Sunday, August 5, 2007

Metadata and Standards: Assessing VRA Core Categories 3.0

The VRA Core Categories 3.0, issued in June 2000 by the Visual Resources Association Data Standards Committee, was created to describe visual works, such as paintings, sculptures, and buildings, and their surrogate digital, photomechanical, and photographic images, as well as works of material culture and their surrogate images (VRA Core 3.0).

VRA Core arose from the need to create a shared standard for documenting images in visual collections. While it provides guidelines, not a specific structure, it is used a template for creating records for visual resources collections.

It can be crosswalked with other formats such as MARC, Dublin Core, the Categories for the Description of Works of Art (CDWA), and the RLG REACH project element (The Core Categories for Visual Resources – Introduction).

Emerging from the library practice of defining bibliographic records from minimal to full, the core is an effort to find a satisfactory middle ground. More complete than a minimal level which specified only the fewest elements needed to uniquely identify, locate and account for an item, the core is still less than an exhaustive level of description (The Core Categories for Visual Resources – Introduction).

The VRA Core relies on paired records, with the same element set, that describe both the work and its image. (See the chart at the end of this paper for a list of the 17 elements and their descriptions). The institution using VRA Core 3.0 decides how the paired elements will be linked. It is possible to create more than one image record for a single work, depending on the number of ways in which it is reproduced.

Similar to Dublin Core, VRA Core is intended to be simple and is widely used by museums, visual libraries, and other art-related institutions. The elements that comprise the VRA Core 3.0 are designed to facilitate the sharing of information among visual resource collections. Additional fields can be added, depending on the institutions’ data needs. Elements may also be repeated as often as necessary to properly describe the work or image. The order of the VRA Core 3.0 categories are arbitrary, as well. There are no required fields.

VRA Core has no controlled vocabularies, but it suggests the development of each organization’s own data standards guidelines, using resources such as the Thesaurus for Graphic Materials (TGM), Art & Architecture Thesaurus (AAT), Union List of Artist Names (ULAN), and the Thesaurus of Geographic Names (TGN) (VRA Core 3.0).

An example of VRA Core used successfully is Harvard’s Visual Information Access database (Harvard University). After conducting a search, you can click on a result to display the VRA Core elements. Luna Imaging, an image digitalization company, also uses VRA Core 3.0 with their Insight software (Luna Imaging). Additionally, Penn State’s Visual Image User Study (VIUS) used VRA Core 3.0 as a temple for their work (Pennsylvania State University).

VRA Core 4.0 was introduced in April 2007. It differs most significantly from 3.0 in that it makes compliant with XML. It will be exciting to see how VRA Core develops and refines itself further to catalog visual works and images in a simple, yet powerful, way.

VRA Core 3.0 Elements

Record Type: Either a work record, for a physical or created object, or an image record, for a visual surrogate.
Type: Identifies the specific type of work or image being described.
Title: The title or identifying phrase given to a work or an image.
Measurements: The size, shape, scale, dimensions, format of the work or image.
Material: The substance of which a work or an image is composed.
Technique: The production or manufacturing processes, techniques, and methods involved in the work or image.
Creator: The names and other identifiers assigned to the entity that has contributed to the design, creation, production, manufacture, or alteration of the work or image.
Date: Date(s) associated with the work or image.
Location: The geographic location or name of the repository or other entity whose boundaries include the work or image.
ID number: The unique identifiers assigned to a work or an image.
Style/Period: A style, historical period, group, school, or movement, whose characteristics are represented in the work or image.
Culture: The culture or people from which a work or image originates or has been associated.
Subject: Terms or phrases that describe the work or image, such as proper names, locations, topics, and terms.
Relation: Terms or phrases describing the identity of the related work and the relationship between the catalogued work and the related work.
Description: A note about the work or image that gives additional information not recorded in other categories.
Source: A reference to the source of the information recorded about the work or the image.
Rights: Rights management information including copyright and intellectual property statements.

Works Cited

Harvard University. (2004). About VIA. Retrieved July 14, 2007, from Harvard University web site:

Luna Imaging. (2005). Insight Software. Retrieved July 14, 2007, from Luna Imaging web site:

Pennsylvania State University. (December 10, 2003). Visual Image User Study (VIUS). Retrieved July 14, 2007, from Penn State University Library web site:

Visual Resources Association (December 1, 1999.) The Core Categories for Visual Resources – Introduction. Retrieved July 14, 2007, from Visual Resources Association web site:

Visual Resources Association (n.d.) VRA Core 3.0. Retrieved July 14, 2007, from Visual Resources Association web site:

Visual Resources Association (n.d.) VRA CORE CATEGORIES, Version 3.0. Retrieved July 14, 2007, from Visual Resources Association web site:

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