Digital Library Evaluation: American Numismatic Society

15 Nov

The American Numismatic Society (ANS) has a robust online presence.  However, the portion designated as the “digital library” includes only two collections consisting solely of text document types.  Yet, there are several other digital collections on the website encompassing a wide variety of formats and file types, many created in collaboration with other organizations.  This paper will evaluate the digital collections of the American Numismatic Society in total, regardless of whether they are technically designated a part of the Society’s digital library.

Administrative Aspects

The ANS began as a museum and research institute in 1858 and has operated continuously to the present day.  Its first librarian, James D. Foskett was appointed that same year.  Library services provided in addition to the collections are reference services; image reproduction services and usage permissions; blogs; selected video lectures; lists of other external resources; and its own academic publications and journals, including the Society’s online abstract bibliography, for use as a “guide to current literature.”  While the ANS owns and manages the digital collections that it provides access to, along with many of the physical artifacts, the creation of these collections is often done in partnership with several other organizations, including the Kittredge Numismatic Foundation, the Institute for the Study of the Ancient World, the Egyptian National Library and Archives, the HathiTrust, and the American Jewish Historical Society, among others.  (Resources)

The collections serve a varied audience, ranging from the general public to academics, collectors, and professionals, as indicated by its stated purpose, to “support research and education in numismatics, for the benefit of academic specialists, serious collectors, professional numismatists, and the interested public.” Its mission is

the creation and maintenance of the preeminent national institution advancing the study and public appreciation of coins, currency, medals, orders and decorations, and related objects of all cultures as historical and artistic documents and artifacts; by maintaining the foremost numismatic collection, museum, and library; by supporting scholarly research and publications; and by sponsoring educational and interpretive programs for diverse audiences. (About Us)

Though these statements include those with a general interest in coins, the collections’ most likely users are those with some academic or professional interest.

Each collection might have its own specific funding source, while others may be funded through donations, endowments, or the general operating funds of the ANS.  For example, the Dar al-Kutub collection receives “funding from USAID through the American Research Center in Egypt.” (Resources) The ebook collection of the Digital Library is supported by Andrew W. Mellon Foundation. (ANS Digital Library) Donations are requested throughout the website, and the ANS’ 2015 Annual Report mentions at least 30 individual donors, several endowments, and an elite membership group for those members who meet a donation threshold.

Information Organization

Content is organized into several separate collections, only one of which is referred to as the “digital library.”  This digital library is subdivided into, first, a collection of full-text Ebooks, and second, a collection of Electronic Theses and Dissertations.  Though some of these materials are available elsewhere, most notably through the HathiTrust, the ANS Digital Library improves upon the digital functionality of those manifestations.  (ANS Digital Library) Additional digital collections of the ANS include: MANTIS, the Numismatics Object Database; ARCHER, an archive of historical documents related to the founding and operation of the ANS; and several collections created in partnership with external organizations, such as OCRE: Online Coins of the Roman Empire; CHRR: Coin Hoards of the Roman Republic; CRRO: Coinage of the Roman Republic Online; PELLA: Coinage of the Macedonian Kings of the Argead Dynasty; ENL: Dar al-Kutub, Collection of the Egyptian National Library; and Art of Devastation: A Web-based Catalogue of First World War Medallic Art. (Resources) Each of these partnerships support the Bracero History Organization’s assertion that “the first and most basic rule of collaborative work is that the partnerships should be selected on the basis of specific strengths,” as each brings something unique to the collection.  Additional numismatic artifacts from partner organizations around the world are digitized and cataloged due to the ANS’ ability to focus on the technical aspects of content curation.

Metadata appears to be a combination of Dublin Core and standard MARC.  However, ANS is largely responsible for the Nomisma Project, focusing “on URIs (Universal Resource Indicators) that are unique to numismatics or which have a distinct meaning within the discipline.”  (Nomisma) This represents a controlled vocabulary, in which descriptive terms are linked to related information across the Internet.  These URIs are in evidence throughout the collections.  Nearly every descriptive term short of dates and physical measurements link to additional search results. Result and browse pages include a minimal amount of metadata.  Clicking a result provides more detail.

Collection Content and Access

Collections relating to physical objects may or may not include digital representations of those objects.  Those that do not usually require membership access, or a visit to a physical location to view items.  In this case, extensive metadata is still provided online. Many items in the ARCHER database provide examples of this condition.  However, collections related to physical coins often go beyond standard metadata, to include maps indicating where a coin was found or where it is believed a coin was minted.  Physical dimensions to include weight and diameter extend typical measurement data.  Images of additional examples of coins of the same type are also included.  Items can be compared based on selected categories.

The ANS provides both a “Collection Management Policy” and an “Acquisition and Deacquisitions” statement.  However, both of these documents are identical, with the sole exception that the Collection Management Policy links directly to “Compliance Procedures.”  The two former documents provide very little guidance on what the organization might seek to collect, and instead focus so much on ensuring that materials are ethically obtained, that the compliance procedures begin to sound redundant.

Stephen Abrams writes, in A Foundational Framework for Digital Curation: The Sept Domain Model that “a formal statement of curation policy is necessary to set expectations properly and form the basis for acceptable terms of service and assessment of the efficacy of curation outcome.”  Yet, the most specific the ANS’ management policy gets on what materials to include in the collection is an advisement to “only acquire numismatic materials that comport with the Society’s mission, are in acceptable condition, and for which the ANS has the financial resources to conserve and maintain.”  This ambiguity allows for a wide range of numismatic items to be collected. And in fact, the ANS’ collection includes:

800,000 coins and objects…of which not even 600,000 are catalogued in our database and online. Only 110,000 of these objects are photographed, and…often objects in, for example, the Islamic, Medieval or Chinese sections are very hard to find because of insufficient cataloguing data. (Martin, 2015)

Additional collections represent disciplines of study focused on modern, medieval, Roman, Byzantine, and Islamic coins, as well as medals and decorations. (MANTIS) A database of “Roman Republic coin hoards mainly from the period of 155 BD to AD2” (Coin Hoards) constitute another separate collection.  There are no external subscription services provided to users.

Technical Services Aspects

All of the digital collections are powered by Numishare.  The ANS describes the software as:

an open source suite of applications for managing digital cultural heritage artifacts, with a particular focus on coins and medals….developed and maintained by the American Numismatic Society and employed for its online collection. The architecture of the application is built upon an XML foundation. Coins and medals are described in an XML adaptation of NUDS, the Numismatic Database Standard. Other artifacts are encoded in VRA Core 4.0. The adherence to common library/archive/museum standards and best practices ensures the long-term sustainability and curation of the data. (Numishare)

The Library of Congress writes in its Challenges to Building an Effective Digital Library that “Even when appropriate catalog records exist, digital content may fail to connect to potential users because individual items in digital collections cannot be retrieved directly….”  The ANS’ digital collections do struggle with this challenge.  Though certainly of enhanced benefit to researchers and professionals, the interface can be difficult for amateurs and hobbyists to use.    When a result does not include a photograph, there is no indication that the entry was not meant to contain one, (A) especially when the item type is labelled “digital photograph.”  One is left to wonder if the image simply failed to load.  Occasionally, the entry might include a statement that a member sign-in to view the item. (B)  However, placement of this statement might vary on the page, depending on the layout of the entry, and can often be difficult to locate.

In particular, it is difficult for a casual user to determine just what the coin hoard information represents.  There are many options for rearranging data and comparing artifacts.  Yet, instructional material is highly academic and linked to outside sources, taking users away from the catalog. (C, D)

Although many items require membership to view, and some, such as administrative documents might be withheld even from members, a significant portion of the collection can be accessed by anyone at all.  In addition to the open-source nature of the software running digital collections, all ANS-owned images fall under a creative commons license, and all data is freely available under an Open Database License.  The ebooks available in the digital library provide full, searchable text in html format, as well as TEI, RDF/XML, PDF, and EPUB formats.


About Us. (n.d.). Retrieved November 15, 2016, from

Abrams, Stephen (2015). A Foundation Framework for Digital Curation: The Sept Domain Model. Presented at iPRES 2015, The 12th International Conference on Preservation of Digital Objects, Chapel Hill, November 2-6, 2015

Acquisitions and Deacquisitions. (n.d.). Retrieved November 15, 2016, from

ANS Digital Library. (n.d.). Retrieved November 15, 2016, from

Coin Hoards of the Roman Republic. (n.d.). Retrieved November 15, 2016, from

Collections Management Policy. (2012). Retrieved November 15, 2016, from

Compliance Procedures. (2012). Retrieved November 15, 2016, from

Library of Congress (1998). Challenges to Building an Effective Digital Library. Retrieved November 14, 2016, from

Martin, S. F. (2015). Public Annual Meeting Report. Retrieved November 14, 2016, from Appendices

MANTIS. (n.d.). Retrieved November 15, 2016, from

Nomisma. (n.d.). Retrieved November 15, 2016, from

Numishare. (n.d.) Retrieved November 15, 2016, from

Resources. (n.d.). Retrieved November 15, 2016, from

A. Entry that may or may not be digitized, with no access statement.


B. Entry for digital photograph showing access statements.


C. Coin Hoard Database FAQ.


D. Numisma Instructional Material.


1 Comment

Posted by on November 15, 2016 in Uncategorized


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