2021–22 Annual Report: Digital Platforms, Media, and Archives

Nov 14, 2022

FY22 has been a tremendous year for team digital. Through the generosity of the museum's board, we launched the inaugural Mutual Learning Fellowship in October 2021, a three-year apprentice-style fellowship with a strong digital component. While the fellows primarily report to their respective mentors (curatorial, registration/exhibitions, education, and programming), their work is a key component of the museum's digital presence, both internally and externally.

Later in the fall of 2021, the digital team renewed its partnership with the college's central IT department, acquiring, configuring, and launching ResourceSpace, a digital asset management software. ResourceSpace now serves as the main repository for all museum-generated media, from collection photography and installation shots to historic Dartmouth and Hood Museum photography, audio labels, and video content. Serving as a media archive, image database, and workflow tool, ResourceSpace enables museum staff members to rapidly find and share content via the platform. Countless staff hours once dedicated to rooting through hundreds of folders in a file directory will be saved through the use of this software.

The acquisition of ResourceSpace necessitated a reconfiguration of the museum's collection and exhibition pages. Partnering up on this project, the Digital and External Relations Departments, along with Dartmouth ITC (Information, Technology and Consulting), took the opportunity to implement some meaningful changes. An "upcoming" section has been added to the exhibition pages. Crisper images, provided directly from ResourceSpace, allow for a more accurate viewing experience. Searches have been streamlined. For example, the geographic search, once a long list of fixed terms, is now a free-text field that allows users to search by terms such as continent, city, island, or political region. In addition, individual artwork records on the website can display more significant geographic information, such as place or site imaged for photography. This last change, inspired by the museum's work on the Advancing Pathways Mellon Grant and its commitment to the ethical care of Indigenous collections, was particularly important to the team.

Both ResourceSpace and the updated website were officially launched in April 2022. The feedback from the museum's IT partners was that the ResourceSpace implementation and website update comprised their favorite and most fruitful project to date. Always aspirational and girded by the success of the launch, team digital is already planning a website 3.0 with our new "coconspirators."

In addition to building out the museum's digital presence, we were hard at work on our physical space as well. In early 2022, the museum finalized work on a state-of-the-art photography studio. The studio—purpose-built to image works on paper but expandable to accommodate three-dimensional objects—houses a Phase One camera with an eight-foot wall-mounted stand capable of capturing everything from miniatures to oversized prints. In a two-hour photo session, Digitization Technician Christopher Warren is able to image anywhere from twenty to sixty separate artworks. The images he produces with this camera are of the highest quality and accuracy, as judged by standards set forth by the Library of Congress.

The digital component of the Advancing Pathways Mellon grant, a partnership between the museum and the library, is also progressing. In addition to a website built by Technical Developer Richel Cuyler, the museum and library are starting a pilot project –– led by Richel and Cultural Heritage and Indigenous Knowledges Fellow Zachary Miller –– to create three-dimensional renderings (photogrammetry) of Abenaki basketry. 

Borrowing on the shared governance framework espoused by the Mellon Grant, Richel, Zach, and Photographic and Digital Archives Specialist Dana Kerdesky embarked on a project to learn IIIF (International Image Interoperability Framework, pronounced "triple-eye-eff"). IIIF is a tool that allows for enhanced viewing and annotation of images, and it can also be integrated with audiovisual material. The team is currently trialing applications of IIIF using the photogrammetry of the Abenaki baskets, Florian Jenkins's Temple Murals, and the museum's collection of war posters. 

The team has experienced a year of experimentation, progress, and resounding success, and we hope to maintain that momentum and energy moving forward.

Digitization of collection

Thanks to a generous donation, the museum built a state-of-the-art photography studio. The museum contracted Digital Transitions, a leader in cultural heritage imaging, to consult on the construction of a studio and use of their tools, as well as provide a daylong training. Digital Transitions supplied us with a Phase One camera and stand, Photon lights, specialized object targets, and their proprietary software, which allows a photographer to capture and process the image in a few clicks. The wall-mounted stand, custom-built by Digital Transitions, is eight feet tall. Because of this height, the camera is capable of imaging nearly every two-dimensional artwork in the collection, ranging from miniatures to oversized prints. The photographer operates the camera via a remote, moving it up and down until the artwork is in frame.

In order to successfully implement the new imaging workflow, the digital team partnered with the registrars and preparators. The registrar selected the artworks, and they—or a preparator—would locate the artwork within storage and bring it to the studio. The museum's digitization technician, Christopher Warren, directed the placement of the artwork in the photography area. Because of the variety of media and sizes, as well as the precision and care needed to handle the artwork, the teams developed a close and fruitful relationship. Significant communication and trust are required for a smooth, efficient process, and our digital, registration, and preparation teams (consisting of Christopher Warren, Kristie Couser, Nichelle Gaumont, and Molly Hoisington) now enjoy a rich partnership through this work. 

The combination of a good workflow, advanced equipment, and talented teams means that the imaging studio can image anywhere from 20–60 artworks within a single two-hour session. Between March and August of 2022, 2,078 high resolution images were taken of 1,637 distinct artworks. Approximately 12 artworks imaged were notebooks containing over 100 pages each. 

One of the team's priorities upon its launch included imaging the museum's significant collection of artwork by pioneering American artist Sonia Landy Sheridan (1925–2021). The team was excited and challenged by the multiplicity of media and complex two-dimensional formats comprising Sheridan's body of work—graphic arts and new media compositions produced using communication technology. Additionally, it felt fitting to break in our most up-to-date technology by supporting learning about an artist-scholar who championed her students and worked in collaboration with our curatorial colleagues in her late career, when she resided in Hanover.

Moving forward, the digital team will continue to identify gaps in collections imaging, evaluate the quality of existing images for possible new photography, and ultimately increase the amount of works we can digitize. The team is eager to serve the Dartmouth community and wider audience by responding to collection image requests and providing broader collection access.