Saturday, October 20, 2007

Digital Museums: Met is Tops

Without a doubt, the Metropolitan Museum in New York City has one of the best museum websites. As a dedicated educational institution, their website has been at the forefront of the collection of digital images and of usable facts. Lately, they have been working on improving their search engines in order to make these images more accessible to the individual that may know that Van Gogh painted an image of the night sky, but may not know that it is called "Starry Night" or that it was painted in 1889.

Tags and labels seem to be the next step in their process. Rather than having to search for "Starry Night," one could search using tags; sometimes up to 1,000 tags per image, according to the New York Times. Would these same search parameters work in the classroom? Clearly, the base of knowledge in an Art History classroom is such that a professor would know the name of an artist or artwork, but what about other faculty who wish to utilize the database? Humanities faculty who need to teach Classical Roman Art, or the biologist who wants to use images of human figures throughout time to discuss body image?

In addition, though we, as Art Historians, think of these database systems as functions for art images, what about including things like scientific drawings, video clips, podcasts, etc.? The utilization of tags (a process that we have begun to investigate in our own database) seems like the most ideal way to make a system user friendly to the largest audience. Now the hard part...the tags themselves! It's easy for me to apply tags to Van Gogh, because I know where he should go...Impressionism, 19th century, French, Expressionism, etc. But now we have to also think like the non-art historian. How would someone else search for this work? Is this even something that we should do, or is this were the public forum comes in? Allow anyone using the database to add their own tags, thus making the system increasingly easy to utilize?