Jean-Michel Basquiat, Defacement (The Death of Michael Stewart), 1983. © The Estate of Jean-Michel Basquiat / ADAGP, Paris / ARS, New York 2016.

Digitization Conference Presentation in D.C.

Last week Rachel Tassone, the WCMA’s Associate Registrar, and I went to Washington D.C. to give a presentation about our Prendergast Digitization Project at the Collective Imagination conference.

The conference was organized by Gallery Systems, which is the database vendor whose products make it possible to have our collection online, and for us to catalog and track our objects behind the scenes.  Museum professionals from around the world gathered to compare their approaches to similar problems. Click here to see the biographies of the other conference speakersHere is the program of issues that were discussed.



We enjoyed the presentation of David DeBono Schafer, Senior Collections Manager at the Peabody Museum, Harvard University. Their approach to digitization is much different than ours because they have approximately 1.2 million objects. With our smaller collection we are able to value quality over quantity. You can get a sense of the quality images we are producing in our digitization efforts if you view this example collection of Greek objects. The Peabody Museum relies mostly on work-study students for it’s digitization efforts. The students walk through storage taking snapshots. If at a later point, a better image is needed for publication the museum staff goes back and has a professional photographer take a publication quality photograph. Mr. Schafer figured that if they had a professional photographer take good quality images of all of their works, it would take them 450 years to accomplish their digitization goals. By contrast, here at the Williams College Museum of Art we only have 13,000 objects, and we will have digitized 36% of the collection by the end of the current Prendergast Project in 2014.  While we listened to the speaker from the Peabody Museum at Harvard, we felt that our collection was much, much more manageable.

We also really enjoyed the presentation by Bruce Thomson of the New Brunswick Museum in Canada. That museum has a variety of materials including objects relating to the natural sciences and the humanities. The museum also contains an archive and a research library. The different areas of the museum use different databases, and one focus of Bruce Thomson, Humanities Registrar & Project Manager, is an attempt to bring together many different digital assets into one database (The Museum System by Gallery Systems, the same database we use for our collections database).

Later on we went to a presentation by three people: Kate Blanch, the Administrator of Museum Databases at The Walters Art Museum, Rob Morgan, The Museum System Database Administrator at The Baltimore Museum of Art, and Jeffrey Smith, the Assistant Registrar for Collections Information at the Freer Gallery of Art and Arthur M. Sackler Gallery, Smithsonian Institution about the emuseum network. The emuseum network allows users to search multiple collections from one central access point, simplifying exhibition planning and providing access to previously inaccessible collections. After a user types a search term into the quick search box they can filter their search results by artist, century, classification, museum where the object belongs, whether there is an image available or not, and the object origin. The Williams College Museum of Art is not a participant in the emuseum network, but there are many participants from across Massachusetts and around the world.

We enjoyed presenting about our own digitization project. We learned that many museums deal with similar issues as we do, and we felt useful to the larger community in being able to share our processes and insights. We were happy to have been a contrasting viewpoint to the larger museums with enormous collections, so that conference attendees who were representing smaller museums (like one attendee we met from the Intrepid Sea, Air and Space Museum in New York City) could relate to us and feel that digitization can be possible even without hundreds of people on staff.

Overall, we learned a good amount from our colleagues and were excited to get the word out about the Prendergast Digitization Project!


Emily Lemieux
Digital Imaging Assistant

4 Responses to Digitization Conference Presentation in D.C.

  1. Scott says:

    Sounds like a great trip — glad the presentation went so well!

  2. Elaine says:

    It appears the conference was very informative and what you learned will be useful in your future projects.

  3. CityAlice says:

    Sounds like the Peabody museum has a huge undertaking. Sounds like a great experience and glad you’re off to a great start with the Prendergast Digitization Project!