At his demo of the IA BookReader at the recent Books in Browsers conference, Mike Ang said about the new BookReader thumbnail view — “We think this is one example where the digital book has some advantages over the printed one.” Mike was talking particularly about the ability of  the thumbnail view to give a unique overview of a book’s contents. I came across an example that shows the usefulness of this, described below.

On the top frame of the graphic at left is a shot from the personal copy of a book by Isaac Newton that has his own personal annotations in the margins, that’s described in IA staffer George Oates’s blog article — This sounded interesting when I read it, but the article didn’t have a link or page number where the annotation in the example appeared in the book. So I searched for the book in IA, and I was able to visually scan through it quickly to find the annotation, using the thumbnail view, as shown in the bottom frame at left.

This simple little example fits in nicely with the idea I’ve discussed in several articles on this blog, that thumbnails are invaluable especially in books that contain non-textual material — In the examples I’ve blogged about previously, this has been illustrations, but marginalia also fits nicely into this category.

A few more details on the Newton example — The close-up of the text (top frame) is from a set of Oates’ slides (#24) about the project; it’s also in her article linked above. As mentioned, although these sources have nice detail about the unusual Newton treasure, neither has a specific link to the occurrence or page number of the annotation shown. The IA record for the book has a note saying “Includes Issac Newton’s handwritten notations,” but doesn’t say exactly where they occur. It turns out that the annotation is on page 73.

Eric Rumsey is at: eric-rumsey AttSign uiowa dott edu and on Twitter @ericrumsey

Internet Archive (IA) has long had an excellent “thumbnail view” of book pages, in the DjVu format, which I described two years ago as being arguably superior to Google Books for viewing books with a lot of illustrations. In April of this year, IA announced an additional thumbnail view, as part of their BookReader format, which I think is even better than the DjVu format. As with the DjVu format, however, getting to the BookReader thumbnail view is a bit tricky for the user. The steps are shown in the graphic below, starting at left on the IA book home/details page. The first step is to click “Read Online” at the top of the list of formats (some books in IA don’t currently have a BookReader version, in which case the “Read Online” link doesn’t appear). The next step, in the middle shot, is to click the rather inconspicuous grid-shaped icon in the top menu bar to view thumbnails.

It would be to the benefit of the Internet Archive project to make their excellent thumbnail views — DjVu and now BookReader thumbnails — easier to find. As I reported recently, Google IS finding IA versions of books, along with its own Google Books versions. And significantly, Google is often choosing to link to the DjVu format, out of the many different formats available in IA. I suspect this is because Google “has a nose for” anything that smells like it’s related to pictures (which I’ve experienced with Hardin MD picture searching for many years).

So, in closing, I’d suggest that the people at Internet Archive do some creative Search Engine Optimization (SEO), which the IA’s Peter Brantley suggested eloquently for libraries a couple of years ago — A bit of tweaking of IA pages might help Google to “find the (graphic) jewels” that they contain — The thumbnail views and formats that the world is looking for!

Finally, I can’t resist adding a BookReader thumbnail example from an elegant 19th century series of botanical prints — Click the screenshot to feast your eyes on more:

Eric Rumsey is at: eric-rumsey AttSign uiowa dott edu and on Twitter @ericrumsey

Hardin MD Gallery pages’ simple design makes them intrinsically mobile-friendly. They work especially well on an iPhone because they fit well on the screen, as described below. To go to Hardin MD Mobile click logo:

In the rest of this article, I’ll discuss and illustrate why Hardin MD Galleries are especially usable on an iPhone. I’ll also discuss the process of mobilizing Hardin MD, describe which galleries are most usable on a mobile device now, and talk some about future development.

We’ve been pleased to realize that Hardin MD galleries work especially well on an iPhone because most images  have a similar aspect-ratio to the iPhone — 1:1.5 — which is relatively unusual for a computer screen, though very common in photography (4″x6″ snapshots).

We didn’t plan it that way, but it happens that most of the images in Hardin MD are about 720 x 480 pixels (the same 1:1.5 aspect ratio as the iPhone), in landscape orientation. So, as shown in the screenshots at left, Hardin MD images fit nicely on the iPhone screen in landscape view.

Most of the individual disease/condition galleries in HMD are fairly usable on a mobile device as they are, although the navigational thumbnail images for some are rather poor. The weakest aspect of mobile-usability is the broad-grouping super-gallery thumbnail directories — Thumbnails work well for individual galleries of pictures on a particular disease condition, but they don’t work so well for super-galleries, which have several different diseases. So we’ll be making scrolling-list menus, which work well on an iPhone, for the broad topic groups, as we work on improving the mobile navigation of the individual galleries within each group. For now, the first broad-group menu is public-domain, free-to-copy galleries.

Other super-galleries, for which we’ll make mobile menus in the future are:

Besides working to improve the mobile-accessibility of super-galleries, we’ll also be trying out a second type of mobile access for individual galleries, by putting pictures in a WordPress blog — WordPress (with a wide array of smart plugins) does a wonderful job in displaying pictures on blog pages, especially because it’s so smart in handling portrait and landscape orientation. The nice fit of Hardin MD images on an iPhone screen, described above for existing galleries, also works well in a WordPress blog. Our first one is here >> Measles pictures from CDC

Eric Rumsey is at: eric-rumsey AttSign uiowa dott edu and on Twitter @ericrumsey

The recently announced addition of thumbnail navigation to Google Book Search is, unfortunately, only available for full-view. But all magazines in GBS are full-view, so thumbnails are especially useful for them, since [because] they have so many pictures. To use thumnails, go to Read this Magazine (or Book), and click the 4-square grid in the top row of icons (shaded below).

There are relatively few public-domain, full-view books with pictures in GBS, but thumbnail view is valuable for them, to get a quick overview of the proportion and nature of the pictures, as shown in the example below.

Until now, books with pictures, especially color pictures, have been a relatively small part of Google Books. But the addition of highly visual, popular magazines changes this — The titles added so far are filled with pictures!

On one level, more pictures in Google Books is gratifying — a theme of this blog! But the navigation/search capabilities for finding these pictures is limited. The best way seems to be to use Advanced Search and limit the search to Magazines. But the results listing for this is text-only. It would be much easier to search for pictures with the sort of thumbnail search results interface that’s used in Google Image Search.

In light of the launching of picture-laden magazines as part of Google Books, it’s interesting to note that only last month, Google launched Life magazine pictures, as part of Google Image Search. Google is facing the same choice that librarians have been considering for the last while — Should books (or magazines) that have many pictures be considered mainly as books that happen to have pictures, or as pictures that happen to be in books?

The pictures & links below are from magazines that are in Google Books. I’ve chosen them because I know from work on Hardin MD that they are on highly-searched subjects, which would likely appear in Google Image Search if they were crawlable.

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I wrote last week about the DjVu format that’s among the formats supported by Internet Archive, and why it’s so good for displaying books with pictures. In this post, I’ll detail how to take advantage of DjVu’s picture-viewing capabilities.

For the most part, DjVu is well-documented. It’s widely acknowledged that the DjVu format excels in the online presentation of images/pictures, when compared with PDF, but this is not emphasized as much as it should be. In most discussions of eBooks, the emphasis is on text, and pictures are an afterthought.

This under-emphasis of commentators about the capability of DjVu in presenting books with pictures/images is perhaps related to the fact that the DjVu system itself has surprising design lapses that make it hard for the user to intuit the system’s graphic capabilities.

DjVuThese powerful graphic features are especially related to use of thumbnails, which are much of what makes DjVu so useful for viewing books with pictures.

The thumbnail bar, shown to the left, is the key to navigating the pages of a book. The first hurdle in using this is that, oddly, the default display when a book is first displayed does not show the thumbnail bar. To turn it on, the user has to click the Show/hide thumbnail icon, which hides inconspicuously on the far right side of the toolbar. Turning on the thumbnail bar display can also be done by right clicking anywhere and choosing Layout – Thumbnails (In another odd, unaccountable oversight, the Show/hide thumbnail icon does not appear at all on the toolbar in the Macintosh -Safari version of DjVu, and the user has to use the right-click [or CTRL key] option to turn it on.)

DjVu
The default display of the  thumbnail bar is quite small, so the next step in using it to get a better view of page contents is to enlarge the size of thumbnail images, by dragging the mouse, as shown at left.

The thumbnail bar works smoothly — Thumbnails are loaded rapidly as the user scrolls down to see more. Surprisingly the speed of loading seems to be little affected when the size of thumbnails is enlarged. It’s odd that the default size of images in the thumbnail bar is so small, when the larger size works so well — Another indication, I think, that the DjVu developers are not thinking much about use of the system for viewing books with pictures, since it’s so much easier to see details in pictures with larger thumbnails.

Finally, one more hurdle to using DjVu seems to exist in Internet Archive, which is the largest source of DjVu records — When the DjVu format is chosen in the “View the book” box, the link to open the DjVu file is broken. The way around this is to click All Files: HTTP, which is at the bottom of the “View the book” box. This goes to an index screen listing several formats, and clicking the one that ends in .djvu (usually the first in the list) successfully opens the file in DjVu format. I sent a question about this on Sept 8 to the DjVu.org forum, and have not gotten an answer on Sept 10 — Go here to see the question and to see if it has been answered.

Yogi Berra quote of the day: “You better cut the pizza in four pieces because I’m not hungry enough to eat six.”

Finding a heavily illustrated book that’s in both Google Books (GBS) and Internet Archive (IA) gives a good comparison of the strengths and weaknesses in the way illustrated books are presented in these systems.

Shown below are the “intro” pages for the book in the 2 systems. The clear advantage of the GBS intro page is that the sample thumbnails in the lower right make it immediately obvious that the book has COLOR pictures of good quality.

In Internet Archive the main job of intro screen (below) is to direct the user to options to view the book, in the box in the upper left, and there’s no indication that the book contains pictures.

Even after pulling up the DjVu option to view the book — which is a tricky matter, see how to do it here — there’s no intro screen at all in DjVu, just an imposing blank page waiting for the user to change display options or begin paging through the book sequentially.

DjVuIt’s when the user chooses display options and begins viewing the book that the advantages of DjVu become evident. The most important option, especially if pictures are an important part of the book, as they are in the Mracek Atlas book shown here, is to turn on the thumbnail display bar (at left) by clicking the icon in the lower right corner of the DjVu display window. It then becomes easy to scroll through the thumbnails and get a good view of the nature of the pictures in the book, and how they relate to the text. In the Mracek Atlas, it happens that the first third of the book is all text, and the last two-thirds is mostly pictures, so the user can scroll to the pictures easily.

Use of thumbnails is a good way to provide access to pictures in a book. But as simple and obvious as it is, thumbnail access is lacking in most e-book systems, so both GBS and DjVu are to be applauded for providing it, in their different ways. Here’s a comparison of the two systems …

In GBS, the About this book page gives immediate thumbnail access to a maximum of 30 pictures. Additional pictures have no thumbnail access, and can only be found by scrolling through pages or text searching.

DjVu has the disadvantage of having no Intro page that gives an overview of pictures in the book. But when the user knows how to set the display options, it provides good thumbnail access to an unlimited number of pictures. In a book like he Mracek Atlas, with over 100 pictures, this is a definite advantage.

Postscript: It wasn’t easy to find a book that’s in both GBS and IA, so I was especially pleased to find the Mracek Atlas discussed here that has pictures in Hardin MD! The full citation for the book is: Atlas of diseases of the skin, by Franz Mracek, 1899 [GBS | IA]

Flickr takes the sun out of the sunset“Flickr takes the sun out of the sunset” — The picture to the left from Flickr shows the full picture and its square thumbnail, in the inset. Thumbnails like these are generated automatically by Flickr and other photo management systems. They work by taking a portion from the center to make the thumbnail. This works well if the center has the most important subject in the picture. But if the picture is relatively wide or tall, and its main subject is not in the center, as in the example at left, with the sun being to one side, the thumbnail misses it. Looking at this example (Long Beach Sunset) in Flickr, note that the first thumbnail on the Flickr page (top left) is the one for the larger picture (that’s shown on our page with the thumbnail in yellow-outlined inset).

In large mass-production systems like Flickr, automatic thumbnails are unavoidable, and my point is not that they should never be used. Instead, my point is that, on many levels, pictures require more human input than text to make them optimally usable. Pattern recognition — the simple observation that the thumbnail of a picture of a sunset SHOULD CONTAIN THE SUN — is something that the human brain does easily, but this does not come naturally for a computer.


Another sort of problem in automatic production of thumbnails is making a thumbnail by simply reducing the size of the large picture. If the main subject of the picture is relatively small, it is not visible in a small thumbnail.

The picture to the left is from the Hardin Library ContentDM collection. The inset in the upper right shows the thumbnail that’s generated automatically by the system, which does a poor job of showing details of the picture. The lower inset shows a thumbnail made manually, which gives a much more clear view of the central image in the picture.

Cropping of a picture to produce a thumbnail, as done here, takes more subtle human judgement than the case with the Flickr picture in the first example, where the weakness of automatic production is obvious. With cropping, there’s inevitably a trade-off between showing the whole picture in the thumbnail or showing the most important subject of the picture. In cases such as this one from ContentDM, where most all of the detail in the picture will be lost in a small thumbnail, it seems better to focus on a central image that will show up in the thumbnail.

Finally, a few examples from Hardin MD, below, show how we have done cropping to improve the detail in our thumbnails. The thumbnails on the left in each of the three pairs are made by simply reducing the size of the full picture. On the right in each pair are the thumbnails we use, that we have made by cropping the full picture before making the thumbnail.

The biomedical, scientific pictures that we work with in Hardin MD are fairly easy to make thumbnails for, because they generally have a well-defined focus, that’s usually captured well by automatically-generated thumbnails. More artistic, humanities-oriented pictures, such as the ones discussed here from Flickr and ContentDM, however, often have more subtle subjects, that benefit from the human intelligent touch in the production of thumbnails.

Why an article about a children’s book site? When I first came across the International Children’s Digital Library (ICDL), it immediately struck me as being visually elegant, but could I justify putting it on an academic blog site? The more I thought about it, though, the more it seems very much on target — The theme of this blog is the digitization of pictures, including especially pictures in books. Another theme is that in mass digitization projects, the main concern seems to be text, and that pictures are often overlooked. So, yes, ICDL, with its elegant presentation of pictures and text, is right on target. … And then, of course, finding ICDL in Google as a prime example of a “digital library” seals the deal!

ICDL has many excellent features as a children’s book site e.g. its novel ways to find books, by color, theme, etc and its inclusion of books in a wealth of languages. The aspect of ICDL that I’ll highlight briefly here though, that can serve as a model for any site with illustrated books, is its polished delivery of text and pictures, featured especially in the Book Overview screen, shown below.

Book Overview: Calling the doves = El canto de las palomas

The Mouse-over Preview, that shows an enlarged version of a the thumbnail as the user holds the mouse pointer over it, makes this screen especially effective. To see the nice touches at work here, try changing the window size — As the window is made smaller, the thumbnails also become smaller, so that all of them remain visible. And, even better, the mouse-over preview window does NOT shrink, keeping the same size no matter how small the thumbnails become.

Though ICDL lacks some features of a full-fledged enterprise book-viewing system (text is not available as text), its innovative presentation of book pages serves to show how far existing systems have to go in presenting books with pictures — There’s just no substitute for displaying small versions of the book’s pages that show the pictures and how they relate to the text, and ICDL is a model of how to do this.

ICDL has its roots at the University of Maryland; it’s now run by the ICDL Foundation. It’s written in Java. For more technical details, see paper by ICDL authors.

Over the last three years, we have added close to 800 pictures on about 100 diseases/conditions to Hardin MD.

As the volume of pictures has grown, providing access to them becomes more difficult. For some time, we have grouped pictures on specific disease conditions into small galleries, each with about 3-12 pictures (ant bites, athletes foot, atopic dermatitis below). Recently, however, we have expanded the gallery format, broadening it into larger gallery collections, which have links to the smaller galleries.

gallery5.JPG

Use of the gallery format has been very effective in increasing access to our pictures — We are finding that users are much more likely to click thumbnail disease links deeper on the page than when a list of text links is provided.

In addition to the gallery collection pages for AIDS, cancer, and child diseases, which are shown on the gallery gateway page above, there are also gallery collections for foot problems, herpes, insect bites, mouth sores, nail problems, oral diseases, skin rashes, STD’s, and tropical diseases, all of which are linked on the inclusive gallery page.