The internet could be a very positive step towards education, organisation and participation in a meaningful society. (Noam Chomsky)
Some of you might have met with an article about digitising, or seen a museum post on Facebook or Twitter, etc. about they are digitising their collections.
What does that mean? Why are they doing it?
Well, to answer the former: What does digitising mean?
Digitising means that places with collections are scanning or photographing everything they have and upload all the information they know about the artifacts into a database. That database can be something that their IT departments designed or it can be a pre-design database they use (like you can find databasing programs, applications as well).
Why are they doing it?
I have met with that question several times. “But why are you doing it?“
Well, there are several reasons for that. Some of them are:
- To be aware what they have. That might seem trivial, but imagine that you have millions of specimens and artifacts from the smallest, almost microscopic ones to a giant ones. No one can keep all these information in my. And databasing and digitisation is something new, something modern. We finally have the tools to create big databases and it is really easy to search for information and keep track of its content or update it. And you can literally have access to it almost anywhere.
- Also, as mentioned to keep track of the collections. Museums and research facilities are renting out their collections, parts or pieces of the collection for research purposes, for experts, projects, for artists. When you have a huge collection, you can’t keep track what you gave to whom and when, just think how many times you lost a book a pen or something someone borrowed and did not give back and you forgot which friend took it. Databases are helping curators and scientists to keep track of these loans.
- Also, not only keep track when someones borrows them, but also where they are. That is one thing to know that you have it. But where is it? When you have a small collection, you might have it on a shelf or in a room if your collection is bigger. But imagine you have more than a thousands of books. Do you know where to look for if you need a specific one.
You probably visited a library or a bookstore at a certain point or a supermarket. Everything is labeled up with indicators, where you can find bread, dairy or meat.
The same thing with museum collections for example. Let’s say an example: you have five thousand watches. You are in a hurry, late for an appointment and you need just that specific one which fits perfectly with your suit/dress. It is quite important to look perfect, you might meet with a CEO and you don’t want to look sloppy. A database would tell you that in your watch collection, that specific one is on the 6th shelf of the 2nd cabinet from the right. You can also use the database to check what kind of watches you have from a specific brand or colour or design.
- Digitising is also important in making people’s life easier. There are many museum’s around the world, all of them has specific artifacts or pieces what are individual, one of a kind. And there are different projects, researches when someone needs to take a closer look. But what if the piece in the a museum in Cairo and that poor soul is in Canada? The research needs the information now, but travelling and many times VISA applications takes time. And they can decline the application. Or the person just simply cannot afford it.
Online databases can help with that. Currently with specific scanning machines, they can make high resolution, even 3D images of objects without damaging them. Then in a situation like that, the person just finds out which museum have the required item and requests a high resolution image of it via email.
- Also, an amazing reason for digitisating is that it can involve more people. You can take part in projects you could have never dreamt of. For example, there is a citizen science of the Smithsonian Institute. They are scanning and updating old diaries from people who are long dead and they are transcribing it. Anyone can participate, there is no pressure or deadlines. It is quite exciting if you like old writings and reading about people’s life who lived in a different era. The institutes wins, because these old documents gets transcribed by the help of people all over the world.
- With the help of the databases and digitisation, we can create a universal knowledge pool. It makes research easier, more accessible. We can save time and money with online databases as mentioned above. Currently in our world collecting, organizing everything in databases is a great tool, why would be collections of the past different?
I hope I could give you some information about why digitising is so important now and why many institutes are investing more and more in it. If you have any questions I am happy to answer.