Working in a Cultural Heritage Institute

Source: http://maynoothcollege.ie/national-museum-maynooth/
Source: http://maynoothcollege.ie/national-museum-maynooth/

To follow our progress go to Twitter: @Ecclesiology3D

This post is the first of a series of posts detailing my experience of working with the ecclesiological material in St. Patrick’s College Museum.  The primary goal of this research was to enable students participating in AFF622: Digital Heritage: Theories, Methods and Challenges as part of the MA in Digital Humanities, An Foras Feasa, National University Maynooth, to develop the practical skills required for working with photogrammetry and 3D scanning to explore a cultural heritage scenario.

The research deliverables included selecting and capturing appropriate ecclesiastical artefacts.  Furthermore, students were expected to design and carry out an effective workflow for 3D recording cultural heritage projects including: Capturing, processing, online publishing, 3D printing, and writing a report

The research was carried out in cooperation with the National Science and Ecclesiology Museum, St. Patrick’s College, Maynooth.  Working alongside the curator, Dr. Niall McKeith, and under the guidance of the course coordinator, Dr. Konstantinos Papadopoulos, the project team captured data for fourteen objects from the Museum’s collection of ecclesiastical artefacts in November 2016.

Many of the observations made here can be applied to other similar digitisation projects.  It should be noted that the hardware and the software used by the team were prespecified by the course coordinator and therefore, discussions surrounding their use did not include resource acquisition.  Details will be provided in later posts.  A list of factors that may need to be addressed by other projects is included at the end of the section.

Much of what follows will highlight the importance of thorough project planning in advance of data capture.

Digitisation is above all an access strategy.  Like many smaller cultural heritage museums, the opening hours of The Museum of Ecclesiology are very restricted.  At present, the institution does not provide access to the collection in digital forms.  Considering the limited opening hours of the museum at St Patrick’s College, digitisation will open new modes of access to the collection.

Public access to artefacts is an important factor when considering which objects to digitise and when to digitise.  In a cultural heritage institution with regular public access the project should aim to minimise its impact to the institution’s other activities.  Coordination between project members and museum staff is essential.

A further consideration in this regard in the amount of time assigned to data capturing.  Quality control throughout the data capturing process is essential.  Repeated digitisation should be avoided and is often not an option.

Most museums will not have the appropriate physical environment and hardware and software systems in place.  In relation to St. Patrick’s College Museum the lighting was poor and the physical environment was uncomfortable due to the temperature.  The hardware and the necessary software had to be transported to the museum for the data capturing.

Source: https://maynoothcollegemuseum.wordpress.com/history-of-the-museum/
Source: https://maynoothcollegemuseum.wordpress.com/history-of-the-museum/

Ideally, original items should be handled as little as possible.  Where necessary, appropriate precautions were taken when handling original items: team members wore cotton gloves and the curator handled the very fragile objects such as the Ivory Ciborium.  When working with the Laser Scanner, the user manual recommends using powder for shiny or metallic surfaces.  Similar recommendations are made for these items when using photogrammetry.  It is unlikely that you will be permitted to use powder on original artefacts.  The same can be said for the use of alignment markers.

The metadata models implemented by the project were restricted by the prespecified online publishing platforms (for further detail see Online Publishing).  The historical and contextual information for many of the ecclesiological materials at St. Patrick’s Museum is extremely limited, in many cases the provenance is unknown.  Digitisation in the absence of annotation lacks context and meaning.  A project should consider the digitisation process as a unified whole, focusing on those objects which are best suited to the technology being employed may limit the overall results if there is insufficient data on the object itself.  The approach taken by the current project was to research the individual items.  However, this may not be in the scope of similar digitisation projects and it should be taken into consideration when deciding which items to digitise.