Case study: Digitising and managing a collection, Beecroft Art Gallery

The digitisation of collections is revolutionising galleries and museums. But once collections are digitised, an intelligent system needs to be in place for storing, cataloguing and managing them. The benefits achieved as a result include much easier access to collection information for staff and increased levels of engagement from the public – for example, as a result of presenting the collections online.

Todd-White partnering with Asset Bank

Todd-White Art Photography offers digital photography, specialist art printing and online library services to museum and gallery clients – and it has been granted a Royal Warrant for its work with the Royal Collection. It has now partnered with Asset Bank, a Digital Asset Management software vendor, based in the UK, in order to combine expertise and deliver an end-to-end solution for digitising and managing collections.

Digitising the Beecroft Art Gallery collectionBeecroft Art Gallery Case Study

Our first project together was working with Southend Museum’s Beecroft Art Gallery. The digitisation work had already been completed by Todd-White so we were starting with a digitised collection. This was stored on a series of hard drives and each digital image was linked (by a file-naming convention that made use of a unique Beecroft ID) to an old-fashioned physical card index that held data for individual artworks, such as provenance and value.

Importing the collection into the Asset Bank DAM solution

The first challenge was to match the digital version of the artwork and the metadata together in a DAM system, especially given the existing state of the data. With other DAM projects we often already have metadata in spreadsheets or embedded within the digital image files themselves (e.g. in EXIF or XMP fields), but in this case the data was only handwritten on the physical cards.

The handwritten card index was photographed on site to minimise any disruption to the daily working of the gallery. Upon examining these in more detail we realised that OCR (Optical Character Recognition) could not be used to automatically extract the meHandwritten index cardstadata from the handwritten words so we manually inputted the information from each photograph of a card into an Excel Spreadsheet. The spreadsheet had various columns that represented each of the existing metadata fields such as ‘title’ and ‘provenance’, along with the unique Beecroft ID. During this process we also introduced some overall standardisation of the data as some of the recording syntax had evolved over time.



Configuration of the DAM solution

With the digital image files and the metadata consolidated in a spreadsheet we were close to uploading the information to the Asset Bank DAM solution, but we had some important configuration work to complete first. This included:

  • Creating a Beecroft ID field as the main identifier for each asset.
  • Creating additional custom metadata fields that matched the data held on the card index, including deciding on the type of field (e.g. a drop down, a text area, or a numeric value).

Beecroft login screenNow we could import the images and the spreadsheet of metadata. Once in place we completed the remaining configuration tasks including:

  • Deciding which metadata fields to display on the thumbnails shown in the search results page, choosing the subset that helps users the most. We decided on: Beecroft ID, Artist and Title.
  • Deciding on permissions for the Public User group as to which folders of content they should see and whether or not they would be able to download any version of the assets.
  • Creating a watermark based on the Beecroft logo to prevent unauthorised use of images when a user has view-only permission.
  • Applying the Beecroft logo and colour scheme to ensure the site matched the existing Beecroft branding.

Benefits to Beecroft

Now that the site is almost complete, the benefits it will afford to Beecroft have become clearer and include:

  • Any number of approved users can now quickly search across the collection regardless of their geographical location.
  • A simple search now shows all the works of an artist in one place where previously artists had their works recorded in multiple locations throughout the card index.
  • Important metadata now exists in the digital world and is backed up in the Cloud.
  • The public can now interact and learn about the collection online prior to and after visiting the gallery.
  • As well as making the collection much more accessible, the gallery can use the system to store other materials such as logos, brand guidelines, pictures of events, or images related to the gallery itself.

Beecroft public galleryWhat Next?

There are still some final decisions we need to make before the site is officially live. For example we are currently storing high resolution JPEGs of each file (which are cleanly cropped and suitable for a public facing site), but we may also attach the original TIFF files that are of a higher resolution and contain colour scales for printing and other professional use. Similarly, we are considering whether to store the photographs of each card index as a ‘child asset’ of each artwork (visible only to admin users), so that the original data source is tied to the images on-line.

We’re really proud of our involvement in helping Beecroft Art Gallery move into the digital age, making an important part of our country’s heritage much more accessible to the public.

Date created: 2016

Author: Paul Mulvee; Hamish Paterson

Publisher: Collections Trust