London. The British Museum has announced a plan to digitize all of its works. In addition to expanding access to its collection, the goal is to prevent theft. “I want us to complete the documentation and digitization of the works, and make them as accessible as possible, not least because the best security for collections is for them to be widely known and widely used,” said Mark Jones, interim director of the British Museum, during a parliamentary committee. He was heard on October 18 about the August thefts within the institution. “The problem is that the 2,000 objects [volés] were actually only known to one person, and that person decided to take advantage of it,” he continued, as a staff member was fired.
The director does not hide it: the work is enormous. Of approximately 8 million objects, 2.4 million require digitization or documentation updating. At least five years will be needed to overcome this. “The British Museum has accumulated millions of objects and still regularly receives bequests, said George Osborne, former British finance minister and president of the British Museum. On average, around 100,000 objects are recorded each year, and have been for around twenty years. »
The museum also participates in excavations which result in the constant arrival of very large assemblages of archaeological material. “In some cases, we receive a million objectssaid Mark Jones. They are then processed at the museum and, at the end of the process, a sample is likely entered into the collections and the rest is disposed of. The situation is not as simple as at the National Gallery, for example, which has a small exhibition collection that is constantly monitored. »
The other difficulty is that the objects were not all inventoried in the same way. “Today, quality documentation consists of a good recording of the object, accompanied by a good photograph, digitized and accessible. We have a large number of objects registered (with documentation and photography), but which have not yet been posted online. Many items are online, but they are not accompanied by a photograph. So one of the tasks is to process the unregistered objects – around 1 million – and then digitize the 300,000 objects that are registered but not digitized at all. We must also ensure that the objects digitized without a photograph – around 1.1 million – are associated with a photo. »
The cost of the operation is estimated at 10 million pounds (11.5 million euros). “We are not asking for money from the taxpayer or the government, George Osborne said. We hope to finance ourselves through the private sector. »