Online Scholarly Cataloguing at Tate

John Stack, UK , Jennifer Mundy, UK

Collection research at Tate is now envisioned as multi-layered and multi-levelled and involving a range of approaches that are simply not embraced or embraceable within a catalogue entry. 2012 saw the publication of a number of landmark collection research projects at Tate which signal this new approach. As is to be expected, these projects were the result of many years of work and are seen as a model for on-going collection research at Tate.

J.M.W. Turner: Sketchbooks, Drawings and Watercolours[1] covers tens of thousands of Turner’s works on paper. The site with the first tranche of entries was published in December 2012, encompassing entries on over 11,000 artworks and over 3 million words of text. With such a vast body of material new hierarchical structures and thematic groupings were developed to aid navigation and resource discovery.

The Camden Town Group in Content[2] project was supported by The Getty Foundation’s Online Scholarly Catalogue Initiative. In addition to artwork entries the project also produced new artist biographies, digitised archival material (including film, audio, letters and sketches) and a large number of essays exploring the social, cultural and political aspects of Camden Town Group painting.

Tate’s approach to online collection research and cataloguing has taken a distinctly different path to that followed by some other museums in that it is designed to be an extension to the online collection database that supports the presentation of the collection online as Art & artists[3]. New biographies and catalogue entries appear in the artworks’ records in Art & artists but they are drawn from the wealth of materials collected within the research projects that sit ‘behind’ this interface. In time the same artworks and artists can be part of more that one research project without the need for overwriting previous entries.

We shall cover the thinking behind our approach, and the technical, design and editorial challenges we faced. We hope that by presenting our thinking, others in the sector will be able to see behind the final product and come to an informed understanding of Tate’s approach and our rationale for it.