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How Cultural Institutions are Leveraging Photo Archiving

How Cultural Institutions are Leveraging Photo Archiving

Museums and cultural institutions play a valuable role in preserving the rich cultural heritage of our planet.  By recording the history of different era and communities, such institutions help us understand our history, deepening our knowledge and respect for various cultures and traditions.

However, with time, the ways of accessing the history is changing. G. Wayne Clough, the author of Best of Both Worlds, says, “Today digital technology is pervasive. It is mandatory that museums, libraries, and archives join with educational institutions in embracing it.”

To keep with this trend, photo archiving has been a prime focus of many cultural institutions. Some forerunners in this space are:

Pharos

Pharos, the “International Consortium of Photo Archives” – a joint effort of 14 institutions like the Getty and the Frick, the National Gallery of Art, the Yale Center for British Art, Rome’s Bibliotheca Hertziana, and the Courtauld Institute among others will host 25 million images – 17 million artworks and 8 million supplemental material. The Consortium aims to have 7 million images online by 2020.

Primarily aimed at scholars, Pharos uploads a work’s provenance, attribution, exhibition, conservation, and bibliographic histories. The Consortium currently has more than 100,000 images and 60,000 artworks of early Christian art from the National Gallery, classical and Byzantine art and mosaics from the Frick, statuary from the Bibliotheca Hertziana, and photographs of Roman pottery among other collectibles.

Smithsonian Design Museum

Cooper Hewitt, popularly known as the Smithsonian Design Museum has embarked on an ambitious digitization project where they have digitized more than 92 percent of the 3000-year-old museum collection.

Durham Museum

The photo archive of the Durham Museum in Nebraska documents the history of Omaha in more than 1 million images from the 1860s. Dedicated to the long-term storage of photographs to preserve a part of the past, the photos document moments like Presidents on parade, streetcars, storefronts, and images from the early days of the city.

Oslo City Museum

The Oslo City Museum, with over 2 million objects, has started archiving photos to preserve the lifestyle, history, and development of the city in time. More than 100,000 photos have already been digitized in the museum’s system.

Norwegian Labour Movement Archives and Library

Four special groups are working together to organize the collection of Norwegian Labor Movement Archives and Library, which comprises of 1,500,000 items about Oslo History in general aspect and narrative about labor history.

Google

Google has a similar project – Google Art Project – which lets users’ virtually tour 17 of the world’s major institutions like Ufizzi, New York Met, and Tate among others.

Benefits of photo archiving

While the benefits of archiving history are many, here is a list of the four prominent benefits:

  1. Reachability: With photo archiving, learning about history and culture is no more only restricted to museum booklets or guided tours. With web-based virtual walk-through and videos, museums and cultural institutions can reach out to a broader audience base.
  2. Multiple revenue sources: Photo archiving has opened new revenue sources for cultural institutions. Many museums have websites selling online tickets, replicas of artifacts, historical DVDs, and 3D immersive trips to let the audience experience history from the comfort of home.
  3. Long-term preservation of cultural heritage: Physical copies of photos and artifacts are subject to wear-and-tear and natural calamities. Digitization has made preservation of history easier and more accessible.
  4. Ease of research: Photo archiving has made researching on an era or finding the right image for a project easier. For example, Pharos, the Consortium of Photo Archives has made millions of photos accessible to the artists and researchers in a click, saving time and energy.

With digitization, consumers have easy access to media and information through connected devices, making sharing more accessible and faster. Hence, more cultural institutions are trying to expand their horizon to reach out to new audiences and digitize their collection for long-term preservation.

Cultural institutions preserving heritage in digitization era

Cultural institutions preserving heritage in digitization era

Culture forms the backbone of each place and its people are identified by their cultural uniqueness. Some great thinkers started preserving it over the time to keep it alive even after thousands and thousands of years.

Today, each country or community has so much heritage of such great value, it is unimaginable. There is audiovisual history, artifacts, material objects, paper preserves, books and the list of items goes on. This heritage is only adding up with each passing day. Museums, libraries, galleries, cultural institutions are full of priceless content.

When it all started off, no one must have ever thought of the challenges humankind will face to take care of them and keep them alive for generations and generations to come. But slowly and gradually, these institutions started facing issues as far as the quality of these preserves was concerned. With changing times and depleting environmental conditions, it became very difficult to upkeep with the quality of each heritage. The need to secure these valuables became such a worrisome issue and needed a permanent and a highly durable solution to it.

WORLD OF DIGITIZATION AND ITS CHALLENGES

A lot of research went into it and Digitization provided the one-stop solution to all problems these institutions were facing. It brought new life to the ever-diminishing rich cultural heritage of our very existence. But it was just a start. With the onset of digitization journey, cropped up, many challenges.

What to Digitize & How to Store

Not everything could be digitized or preserved. There were various forms in which our history existed and that too in varied conditions. Selecting a thing which was possible to revive and then deciding on how to preserve it became the first and foremost task of digitization specialists. The content had to be selective, holds significance with the motive of preservation and be in a revival condition.

Another concern for the custodians of these historical assets is storing the items once a digital copy has been created. It is a speculated decision of investing resources to store old physical items, such as obsolete audio-video material, or frail paper items or let them go after they have been archived digitally.

The Copyright Issue

Another major issue which affected many digitization projects was The Copyright Issue which had to go through a lot of clearances. In such cases, there was the high risk of content being frail or sub judice. Google Books Library Project is a well-known example for when it started digitizing books of US libraries in 2002, never had they thought what lay ahead. In 2005, members of Association of American Publishers and Authors’ Guild brought proceedings of copyright infringement against Google. It was only after a long battle that in late 2013, Google’s activities were protected as fair use.

Money Matters

Cost is another major issue. Any digitization project – audio, video, or manuscript etc. – involves a huge investment in terms of technology and highly skilled manpower. A fair amount of budget needs to be allocated which depends largely on the content, in its present analog form and how will it be converted digitally. Initially, the main purpose to digitize content was to create a repository. Further commercial use was not something high on agenda. But, over the period of time, its future viability became a major deciding factor before undertaking any project.

SOME OF THE SUCCESSFUL DIGITIZATION PROJECTS

Overcoming all hindrances and obstacles, many digitization projects were undertaken and accomplished the feat.

To name a few, The Star East Asian Library at Columbia University holds a unique collection of over 200 Chinese “paper gods” which were conserved and digitized.

Digitizing history of Australian Museum and South Australian Museum in 2010 is another example wherein digitizing workstations were built to reduce cost and increase productivity. They also enjoyed the luxury of increased budgets from time to time seeing the outcome.

In 2015, a major digitization project was undertaken by University of Michigan Biological Collections to digitize close to 50,000 natural history specimens.

Many libraries namely Library of Congress, The British Library, Australian Islamic Library, South Carolina State Library, German National Library of Medicine, National Library of Indonesia, National Library of Whales are few of the names who have successfully preserved their rich heritage. Furthermore, world-class universities also went the digital way to not only preserve their assets but also made them available for references.

THE IMPACT & ROAD AHEAD

Consistent and sustainable efforts showed positive results and slowly and gradually, all institutions started adopting digitization or digital archiving to save and preserve their assets. Now, it has become a worldwide phenomenon and every place, big or small, has adopted technology to give a new life to their collection.

It is even envisaged that in years to come, the word ‘Digital’ would have no meaning of its own. It would actually mean ‘Default’. Digital libraries and repositories have helped our cultural organizations in not only preserving the vast history but has also aided in its accessibility to a wider audience thus by satisfying its commercial viability as well.

Digitization seems to be the need of present and future to preserve our glory and pass it on to our coming generations for them to understand their roots, their forefathers’ journey of life and evolvement of the human brain. It helps in beautifully integrating the past into the present and together advance towards the future.