If you’ve ever seen a historical card catalogue in a library with manila cards printed by a typewriter for each book in the stacks, you have the general description of a registry for a Permanent Collection. The Museum of Fine Arts “library” of three dimensional art objects has to be managed as an inventory: what the vital statistics of the objects are, where they are kept, whether they are checked out (to an exhibition) or snug and secure in the vault. Until after the year 2000, most Museum registration entries were without any images at all—or possibly an assistant would have sketched a rudimentary outline of a vessel or a thumbnail of a painting.
Every Collection is a work in process. If you visit the dazzling websites of global museums (Louvre, British Museum, National Gallery, etc.), you will find a variety of presentations, but you will also find a new feature: the Museum respectfully requests members of the public to contribute to the object listing. Among the many visitors to websites are scholars with specialized knowledge who might edit an entry with new research findings as well as persons with historical information, perhaps even documentation, that can be shared with Museum professionals. This has been referred to as the “Wikipedia” model by the American Alliance of Museums, and it makes partners of a Museum’s website visitors and encourages the sharing of valid factual information. Museum staff are so grateful to have entered the digital era and we hope our website visitors feel the same way—but we also hope our visitors will drop by in person.