Web Magazine for Information Professionals


Ruth Glynn outlines the HELIX project, one of the new Images projects from the eLib programme.

Image collections and resources are of immense importance for research, teaching and learning across a wide spectrum of subject areas. Images may be the primary research material or may inform and enrich research which is principally text based or experimental in nature. Research carried out over the last three or four years had addressed many of the problems associated with digitization, indexing and retrieval, distribution, staffing and management issues, and problems concerned with copyright and access controls. De Montfort University was commissioned by the JISC to investigate the needs of the UK Higher Education community in relation to the digital storage and network delivery of image-based information. The final report, "Proposal for an Image Data Resource Service", can be obtained from JISC.

The aim

HELIX is a two-year project and it started on 1 April 1996.

The aim of the HELIX project is to build on the prototyping work already carried out in the EC-funded project ELISE I, helping to create substantial and useful operational image banks, delivering images to universities throughout the UK. The final database will enable access to some 45,000 "general" images, and a special sub-collection of a further 7,000 images. This substantial body of image-resource content will be based on distributed image banks held in each of the partner organizations.

The project is to achieve this within a technical framework that uses recognized standards which will be hospitable to the incorporation of further image banks, both nationally and internationally.

The "sub-collection" of 7,000 images referred to above will be part of the module presenting a cohesive set of materials describing the Social and Political History of Britain from 1859 to the present day (SPHB).

The deliverables

The project work has been divided into six phases, in each of which activities appropriate to an electronic project of this size are distinguished. The key tasks will involve establishing mechanisms for interrogating the different databases in a uniform way following accepted standards and state-of-the-art technology, and implementing those via SuperJanet. Retrieval software, interconnection technologies and a user interface will be defined and put in place. Partners will be trained as necessary, although it is acknowledged that much expertise already exists at one or other of the partner sites and that this knowledge can be usefully transferred or exploited via the regular project meetings, or additional visits as appropriate.

Over the two-year period assigned to the HELIX project, the number of images digitized at each site will obviously gradually increase. Only when a sufficiently large critical mass is available will certain specifications for the retrieval software and interface design be able to be finalized. Each site must have 5,000 images digitized by the end of the first year (the end of March 1997).

A manual of good practice for the implementation and management of image banks is to be prepared, and a suitable licence agreement between the partners collectively is to be drawn up.

The Social and Political History module will offer a package of materials as a teaching and research resource which will act as a 'proof of concept' for others wishing to develop similar products.

Who's involved?

The lead partner is the International Institute for Electronic Library Research (IIELR) at De Montfort University (DMU), with St Andrews University Library (SAUL) and the Hulton Getty Picture Collection (HGPC) as the other participants.

De Montfort University
DMU is well known for its electronic library and image retrieval research, with an enviable record in projects funded by the British Library, IBM, Elsevier, the European Commission and with a long history of providing national HE services throughout CHEST. DMU hosts the National Art Slide Library (formerly at the Victoria and Albert Museum, London), 15,000 images from which will be contributed to the HELIX project, and is experienced in multimedia design and the co-ordination of large-scale and complex projects (such as ELISE I, which produced a prototype for international interconnection of image banks).

St Andrews University Library
SAUL is host to the Valentine Photographic Archive, entrusted to the University Library by the famous photographic and postcard company of James Valentine of Dundee, as well as to other archival photographic materials. The complete surviving archive, spanning 100 years of British History, consists of some 100,000 negatives and 200,000 reference prints. The archive's importance as a record of British Life, leisure, architecture, townscapes and landscapes is considerable. The HELIX project seeks to improve knowledge of and familiarity with its content and to this end 15,000 images will be made available via HELIX.

The Hulton Getty Picture Collection
The Hulton Getty Picture Collection (formerly the Hulton Deutsch Archive) scarcely needs an introduction. Based in London, this collection is universally acknowledged as the greastest library of photojournalism in the world. The collection comprises in excess of 15 million photographs, prints and engravings, including the work of such famous names as Keystone, Picture Post, Fox and Central Press. More recently, the HGPC became responsible for the management of Mirror Syndication International and for the digital archiving of the Reuters News Picture Service; it has published several CD-ROMs covering evocative images of a selection of decades from the twentieth century. HGPC is also co-operating in RACE project called MEDIATOR, which involves the production of a digital newspaper. From its vast archival collection, the HGPC is contributing 15,000 images for the main HELIX database and another 7,000 images for a module covering the Social and Political History of Britain from 1859 to the present day (SPHB).


Project Director: Professor Marilyn Deegan, Co-Director IIELR,
De Montfort University, Hammerwood Gate, Milton Keynes MK7 6HP; tel. +44 1908 695511, fax +44 1908 834929;

Project Manager: Dr Ruth Glynn, IIELR,
De Montfort University, Hammerwood Gate, Milton Keynes MK7 6HP; tel. +44 1908 695511, fax +44 1908 834929;