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Getting Collections Information to New Audiences

TitleGetting Collections Information to New Audiences
Publication TypeConference Paper
Year of Publication2003
AuthorsCroxford, I.
Secondary TitleInternational Cultural Heritage Informatics Meeting: Proceedings from ichim03
PublisherArchives & Museum Informatics
Place PublishedÉcole du Louvre, Paris, France
EditorPerrot,(d. 2007), X.
Keywordscollections management, databases, digital asset management, ichim, ichim03, interactives, Portals, Warehousing, Web Publishing

In common with many other large museums, the Victoria and Albert Museum has a variety of information systems aiding the management of its collections. The appetite of new audiences for interactive displays in galleries, access to collections on the web and via digital partnerships puts new demands on this pool of information and the systems and processes that maintain it. Generally the object information was not created with public access as a primary purpose. Scholarship may have changed in the 150 years the museum has been collecting objects. Much of the contextual information that the public require, which is second nature to the professional curator, is lacking. Simple things such as “what was it used for?” are not recorded. What everyone wants is high-quality high-resolution images, which create issues of copyright, and consume gargantuan amounts of disk space and network bandwidth. The V&A has piloted several approaches: Development of new databases for the British Galleries project, which met critical acclaim, yet consumed large resources of professional time in regenerating the information from scratch. These have been difficult to re-purpose for the web, and are not seen as being sustainable in the long term. Duplication of data leads to duplication of effort and the risks of inaccuracy and inconsistency. Portals based on Z39.50 technology, and now XML can provide joined-up access for museum or library professionals, provided the operational systems fully support them and the skills-set and knowledge exist, but are not suitable for the general public and give concerns for security and performance. Participating in Consortia such as SCRAN and AMICO have allowed us to get object data and Images onto the web without investing in the infrastructure, but at a high cost of manually repurposing data and images. Duplication of a cut down version of the main Collections Information System and Photo Catalogue with a web front end have allowed us to put 14000 selected images and object information on the web or is not easy to scale up to representative coverage of the whole museum collection. Based on this experience we have a good understanding of the technical, operational and human issues involved. Our current project is the creation of a digital repository that will “harvest” information from the operational collections management systems, in a normalised form, combine this with contextual information from the current gallery projects, and make this information available 24 by 7 for publishing via the various channels: Interactives in the Galleries. In “identical” form via the web as part on the Online Museum. Via the Collections Information Gateway – a new service enabling the public to get consistent information on the V&A’s collections in person, by telephone, letter, email, the web and any other means of communication that may become appropriate. Through the proposed wayfinding system - part of the Future Plan for the museum. Through new applications using handhelds or other devices once they’ve proved their value and applicability. The main object of the exercise is to come up with a process that is sustainable in costs of technology, support and most importantly professional time. Our mantra is “write once, use many”. %U