Library digitizes theater pics

The Library of Congress recently finished digitizing 2,000 images from its Federal
Theatre Project collection, using IBM Corp.'s Digital Library software suite and a special
scanning network.

Visitors to the World Wide Web site at
can view scripts, set designs and posters from federally sponsored Depression-era theater
productions of Macbeth, Dr. Faustus and Power.

The project was a test bed for putting more of the library's vast holdings online. The
National Digital Library Program had set a goal of digitizing 5 million images by 2000. So
far, only about 14,000 images are digital, because current tools have been inadequate for
the many media types and for efficient management of large files.

"The concept of a digital library is not new, but a standard, scalable,
commercially available product to support this type of system does not exist,"
library officials concluded in their report on the Federal Theatre Project.

The Web site, which has grayscale and color images, provides direct access to
high-quality, uncompressed images on an IBM RS/6000 server. But IBM's Digital Library is
not the answer to putting the library's objects online, said Herbert Becker, director of
information technology systems.

"I don't think we will be using it further at this point," he said.

Becker said he planned to visit IBM developers to evaluate new releases of the Digital
Library software. Unless the components for processing and loading images onto servers are
more closely integrated, the process is too labor-intensive for the millions of images the
library plans to digitize, he said.

Willy Chiu, director of IBM Digital Library, called the Federal Theatre Project a major
test for the suite. He said IBM will continue working with the library and universities to
develop data-modeling capabilities.

IBM approached the library in 1995 about a real-world evaluation of the suite. Three
plays from the Federal Theatre Project collection were selected as a test because of
scholars' interest and the wide range of media types--manuscripts, posters, photographic
negatives and printed material.

Material now online from Orson Welles' 1936 production of Macbeth in New York, for
example, includes the 88-page production notebook, eight pages of lighting cues, 147
photos, six pages of costume designs, two pages of set designs and a two-page playbill.

There are other images from productions in Los Angeles, Hartford and Bridgeport, Conn.,
Indianapolis, Boston, Dallas, Cincinnati and Brooklyn, N.Y.

The Digital Library setup included a Pro/3000 high-resolution scanner with a PS/2
system running OS/2 and an IBM scanning application. The scanner and workstation were
connected by IBM LAN Requester, a non-TCP/IP Token-Ring protocol. The scanning LAN was
isolated from the library's TCP/IP network.

The image database subsystem consists of the VisualInfo Library Server, a relational
database server that manages catalog information and pointers to image objects, and the
VisualInfo Object Server, which manages the objects.

The library and object server software run on separate RS/6000 servers.

Scanned images were captured on CD-ROM for loading onto the library server and

The library's Internet gateway runs on a third RS/6000 server, receiving and
translating Hypertext Transfer Protocol object requests. All the RS/6000 servers run the
AIX operating system.

Low-cost, direct-access storage enabled the library to mount the theater collections on
the Web without compression. Chiu described the RS/6000 machines holding the images as
"middle of the road," but Becker said the architecture can expand to serve most
of the library's needs.

"We believe we can do a much larger database with the RS/6000 platform,"
Becker said. "We don't see that as a limitation any time in the near future."

However, large collections of uncompressed data are not the universal answer for the
National Digital Library Program. A recently mounted online collection of historic maps
resides on Hewlett-Packard Co. HP 9000 servers.

It uses Multiresolution Seamless Image Database software from LizardTech Inc. of Los
Alamos, N.M., to decompress images on the server so viewers can zoom in to any point on a
map [GCN, June 30, Page 22].

"We have been using that on an experimental basis," Becker said. LizardTech
is working on a browser plug-in that offloads decompression chores to the client, he said.

About the Author

William Jackson is a Maryland-based freelance writer.

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