Thursday, September 25, 2008

Review of Subject Access to a Multilingual Museum Database: A Step-by-Step Approach to the Digitization Process

Subject Access to a Multilingual Museum Database: A Step-by-Step Approach to the Digitization Process

My review of Subject Access to a Multilingual Museum Database: A Step-by-Step Approach to the Digitization Process by Allison Siffre Guedalia Kupietzky (Westport, CT: Libraries Unlimited, 2007).
Published in Journal of Academic Librarianship, 34(5), September 2008.

Cataloging items for museums and other cultural institutions may be problematic due to their visual nature and uniqueness. Libraries have benefited from cooperative cataloging and data standardization because books are text-based, often in one language, and have objective attributes repeatable among copies. Objets d’art, however, are distinctive and subjective; they lack language but must be cataloged to exceed cultural and linguistic boundaries. Allison Siffre Guedalia Kupietzky, Collections Database Manager for the Israel Museum in Jerusalem, addresses these challenges by creating a valuable guide that simplifies and regulates cataloging procedures for multilingual digital assets. To “fulfill its pedagogic and preservation missions,” a museum must integrate art history, museology, computer science, and project management to create a holdings management system (ix). Museum professionals may lack the necessary skills to accomplish this, but this didactic volume trains readers to become collections database managers.

Kupietzky reviews related literature and theoretical issues and addresses the problems of digital documentation of museum objects. She presents a comprehensive survey of curatorial systems from the mid-1960s to the present, noting their strengths and weaknesses and presents a case study of the computerization process of Jerusalem’s Israel Museum. No common platforms for data standards or schema exist, although the Getty’s art history lexicon is widely used and some metadata can be crosswalked between schemas. She stresses that a cultural heritage institution’s individuality requires custom methods, but that cross-institutional sharing can save time, money, and energy.

The highlight of the book is a set of systematic procedures and guidelines for implementing a holdings database—the Six-step Activation Guideline for E-Kulture (SAGE-K) method. The steps include museum characteristics definition, database selection, digitalization preparation, needs analysis, data standardization, and pilot project testing. Two critical elements must exist: a multilingual lexicon and a collections manager knowledgeable in museology and computer science. The guidelines for digitizing text and images used by the Israel Museum can be adapted to suit other museum’s needs.

Appendices include museum and cultural heritage standards and organizations, online monolingual lexicons, museum code of ethics, a list of museum database programs, methodological notes, a digitized collection example, digitization guidelines, and a glossary.

This book’s limited focus is on medium to large museums. Smaller institutions may lack the labor and funding to embark on a digital, let alone multilinguistic, endeavor. However, with a little creativity, the SAGE-K method can be adapted to smaller museums, as well as libraries and archives.

This book compliments another Libraries Unlimited title: Howard F. Greisdorf and Brian C. O’Connor’s Structures of Image Collections: From Chauvet-Pont-d’Arc to Flickr (2008). While Structures presents an intellectual and theoretical framework of image collections issues, Subject Access provides practical advice on the execution of a digital collection.

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