Colouring Digital Collections: Challenges and opportunities for the use of colour metadata in digital collections

Geoff Hinchcliffe, Australian National University, Australia, Mitchell Whitelaw, University of Canberra, Australia

Published paper: Colouring digital collections: Challenges and opportunities for the use of colour metadata in cultural collections

Discover the Queenslander is an online interface to a collection of around 1,000 digitised pages and covers from The Queenslander, a magazine supplement for the Brisbane Courier (1899-1939). Developed by the authors and commissioned by the State Library of Queensland, this interface features a range of rich approaches to representing, navigating, curating and sharing the collection. In particular the interface treats colour as a tool for exploration, revealing the distinctive colours of the collection as well as relationships between colour and time, creator, and other features. Colour is shown to be a compelling form of metadata that can be employed in unique representations of a collection and as an effective component of navigation and curation.

Colour metadata is emerging as a feature of online digital collections, including the Cooper Hewitt Museum, Rijksmuseum, Dallas Museum of Art, and V&A, as well as image services such as Flickr and iStockPhoto. Through a comparative analysis of these approaches and our own work on Discover the Queenslander, we outline some of the challenges and opportunities for the use of colour metadata in digital collections. A key question is the role of colour in representing visual collections. In addition to documenting important practical and technical concerns, we reflect on critical issues that arise in working with digital cultural collections, such as the assumptions and biases built into algorithms, and the authorial agency that is exercised in aggregating and synthesising data of any kind. While these issues are not confined to working with colour metadata, colour provides an engaging way to make these concerns visible.

Featured Works:
Discover the Queenslander
Cooper Hewitt
Dallas Museum of Art

Select technical references:
Roy G Biv -
Colorific -
Colorific “background removal”-
Delta E CMC -
Median cut algorithm -
Cooper Hewitt API -
Rijksmuseum API -

Additional References:
“Comparison and Optimisation of Methods of Colour Image Quantisation”; Braquelaire, Brun 1997
“Rough Image Colour Quantisation”; Schaefer, Zhour, Hu, Hassanien 2011
“A comparison of clustering algorithms applied to color image quantization”; Scheunders 1997
“A Survey Of Methods For Colour Image Indexing And Retrieval In Image Databases”; Schettini, Ciocca, Zuffi 2001
Cooper Hewitt Labs blog