The reading from Daniel Cohen and Roy Rosenzweig http://chnm.gmu.edu/digitalhistory/digitizing/ in particular resonated with me. I started volunteering and working in the museum field about 7 years ago and one of the things I have noticed is the push for museums to digitize their collections and make them available online. At the very minimum most museums are expected to have a web site with a link to information about their collection highlights. Expectations are now leaning towards museums providing a link to a searchable database of at least part of their collection.
I have done some work in posting select collection objects to a searchable portal and it’s not easy. There were issues with the compatibility of the collections software the museum used, the online portal, and editing the amount of information that was sent to the portal. Ultimately, it didn’t happen. The museum board assumed it could be done easily so no real plan was made and eventually the project was dropped. But I have been at other museums where the effort to digitize has been successful and is ongoing. The response from the public and researchers has been very enthusiastic and requests for copies of photographs and other images is a good source of revenue for the museum.
I know that many museums had concerns in the beginning that digitizing and making images of their collections available online would decrease their visitation – in truth, it has actually helped increase visitation as people are more curious about the museum and want to see the actual object(s) they saw online. I think it’s definitely the path that museums and other public institutions not just should take, but MUST take in order to attract more attention to themselves and attract researchers and visitors.