Artstor is a nonprofit organization committed to enhancing scholarship and teaching through the use of digital images and media. The Artstor Digital Library includes millions of high-quality images for education and research across disciplines from a wide variety of contributors around the world. We also developed JSTOR Forum, software that allows institutional users to catalog, manage, and distribute digital media collections and make them more discoverable.
Our primary goals are to support educational and scholarly activities by assembling image collections from across many cultures and eras, and to work with the arts and educational communities to develop collective solutions to the challenges of working and teaching with images in a digital environment.
During the late 1990s, scholars and institutions — particularly in image-intensive fields like art history — were struggling with migrating from analog slides to digital images. In response, the Andrew W. Mellon Foundation introduced Artstor, an initiative focused on how digitization and use of images could support teaching and research in the arts and humanities at scale, a project that had the potential to lower institutional costs and increase access, in addition to addressing a lack of standards and daunting intellectual property concerns.
The Artstor Digital Library
The first phase of Artstor involved partners in China, France, the UK, and the U.S. building what was then called the Mellon International Dunhuang Archive, a digital repository of high-resolution images from 40 grottoes in the Gobi desert and silk banners and manuscripts from the caves. The project enabled the team to work through a multitude of complex issues and was a resounding success, demonstrating the ability to preserve objects in peril, to reunite works of art previously scattered around the world for study, and to join researchers across geographical and cultural divides.
The next stage of Artstor’s development required establishing a broad and deep enough collection to support teaching needs in colleges and universities. Dozens of collections from a wide variety of cultures across all major time periods followed, resulting in a resource that included a collection of 190,000 old master drawings originally photographed at over 100 different repositories, 20 years of contemporary New York City gallery shows, archives of Islamic textiles, the restored Ghiberti “Gates of Paradise,” African masks, medieval manuscripts, images of all exhibitions shown at MoMA, thousands of 360-degree virtual reality panoramas of world architecture, and many others.
As the Artstor Digital Library was adopted by colleges and universities, institutions expressed an interest in managing and sharing their own collections. JSTOR Forum (formerly Shared Shelf) was developed in response, providing a cataloging and management system that allows institutions to manage and share media collections across departments at their own campus, with other institutions, or publicly without requiring local technical infrastructure or administration. Artstor collaborated with nine institutional partners: Colby College, Cornell University, Harvard University, Middlebury College, New York University, Society of Architectural Historians, University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign, University of Miami, and Yale University, who, along with an initial group of early subscribers, contributed significant staff knowledge, time, and investment funds to develop the platform. A JSTOR Forum Steering Group continues to advise on the development of the software based on the needs of their staff and end users, working with Artstor to develop innovative solutions to media management in ways that leverage the collective knowledge and expertise of our community.
Artstor continues to thrive, working closely with the higher education and cultural communities and providing leadership and innovative technological solutions to advance research and teaching.
Artstor is a part of ITHAKA, a not-for-profit organization helping the academic community use digital technologies to preserve the scholarly record and to advance research and teaching in sustainable ways. ITHAKA is also home to several other innovative services for the higher education community, including Ithaka S+R, JSTOR, and Portico.
In addition to the core collections available to subscribers, in 2018 Artstor began publicly sharing open access collections from the Artstor Digital Library as well as collections from JSTOR Forum contributors.