“Cataloging into the future- a museum studies class at the cusp of art and innovation”
Eyal Shahar has spent his career exploring the intersections of technology and art.
A current exhibits developer at the Exploratorium whose career has spanned music technology, software engineering, and technology in public art, Eyal jumped at the opportunity to design and instruct an interdisciplinary Museums and Technology class at USF.
“There was a call to teach technology in museums. This is something I am personally very passionate about” said Eyal. “I find teaching almost an essential part of any profession [...] to consolidate what I know just phrasing it and explaining it to other people… It’s a privilege.”
Paula Birnbaum, the Academic Director of the Museum Studies Master of Arts Program at USF, mentioned to Eyal that CatalogIt could be useful for teaching this new class. The system was more versatile and flexible than other databases and was free to his students. The students didn't need to download additional programs or demos, which was also convenient. Eyal did not anticipate that CatalogIt would spark so much enthusiasm as a teaching and learning tool.
Eyal first asked his students to document a fictitious museum collection in CatalogIt as a foundation for creating virtual exhibits.
“The students responded amazingly well,” he said. “These are people who are just passionate about being a museum professional (…) They were so excited at the end of the class (...) that one person said, ‘I just want to go home and catalog stuff.’”
The students found the software significantly easier and more compelling than the alternatives they had used. CatalogIt empowered and inspired them, which represented a “great success” to Eyal.
Eyal instructed his students to capture entries with a minimum of documentation: the items’ title, image, and description. The students were then evaluated on whether their collections represented their fictitious museum’s mission and values.
“So putting those values out there and trying to... extend the reach. That's essential to the museum, to the mission, to this set of values that you're trying to preserve. So putting them on the web that's crucial.”
Eyal appreciated the API integration as a “killer feature” for its versatility in allowing the user to tap into the software from other platforms. He sought to demonstrate how different programs and different aspects of technology in the museum communicate with one another.
“In an increasingly digitized space,” said Eyal, “it's crucial to think about both the physical object and its digital representation. In the museum space, these lines are becoming more blurred every day.”
Eyal sees digitizing collections as a given. While ten years ago, authors wrote books on the hurdles of adopting digital systems in fields like collections management, he says the modern expectation for museums is to give their objects a second identity- a digital representation with greater reach.
“Things are shifting… you're shifting to live online… the borders between the thing and [what] we know about it [are] getting more and more blurred.”