Embiggening images

For all the visual wonder in the Library’s collections, it’s sometimes been rather hard to understand and enjoy what you’re looking at.

Amazingly, back in the day you couldn’t see our digitised and born-digital images – because we didn’t have them. Instead, library users would ‘visit’ us, handling ‘physical objects’, much like monks would in monasteries. But then – computers!

Like so many other collecting institutions, we happily ran out into the web at a time when users mainly had dial-up, if they had internet access at all. At these speeds, images were a luxery, indeed, a frivolity, so we began with a web interface for our text-only collection management system TAPUHI.

Screenshot of TAPUHI

Built in an age before digital images, TAPUHI prefers to describe – which it does, in remarkable detail. It paints a picture with words, and also provides the descriptive metadata that makes this website function.

Timeframes took the bold step of letting you know that an image contained indistinct shapes, and occasionally, colours! The 150 pixel wide image was a great improvement, pushing modern 200 pixel-width monitors to their limits.

Screenshot of Timeframes

We threw restraint out the window for our online exhibitions, ostentatiously expanding to 400 pixels in width.

Screenshot of an online exhibition

However, they did look a bit unbalanced with that big blank space, so we eventually bumped it up to 700 – what we call a ‘large thumbnail’.

Screenshot of an online exhibition

Nowadays, we pretty much assume everyone has access to broadband (though NZ's not all the way yet), which lets us show every image at large thumbnail size. Even better, we’ve taken away a lot of the clutter: the pictures can breathe easy in the company of a couple of buttons and a handful of links.

Screenshot of a current object page

But let’s be honest, these different versions are all window-dressing in front of the real star – the original full-size digital image, thanks to which we know this photo was taken at 12:43.

Detail of the full-size image, showing clock

Kindly standing in as today's example photo is the Interior of Suzy's Coffee Lounge, Willis Street, Wellington. Winder, Duncan, 1919-1970 :Architectural photographs. Ref: DW-1163-F. Alexander Turnbull Library.

We love big images! The Big Picture, APOD, JPL Space Images. Where do you get your hi-res fix?

By Lucy Schrader

Reuben is your friendly neighbourhood online editor.

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Paul March 21st at 2:01PM

Love this! Great illustration. I've always loved your HUGE negative scans - especially street scenes from the 19th and early 20th centuries. Being able to pan around a gigantic file and read individual shop signage and see individual faces in the crowd is amazing.