Questioning the Need for Multiple Online Platforms

Planning to visit a museum over the holidays? You aren’t alone. By digitizing their collections, museums have made it easier than ever for audiences of all types—art lovers, “culture snackers,” academics, researchers, and, of course, museum staff—to view their holdings.

But by making it easier for their audiences, online museums have made some things harder for themselves. Serving multiple audiences with multiple needs forces museums to make difficult decisions about presenting and managing the objects in their collection and the data associated with them. First and foremost, says Amy Taylor, museums must decide whether and how to differentiate their collections by audience.

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“Established thinking states that when presenting collections online to different audiences, at least two different platforms should be operating to keep everyone happy,” she writes in Information Outlook. “Online collections intended for academics and external researchers should provide as much information as possible, regardless of whether there is an image associated with the information. . . . In contrast, online picture libraries prioritize objects that have high-resolution images suitable for licensing for a range of commercial and non-commercial uses.”

As the picture library manager at the Ashmolean Museum of Art and Architecture, Amy is familiar with the challenges of online collection management and presentation. While she recognizes that no single digital asset management (DAM) system can solve all of these challenges, she believes it is possible for one platform to serve the interests of the vast majority of users.

“The fact that different internal stakeholders have different priorities does not necessarily rule out using a single platform,” she writes. “Yes, most DAM systems rely upon a limited number of standardized data sets, and this can be a bone of contention between those who favor access for all and those whose focus is on providing a vast breadth of object-specific information. However, as picture library systems have shown, it is certainly possible to incorporate a search function that draws from both specialized and non-specialized vocabulary terms to display a selection of simplified views of related objects (perhaps with a thumbnail image and some basic ‘tombstone’ data.)”

To read more of what Amy has to say about DAM systems, click here.

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