The Rijksmuseum in Amsterdam, the Netherlands
is pursuing a similar project to digitize its entire
collection of about 1 million objects—including
about 700,000 works on paper and 300,000 objects
such as paintings, sculptures, ceramics, jewelry and
furniture—by 2020. “The Rijksmuseum’s collection
is everybody’s collection, so management feels an
obligation to share it with everyone and to share it for
free,” says Cecile van der Harten, image department
head, Rijksmuseum, Amsterdam, the Netherlands.
Like the Smithsonian, the Rijksmuseum team follows a carefully planned process. The Dutch team’s
standardized workflow and imaging protocol requires
every single object to be registered first so it can be
Winning Over Skeptics
The success of the Rijksmuseum project depends
heavily on stakeholder buy-in—the seamless
interactions of photographers, art handlers, curators and conservation specialists. The team found
that early project successes helped bring doubters onboard. “Ten years ago, there was a lot of
skepticism around digital photography among the
curators and conservation department, but people
were really convinced by the quality that could be
delivered digitally,” Ms. Harten says.
At the Smithsonian, the prototype projects
proved essential to helping the team secure buy-in
for its large-scale digitization efforts. “We invited
the entire Smithsonian community to come see the
process, because we see this as a culture-change
moment where we showcase how fast we can digitize when we follow a disciplined approach,” Mr.
Armed with lessons learned, the team launched
a large-scale project in November 2014 to digitize
250,000 pieces of historic currency proof prints
from the Smithsonian’s National Museum of
American History. As a result of its fine-tuned
workflow processes and the innovative technology
of the conveyor belt, the team digitized about 4,000
sheets a day, completing the project in just six
months. By contrast, if the team had simply used a
Old Problems, New Solutions
Digitization projects are helping museums overcome long-standing challenges.
PROJECT SPONSORS PROBLEM DIGITAL SOLUTION
British Museum and the UCL
Institute of Archaeology,
Hood Museum of Art,
Dartmouth College, Hanover,
New Hampshire, USA
British Museum and the
University of Pennsylvania
Museum of Archaeology
and Anthropology, Phila-
delphia, Pennsylvania, USA
Guyana National Museum,
Archeologists and curators amass a
lot of data, but it’s of limited use if it’s
not organized and searchable.
Museum pieces may be nice to look at, but
they haven’t all been studied—so visitors
don’t always know what they’re looking at.
Arguments over who owns archaeo-
logical artifacts—the country where
they came from or the organization
that possesses the objects
Limited exhibition space
After scanning photographs of 30,000 British
Bronze Age tools and weapons, the project team is
crowdsourcing the public’s help in cataloging them.
A US$150,000 project to digitize more than 4,000
Native American objects and spur discussion
among scholars and indigenous communities
In the early 20th century, the two museums jointly
excavated the ancient city of Ur, in modern-day Iraq.
Artifacts are dispersed between that country and the
excavating organizations, but the Ur Digitization Project
will reunite all of them in one virtual space.
A US$8 million project will digitize the museum’s entire
collection and make it available on three interactive
touch screens so visitors can both see and learn more.
Rijksmuseum in Amsterdam,