular professional developers, are locating a useful digital resource.

To sustain the use of digital images (as well as other digital resources), the Exploratorium uses PDFs, Webcasts, and many-to-many communication strategies to establish longer-term relationships with audiences and to build a community. on-line bulletin boards, scheduled live text chat sessions, and near real-time email response during Webcasts invite input, explanation, and dialogue from remote educator audiences. Other many-to-many communication experiments are under way, including simultaneous video projection during a live museum Webcast in Second Life, a multi-user participatory 3D virtual world.

While Web 2.0 is enabling more and more end-user content development of Web sites, the Exploratorium still maintains a purposefully-designed, curatorial and editorial process in selecting which Web sites to develop and which images to add to on-line collections for educators. This process includes ensuring that intellectual property conditions are met, both high- and low-resolution versions of images are made available, museum branding guidelines are followed, the science information is correct, and educational standards are considered. Teachers are part of the team in developing resources, but so are artists, scientists, museum developers, media producers, and other stakeholders. This designed and crafted perspective of the Web site ensures that high-quality materials are ultimately delivered to educator audiences.

5. The Museum Collection Sharing Working Group: Accelerating Availability of Museum Images (Günter Waibel)

In his article "Public Domain Art in an Age of Easier Mechanical Reproducibility" (2006), Ken Hamma argues in favor of a new policy for museums: rather than covet a rarely realized revenue stream from licensing, museums should place all their digital images into the public domain unless the original artwork remains restricted by copyright. Needless to say, the implementation of such a policy in US museums would make significant amounts of high-quality content available to researchers, teachers, and learners.

With the publication of Cataloging Cultural Objects (Baca, 2006), the release of CDWA Lite XML (, and the successful implementation of both specifications in conjunction with the Open Archives Initiative Protocol for Metadata Harvesting (OAI-PMH) ( by the Getty Trust, the technological underpinnings to deliver on such a policy are firmly in place. The museum community now has a complete suite of standards to describe and share digital images: Cataloging Cultural Objects provides the rules for describing digital images; CDWA Lite XML provides the format to encode the descriptions; and OAI-PMH provides a mechanism to economically share the descriptions.

In May 2006, RLG Programs/OCLC inaugurated the Museum Collection Sharing Working Group ( in order to promote this nascent suite of standards. While most of the ten participating institutions still remain ambivalent about circulating digital images as freely as Hamma envisions, they all see the economic benefits of having an infrastructure for sharing their content with trusted partners such as ARTstor, the Internet Archive, a university running MDID, or any of the organizations offering AMICO-successor databases. In addition, some of the group members, such as the Metropolitan Museum of Art (Chun, 2006) and the Victoria & Albert Museum (Bailey, 2006) have initiated fee-free licensing programs for educational use.

The diverse members of the Museum Collection Sharing Working Group provide each other with a support environment for implementing sharing technologies. Among the chief hurdles for getting museum data into a shareable format are the following:

At this point, group members have shared their mapping documents on the project wiki, and discussed various issues related to concatenating/dissecting data so it will fit the categories described in CDWA Lite, as well as bringing data into conformity with the rules laid out by CCO. The group monitors developments of tools in the community that could have an impact on their set of issues—for example, Richard Rinehart of the UC Berkeley Art Museum demonstrated a database tool for transforming collections management system data into XML (

The working group is also playing an active role in shaping a new tool for the museum community. The Getty implementation of OAI uses a slightly modified version of OAICat Open Source Software (, originally written by Jeff Young (OCLC Programs & Research). The working group will build on the Getty modifications and, in collaboration with Jeff Young and working group liaison Günter Waibel, determine functional specifications for a museum-specific open source release of OAICat.

Once the infrastructure for sharing has become widely implemented, the cost for museums to share, the cost for aggregators to create union resources, and the cost for higher education to use digital images will dramatically diminish. While this group of determined professionals only represents ten museums, hopefully their work will have a snowball effect: the more institutions successfully share their content, the more other museums will follow.

6. Initiative to Provide Digital Images to Scholars at No Charge (Susan Chun)

In a new initiative designed to assist scholars with teaching, study, and the publication of academic works, The Metropolitan Museum of Art will distribute, free of charge, high-resolution digital images from an expanding array of works in its renowned collection for use in academic publications. This new service is available through ARTstor, a non-profit organization that makes art images available for educational use.

"The Metropolitan Museum of Art has long sought to address the significant challenges that scholars confront in seeking to secure and license images of objects from the Museum's collections," stated Metropolitan Museum Director Philippe de Montebello in making the announcement. "We hope, through this collaboration, to play a pioneering role in addressing one of the profound challenges facing scholars in art history, and scholarly publishing, today."

Initially approached by the Metropolitan Museum in 2005 to develop this initiative, ARTstor has worked in close consultation with Metropolitan Museum staff to create its new service, entitled "Images for Academic Publishing" (IAP), which will make images available via software on the ARTstor Web site ( Initially, nearly 1,700 images representative of the broad range of the Metropolitan Museum's encyclopedic collection will be available through the more than 730 institutions that currently license ARTstor. Efforts to expand this accessibility are now underway and will be announced by ARTstor at a later date.

Having briefly reviewed educators’ use of digital images and their needs in discovering and using images in the classroom, and having glimpsed innovative approaches to connecting museum images with educators, we now look at an important example of the evaluation of an existing robust set of Web-based teaching resources for educators: those from the Museums and Online Archive of California (MOAC). In its underscoring some of the key findings of the studies that opened this paper, this evaluation serves both to cycle back to those reports and to lay groundwork for further strategizing by museums seeking ways to bring their works into the classroom.

7. MOAC II: Depth, Breadth, And Diversity Wanted (Layna White)

The Museums and the Online Archive of California II User Evaluation (MOAC II) was a research project (2003–2005) examining the use and usefulness of selected, digitized cultural content made freely available through the Web sites of the Online Archive of California, a content aggregation portal operated by the California Digital Library ( and the Museums and Online Archives Collaboration (MOAC), hosted by the UC Berkeley Art Museum and Pacific Film Archive (

MOAC is a multi-year collaboration between several California museums, an archive, and a digital library, with the goal of increasing access to cultural content—in this case, aggregated text and images representing physical collections and presented as finding aids as well as individual digital objects delivered independently of those finding aids.

The user evaluation brought together MOAC partners and researchers from the UCLA Department of Information Studies (principally Anne J. Gilliland) to examine the needs and behaviors of four user groups in their use of MOAC content in the two Web sites. These groups comprised K–12 teachers, university students, academics in the humanities and social sciences, and information professionals working in museums, libraries, and archives.

Following are some sample guiding questions from the evaluation, paired with representative faculty responses. Anne Gilliland led MOAC II partners in gathering and triangulating both quantitative and qualitative data from many sources: pre-existing use data, transaction logs, feedback forms, detailed questionnaires, and think-aloud sessions (White, 2006).

What types of search strategies are users attempting and how successful are they?

The top searches favored by all participants were subject, names of artists/makers, object titles, and types of media. Some participants expressed surprise or confusion over unexpected search results: why are these things coming up [in search results]? Several educators indicated that they could not find what they were looking for or expected in MOAC: where is the contemporary art? Such responses naturally prompt questions about the matchability of the content provided to user expectations and preferences, as well as the need to better inform people about what is included in MOAC, and possibly why.

Teachers and faculty rated consistency of presentation highly; this is a potential challenge for aggregation projects like MOAC, given differences in institutional practices, priorities, and sensibilities. Idiosyncrasies exist in descriptions for individual digital objects, in extent, detail, and choice of words.

Why and how do teachers and faculty use digitized cultural objects?

Participants wanted retrieval through context (such as connections between and among objects, people, places, times, and events) in addition to retrieval by subjects, names, and media for individual digital objects. What kinds of context need to be provided and supported, from whose perspective, and in what manner of presentation? Finding aids appeared to provide one means of communicating some context to users about partners’ collections; however, MOAC II confirmed that teachers and faculty are not very interested in using finding aids to get context.

Looking at images with students helps them build a vocabulary about visual material and helps them gain an understanding of time and place.

Images were the biggest selling point for participants. The evaluation results underscore user interest in mixing and matching ad hoc, related images (and text) in resources like MOAC, with materials from other Web sites and images in personal collections, as well as information from books, articles, and people.

From MOAC II and other evaluative work, partners noted an increasing emphasis—by users and content providers—on developing clusters of related content presented in predetermined contextual arrangements (structures other than finding aids), while still supporting quick access to individual digital objects.

In general, MOAC II results call for more strategic building of Web-accessible resources, including curated clusters of prepackaged content, access to greater portions of institutions’ holdings, and more diverse content from more institutions.

7. Conclusion (David Green and Rob Lancefield)

This paper was designed to set the stage for discussion by session participants of the findings and initiatives presented above, in light of experiences at their institutions. Insights from recent studies on the educational use of digital images can provide opportunities for museums to take concrete strategic steps to distribute digital images from their collections more effectively. The case studies above demonstrate something of the range of innovative practices now under development by individual institutions and collaborative initiatives to further the distribution and enhance the educational use of their resources. Lessons from formal evaluations of established programs can assist in guiding these and other new projects, especially in broadening, deepening, and making more functional the services and resources they provide. We look forward to the continuing discussion of how museums can more effectively create and enhance Web-based means of serving teaching and learning.

References Cited

Baca, Murtha, et al. (2006). Cataloging Cultural Objects—A Guide to Describing Cultural Works and Their Images. ALA Editions.

Bailey, Martin (2006). V&A to scrap academic reproduction fees. The Art Newspaper (December 1, 2006). Consulted January 27, 2007.

Chun, Susan (2006). The Metropolitan Museum of Art’s “Scholars’ License” Project. ARTstor Newsletter (Spring 2006), 3. Consulted January 27, 2007.

Green, David (2006). Using Digital Images in Teaching and Learning: Perspectives from Liberal Arts Institutions. Academic Commons. Consulted January 25, 2007.

Hamma, Ken (2005). Public Domain Art in an Age of Easier Mechanical Reproducibility. D-Lib Magazine (November 2005). Consulted December 26, 2006.

Harley, Diane, Jonathan Henke, Shannon Lawrence, Ian Miller, Irene Perciali, and David Nasatir (2006). Use and Users of Digital Resources: A Focus on Undergraduate Education in the Humanities and Social Sciences. Center for Studies in Higher Education, University of California, Berkeley. Consulted October 20, 2006.

White, Layna (2006). User needs for digital content: the MOAC II case study. Consulted January 30, 2007.

Cite as:

Green, D., et al., Museum Images On-line: Meeting the Needs of Educators , in J. Trant and D. Bearman (eds.). Museums and the Web 2007: Proceedings, Toronto: Archives & Museum Informatics, published March 1, 2007 Consulted

Editorial Note