How to Successfully Complete a Museum Digitization Project

How-to Session
Emily Lemieux, USA

I propose to teach a how-to session about museum digitization projects. This will include digitization best practices and project design and implementation. I will do this based on my own experience at a college art museum (the Williams College Museum of Art) which has a total staff of about 20 people and a collection of about 13,000 objects. I will discuss why we choose to use professional photographers who bring their own equipment instead of buying the equipment ourselves. I will convey that we have our own digitization studio space, and discuss how we obtained that space to be used for that purpose. I will highlight unforeseen problems we have encountered and institutional issues that can lead to difficulty. I will discuss possible funding sources for digitization. I will explain our physical processes in art handling, planning for a photography session, and returning the artwork to storage. I will explain what the photographers do with the image files. Then, I will discuss what I do as the Digital Imaging Assistant in regards to image management, electronic storage space, and online access. I will describe the inner workings of our web module, a Gallery Systems product called Emuseum, and how it works with our back-end database, The Museum System (TMS).  I will explain our museum’s future digital plan, and discuss long-term digital asset preservation idea. I will discuss how we manage our hi-res TIFF files with a program called ImageFolio, and the strengths and weaknesses of this product.  I will discuss our general choice to aim for quality over quantity, and how that decision may not work for very large institutions.

I will point out our web traffic numbers and refer to anecdotal stories from individuals in the community as to how our online collection has been used by students, faculty, and outside scholars.

I will also specifically discuss our current project (through 2014), The Prendergast Digitization Project. This project includes a subject browser feature which we believe will be useful for non-scholars and members of the public who would like to browse the Prendergast collection without knowing exactly what they are looking for. In our current project, we have a dedicated website with a Digitization Blog where we can alert website visitors to new developments about the project, including newly digitized works. Our dedicated webpage includes background information about the collection, biographies about the artists, and a contact form where visitors can interact with project staff. Our main goal is to raise the visibility and accessibility of the Prendergast Collection at the Williams College Museum of Art. At the end of this project, we will have digitized 36% of the entire collection.

Since I have coordinated museum digitization projects for almost three years, I believe I could teach a detailed and informative How-to session on this topic. I believe my experience can be a resource in helping other museum professionals plan, think about, and eventually implement and complete their own collection digitization projects.