Behind the scenes - Digitising the City Collection

12 Sep 2018

Behind the scenes – Preparing the City Collection for the new HOTA Gallery

The City’s permanent collection features more than 5000 works of art worth more than $30 million and includes one of the largest collections of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander art in regional Australia. Keeping track of so much art, recording the history behind each piece and ensuring it is easily located is an ongoing task.

Whilst not due to open until 2021, a huge amount of work will take place behind the scenes to prepare the collection for its eventual relocation to the new HOTA Gallery. Gallery staff are currently engaged in digitising the collection – that is creating a digital record of each piece of art – in preparation for the move.

Sarah Harper, Registration Officer, tells us more about what this all means and why it’s being done:

‘Digitisation is the process of translating objects and documents into a digital format – think JPG, PDF, PNG, TIFF – these are all different image or file types and are abbreviations of methods of packaging digital information. A high-resolution digital file of an object can be created via scanning or photography, which is then catalogued and used for numerous purposes. The things to keep in mind when digitising an object are resolution, bit-depth (tonal or colour depth), colour management, file size, compression and storage. This original file acts as a master file and should include the whole image (mount, frame and all), which can then be copied, resized or cropped to suit any use.

‘Our main aim is to use the digital files created for the collection database, enabling staff to visually identify artworks by linking an object file to its digital image, and for a future website which the public will be able to utilise to access the Gallery’s collection. The collection database used by the Gallery is called Vernon Collection Management System, or Vernon CMS. This is software which enables staff to manage all items in the Gallery’s collection. In one convenient networked location, the organisational framework behind card cataloguing systems can be replicated while also including expanded information about an object, artist or exhibition.

‘When cataloguing an item in Vernon CMS, the basic details which need to be recorded are a unique sequential object number, an object name, an artist name, the date of production, the size and number of objects, a brief description, the current location of the object, who/where the object came from, and who recorded the information and when. Further important information can then be added on an ongoing basis, such as object description and history. This information forms an object file, which is then optimised by linking it to the object’s digital image as mentioned. In the end, the goal of digitisation is to enhance information management, preserve and ultimately share the Gallery’s extensive collection’ she said.

This is one of the many projects that will be ongoing over the next few years as we prepare for the new HOTA Gallery and the opportunities it presents for us to show the City Collection in new and exciting ways.