Finding Images Online: Online User’s Guide to Image Searching in Cyberspace

Simon Tanner (Senior Digitisation Consultant Higher Education Digitisation Service, University of Hertfordshire)

The Electronic Library

ISSN: 0264-0473

Article publication date: 1 February 2000




Tanner, S. (2000), "Finding Images Online: Online User’s Guide to Image Searching in Cyberspace", The Electronic Library, Vol. 18 No. 1, pp. 69-75.



Emerald Group Publishing Limited

The foreword to this book says it well, “pictures are created to be looked at, and they are fulfilling their creator’s intent only when someone is looking at them”. The Internet provides unparalleled levels of access to visual resources from many potential sources. This book attempts to address the issue of finding the right images for your purpose from the deluge available. As many online images are of questionable visual quality or legal provenance a guide is a useful and necessary resource. However, like almost all books about the Internet this one is out of date (1996 publication), but the real question remains how out of date is it and how much information content remains useful today?

There are two levels operating in this reference work. First, to educate the reader in the basics of visual electronic media and the best ways to find the right picture. Second, it offers detailed evaluation and some tuition on the use of several online picture resources. The first level is quite successful and not too badly affected by the passage of time. The sections on specific resources, whilst detailed, are not very good and now so out of date as to be of low value. The overall layout is good, the text clear and the writing style friendly and engaging. There is some use of pictures throughout, but the constant use of black and white and the low reproduction quality do not make for good illustrations in a book about pictures.

The image basics level includes a useful chapter introducing basic technical issues such as resolution, scanning, file formats and compression. This is a useful starting point for the previously uninitiated. There is information lacking on newer file formats, whilst GIF and Kodak’s PhotoCD both get far more attention than they now warrant. The chapter offering a crash course in visual literacy is very interesting, giving a context to the problems of finding images online and could easily have been a much bigger section. Towards the end of the book is a section on software utilities for viewing/manipulating images. This is of no use at all today as most of the resources mentioned are either no longer available or obsolete. The section on copyright is a good introduction to the broad issues, but is quite America‐centric and other more detailed documents should be consulted rather than this resource.

The main bulk of the book is dedicated to techniques for searching and finding images, plus evaluations and guides to online resources. The chapter on selecting a place to search is good with helpful tips, case studies and the application of sound information searching principles. The chapters on general and special subject search techniques both were useful and provide a basic level introduction to these themes. The tips for finding special subjects (such as astronomy, costumes and dress, or historical images) are well thought out and easy to digest. These sections remain relevant even if the application of the techniques has moved on since the publication date.

The area that fails in this book is the evaluation and guide to online resources. The evaluations are well structured, but the content is not easily comparable and sometimes vague. For example, the coverage evaluation for Kodak Picture Exchange is based on search results (e.g. “11 pictures of Joan of Arc”) whilst Publishers Depot (Picture Network International) just states “over 350,000 images” with “10,000 added each month”. Characteristics such as “huge collection” do not help either as this is very vague and could be applied to every collection and resource evaluated. The detailed guidance/tuition on use is now extremely out of date and cannot be recommended as all the online resources have moved on to new interfaces or are now owned by other organisations. The worst criticism is the lack of coverage of the major players in the image market, i.e. Corbis and Getty Images. Corbis gets frequent passing references but no detailed evaluation. Getty Images gets almost no mention at all. These are the two biggest online resources in the world – Getty Images alone has 60 million pictures and recently has just bought out Image Bank from Eastman Kodak – to leave them out renders the evaluation section of little current value. This illustrates the difficulties inherent in writing this book in that the market for images and the Internet itself are both moving so fast as to make the printed word out of date before it ever gets read.

This work is out of date and I struggle to find a core of content that makes this a more worthwhile purchase from the many competing works. An attempt to keep the content up to date with a URL at the publishers is no longer accessible. For the complete novice this work has low value because the lack of currency would become quickly confusing. For the expert this resource does not give enough new information to be worthwhile. This work therefore falls into the uncomfortable niche of being useful for the Internet and image knowledgeable, but relatively picture searching inexperienced, to bridge the gaps in this work.

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