J. Paul Getty Trust 2014 Report

Getty Publications


At its most basic, the act of book publishing is simply that of "making public" important and inspiring works of authorship. It is a publisher's job to identify these works, develop them with careful editing and design, and then put them out into the world and work their hardest to make sure they find their readers. This is a mission the Getty has been pursuing since its very earliest days as an institution, beginning in 1954 with a small, illustrated guidebook to the collection. In the years to follow, the Getty would publish expanded and specialty versions of the guidebook; two volumes of a museum bulletin, in 1957 and 1959; and a few years later, its first collection-focused study on the Lansdowne Herakles. Getty Publications (as it came to be called beginning in 2001) has been publishing steadily ever since and now has a backlist catalogue of some seven hundred books and journals, including titles from the Museum, the Getty Conservation Institute (GCI), and the Getty Research Institute (GRI). In January 2014, the Getty began offering free online access to nearly one-third of those titles through its new Virtual Library. This initiative is the result of a yearlong, multi departmental effort, but the thinking behind it began almost thirty years ago.

 In 1986, a collaborative study was undertaken by the Getty's Art History Information Program and Brown University's Institute for Research in Information and Scholarship to explore the research methods of art historians, and to gauge the profession's future needs. In assessing the digital world of the time, the final report on the study (Object, Image, Inquiry: The Art Historian at Work, published by the Getty in 1988) offers a section titled "Wish List."

Quoting the scholars themselves:

We would love to be able to call forth and look at the table of contents of the new periodicals and the old ones. I'd love to be able to punch a button and get the table of contents of Pantheon, 1929, for instance, and just go through them.

Access to libraries should be as automatic as possible. If I had a computer on my desk where I could read the [catalogue of the] whole library system, that would help me a lot.

The major thing is really... open access... to different kinds of information—free, if possible. Internecine academic rivalry could be gotten around if people had equal access to books, because access is power.

The powerful potential of universal access to digital information was being imagined, and in less than two decades, would be a reality—not only for scholars of art and art history but for people in all fields, professional and amateur alike. It was the internet, and the preferred method for navigating it has proven to be the search engine.

 By 2012, 91 percent of adult internet users were using search engines regularly, and 91 percent of that group said they "always or most of the time find the information they are seeking." Further, an overwhelming 94 percent of teachers of middle and high school students reported that their teenage students were "very likely" to use Google for research, while only 18 percent said the same for print or electronic textbooks. If people are employing online searches to find the majority of what they are looking for, then for all intents and purposes the adage—as quoted here from UbuWeb founder Kenneth Goldsmith—is true: "If it doesn't exist on the Internet, it doesn't exist."

Yet despite users' increasing reliance on the internet as an all-encompassing source of information, one thing that at first couldn't be found there in any substantial way was books. From a December 2003 article in Wired magazine:

It's still shockingly difficult to find information buried in books. Even as the Internet has revived hope of a universal library and Google seems to promise an answer to every query, books have remained a dark region in the universe of information. We want books to be as accessible and searchable as the Web.

The first step in sharing books online and making them searchable is to scan and digitize them. Wholesale book digitization really took off in 2001, when Amazon.com debuted its "Look Inside the Book" program, followed by "Search Inside the Book," which launched in 2003 with 120,000 fully scanned books. Google soon followed with what is now called Google Books, launched in 2004, which ten years later is estimated to exceed thirty million digitized books. Over this same time period, the nonprofit Internet Archive has also been digitizing and collecting, and its online library has surpassed 4.4 million volumes.

In the spring of 2011, printed copies of the bulk of the Getty's catalog of books were shipped to a scanning facility, digitized, and uploaded into the Google Books system. As with most copyrighted, recent works from other publishers, the Getty titles were scanned in their entirety and can be fully searched, but for both legal and economic reasons, internet users are limited to a preview of only a portion of any one book. For readers and researchers, the benefits of having the contents of centuries of books just a few clicks away are many. However, issues with excessive duplications, spotty quality control, and inconsistent metadata handling are increasingly cropping up within the vast quantity of literature that is being brought online through Google and elsewhere.

In January 2014, seeking to further expand the distribution and discoverability of our books and to address some of the current issues with other book digitization projects, Getty Publications launched its Virtual Library. The website (www.getty.edu/publications/virtuallibrary) is a public, online repository containing high-quality PDF facsimiles of 277 of its backlist books from the Museum, the GRI, and the GCI. The books are free to read online in their entirety, as well as to download, and links are provided to find a print copy in a library and to buy one at the Getty Store when available.

The Virtual Library takes the idea of book digitization and online library building a step further. All of the nearly three hundred books were rescanned to exacting specifications, which included color correcting, checking images, and making the text fully searchable with optical character recognition (OCR) technology. The earliest book selected for inclusion is from 1954 and the most recent from 2013. None are in the public domain, so each title required careful research on the status of its text and image rights. An intensive twelve-month process of cataloguing, metadata collection, and site building brought the books under a common search scheme that would allow users to better find the books they sought. The result of a fruitful collaboration between Publications, the Web Group, and staff from across the Trust, the project was inspired by similar efforts, such as LACMA's Reading Room, MetPublications, and the GCI's own online library of selected PDF books, the first of which were posted in 2001. As featured in the weekly e-newsletter of Fine Art Connoisseur:

Continuing a bold effort to democratize its art and scholarship, the Getty has made hundreds of publications available to the art-loving public online… Many of these titles are out of print, making their public accessibility an even more important revelation.

Within the first week of its launch, 57,000 people had visited the Virtual Library online and performed 93,000 searches. In all, this was the second biggest week of web traffic for the Getty in the preceding twelve-month period, behind only the launch of the Open Content program. Nearly 70 percent of visitors to the Virtual Library were new to the Getty site, and 63 percent were international, representing 172 different countries, a percentage of international visitorship nearly twice that of the Getty site overall.

While the Getty's print books have long been fortunate enough to reach an international audience, digital distribution through the Virtual Library widens this scope even further. For example, the GRI's 1988 translation of Otto Wagner's Modern Architecture is no longer sold in stores, and print copies of the book are available in the libraries of twenty-eight different countries. In the six months following the launch of the Virtual Library, individuals in thirteen additional countries—including Russia, Thailand, and Peru—had downloaded their own copy of the book. In all, 117 copies have been downloaded in the United States and 634 copies internationally.

This increased distribution has trickled through every title so far made available, one copy at a time, to every corner of the globe. A visitor to the Virtual Library from Nairobi, Kenya, found a copy of the GRI's Introduction to Archival Organization and Description; someone in Sao Paulo, Brazil, found Cézanne in the Studio: Still Life in Watercolors from the Museum; and in Chennai, India, The Conservation of the Orpheus Mosaic at Paphos, Cyprus and Art and Eternity: The Nefertari Wall Paintings Conservation Project from the GCI were downloaded.

The new level of access to art and scholarship that the Virtual Library affords isn't limited only to the Virtual Library site itself. The titles can be found through a number of external repositories, including Google Books and the Getty Portal, which was launched in 2012 and now includes 32,245 records linking to full, digitized art historical books, journals, rare books, exhibition catalogues, auction sales catalogues, and related literature—all in the public domain or otherwise freely available. In collaboration with staff at the GRI, MARC records for the Virtual Library have also been made available to libraries worldwide. These machine-readable cataloguing records allow any library to easily add Virtual Library books to their own catalog. So, no matter where they are, when library patrons find a book they are interested in reading that is available through the Virtual Library, a link takes them directly from their local library to the Getty where they can download it.

Expanding digital distribution outlets for books also enhances their discoverability. The more places a book can be found online and the greater the portion of it that is available, the easier it is going to be for readers to find it. In fact, done correctly, not only will readers who are looking for the book find it more quickly, it will also be more likely to surface for readers who may not know exactly what it is they are looking for. Not only are readers from academic and professional circles finding and reading Getty books, readers from a large, and notably diverse cross section of the Internet are discovering things they perhaps never would have come into contact with.

 The idea of surfacing difficult-to-find work, of making available again what has been lost or forgotten, is a key benefit of projects like the Getty's Virtual Library. A prime example of this is Julia Margaret Cameron: The Complete Photographs, published by the Getty in 2003. The book was the culmination of three decades of research, involved hundreds of people, and took thousands of hours to produce. It is nearly six hundred pages and contains more than one thousand images. The publication coincided with an important exhibition of Cameron's work, which was presented at two museums in the United Kingdom before opening at the Getty Museum in October of 2003. The book was well received critically and sold out its first printing in just a few years. Unfortunately the considerable scope of the project made it a poor candidate for reprinting. A decade later, Julia Margaret Cameron: The Complete Photographs remained the only complete record of the artist's work but could only be found in mostly academic and art-specialty libraries, or as a used copy selling online for upwards of five hundred dollars. With the Virtual Library, it is now instantly available, to a global audience, for free.

In the six months following the launch of the Virtual Library, Julia Margaret Cameron: The Complete Photographs—which is featured on the site's landing page and is one of the most popular books there—has been downloaded 4,072 times, almost double its total print run. There have also been 4,514 clicks to read the book online through Google Books and 135 clicks to find a print copy in a library. Of the thousands who have downloaded the book, 77.3 percent were international readers, representing 43 different countries. This book, described in a review as "a sumptuously presented monument of scholarship," found success when it was published in print eleven years ago, and now can reach an even broader audience.

If the act of book publishing is that of "making public" important and inspiring works of authorship, the Virtual Library is "making public" on a powerful new scale. Based on the evolving needs of readers and a history of book cataloguing and digitization efforts, the Virtual Library complements and extends the Getty's important sixty-year tradition of print publishing. It ensures that Getty books will continue to reach readers wherever they are and for years to come. In its first six months alone, the Virtual Library has served 300,000 visitors, from 170 countries, who have downloaded 120,000 books—and counting.

Looking to the future, the Virtual Library will serve as a jumping-off point in conceptualizing and creating an even further expanded online publications repository. Imagine a home page for every Getty publication, where readers can find not only high-quality free digital access to many out-of-print titles, but also buying, borrowing, and previewing options for every other Getty publication, past and future, print and digital.