by guest columnist Elyse Werling

Students in this year’s Exhibition Planning class were given a challenge: choose an image that inspires you from the photographs in Historic New England’s exhibition, “The Camera’s Coast,” and use it as a jumping-off point for a full-blown exhibition plan. Snapshots: 15 Takes on an Exhibition is to take place at the Tufts University Koppleman Gallery May 6-18, 2014. Opening reception Tuesday, May 6, 2014, 5:30-8pm. See the Facebook page here.

As a museum professional, you must be conscious of protecting your collection yet at the same time must facilitate access to the collection. For many, the question of whether to provide online collections access poses both risks and benefits. I have often heard that museums that post online access spur greater interest in their collections which in turn generates more visitors. I myself have often debated the risks and benefits to posting collections on line and until this point have been on the fence about it.

Because I am interested in costume history, I have often meandered through online catalogs that contain history costume artifacts. As I began to research for my exhibit, I turned to the Metropolitan Museum of Art’s website specifically because I knew they had an excellent online catalogue. The exhibit I am developing, Steamship Trunk Show, is a costume exhibit and I need dresses and gowns from the early 1900’s. The Met’s easy access catalog provided me with the search ability to find gowns like this one pictured below:

Image Credit: Metropolitan Museum of Art

Image Credit: Metropolitan Museum of Art

Browsing the collections at The Costume Institute at the Met not only helped me find artifacts to include in my exhibit but also helped me better understand the look, big idea, and general direction that I wanted to take my exhibit in. I also used online catalogues from The Museum at FIT, Historic New England, The Philadelphia Museum of Art and the American Textile History Museum to supplement the costume artifacts that I found at the Met. If these institutions had not made their collections available online, I would never have found such wonderful items to use. Looking at the online collections also led me to explore the rest of their website which in turn inspired me to visit these institutions. I now fully believe in providing online collections access and feel that there are huge benefits to doing so. Scholars and students can more easily view objects for research, hobbyists can create a virtual collection online, and fellow museum professionals can discover how other institutions are cultivating their collections. After my experience working on this exhibit, I would encourage every museum to provide online access—and good things will follow!