The Digital Penn Museum

January 19, 2017

The Digital Penn Museum has officially launched and is the culmination of multiple projects over what amounts to, after some reflection, almost the entirety of my seven years at 3260 South Street. None of these projects were full-time endeavors but steady, incremental progress over time allowed for it all to come together as a fantastic resource for both internal staff and the general public.

The Story so Far

  • The Blog was the first to launched in January 2009.
  • The first iteration of the Collections Database launched in December 2011 and the second iteration in 2012.
  • In 2012, we began watermarking and uploading some 700+ archival films to YouTube.
  • The Expedition Archive was a massive effort over the course of years beginning in 2012. Many hours sitting at an OCR station was necessary by various Digital Media Center staff and the text was finished some time in 2015. Many images were inserted, many objects linked to their collections record, and this is still an ongoing process.
  • In 2013-2014, we created an index of the websites that have accumulated over the years at the Penn Museum, some dating back to the mid-to-late 1990s and prioritized upgrades and edits to some of the more popular legacy websites.
  • In 2015-2016, we finished uploading our archival films to YouTube; built a database for all of the of Penn Museum videos, revamped our highlights section, and then focused on updating many of the existing projects’ aesthetics to match the main Penn Museum website we had upgraded and launched in 2015.

The end result wasn’t a plan we had in 2010 or 2011, but each project was logical to do. It then seemed obvious to have all the projects accessible in one place because if you’re interested in Penn Museum objects you’re probably interested in our articles, websites, and videos as well.

There’s still more to come though. For example, we have the content for other Penn Museum publications such as The Museum Journal and Bulletin to insert, our archival photos catalog, and a couple of other projects in the plans, including (hopefully) a federated search for all resource types.

Overnight success can take years.

The Online Collections 2011-2016
The Online Collections 2011-2016
The Digital Penn Museum 2017 -
The Digital Penn Museum 2017 – ∞

One of the things that I’d like to point out is the increase in number of object records and images available in the online object collections. We launched with 314,000 object records and 46,000 images and as I write this we’re at 367,568 object records (representing 877,714 objects) and 185,248 images. This isn’t the most glamorous part of museum work but the collections (and other applicable) staff members really have done an incredible job.

We’ve received a bunch of inquiries and kind words from internal and external museum people over the last couple weeks about The Digital Penn Museum. Some asking very specific technical questions. Most starting their own online collections or digitization projects and looking for insight. I won’t get into the nitty gritty technical details here but feel free to email. I will say that there’s no one right way to approach projects like these and while numbers can be overwhelming or make things feel never-ending; steady progress and time really do help.

Thank You’s

I’d like to thank everyone who worked directly and indirectly on The Digital Penn Museum.

  • Alyssa Kaminski in two stints at the Penn Museum, doing the lions share of getting the 700+ archival films on YouTube, heading video production and image creation for the Digital Penn Museum.
  • Brian Moyer and Lee Roueche who teamed up to do an amazing job with The Expedition Archive and video production.
  • My former partner in crime, Amy Ellsworth, who originated our YouTube channel and spearheaded video production from the inception of the Digital Media Center until her departure in 2012.
  • Everyone on the Museum’s EMu Committee (Xiuqin Zhou, Shawn Hyla, Steve Lang, Lynn Makowsky, Danni Peters, Eric Schnittke, and Jim Mathieu), plus Rajeev Thomas of Museum IT because nothing runs without servers and networking.
  • Our Film Archivist Kate Pourshariati who helped immensely on the video portion of The Digital Penn Museum.
  • Alex Pezzati and Eric Schnittke in the Museum Archives who I’m not sure have ever told me no when I’ve asked for help.
  • Every Keeper, Curator, Registrar, Conservator, Researcher, work-study student, intern, and volunteer who creates, updates, and maintains records.
  • Everyone who was enthused enough about a topic they had to (and found time to) write a blog post and share it with the world.
  • Our former Database Administrator Scott Williams and our current Database Administrator Danni Peters.
  • Our previous and current Museum Directors for prioritizing digital projects, not just analog ones.
  • Head of Digital Media Jim Mathieu, who supported every one of these projects and listens to whatever logic I think I have in my head.