Bootstrapping Digital Access at the MIT Museum: Online Collections Portal


Thursday, April 04, 2019: 11:00am - 12:30pm - Back Bay AB: Papers: How do we connect (with) collections?

David Nunez, MIT Museum, USA, Cody Oliver, MIT, USA, Joey Tackett, Forum One, USA

As part the exhibition, “Lighter, Stronger, Faster: The Herreshoff Legacy,” the MIT Museum engaged in an extremely rapid digitization effort as it developed of its new Online Collections Portal, making accessible over 20,000 objects via an API, IIIF Image Server, and a publicly accessible website. In a radical approach, the museum used the exhibition as a rallying cry to bootstrap critical pieces of its digital infrastructure with very constrained staff and resources and within a remarkably accelerated timeframe of four months.

We will discuss the museum’s strategic, technical, design, and operational considerations as it engaged in this ambitious project. We will provide an in-depth exploration of all aspects of the development process, identifying our learnings to share with other institutes attempting digital access projects. We will not only highlight the successful elements of the effort, but we will discuss areas of concern, with proposals for future improvement.

The accelerated timeline for deployment meant we needed to rapidly develop critical policies and systematic approaches for our collections digitization effort. This project presented a focal point for exhibitions, collections, and technical teams at the museum to work together in new ways, forcing us to invent new workflows and collaboration tools, “just-in-time.” We will describe these workflows and present motivation for how we built internal consensus among the teams.

The 2018 effort represents the first phase in an iterative development of our expanding digital access initiatives. Our paper will include the roadmap for the next three years of development as the museum, itself, prepares to move physical locations. The Online Collections Portal represents a core digital pillar for the MIT Museum, ongoing.

- Allen-Greil, "Serving Researchers In A Self-Service World", Museums and the Web. 2018
- Falk, John H., and Lynn D. Dierking. The museum experience revisited. Routledge, 2016.
- Davies, Graham, Dafydd James, and Amgueddfa Crymu. "Evaluating the On-line Audience of a New Collections Website." Museums and the Web. 2010.
- Rainbow, Rachael, Alex Morrison, and Matt Morgan. "Providing Accessible Online Collections." Museums and the Web 2012 (2012).
- Wang, Yiwen, et al. "Recommendations based on semantically enriched museum collections." Web Semantics: Science, Services and Agents on the World Wide Web 6.4 (2008): 283-290.
- Marty, Paul F. "Museum websites and museum visitors: Before and after the museum visit." Museum Management and Curatorship 22.4 (2007): 337-360.