Reviewed April 2017
Lindsey Gumb, Instructional Technology Librarian
Roger Williams University
The Medieval Kingdom of Sicily Image Database is a robust digital archive, housing a collection of images of medieval monuments and cities within the Kingdom of Sicily, which have been affected over time by factors such as urban expansion, earthquakes, war and restoration. This web-based image database is a result of a Collaborative Research Grant from the National Endowment for the Humanities, and was also supported by Duke University and Hertziana Library. Because it’s a web-based database, no software is needed to operate it: just an Internet connection and a web browser. Visitors to the site are not required to create an account in order to access the complete resource; however, this lack of personal account function denies the user the opportunity to customize the resource or to bookmark, organize or export lists of any kind for their own personal research or scholarship.
As with any database, locating records is perhaps the single most important feature for the end user. The search interface of the Medieval Kingdom of Sicily Image Database is coherent and intuitive, and users can conduct a “quick image search” via the search bar at the top of the page (present in a location on a webpage that is consistent with web design users are accustomed to). A quick search using keywords will generate a non-targeted search, and search across all metadata fields. For users seeking a more targeted search, the Advanced Search offers the ability to limit and refine by metadata field and also include boolean logic. To accompany the Advanced Search is the “Using this site” page, which thoroughly explains how to fully take advantage of the search functionality. This page isn’t necessary for the casual searcher to review, but serious scholars will want to acquaint themselves with the provided tips such as using the Italian place name for sites instead of the English, when they differ (e.g. Napoli instead of Naples). The Browse & Search tab allows users to alphabetically browse images by “Cities & Sites,” “Artist/Creator,” or “Collection,” which is a great feature for users who want a more broad overview, however, searching by “Collection” could be improved by displaying the amount of images comprising each collection on the results page, instead of just the collection name, city and country. In addition to providing users with an interface that is intuitive and returns accurate results, this database also effectively incorporates linked data for most held records from outside sources such as Google Images and Google Maps. This linked data feature allows users to “further facilitate exploration and research,” allowing them to identify geographical relationships amongst records.
The existence of both a detailed “Contact us” and “About” page is a clear indication that the developers of this database stand behind their work. It is very easy for visitors to get in touch with a real person depending on the area of help being sought: general, scholarly, or website functionality inquiries. It gives researchers not only the peace of mind knowing that the metadata and research is sound, but also that if any questions arise, there are actual people behind the scenes whom may be able to assist. There’s also a great crowdsourcing feature on each record page, which allows users to send the developers additional metadata pertaining to the image. When the user clicks on the link, the contact form is auto populated with the appropriate record number, which is a small but very thoughtful detail that ultimately benefits both the user and the team editing the records behind the scenes. This feature is not only useful for the end-user, but it is also useful for the team.
One of the most attractive features of this image database is that it utilizes a simple and clean design. With limited graphics (other than the image records) the database offers researchers a no-nonsense, easy-to-navigate interface that is freely accessible to all levels of researchers. This resource would be particularly interesting to use in an undergraduate architecture or art history course, where students can interact with specific artists or collections. However, users are unable to create personal accounts to customize the resource, nor are they able to download high-resolution copies of the images represented in this database. The resource itself is otherwise extremely valuable and a wonderful contribution to the documentation of this unique geographic “melting pot of artistic and architectural concepts,” that once was the Medieval Kingdom of Sicily. There will always be pros and cons about a database that is web-based, but The Medieval Kingdom of Sicily Image Database really takes advantage of a robust search interface and linked data, both features, which have the ability to take research to the next level.