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Director's Note: Collections Now Accessible Online

With the recent launch of a new platform, more than a quarter of a million objects from the George Eastman Museum’s world-class collections are now accessible online at eastman.org/collections-online. You can search or browse our collection in ways never before possible. More objects from the museum’s vast holdings— including films and other objects from the cinema collection—will be added to the museum’s website on an ongoing basis.

Four years ago, on my first day as director of the museum, I identified online collection search as the most important advance that our institution could make to enhance its profile, its contribution to scholarship, and its collaborative capabilities. Before the museum could launch our online database, it was necessary to replace obsolete servers and data storage systems, design and build a new website, upgrade the internal collection database software to the current version, and implement the database software’s online access module.

Image from Sight Reading exhibit

We have a long tradition of making our unparalleled collections—encompassing several million objects in the fields of photography, cinema, and photographic and cinematographic technology, as well as objects related to George Eastman— physically accessible to scholars, curators, and the public through our study centers and library, traveling exhibitions, and object loans. Web access represents a fundamental breakthrough by allowing anyone with an internet connection to explore our collections.

The Eastman Museum was a pioneer in digitizing (taking digital photographs of) our photography collection and in providing online access to some of the objects in our collections. Yet, over time our capabilities in this area fell behind as other museums made online access one of their top priorities.

Previous iterations of the museum’s online collections were incomplete and fragmented, had limited search capabilities, and became outdated because they were not connected to our internal database. Now, the publicly accessible collection database is fully searchable and is updated weekly from our internal collections database, enabling new acquisitions and improved cataloging to be accessible automatically.

Online access to our collection database will transform the public’s understanding of our collection and facilitate new forms of collaboration with creators, curators, scholars, and collectors. Whether you are conducting research on a particular subject or simply interested in seeing what works we have by your favorite photographer, you can now do so much more easily. When we collaborate with other museums or independent curators to organize exhibitions—as we did with the Morgan Library & Museum in New York City for Sight Reading: Photography and the Legible World—the outside curators will greatly benefit from being able to review information on and images of our holdings before traveling to Rochester.

As with any monumental enterprise, this project is ongoing. We are bolstering the massive process of digitizing collection objects. Our curators and collection managers will continue their diligent work to improve the collection database—ensuring that it reflects the most accurate information and makes the relevant connections between objects. They have already made great progress.

In a boost to our efforts, the Eastman Museum recently received a $148,000 grant from the Institute of Museum and Library Services, an independent federal agency, to support the cataloging and digitizing of the museum’s Gabriel Cromer collection. Donated to the museum by Eastman Kodak Company, this is one of the seminal collections of early French photography and is considered the most important collection of such materials outside of France. We are thrilled to have received this grant award, which will advance our object cataloging efforts and online collection access.

I thank and applaud everyone who has contributed to the development and launch of our online collection database, which is truly transformative for the George Eastman Museum.

I encourage you to explore our online database yourself and discover the myriad wonders of our collection.

Bruce Barnes, Ph.D.
Ron and Donna Fielding Director
November/December 2016 Bulletin