Eastern Art Online has been a large-scale, trail-blazing online collections project for the Ashmolean Museum. Despite the international significance of its collections, the museum had before this point only digitized the odd sub-collection. This flagship project, now in the final stages of evaluation, has enabled the museum to focus on an entire department’s collection and associated website over an extended amount of time and therefore also develop the systems, processes, templates, and expertise required for collections digitization.
Along with the development of the website, in collaboration with the company Keepthinking and phases of user-testing, the museum has published over ten thousand detailed object records onto its online collection. The majority feature in online galleries, exhibitions and publications to provide virtual, enduring and interactive access to available collections information. For the novice, there are also online highlights and online trails to guide them through the collection. The site therefore aims to provide multiple layers of contextual information for all types of user.
Object ‘actions’ enable users to share collections information through a range of social media providers such as Facebook and Twitter, save or print information and images, or order professional digital images and prints from the museum. Online publications can also be bought directly through Amazon.
Other features of the site include the zoom-able images, interactive timeline and interactive floor-plan created dynamically through object data, which provide other ways for users to explore the collection.
A recent site design and functionality upgrade has also improved and expanded the online object record, search system and context pages for site users. Content-wise, the project has also recently piloted online films, teaching PDFs, and glossaries linked to the online collection.
The focus has been on quality rather than quantity. An intensive photography program produced the high-resolution images capturing multiple views of each object. An equally intensive documentation program enabled every object record to be checked and updated using the latest curatorial research to ensure online information is correct and complete. The project actually initiated the development of metadata standards at the museum so that standardization could also be built into this process to ensure data was also consistent and searchable. To provide depth of content, contextual information written by our specialist curators has been made available and in some cases developed specifically for the site.
A selection of collections content from the site is also being fed into a new international online portal of Islamic Art, due to launch this year, which will enable users to learn about the Ashmolean’s collection alongside other international collections of Islamic Art.
Systems have also been developed so that online collection can be updated regularly and easily without a project team. On a monthly basis, the museum will continue to update the website with up-to-date object data from the collections database. It can also continue to add content, such as objects or exhibitions, using the bespoke content management system for the site.
The Eastern Art Online project has been a great opportunity for the Ashmolean Museum to learn how to deliver high-quality collections content online. The website is used extensively by researchers and students across the museum’s and university’s education and engagement programs but also the wider public. To date it has had over a million page views and one hundred thousand unique visitors from almost two hundred different countries .