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Luna: Building Digital Image Collections Online

In the teaching and collecting of the visual arts, perhaps the two greatest frustrations are gaining access to disparate collections and aintaining a set of high-quality reproductions of theworks.

One-of-a-kind works are available only where they reside and must be viewed in the form of a reproduction everywhere else. As a result, small colleges and universities with limited resources struggle to maintain, catalog, and share their specialized collections.

In contrast, larger institutions must manage multiple collections and servethe needs of thousands of users, from students to curators.

Collaboration among institutions has been frustrated in the past by technology limitations, leading to extraordinary duplication of effort using extremely fallible tools. Some of us can recall slide presentations in the classroom when a jammed carousel or a misplaced slide interrupted art history presentations.

Happily, the World Wide Web and digital imaging technology have revolutionized the way institutions can access and utilize the visual arts. Thanks to digital imaging technology, students, scholars, and librarians now have instant access to a wealth of high quality images.

One key provider in this area is Luna Imaging Inc., which develops "digital slide carousels" in the form of client/server digital imaging services and software for libraries, museums, universities, and foundations.

Founded in 1993 with support from the J. Paul Getty Trust and Eastman Kodak, Luna specializes in quality image banks that reside in a feature-rich digital environment. Luna Imaging sells both services and software. Smaller institutions with only one or two modest collections may choose the service route, preferring to pay Luna to develop a collection for them.

The conversion service transfers source materials into digital form, digitally capturing data from film, print, or original source material, with an emphasis on maintaining a consistent and faithful image. Luna technicians color-match to targets or match to the qualities of the original piece, compensating if need be for loss of color or clarity in the reproduction. Luna also offers project planning and management services along with image bank development.

Larger institutions with more extensive collections may choose to purchase Luna Imaging’s Insight software, which allows on-site staff to build an image bank.

Insight is client/server software that facilitates development, management, access, and use of digital images via the Internet.

Highly searchable and scalable, the Insight tool allows users to search digital catalogs and compare, sort, organize, and save images for particular applications.

Insight purchasers can choose from three versions of the software. With the Insight Hosted option, appropriate for small collections of fewer than 5,000 pieces, the digital image bank resides on Luna Imaging’s server and is called forth as needed. Insight Hosted comes with predefined templates and a limited number of user profiles.

Insight On-Site and Insight Apex are client-hosted options that manage large collections at the institution itself and offer more features and flexibility. On- Site is for single collections, whereas Apex is designed for the large user with multiple collections to manage.

According to Megan Marler, product manager for Luna Imaging, Insight is easy to install and learn. Their training sessions last only two days. For the end user, Insight boasts a number of search features. Users can search by thumbnail, specific name, or general category.

Categories are defined on site, so each institution can determine categories that make sense for the particular collection at hand. For instance, a map collection would require search functions by country or region, and a collection of paintings would require the ability to search by artist and period.

Insight will display the textual metadata for any item on demand with a simple point and click of a mouse, and that information can be displayed in multiple languages. The software comes with built-in security features that allow administrators to control who has access to the collection.

Luna’s software and services are designed for classroom use as well as curatorial use by libraries and museums. As a classroom tool, Insight acts as a digital slide carousel, replacing and improving upon the traditional slide show with many more capabilities. Instructors can use Insight’s presentation features to generate a classroom lecture that is more vivid, interactive, and pedagogically useful than slides permit.

Handy features include superzooming, preset zoom, and the ability to lay more than one image on the screen simultaneously (what Luna calls the "digital light box"). Insight also saves instructors time. Once the presentation has been created, it d'esn’t have to be altered or re-created for each class section. However, it is relatively easy to drop in a new image or reorganize a presentation.

Because the images reside on the Web, students can all access the material simultaneously, instead of having to wait for materials on reserve to become available.

For museums and libraries, Insight offers new collaborative capabilities. According to Marler, because Insight is platform independent, it resolves any technology differences between one institution and another. In other words, two libraries can share data even if their systems are incompatible. This "cross-collection search feature" is new, and clients are just beginning to take advantage of it. Says Marler, "the primary advantage is that by sharing, institutions can build a lot of content quickly."

After fewer than 10 years in the business, Luna Imaging has developed an impressive client list, including the Andrew W. Mellon Foundation, Yale University, Parsons School of Design, and the New York Public Library.

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