Lessons from Putting Museum Collections Online

Monday, August 21, 2017

If you weren't aware yet, Hagley has been slowly digitizing the objects in our museum collections and putting them online. Along the way, it has given us a chance to consider the way in which we catalog the objects in our collection. We’ve reached two conclusions: A completely filled out record in our database is vital and good photographs go a long way.

In reference to the first conclusion, due to the constraints of time, we can’t always catalog objects in the depth that we would like. We could spend weeks researching each object in our collection. It can also be difficult to enter data when you’re feeling rushed, like when you have several thousand objects to process. However, when it comes time to put an object online, a completely filled out record is necessary.

Why? There a few reasons: When we first set out to create an online database for the museum objects, we wanted to make sure we could say something about each object. Who made it? When? Where did it come from? Why is this object significant? We store all this information in our database (if we know it), and draw on that information to include in our online database.

A completed record in Vernon CMS, our database.
A completed record in Vernon CMS, our database.

The need for good photography is never greater than when it’s a particularly interesting object that would be great online! As we process objects into the museum collection, we photograph the objects as we process them, but not always in a “publishable” quality. As many museums do, we first take photographs of objects to ensure that we can identify them and to document their condition. Before we put objects online, we rarely needed high-resolution images of objects in our collection since we only used the images internally.

Since we began putting objects online, we’ve been working hard to ensure that all objects in Hagley’s collections are completely catalogued. This summer, we embarked on a major project to ensure that all objects have entries in our database that are as complete as possible. We also have reexamined the way we photograph objects and have prioritized capturing high-quality images of objects.

A woman photographs a patent model.
Taking publishable quality images is no small task!

Currently, we’re photographing, in high resolution, the patent models from the Hagley U.S. Patent Model Collection as we unpack, process them, and catalog them completely. This makes their addition to our online database a cinch!

Explore the museum collections online here.

Keith Minsinger is the Museum Registrar/Collections Database Manager at Hagley Museum and Library.