Museum Digital Projects: Order of Operations

Rachael Cristine Woody

Rachael Cristine Woody

November 09, 2022

As a follow up to the “Ask Me Anything: Museum Digital Projects” webinar, this series of posts will review the questions we received in order to provide additional insight, strategies, and resources. 

We received several excellent questions after the deadline and have decided to include them in this series. Our thanks to everyone who sent in questions! Your participation helps us to craft future content that is of the most use to you, our colleagues.

Today’s Post

As digital projects can be an expensive endeavor it’s important to allow yourself time to consider project setup, elements, and needs. Today’s post gathers all of the “order of operation” type questions we received for the AMA. Each of these will help to set you and your museum digital project up for success.

Q. What digital project areas are overlooked or forgotten that can cause trouble later on?

In my experience, these are the important and often overlooked elements:

  • File naming conventions
  • File organizational structure
  • File storage

Q. In your experience, does the budget come first or the plan?

During the course of my work, I’ve seen both “budget first” and “plan first” with “budget comes first” as the predominate scenario. Given that many museums are nonprofits on a tight budget, the “budget comes first” dominates due to circumstance rather than any strategic advantage. In an ideal world, I’d love for us to take a project-first approach where the project needs inform the budget. But in reality, the constraints of museum resources mean there has to be a compromise toward affordability. That said, the budget has to be realistic and informed by real numbers otherwise any digital project undertaken will be a failure due to insufficient resources to match the project scope.

For more information, please check out How Much Will Museum Digital Projects Cost Me webinar.

Q. Do I need a digital specialist before I can begin?

It depends… Digital tools are getting more intuitive and easier to use and there’s also a lot of free to low-cost educational resources available for tools or techniques that are more advanced. With that said, if the project requires an advanced tool or technique it’s always worth bringing in an expert who possesses the right equipment and knowledge base to execute the work successfully. 

Q. Do I need digital surrogates for objects before it’s worth buying a Collections Management System (CMS)?

The short answer is: No. The primary job of the CMS is to help manage the collection by capturing data and facilitating care and access. It’s only recently that CMS platforms have incorporated a way to attach pictures (digital surrogates) of the collection items to the collection record.

Q. Do I need a CMS before I start digitizing?

The short answer is: No. As long as you’re able to achieve your end goal without a CMS, then technically you do not need one. Some prompts to consider are:

  • What’s the goal for digitization?
  • Where will the digital files live once you create them?

If you’re just getting started and want to put a selecting on images online via a website or social media channel, then you may not need a CMS. However, if you’re digitizing with the goal of including object data capture, object management, and object access then a CMS would be a worthwhile investment to support you in facilitating this work.

Conclusion

Ultimately the majority of these “order of operations” can be flexible and reactive to whatever your reality is. However, it is still worth thinking through these prompts, gathering and analyzing your resources, and determining the best path forward intentionally versus reactively.

Rachael Cristine Woody

Rachael Cristine Woody

Consultant, author, and blogger Rachael Cristine Woody advises on museum strategies, collections management and grant writing for a wide variety of clients. Learn about Lucidea’s Argus solution for museum collections management and digitization and read more of Rachael’s blog posts here.

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