Earlier in March, the New York Times wrote an article about the digitization efforts of large museums across the globe. Dramatic increases in visitor traffic have endangered some collections and digitizing them – taking high-resolution photos or scans of documents, images, and objects – is one way of protecting the collections. But digitization is also about democratizing access and making collections available to people unable to visit the museum.
When we first opened in 1980, digitization was a distant dream and physical exhibits served the needs of our community. But today improvements in technology quality and cost have allowed even the smallest museum to begin digitizing its collection to become accessible beyond regular operating hours.
Starting with volunteers in 2006, the Hudson River Maritime Museum began digitizing its photo collection. Until recently the majority of these digitized images were relatively inaccessible to the public, although they are frequently seen in HRMM’s “Shipping News” feature in the Kingston Times.
In 2012, the Hudson River Maritime Museum undertook a large project in preserving several oral histories from local fishermen. We had received a grant from Institute of Museum and Library Services (IMLS), in partnership with the Sound & Story Project of the Hudson Valley, to record and digitize these histories so that researchers and the community would have access to the stories. We uploaded this project to Hudson River Valley Heritage, an online digital repository for cultural organizations throughout the Hudson Valley, and it is both accessible on our website and HRVH’s research portal. This small project – digitizing 20 cassette tapes – took three years of digitizing, training, and metadata creation and was an important first step in our digitizing efforts.
As we move into the twenty-first century, we have become accustomed to having a world of information at our fingertips. Archival information – the bulk of what historians and genealogists use – still remains locked away to the general public. While we at HRMM open our archives door to researchers and help researchers unable to travel to Kingston, NY, sharing our archives online allows for broader access. Recently museum and libraries have pushed to digitize their collections; the New York Public Library made tens of thousands of public domain items available to the public this past winter. Despite concerns that showing the public exhibits and archival material would drive down museum attendance, for the majority of institutions, attendance continues to increase in part because of these ongoing efforts.
Our new Assistant Curator, Carla Lesh, has been digitizing more of our Donald Ringwald Collection, which consists of thousands of photographs and pieces of ephemera, including extensive information on the Hudson River Day Line and Steamer Mary Powell. Mr. Ringwald quite literally wrote the books on the Hudson River Day Line and the Mary Powell.
Many of these images are already available online at HRVH.
Our plans are to continue to digitize our entire collection and share it with the public. Please continue to check our social media for updates on release dates for when these collections go live. We will also update our website to reflect these changes with links directly to the HRVH portal.
This blog is written by Hudson River Maritime Museum staff, volunteers and guest contributors.
Hudson River Maritime Museum
50 Rondout Landing
Kingston, NY 12401
The Hudson River Maritime Museum is a 501(c)3 non-profit organization dedicated to the preservation and interpretation of the maritime history of the Hudson River, its tributaries, and related industries.
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The Hudson River Maritime Museum receives no federal, state, or municipal funding except through competitive, project-based grants. Your donation helps support our mission of education and preservation.