Wickham and Alice Skinner of St. George, Me., have provided a gift to help the University of Maine Art Department’s Visual Resources Library with the mammoth project of building a digital collection.
The VRL currently holds approximately 60,000 traditional slides as well as films and support equipment. Bringing this collection into the 21st century calls for digitizing slides, scanning and purchasing new images, installing new storage and image delivery systems, and acquiring new support equipment. New skills must be learned by all.
Creating digital versions of UMaine’s visual resources means that they will be more accessible and usable as tools for scholarship and instruction by the art department. Images will be protected from wear and tear; centrally located; and accessible to the art department’s faculty right from their desks.
“Going digital has ushered in not only more efficient and diverse approaches to organizing and obtaining information, but has quantitatively enhanced the quality of our presentations,” says Professor Susan Groce, chair of the Art Department, noting that the Skinners’ generous gift is vital to the overall success of the digitization project begun last year.
“Initiating the digital conversion has had a chain reaction throughout the department in the way that all of us prepare our lectures and presentations. Digitization of the VRL is a very worthwhile and necessary project at the core of what we do.”
Wick, who served on the University of Maine System Board of Trustees for 10 years, says he and Alice are gratified to have helped with the technology project.
“It seemed very fundamental and basic to get the art department’s images on to a digital format so they can be much more readily used by students and faculty,” he says. “It’s a teaching aid that will be used in many different courses. It will also allow students the ability to do research for their coursework.”
Resource Librarian Krista Molnar-Smith says that nowadays faculty and historians rely almost exclusively on digital images to teach art since slide films have become largely obsolete. “If we don’t preserve this collection digitally, then professors will not have teaching materials.”
Recalling the exciting new art programs and courses trustees reviewed and approved over the years, Wick says, “the considerable increase in enrollment, energy and zeal, and the tremendous progress the art department has made is very exciting. I see the art department as one of the major strengths of the University and one of its unique aspects that fits the state of Maine and its tremendous attraction to artists.”
Wick also has a personal affinity for art. An amateur painter, he is President Emeritus of the renowned Farnsworth Museum in Rockland.
Krista says the Skinners’ gift helped jump-start the digitization process and advance it faster than the department could have otherwise.
“Their generous gift was a great help, allowing us to hire a student who was dedicated solely to the digitization project.”
So far, 1,778 slides have been digitized, according to Krista, who says the complex initiative involves “not only digitizing slides, but also developing viewing, delivery and presentation systems for the images; instituting cataloguing and archiving systems; and providing and maintaining various technical equipment required for the scanning and archiving tasks, as well as equipment for faculty use in class presentation and development.”
Thanks to the Skinners’ philanthropy, the Introductory Art History Survey, one of the department’s largest classes, was taught entirely with digital images for the first time in the spring of ’08. The Survey of Art History II class will go that same route in the fall.
Krista says other goals include making the digital collection available to faculty through a website; implementing a new and more efficient database; purchasing new images for the collection; and adding equipment to accommodate a fast-growing and ever-changing field. To that end, the department aims to obtain for faculty a second portable digital projector and a second computer to use within the VRL that will contain the website of images and other helpful tools for class preparations.
“All of these changes will be ongoing, since as we all know, technology changes day by day,” she says. “However, this is what makes the project so exciting. Ultimately, it will benefit our students tremendously.”