Digital changes

Originally posted at, the now-discontinued blog of the OU History of Science Collections, and then revised and temporarily posted at a “transpositions” blog. Neither this post nor any of its content should be taken as an official communication of the University of Oklahoma.

Where is your images terms of use statement?
What has happened to your online galleries?
And the online exhibits you once had?
Where is the blog of the History of Science Collections?
What will happen to the resources that were posted there?

Thanks for asking these questions! We are in transition, and devoting our effort toward the future rather than trying to maintain the past. To explain why, instead of responding to numerous email inquiries one at a time, I’ll just link to this post whenever I’m asked the questions above.


Terms of use for images: Despite earlier guidelines with more restrictive terms of use, all images at our old online galleries ( are now placed in the public domain by OU Libraries. We would appreciate the inclusion of an attribution statement such as this: “Image(s) courtesy History of Science Collections, University of Oklahoma Libraries.” And we would appreciate receiving a complimentary copy of any published work in which our images appear. Please send to: History of Science Collections, University of Oklahoma, 401 W. Brooks, Rm. 521, Norman, OK 73019-0528.


More than 10 years ago, Eric Bruning, then an OU student in meteorology (now professor of atmospheric sciences at Texas Tech), voluntarily created an online image gallery for us, He was seeking a charitable project to help him master python, and boy did he find one! I’m forever grateful to Eric, and thankful that he chose to support us, as this online gallery quickly took on a critical role in every initiative I have undertaken since that time. These online galleries were innovative for their time. They provided images of a wide variety of rare, primary sources from the History of Science Collections, including many of the most common images used in teaching. Images were provided in a range of resolutions (web-quality, presentation-quality and print-quality), at no charge, without delay, unmediated by email correspondence and exempt from registration or tracking. It was designed to accommodate our limited resources and staffing. Whenever we prepared an image for one student or scholar, it became easily available to anyone through this site. Uploading new images was automatic, as soon as processing was finished, through an Aperture extension. And there was no independent database that had to be maintained; rather, metadata was embedded in the image files, so that once an image was dropped onto the server’s hard drive, the software would read any directory’s contents automatically and display a caption extracted from the metadata for each image. It was an ideal system for a special collections with overburdened staff, no official commitment to digitization, and no official means of online distribution.

In addition, Eric devised an online exhibit site using php that was integrated with the online image galleries. Through a web-based editing interface, images were selected from the online galleries. To save space on the old Mac that was acting as our server, selected images did not need to be separately imported into the exhibits software, but were embedded from the online galleries (just as anyone else might embed images from the online galleries into their own blogs and websites without having to upload their own copies). Eric designed the exhibits software with features intended to support use of the exhibits in undergraduate instruction, including multiple pages in sequence (to allow appropriate-sized chunking of content); the ability to group different exhibits together into a larger whole; links to jump quickly between the text and image thumbnails; direct links from the image thumbnails to the same assortment of sizes supported in the online galleries; a byline for attribution; a block quotation style; and a footnote style for those times when documentation is absolutely necessary. From just two examples, the Galileo exhibit group or the Stars and Constellation exhibit (each of which was recognized with an award from the Griffith Planetarium), it’s obvious that this old online exhibits site is affected by the same image loss issues that have afflicted the online galleries (indeed, because the two systems are integrated, and the images are the same for each).

Yet Eric’s generous and Herculean effort was, even from the start, intended as a seed project that would eventually grow into a larger effort supported by the Libraries. These online galleries and exhibits were put together on a shoestring — Eric’s volunteer coding, digital photography by students and other volunteers, and an old surplussed Mac provided by the College of Arts and Sciences, located in a little office/storage closet in the Physical Sciences building. Eventually the online galleries contained more than 60,000 images. As the years went by, various migrations from one computer to another, from one campus location to another, and from one operating system to another, left its mark, as links became broken and files became corrupted. A few years ago we decided not to invest any more energy into maintaining or improving it, and it has been slipping into a slow and patient death — still appreciated, and never to be forgotten. But perhaps half of all the images in the galleries and exhibits are no longer intact.

Rather, we decided to do something better — I’m happy to say that, for the first time, the library has come into play to support the special collections by building a state of the art Islandora digital library and a new Drupal exhibits website. The new exhibit website at launched with Galileo’s World and lays a foundation for future design iteration and outreach initiatives. The Islandora digital library will open this fall (hopefully), at It is already accessible there now in beta form — many books are present, but searching and downloading are not yet enabled. Not only will the images from the old galleries be resurrected in this space, but more than 350 books digitized in high resolution by our new DigiLab are being loaded into it as well. For now, at least, the most convenient way to access it is through the Galileo’s World exhibit website ( Each exhibit page there links directly to the corresponding repository page, so we tell our students and researchers to begin by searching the exhibit website rather than the digital library itself. With each new exhibit that we launch in the future, every book displayed will automatically be designated for cover-to-cover digitization to be added to this digital library. This policy reflects the potential of exhibits in a university library to connect exhibit-based exploration with advanced research using special collections materials. For us, the new digital library is one of the chief expressions of our belief that exhibitions amplify our traditional support for research, rather than diverting us from it. The new repository will offer permanent urls, automatic data harvesting, and many other modern features. Images in very high resolution will be placed in the public domain for maximum ease in downloading and use. And, of course, search capability and a better user interface will come by and by. Update your links to the old galleries and exhibits to these new sites now, because the old sites will be going offline after comes out of beta.

As an aside, maybe we need a new abbreviation, VHR, to refer to the value of providing Very High Resolution images (200 MB and above) at no charge for visual exploration in diverse and unanticipated user scenarios? Not too many institutions are committed to doing this, and it is more difficult than one might expect. Once the repository gets past its toddler phase, it is going to be a significant advance over anything we have had before.

So what about the blog and the resources that it made available? The History of Science Collections no longer has a blog. That blog truly has gone away, as all official public content has now come under the umbrella of Many of the old blog posts remain accessible, for a while at least, here: We have no plans to maintain or revive the ouhos moniker. I’ve moved some of my old posts over to this professional blog, This blog is unofficial and I will be irregular in posting to it. As for the other resources from the old blog, they will have to find their home either in the new Islandora repository, the new exhibits website, or perhaps the ShareOK repository, which was established as a partnership with other institutions of higher education in Oklahoma. We are working through these other resources on a case-by-case basis; let us know if you questions about specific resources.

So although the present transitional time may appear rather dismal to those who are trying to access our failing digital resources of the past, the future seems to me to be very bright, as we have never before had such resources from outside the History of Science Collections devoted to making our materials available in a sustainable way. My sincere thanks to JoAnn Palmeri, in the History of Science Collections, who now manages image requests for us; to Barbara Laufersweiler, Director of the new DigiLab; to David Corbly, Director of Repository Services; to Twila Camp, Library Web Services Manager; to Carl Grant, the Libraries’ Chief Technology Officer, and above all, to Rick Luce, Dean of OU Libraries. Together, they are reinventing the Libraries’ technical capabilities. Contact us using the Employee page on the Libraries website.

Together, we are inspired and committed to special collections outreach merging physical and virtual modalities.

This entry was posted in History of Science. Bookmark the permalink.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *