Alice Payne


Issue 117/07, p14-17, 01.07.2017
What is the future for collections digitisation?
 Alice Payne, Head of content, Art UK

“Creating a digital archive is essential for our cultural heritage, in order to make sure objects can be easily searched for and not forgotten. On many occasions, we have found out who an ‘unknown artist’ is through linking works in other collections, thus highlighting the need for objects to be easily found, even if not on display.
It is much faster and safer to search a database than to physically look at many, sometimes fragile, objects.The connections that can be made when a database is all- inclusive are often surprising and unpredictable.”

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Sarah Corn, director, Old Operating Theatre & Herb Garret Museum, London

“Collections digitisation is a core part of a museum’s documentation process, but a digitised catalogue can only go so far in making collections accessible, and is not an end in itself. We need to offer more opportunities for active digital participation, where museums’ digitised collections can be curated to tell stories, spark a discussion and encourage learning and interest in a way that is curated and narrated by our communities, who bring their own rich interpretation. Website plug-ins, social media, apps and online software can make this possible at low cost.”

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Sarah Cole, director, Time/Image digital consultancy

“I believe that the digitisation – the technology, the formats – is less important than why we’re digitising. What are we planning to do with the resulting assets? Will we have entry fees for these museums of data, or will we make them free and accessible? These past few years have seen ever more institutions putting collections online, encouraging reinterpretation and creative reuse and thus a new kind of engagement that democratises objects that were previously securely behind glass. I can’t see into the future, but I hope this trend continues.”


Jack Kirby, group head of collections services, Science Museum Group (SMG)

“Digitisation is vital to open up collections to wider audiences. At SMG we are experimenting with new technologies such as 3D scanning. But it is equally important to develop innovative documentation and photography processes to get large collections online quickly and cheaply. Technology is just the first step. Crowdsourcing has huge potential to engage people and add to knowledge about our photographic collections. Ultimately, we need to find new ways beyond the search box to encourage non- specialist visitors to explore our collections online.