Enabling Educational use of Museum Multimedia MEMBERSContributeUniversitySchool
How ToLibraryCommitteesDiscussionGovernanceManagementTimelineProjectsDocumentsMembershipContact Us

AMICO Users & Uses Committee

Focus Groups Studying Users and Uses of The AMICO Library

Jennifer Trant
Executive Director, Art Museum Image Consortium
December 23, 1998

Download the PDF version of this file


1. Introduction
1.1 Understanding Users
1.2 Image User Studies in Higher Education
2. Focus Groups of AMICO Users
2.1 Methods
2.2 Art Historians and Image Users
2.3 Image Collection Managers
2.4 Analysis and Reporting
3. Conclusion: Future Use of Research Results


Appendix I: AMICO Members
Appendix II: AMICO University Testbed Participants
Appendix III: AMICO Users and Uses Committee Members
Appendix IV: Moderatorās Guide for Focus Groups

1. Introduction

Enabling access to cultural heritage information over the web has become a shared goal for many cultural heritage organizations. But the organizational and economic infrastructure to support and enhance access to in-depth multimedia documentation about works of art in museum collections has kept pace neither with the technological capability nor with user demand for access to multimedia museum documentation. North American Museums have joined together to form the Art Museum Image Consortium (AMICO) to address these issues.

Between March and September 1997, staff of museums in Canada and the United States engaged in planning a consortium that would enable them, collectively, to create a digital art library for educational use. Twenty-three museums (of the 30 in the planning process) formed AMICO in October of 1997. AMICO members pay the costs of capturing the images and data as well as clearing the rights, and contribute a membership fee to the consortium that makes the library available for educational use. The twenty-three museum directors who became founding members of the AMICO Board did so because they felt that education was a significant part of their mission. They believed that working together within the consortium they could leverage their expertise and their investments in the creation of digital documentation of their collections. AMICO now has twenty-six members in North America and is discussing membership actively with other institutions in the US and abroad. Full details about AMICO and its activities can be found on our web site at

In its first year of operations, AMICO has assembled a testbed library of almost 20,000 images, developed a distribution partnership with the Research Libraries Group (RLG) to delivery The AMICO Library to higher education, launched a testbed delivery research project involving 16 university campuses, and partnered in a successful grant from the Institute of Library and Museum Services (IMLS) ö led by Indiana University/Purdue University Indianapolis ö to deliver The AMICO Library to K-12 and Public Library Users in the Indianapolis Metropolitan area.

Each of these activities tackles some of the challenges facing AMICO as we create a self-supporting distribution system for digital cultural heritage documentation. But these projects address primarily technological and organizational issues. Much still remains to be learned about the needs and expectations of users of The AMICO Library.

    1.1 Understanding Users

    Despite considerable anecdotal evidence and a few systematic studies, we still know very little about how scholars use images, and less about who uses digital images on campuses and what uses they make of them." We know little about what users identify as desirable in the technical characteristics of images themselves, their associated documentation, or the delivery systems that support their use. Nor do we know how these various inter-related factors contribute to effective use of image data. We lack cross-institutional analysis of the use of the same dataset and delivery system, and we are without longitudinal studies comparing more than a single yearās usage.

    The members of AMICO considered the study of user needs, requirements and expectations critical to the successful development and deployment of a system to provide digital art documentation to universities. They designed a system to deliver images to different groups of educational users using different non-profit and governmental "distributors". In this way AMICO hoped to facilitate input from each community to a known service provider, and to maximize the likelihood that user requirements would be met in the design of interfaces and tools for use with AMICO. As a first step, AMICO members enlisted universities and the major provider of scholarly information to research universities(RLG); we designed the "University Testbed Project" to build our understanding of this sectorās needs.

    In October 1997, AMICO issued an invitation to universities worldwide to join in the AMICO University Testbed. Participants acquired The AMICO Library a year early in order to help answer a number of questions keyed to a published set of Research Objectives (available online at These included conducting studies of users and uses. Of the universities that applied, 18 were selected to participate in the project (see Appendix II for a List of Participants. Highlights of each AMICO University Testbed Project are available at Beginning in the fall of 1998, participating universities have received access to The AMICO Library through the Research Libraries Group (RLG) and have begun to conduct research on its use. Their projects are ongoing on individual campuses, and will be reported at the close of the 1998/99 academic year.

    1.2 Image User Studies in Higher Education

    The Art Museum Image Consortium proposes to build upon the institutionally-based research during the University Testbed Project, with a series of coordinated activities designed to develop a shared understanding of the needs of users and issues in the uses of digital images in the arts and humanities. We will analyze and document users and uses of The AMICO Library during the second semester of the academic year 1998/9 (beginning January 1999 through June 1999. AMICO-let activities will supplement and enhance the single campus studies, gathering inter-institutional data.

    The focus of this proposal is two in-depth focus groups to be conducted with academic users and image managers to identify their anticipated needs and expected requirements. The overall project will be coordinated by AMICOās staff: Jennifer Trant, Executive Director, and David Bearman, Director of Strategy and Research, Laura Shelley, Member/Client Services Coordinator, and Brad Dietrich, Technical Coordinator. The Focus Groups will be led by Jennifer Trant and David Bearman (Curriculum Vitae appended). Trant and Bearman are experienced group leaders with a wide range of experience in planning, consensus building and group facilitation. As examples, Trant ran the series of disciplinary review meetings for the Art Information Task Forceās Categories for the Description of Works of Art. Bearman facilitated a series of meetings of Museum Directors, designed to provide input into the strategic planning of the Canadian Heritage Information Network. Together, they facilitated the planning of the Art Museum Image Consortium.

2. Focus Groups of AMICO Users

First hand contact with users of The AMICO Library is invaluable for building our understanding of their needs and expectations. In February-March 1998, staff of AMICO member institutions and AMICO staff attended the College Art Association (CAA) and Visual Resources Association (VRA) meetings in Toronto and Philadelphia and gleaned valuable informal insights from attendees. We realized then that AMICO could benefit substantially from a more systematic collection of user requirements and desires through focus groups of academic users.

AMICO plans to hold two user group meetings, one of instructors and one of visual resource curators, in conjunction with the College Art Association (CAA) and Visual Resources Association (VRA) annual meetings in Los Angeles, in February 1999. Historically we have found differing priorities and requirements from those who are tasked with maintaining collections of visual resources for use on academic campuses and those who use these resources in their teaching and study. As The AMICO Library will have to meet both these requirements, we propose two separate groups, to allow these needs to be probed in depth.

    2.1 Methods

    Focus groups research provides the best method for obtaining in-depth, comparable, qualitative data from a target population. Because the participants are expecting to spend a substantial amount of time many more questions can be asked and much more common context can be established than is the case in traditional survey research. Focus groups often provide far more information than surveys, and can be used to complement them. Because the group is together, individuals can all answer questions first in the way that they would if they were alone, and then through discussion within the group, move towards common ranking or consensus in their responses, or identify areas of real differences of opinion when these are present. As a consequence, first impressions and biases can be captured, but final opinions can also be obtained which are more carefully considered and dependable. Because participants can observe various options closely, and then rank them, they can provide valuable feedback about choices that are being considered.

    The focus groups in this study will be facilitated by Jennifer Trant, David Bearman; selected members of the AMICO Users and Uses Committee (listed in Appendix III) will be present as recorders. The User and Uses Committee as a whole will be involved in advance in finalizing the research questions and Moderatorsā Guide (the latest draft of which is attached as Appendix IV).

    Each user group will meet for a three hour session. They would receive a brief introduction to The AMICO Library, and then would be asked to address specific questions which are correlated with concrete decisions facing AMICO members in the evolution of The AMICO Library. Further questions will be based on those asked of the MESL Focus Groups.

    Sessions will be videotaped. Following each session, video tapes would be transcribed. These transcripts, along with preliminary insights from the MANAGEMENT and Users and Uses Committee Representatives would be circulated to the full AMICO User and Uses Committee. A full day meeting of the Committee will be held in conjunction with the American Association of Museums annual meeting, to analyze the result and determine their implications for the way The AMICO Library is compiled, edited and delivered in 1999/2000 and beyond.

    The day would be planned so that one focus group met in the morning, and the second in the afternoon. Lunch would be served to the morning group to enable some personal networking time and follow on discussion. Refreshments will be served to the afternoon group to encourage the same. In a follow-up exercise, the entire group would participate in a Delphi ranking exercise, based on a section of the MESL Instructor Survey. Participants would be asked to rank a set of functions and content that could be included in a future image database.

    2.2 Art Historians and Image Users

    Invitees to the CAA focus group would be members of the art history faculty of twelve universities - six with experience of the AMICO Testbed Library and six without. (Each University Testbed participant will be asked to identify a pool of possible participants from outside the testbed.) The three hour session would be divided into six segments of approximately half an hour each.

    A. Introduction to AMICO and The AMICO Library (what is it, isn't it)

    Focused questions: What would make AMICO Library most valuable to the faculty?
    B. Content (Collections Development and Documentation)
    C. Rights (How they can best be administered)
    D. Delivery Service (With an emphasis on uses by faculty)
    E. Tools (Imagining and ranking future features)

    Wrap-up discussion
    F. Experiences and Expectations, Opportunities and Barriers

    2.3 Image Collection Managers

    Invitees to the VRA focus group would be visual resource curators from twelve different universities. As with the art historians, they would be drawn half from institutions with access to The AMICO Library and half from institutions without. (Each University Testbed participant will be asked to identify a pool of possible participants from outside the testbed.) The Visual Resources focus group will also be divided into roughly thirty minute segments, but will address a slightly different set of issues:

    1) Introduction to AMICO and The AMICO Library (what is it, isn't it)

    Focused questions: What would make AMICO Library most valuable to Visual Resources
    Curators and their clientele?
    2) Content (Collections Development and Documentation)
    3) Rights (How they can best be administered?)
    4) Delivery Service (and integration into current resources)
    5) Tools ( Imagining and ranking future features)

    Wrap-up discussion
    6) Experiences and Expectations, Opportunities and Barriers

    Full details of the questions to be asked and issues to be explored can be found in Appendix IV, the Moderatorsā Guide.

    2.4 Analysis and Reporting

    The tapes of the focus groups will be transcribed, coded and analyzed, and the individual surveys coded and tabulated. The two will then be compared and analyzed in order to draw out critical factors that will influence the development of The AMICO Library. These results will also be compared to those of the MESL Evaluation projects mentioned.

    The AMICO Users and Uses Committee will hold a one-day meeting, in association with the American Association of Museums Annual Meeting) to review a preliminary analysis of the results. This group will discuss preliminary conclusions, and will provide direction for further analysis of the transcripts and survey responses.

    Although it is not traditional to do so, the results of these focus groups will be reported (all data will be anonymized) both to AMICO Members and University Testbed Participants, and to the general community. As interest in these issues is high, the moderators of the focus groups will use the results to author an article on requirements and desires for the development of digital art libraries. We hope that the communication of the results will aid others making decisions similar to those of AMICO.

3. Conclusion: Future Use of Research Results

A solid understanding of the users and uses of networked museum multimedia documentation is critical. Not knowing the requirements and desires of our educational users, museums are making expensive "shots in the dark" as they digitize and distribute information about their collections. AMICO will use its University Testbed Project to lay concrete groundwork for future activities. By identifying the priorities of one of our prime user populations ö the academic and research community ö we will be able to schedule the developments and enhancements of The AMICO Library and the its distribution systems, to meet their needs.

Strong user data will also be of great help to AMICO as it develops the Technical Advisory Service requested by its members. We cannot develop digitization guidelines and best practices in a vacuum. Our use of technology, and our distribution of information must be based on real requirements if our investments are to be cost effective. AMICO will use the results of these user studies to inform its future project: the definition of Best Practices for Museum Digital Documentation and Image Digitization. Many museums are crying out for guidance in the digital capture of images and in the conversion of textual documents. AMICO can help them to make appropriate choices, based on an established body of practice and a strong knowledge of the functions and purposes that the art museum community wishes to fulfill with its digital multimedia documentation. The focus group study outlined in this proposal is one of several research efforts that will provide needed background information to ensure that museum digital documentation is captured and delivered in manners suited to the needs and desires of educational users, helping AMICO to fulfill its mission of enabling educational use of museum multimedia.

Last modified on