Detroit is home to four premiere American museums: The Detroit Institute of Arts, the Charles H. Wright Museum of African-American History, The Henry Ford, and the Detroit Historical Museum. Combined, they house millions of artworks, documents, photographs, and films that draw audiences to Detroit from around the world. The public has access, though, to a fraction of these artifacts. Digitization is changing that. Digitization is changing the very concept of exhibition.
The DIA [Detroit Institute of Art] plans to digitize the Valentiner papers, among other archival collections. One project they look to for ideas is the Smithsonian’s Peacock Room project that uses the Omeka interface. The challenge, she [Maria head of the Research Library & Archives at the Detroit Institute of Arts] said, is determining what metadata and how much metadata should be added so as to make the collection searchable. It also takes manpower to scan, input, and code the information. At present approximately 6,000 works out of 60,000 are online. And out of its 60,000 holdings, only 12% is physically displayed. Digitization will bring to view art rarely, if ever, viewed by the public.
The Detroit Historical Society uses a five-step program for digitization that involves inventory, physical capture, data entry, archival supplies, and access. In determining what to digitize, he advises keeping the public in mind. Most often, curators determine what to display. “What does the public want? How do we make our collections accessible?”
The Detroit Historical Society is currently participating in the “Cognitive Memory Project,” an innovative program which brings digitized photo collections to the elderly to jog memory and stimulate conversations about Detroit history. His staff posts a blog, “Look What We Found,” that displays rare, random objects discovered by museum staff, and a Tumblr page featuring highlights from the collection. “It gets our collection out and used,” Lovell says.
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