Blog

Monthly Archives: 08/2016

The SPIRO Image Database: 1992-2016

Posted on by Christina Marino

The SPIRO website debuted in 1992. It was a computer-based approach to managing a large analog photograph collection: an online catalog of a 35mm slide library. Using a relatively new process of digitizing film, it allowed one to "preview" a slide's image on a computer screen, after querying the computer to return a set of images based on search terms.  It may now seem a quaint notion that this could have been revolutionary, but at the time nothing like it existed. Thoughts of teaching directly with digital images, or of pure digital photography were barely imaginable. Thus SPIRO trod an early path to searching for and receiving digital images over computer networks. 

Photograph

Photo: SPIRO debut, 1992: Librarian Maryly Snow, who guided the creation of the SPIRO database, with: (r to l) Jean-Pierre Protzen (Architecture Chair), Steven Brooks (Photographer for Slide Library), CED Dean Roger Montgomery, as well as various Museum Informatics Project staff, administrators, and Provosts

Photograph

Early search screens for the SPIRO database

Photograph

Early search screens for the SPIRO database

In time, tools were developed to project digital images and to make digital photographs, and it became easier to teach with a PowerPoint file than with a carousel of 35mm slides. SPIRO adapted by becoming a catalog of digital teaching images that had 35mm counterparts, rather than a catalog of 35mm slides with digital reference images. 

Throughout the 2000s the Internet and World Wide Web grew at an unimaginable rate to become the enormous phenomenon that it is today. It is astounding to think that entire industries, social movements, and professions have arisen that revolve around these computer networks that we call the Internet.

Photograph

Photo: Using SPIRO as an online guide to the physical slide collection, c. 2000

In it’s 26th year, it is with a bit of sadness that to announce that this summer, the SPIRO image database has been retired and taken offline. The core technologies that run SPIRO are still viable - a bundle of php scripts that direct input from a primitive HTML interface to an ancient bunch of sql database tables- but the software running the database (a Sybase product) is no longer supported. Likewise the departmental entity that maintains it here at UC Berkeley has changed so as to make a similar evolution in SPIRO a necessity.

Sybase has been superseded, and the Museum Informatics Project which built and ran SPIRO no longer exists as part of campus IST. The images and data in SPIRO will be migrated to two new systems: a UC-wide instance of ARTstor, where all the SPIRO content will be available to all UC campuses, and planning is in the works for a local, smaller, Omeka website, which will mirror our ARTstor data and display images that the University of California owns copyright to.

--Jason Miller, Director of the Visual Resources Center