Digitizing the Collection : Making Museums Accessible

The first piece of great news that I read today was about the Chhatrapati Shivaji Maharaja Vastu Sangralaya (CSMVS), Mumbai going online with the Google Art Project on two collections : Animal in Indian Art & Fauna of the Indian Subcontinent. As a Museum-Educator, I find these resources to be pretty cool!

A couple of weeks ago, I attended a Museum capacity building conference where Martin Roth, Director V&A spoke of the new age digital technologies that the Museum is using and how they’re soon experimenting with 3-D printing to create replicas. At that point I was wondering how long its going to take for us to get there. So it makes me exceptionally proud when a Museum from our country goes digital and in doing so creates “access”. But apart from creating access, the use of digital imaging technology reduces the risk of handling objects. As a digital representation of material, you can access, copy and convert to other digital formats for use in educational programs and exhibits; for print materials like brochures about the Museum and its activities; and for social media usage too!

This isn’t the first time a Museum has digitized. National Museum, The Crafts Museum, Indian Museum – all of the leading institutions in India have experimented and with great results. The Mehrangarh Museum Trust is currently digitizing thousands of old manuscripts.

As museum visitors, am sure many of you wonder just like I did – how long before we get there, and why other Museums can’t do this. Perhaps as Museum professionals too, you wonder “where do we begin?”. But it isn’t as simple I realised.

There are other questions that cloud the Museum management over digitization.

• What types of physical objects do we plan to scan?

• Do we want to scan paper records and photographs?

• What type of continuous tone images are in the collection (negatives, slides, transparencies)?

• Do we want to scan low or high resolution images?

• What type of storage will we invest in, local (external hard drives) or networked (cloud storage)?

• Will we apply for a grant?

• Do we plan to hire a trained individual, or teach ourselves as we go? If we outsource our project to a vendor, how we will package and ship our collection?

• What are the costs and risks involved?

Museums must also draft a Digitization Policy which connects to its Collections Management policy. In India, half the museums don’t have a collections management policy even. And if you’re a Government / State- funded museum, just think of the enormous paper-work for permissions!

A digitisation project includes initial investments, as well as recurring and sustaining costs. Exploring both phases are important when defining short and long-term funding. For Museum professionals, I’ve created a free-downloadable resource to help you get started on Planning the Digitization Project. Download it here.

Photo by dalbera

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Digitizing the Collection : Making Museums Accessible