Saturday, January 31, 2009

"Indian Museum Will Put Entire Collection Online"

First some facts from the (clickable) Washington Post article above, then some questions.

• The National Museum of the American Indian has 800,000 objects in its collection. It currently displays about 1% of them.
• In four years, all 800,000 objects will be available to the public in its "Fourth Museum" (its website)
• The Museum will not only describe the objects. It will also describe how the object became part of the collection (as per requests from the public).
• The Museum web interface will allow people to contribute information about objects, increasing their "story power."
• Putting the collection online will allow millions of native peoples who will never visit the physical museum itself to discover and enjoy its riches.

• What is a 21st century museum? Is it a place, or an experience?
• How would putting your entire collection online change your museum?
• What happens when visitors become participants in your curatorial process?


  1. What I love about this is that in addition to focus being provided by curators, the general public will be able to delve deeper into exactly what THEY want. Today's audiences don't necessarily want to be spoon fed. They want to chart their own course.

  2. In the mid-1990s, during the first big web boom, there was a huge rush to “digitize” museum collections. Lots of institutions spent big time and money to make their collections in storage “accessible” to the public online (I also remember several museums who were scared to digitize their collections, or even have a website, because they were afraid that visitors would stop coming to their museums if the collections were online!). Museums had a “if we build it they will come” attitude.

    The idea was that more was more. But when presented with tens of thousands of records and images of objects, most of the general public just doesn’t seem to know where to begin.

    Maybe there needs to be a Facebook for artifacts allowing individuals and/or institutions to link across collections and begin to construct dialogs and stories that link objects, institution, sites and people. A virtual gallery where you can see the complete works and historic sites related to Vermeer in the context of his life and times? An interactive hyperlinked Girl With a Pearl Earring???

    I don’t think museums are going to pioneer this idea, but I could be wrong. Is anyone doing this kind of work?