A Digital Bridge: Connecting Museum and Museum Library Content

Jennifer Cohlman Bracchi, USA , Sara Rubinow, USA

The invisible boundary between the cataloging systems of museums and libraries has traditionally presented challenges to the integration of intrinsically-connected content. The achievements of Europeana and Australia’s Trove systems demonstrate the power of combining museum and library catalogs on a large scale. A recent initiative combining the resources of Smithsonian Cooper-Hewitt, National Design Museum (CHNDM) and Cooper-Hewitt’s National Design Library (CHNDL) focused on digitized museum publications and successfully bridged two divergent collection systems, established a foundation for seamless discovery, and set the stage for continued collaboration.

In 2010, Smithsonian Libraries began participating in FedScan, an initiative between the Library of Congress and Internet Archive (IA) to digitize the holdings of federal institutions. IA is the primary online platform for digitized publications in the public domain. CHNDL developed three selection criteria to accommodate budgetary and digitization guidelines while also contributing the most unique titles from the main collection. One of these criteria included previously-published Museum publications.

The Museum’s past publications required special attention due to copyright issues. Many were jointly published, contain images not under the Museum’s copyright, or had unclear copyright ownership due to the Museum’s institutional history. After substantial investigation and permissions negotiation, CHNDL was able to digitize more than 75 titles, dating from 1896 to 1987. Once the Museum publications were digitized and hosted on IA, however, they were difficult to discover and divorced from related Museum content.

Although there are many benefits to participating in a larger body of knowledge like IA, additional steps were needed to facilitate access and foster connections between the digitized historical publications and the Museum’s collections. To this end, CHNDM’s Digital and Emerging Media Department integrated the publications into the Museum’s Drupal-based website. Users can now discover the publications in context, while an embedded IA viewer allows users to explore the publications without leaving the site.

The publications are connected to the Museum’s online collection and exhibition archive through machine tags, cross-reference hyperlinks to and from the online exhibition archive, and enhanced metadata tags that include terms of particular relevance to the Museum, such as a publication’s designer, an exhibition’s curator, or a type of object. Although this project shares a similar spirit to recent initiatives that improve accessibility to past publications by the Metropolitan Museum Art and the Guggenheim, establishing an infrastructure for future content integration in tandem with our online collection database and increasing seamless discovery through faceted search on the Museum’s site reflects a distinct focus.

This demonstration intends to illustrate how Cooper-Hewitt was able to bridge the barrier between museum and museum library materials, to provide live examples of the connections between publications and the Museum’s collection, and to explore the potential for future expansion, such as the development of connections among collection and exhibition objects at the page level of a publication. Based on the success of this initiative and progressive changes in CHNDM policies regarding online permissions for objects and publications, we look forward to a future of continued content integration.