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66th IFLA Council and General

Jerusalem, Israel, 13-18 August


Code Number: 076-109(WS)-E
Division Number: II
Professional Group: Art Libraries: Workshop (Israel Museum)
Joint Meeting with: -
Meeting Number: 109
Simultaneous Interpretation: No

Electronic Art Reference

Rüdiger Hoyer
Bibliothek des Zentralinstituts für Kunstgeschichte
Munich, Germany


Even in the year 2000, access to bibliographic and other art reference works functions primarily by using print materials. At least this is the case in Germany and other European countries. The situation in North America may be quite different. In any case, librarians in the the important German art and museum libraries know by daily experience that a majority of users still doesn't regard electronic reference sources as an absolutely necessary part of an art library's service package. Furthermore, apparently neither librarians nor faculty seem to agree on a 'canon' of indispensable art reference resources.

The term 'art reference' means not only bibliographies, but also for example library catalogues which are usable as bibliographies, union catalogues and specialized search engines. In the field of history of art, the bibliographic situation is traditionally not extremely well. All the important standard bibliographies are depending on American entrepreneurship: BHA, Art Index and ARTbibliographies Modern, all available on CD-ROM and via online-hosts. But nevertheless, there is no really comprehensive project for cataloguing the art historical literature, above all articles, of the western hemisphere including the Eastern European countries in a truly balanced and highly specialized manner, taking into account electronic resources and even ephemera.

In Germany, the 'Deutsche Forschungsgemeinschaft' (DFG) is funding since thirty years a system comprising the most important art and museum libraries and aiming at a comprehensive collection building through distributed responsabilities. Access on the internet to this 'virtual national art library' is still rudimentary. But even the existing rudiments, i.e. the union catalogue Florence-Munich-Rome http://www.kubikat.org and the art historical search engine called "Virtueller Katalog Kunstgeschichte" http://www.ubka.uni-karlsruhe.de/vk_kunst.html are highly useful and quite unrivalled, even in the international context. These sites have much bibliographical significance. They include journal articles etc., but no internet resources.

In spite of such national efforts, the general bibliographic situation is characterized by fragmentation. This fragmentation is not only typical for the bibliographic enterprises themselves, but even more for the ways of presentating 'art reference' in art libraries. German art libraries for example provide their public with a multitude of differently conceived OPACs accompanied by 'art referential' websites. Differences concern the comprehensiveness, the design, the retrieval and are particularly blatant regarding electronic resources. Seemingly, the choices adopted by librarians in order to procure access to electronic 'art reference' are still highly marked by the traditional paradigm of building a local collection of imprints. Off course, there are the limits of accessibility imposed by licence agreements and the necessity to take into account language barriers when constructing a website. But set apart these restrictions, we have to ask whether there isn't internationally, not only in Germany, an immense waste of otherwise needed intellectual manpower, a waste caused by the rather amateurish rivalry of reference librarians responsible for 'their' art historical website. In Germany for example, the successfull infrastructure for cooperative collecting and cataloguing of imprints is not yet paired by an appropriate method for cooperative tracing and cataloguing of electronic resources.

At this point, we also have to consider the already mentioned apparent lack of a consistent professional knowledge concerning pertinent electronic resources. In the U.S., this knowledge may be more developed, librarians and specialized public simply being better acquainted with the Internet. And the latest, rather americanocentric publication by Lois Swan Jones proves that our American collegues sense the benefit drawn from a systematic approach. If we have a look at the list of institutions subscribing to the Grove Dictionary of Art online, we see not more than a handful of german institutions, and only one in France and in Israel for example, compared to an endless listing of American universities. In leading German art institutions, art historians often simply have no idea of an electronic dictionary's genuine advantages and consequently feel no urge to use such material. An enquiry of the most important German art libraries proves that even electronic access to the most important bibliographies can't be expected everywhere. University and continuing education courses on electronic reference in the field of art history seem to be still quite exceptional in our country. As in ancient times, only some connoisseurs hold the knowledge. And it is significant that the international community of art librarians, among them our German AKMB, doesn't seem to have penetrated this subject sufficiently far, although the 'connoisseurs' have furnished much theoretical discourse since the legendary Pisa conferences. So far, we seem to have more concentrated on exchanging know-how from rather individualistic applications, not on the necessary national and international concerted action. There is an IFLA Directory of Art Libraries, but no IFLA reader on 'electronic art reference'. Admittedly, we have the book by Lois Swan Jones, which doesn't even mention the existence of internationally important art libraries in Germany and other European countries...

'Electronic art reference' is a problem which can't be faced on the level of individual persons or institutions. What art and museum libraries need in order to serve and furtheir their public, are internet-specific structures of mediation of reference materials. They have to learn from the british ELIB projects or the american "Scout Report". Also in Germany, there is already a comparable DFG-funded model project, the "Sondersammelgebiets-Fachinformationsprojekt" (SSG-FI). All these projects are based on intellectual indexing. In Germany, art ressources are in no way integrated.

Another problem is the integration or coordination of internet retrieval with OPACs. Whereas CD-ROMs and in general any electronic publication for which there is a subscription should be consultable directly from the OPAC, this is not obvious for the vast and rather ephemere majority of Internet resources. In Germany like everywhere, a multitude of never identic link lists can't be the professional solution for the future. One has to ask for the possibility of a centralized, but cooperatively operated directory. This directory should benefit from automatic updating. In order to realize a method of semi-automatically harvesting art reference resources, we should experiment with a linguistic software for automatic indexing, for example the system MILOS, a German software successfully tested for use in OPACs. Such a system should use all kinds of pertinent vocabulary, like SWD, AAT or RAMEAU. The continous interaction between automatic indexing and intellectual vocabulary control would ensure a permanent enrichment of the indexing vocabulary and an increasing sophistication of the indexing software's faculties. The thesaurus-like structure of the indexing vocabulary would permit to subdivide the results and to distribute among several specialized institutions the responsabilities for intellectual evaluation. Therewith, German art libraries would have found a new routine of adequately handling electronic resources, a routine which should be able to replace the rather helpless lists of links and to be much more reliable than non-professional search engines.


  1. How do you evaluate the acceptance of electronic reference vs. print versions in your institution?

  2. How is faculty / museum staff's knowledge of internet resources ?

  3. Is there sufficient cooperation on this topic between the art libraries societies ?

  4. How have pertinent university and continuing education courses to be organized ?

  5. Do you think the model of cooperative, semi-automatic indexing outlined here would be viable?


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