This session focussed on the digitising of objects, namely artworks, using the example of the Essex Collection of Art from Latin America (ESCALA) online catalogue. ESCALA was awarded an AHRC grant for the project UECLAAOnline (2002-2005) to fully digitise the Collection, including creating a custom-made Collection Management System (CMS). In 2011, we changed our name from University of Essex Collection of Latin American Art (UECLAA) to Essex Collection of Art from Latin America (ESCALA) and with that we worked with System Simulation and Red Leader, both in London, to develop a new website which integrates a more advanced and comprehensive CMS.
Digitising artworks is part of a larger procedure within museum collections to document and manage the objects; this in turn is part of a set of procedures called Spectrum. Museum documentation is the term applied to collecting, recording and preserving information about the objects in a museum collections, including acquisitions, loans and objects brought in for identification. Museum documentation is compiled of all the records created by a museum, throughout the entire of an object. Through documenting objects in collections, museums can ‘manage, understand, interpret and use collections, now and in the future. Good documentation practice also ensures that a collecting organisation collects and retains information relating to the legal ownership status of an object.’ (from Practical Collections Care: A Syllabus)
In the session, we explored both the practical elements, in both Sarah Demelo and Oliver Rickard’s sessions, and expanded this further in Matt Terrington’s presentation which looked at the roles for digital scholars in museums and galleries. Each of the speakers highlighted the key issues in digitising objects – from practical ones such as time, availability of resources including financial ones, equipment – and how those are reflected in online collections.
One issue that provoked much discussion was copyright and we’ve included a pdf on the Resources page from the Intellectual Property Office of essential reading on the topic.
A couple of things to remember about digitisation from Matt’s session:
Change is a constant – New technologies, best practice, strategic aims will come along and adaptability is necessary.
Build for the future – Well structured information has a permanence and once in place can have multiple uses.
Know your audience – Research, user testing, analytics should all be used to create tools your audience will actually use.
Nothing is ever finished – You can always tweak, improve, restyle, rebuild, this is good and challenging.