Symposia

S5.4 Actual Collections in the Digital Age: How digitization affects the valorization and treatment of physical collections

Organisers:

Gail Gali Beiner1, Prof. Gila Kahila Bar-Gal1

1The Hebrew University of Jerusalem, Jerusalem, Israel

 

Why retain physical collections in a digital age, after the specimens have been recorded and digitized? This question acquires different dimensions when coming from different people, for example museum and university administration, government officials or members of the public. At least one response we reel off easily: the scanner used today will not rival that used five years from now, technology keeps on evolving. However, are museum professionals indeed aware of all the various aspects and interfaces of physical collections with digital information? How much do we know about the types of information retained in digital databases and their limits in comparison to physical specimens? For example, genetic sampling often does not involve retaining a digital record of an entire genome, but rather only selected DNA sequences relevant to the particular research conducted by the scientist at the time of the sampling. Recent discussions on the subject pointed out various reasons why physical collections should remain a priority: keeping up evidence-based science by enabling repeated research on original specimens as “empirical facts”, authentication, maintaining a basis for future research, physical collections as a basis for new insights into taxonomy, morphology and other fields of study where digital records may not be complete enough for this purpose. Completely different aspects of this subject relate to the long-term reliability of digital databases: they are extremely costly to maintain in the long run and require constant updating , and may be highly vulnerable in a world of hackers and cyber attacks – yet they affect the valorization of actual collections. Understanding the various interfaces between physical collections and digital data, and the shortcomings and limitations of digital information, is key to preserving actual collections in the face of the race to technological advancement while still being subject to budget limitations.

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