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Case study: Who needs digitised collections? – FARO and Sir John Soane’s Museum

Who needs digitised collections?

We are living in a time where a museum’s entire archive is instantly available at any place or time. Collections that were formerly only presented to those who physically visited a museum are now readily available to anyone with an internet connection to view, hear and interact with.

What is a digitised collection?

A digitised collection refers to an archive of documents that can be viewed, listened to and interacted with online. Archiving objects, documents, spaces and events lengthens their legacy beyond their physical capacity.

Why should you use digitised collections?

  • Digitised collections can provide views of internal mechanisms and detailed references.
  • Allows museums to reach a wider digital audience.
  • A good digital archive eases work for staff, saves space and preserves objects for future generations to enjoy.
  • It also provides the opportunity to create archives that are exclusively online, allowing museums to display items that may be too delicate to handle physically.
  • By presenting them exclusively online, museums will be able to ensure that they are preserved.

For example, the Imperial War Museum London has an invaluable collection of documents including The Munich Agreement. Such an item needs to be preserved due to its historical and cultural importance. The fact that it is written on wartime paper makes it more fragile than modern paper. It also requires a consistent environment with controlled temperature, humidity and light. However, by digitising this document, viewers can use a computer to zoom into it and have a better view of the actual text. It can also be shown to many people at the same, something that would be difficult without digitisation.

Case Study – Explore SoaneSoane Museum digitisation

Sir John Soane’s Museum is one of a kind. Built by distinguished 19th century architect Sir John Soane, it was a home, library and museum in one – housing his collection of artworks, sculptures, furniture and artefacts. At his death in 1837, Soane left his house and collection to the nation, stipulating that it should be kept open and free for the public’s inspiration and education.

Almost two centuries later, FARO, ScanLAB Projects and Sir John Soane’s Museum have embarked on a unified project to create an online digital archive of the Museum. The project utilises the latest developments in 3D technology to scan and digitise a wide selection of rooms and objects. This includes Soane’s model room, and the ancient Sarcophagus of King Seti I. For 180 years, the house has remained meticulously preserved through conservation and restoration. Nevertheless, Explore Soane continues this ambition in a new, powerful way. The teams will be adding more rooms, and several more objects to the digitised collection in order to inspire and educate, precisely as Sir John Soane wished.

Teams from ScanLAB have been utilising a range of cutting edge scanning technologies from FARO. Large spaces such as rooms and stairwells have been captured using LiDAR scanners such as the x330, whilst smaller objects are scanned using the latest FARO Arm scanner and photogrammetric software. The data now forms part of an archive not just for the Museum but also for future and overseas researchers interested in studying the Museum and the many models collected by Sir John Soane himself.

You can watch the video below to see the project come to life.

David Southam of FARO says:

“We strongly believe that the future is to digitally preserve and record every artefact or site of interest for future generations. Our mission is ‘To enable mankind to easily and accurately connect the physical world to the virtual world.’ The tools that we use to document collections have become more user friendly and cost effective which makes it more accessible to more people. We want to make our heritage our future.”

Date created: 2016

Author: FARO Technologies

Publisher: Collections Trust