From Monumental to Miniscule: Revelations from a Small Museum in the Quest to Expand its Online Collections

Kristi Ehrig-Burgess, USA

What does a big blue angel have in common with a tiny bead? These two objects are part of a diverse museum collection, but who would know this unless the objects are on exhibit permanently in the museum and a visitor happens to see them? There are also visitors who may never set foot in your museum, but discover your museum online. An online collection is not something new and many museums have a portion of their collections online, but where does it all begin and end?  What is the ideal? Our aspiration lies in having our collection available for the public to view when they want to view it or at least have the option to make our collection available to them. We all know it would be impossible to have all of the museum’s 40,000 objects on exhibit all at once in the physical space, but in the virtual world having it all online is a possibility, but is it just that, a possibility and nothing more?  In some ways the opportunity to put a collection on line is too good to resist especially for those committed to sharing it with as many people as possible, but at what cost or benefit?

This paper co-authored by the CFO and Digital Asset Manager of Mingei International Museum, addresses many of the issues our small museum continues to face as we look ahead in sustaining and expanding our online collections. Allied in cause, we bring two perspectives to the same challenges as we assess the return on mission, cost-benefit, and the future and relevance of the museum.