The Future of Digital Collections

One of the most exciting aspects of online collections is what each site will be capable of in the next few years. More and more museums are furthering their digitization efforts by creating expansive semantic networks which allow users to access a rich array of inter-related information. Expansion is coming in other ways as well, for example the Getty Foundation created the Online Scholarly Catalogue Initiative (OSCI), a project aimed at investigating ways to create permanent collection catalogues in digital multimedia form. The progression of digital collections, whether it be through the enlargement of the semantic web or projects like the OSCI, means that digital collections will be much more user friendly to different user perspectives. The artist, scholar, student, or lifelong learner will be able to use modern digital collections in a more streamlined manner for whatever reason they see fit.

So what have digital collections sites done to increase their accessibility for people with other perspectives? The Rijksmuseum, for example, allows users to search their collection via a color palate. A useful tool for artists for the art historian or interior designer or movie designer perhaps. The Royal Collection Trust allows users to select various royal estates and browse the artwork within each palace. This virtual interactive style may not only be popular with younger generations, but also with users who are physically incapable of exploring the museum.

Accounting for different user perspectives is important for a variety of reasons, but it’s truly necessary because additional points of view can provide more information about the work of art. Archeologists may notice an incorrect or misleading origin tag in an online collection and can submit their own information garnered from their research for a museum to use. Many artists themselves spend time in their own exhibitions working with curators and speaking with visitors because they want their own underlying message to be understood. Giving artists the ability to communicate these ideas online in digital collections would be a valuable asset for the artists, art lovers, online visitors, and museum staff members.

As mentioned earlier, a user’s personal perspective also shapes the way they use a digital collection site, especially amongst search terms or key words. For example, an artist may be researching brush stroke techniques or shading styles, yet the key words might be related to an academic search, such as an art historical movement, without mention of painting techniques. A botanist may be looking for specific flowers in works of art beyond the simple term “flower”. Understanding these different user perspectives and how they affect the way a digital collection site is searched and used is crucial to the future of digital collections. Truly, the future of digital collections is endless.

Alex London, Graduate Student, Museum Science & Management, Education Track

University of Tulsa, April 2017

Image from: Article by Maximilian Groh


3 Comments Add yours

  1. Hannah Johnson says:

    I think this is one of the most exciting things about modern museums. I have found that I internally rate a museum based on the level and quality of digital access. I am very curious as to how museums will digitally increase visitor collaboration and involvement in the next five to ten years. I do think collaboration between institutions is something that should be emphasized. I think collaboration between institutions will create a better result that can be shared and accessed across the institutions. If an online user has visited one museum website I bet they would visit others with similar collections. If the museums have worked together to create a product then the visitor can more easily go back and forth between the sites, make connections, expand their knowledge, etc.


  2. Jenny Keller says:

    Absolutely, Alex. The idea that online collections have become an asset that not only shows off a museum’s collections, but that leads to the enhancement of the collection – and for visitors and scholars across the globe! – is really exciting. Naturally, there are concerns when you open up the collection to outside feedback, but I think there are more pros than cons. There are possibilities with this technology for deepening a collection’s scholarly potential that institutions have rarely had the luxury to accommodate before.


  3. Hailey Helmerich says:

    Great essay. I really like how you mention that making collections available to a wider perspective is not only useful for a variety of users, but for the collection as well. Anthropologists would surely see something that an art historian may have missed and vice versa, and can now submit this information to the institution for review. I think we are seeing a shift from museums being a place where items were closed away from the public, aside form an elite few, to really being a place of learning for everyone. Whether that is just a curious online browser or a scholar gathering research. I believe the more museums continue embrace this idea of multi-perspective users, collections only become more enriched. Thanks for sharing.
    Hailey Helmerich


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