Title:The Transition to Online Scholarly Catalogues
Authors:Nik Honeysett
Publication:MW2011: Museums and the Web 2011

The scholarly catalogue has long been a critical part of a museum's mission, providing authoritative information about collection objects for scholars, students, and the general public. Often based on years of painstaking research and richly illustrated, print catalogues form one of the building blocks of art history. The catalogue's print form, however, is arguably the very component that prevents it from realizing even greater potential. High cost and relatively small print runs limit its accessibility, and printed books cannot easily change to reflect new acquisitions or new scholarly knowledge. While the online environment holds much promise for making collection catalogues more current, interactive, and widely available, museums still face significant financial and organizational challenges in making the transition online. Funded by the Getty Foundation, this five-year initiative aims to explore the potential for scholarly collection catalogues in an online environment, determine the institutional resources needed, and support the creation of replicable models. Specifically, whether the online delivery of scholarly catalogues can:   

  • Offer a more dynamic relationship between a catalogue's research, publication, and re-publication phases;
  • Directly link a wide array of primary and secondary resources to the record of a work of art, resources ranging from archival and conservation documentation to audio and video interviews;
  • Make greater use of comparative images, including the ability to zoom in on details or present three-dimensional views of sculptural objects.

Eight museums have received support: SFMOMA, AIC, Seattle Art Museum, the Tate, the Walker, LACMA, the Smithsonian, and the National Gallery and are now entering the implementation phase. A selection of institutions will present their findings and approaches to these challenging questions.