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Museums find more storage -- online

On the Internet, moisture can't ruin collections. So many curators record archives digitally.

November 08, 2008|Associated Press

BUFFALO, N.Y. — The keepers of history aren't all about looking back in time.

Curators of museums large and small are embracing the Internet as a way to move older works from storage to cyberspace -- a sort of permanent store room unaffected by moisture and pests, and one that anyone can enter.

At the Burchfield-Penney Art Center in Buffalo, workers are busy digitally photographing each work in their care from various angles and loading the files onto a computer. Eventually, visitors to a website will be able to view the entire collection online, cross-reference works by keywords and read histories and notes.

The project is being helped by a grant from the Institute of Museum and Library Services, which has been strongly encouraging digitization of collections, especially in smaller libraries and museums where inadequate fire and water controls put the future of rare items in jeopardy.

"Think about a document, let's say the founding fathers' charter of a town," the federal agency's director, Anne-Imelda Radice, said. "It's not just important knowing what it said. What does it look like?

"Digital can accurately reproduce what it looks like, the cracks in the paper, everything about it. This is an incredible tool."

A few months ago, the institute held a conference in Denver that focused on digitization.

The institute is working to standardize the process.

Authorities estimate there are 4.8 billion artifacts held in U.S. archives, libraries, museums and historical societies but that 1 in 4 institutions have no controls to protect against temperature, humidity and light.

Digitizing collections also gives curators a reason to examine each piece and prioritize what needs care. Another bonus: It opens the doors of less famous museums to tourists who might not make the trip in person.

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