Digitisation as a Way of Enhancing
the Boerhaave Museum
This study was carried out as a second semester research for the course entitled Digital Access to Cultural Heritage within the Book and Digital Media Studies Master Programme of the University of Leiden. The lecturers, Dr. Patricia Alkhoven and Marcel Ras, asked the students to imagine ourselves in the place and function of a digitisation project manager and address in detail any aspect(s) of the digitisation process. I chose to work on selection policy and benefits assessment with regard to the Boerhaave Museum.
In less than eighty years of existence, the Boerhaave Museum established its name as a centre for the history of natural and medical sciences. The astronomical, physical, chemical, medical, anatomical, botanical instruments and specimens exposed in the Museum cover about five hundred years of relentless efforts by scientists, especially in the Netherlands.
Universal scientists such as Christiaan Huygens, Petrus van Musschenbroek, Antoni van Leeuwenhoek and others left a huge heritage and this includes inventions, instruments and written materials to explain and clarify their achievements. However, the latter aspect is mostly overlooked, which prevents the visitors of the Museum from having additional and, in most cases, crucial information about the objects they contemplate.
It is thus necessary and highly beneficial to digitise the pre-1900 written materials of the museum taking into account selection criteria such as their connectedness to the instruments, their intellectual value, their uniqueness, their fragility and potential users’ needs. Once digitised materials are virtually connected to the already existing database of instruments’ images, there is no doubt that the audience would broaden and research be stimulated as many unnoticed things and theories would be unearthed.
Moreover, the image and identity of the museum as a reference centre in the history of natural sciences and medicine would be enhanced and the precious materials would be simply put at rest. Though a secondary consideration, financial benefits could also be expected, provided that a good marketing and communication system is thought out in advance.
Known as Book Beside Object (BBO), the project aims at digitising around 6,000 of the 10,850 pre-1900 written materials and connecting them to the already existing 8,000 images of museum objects. Set to cost about € 1,409,056 and last two (2) years, it targets specifically all those involved in teaching, learning, and researching on the history of natural sciences and medicine.15 staff members, 13 of whom working a few months and the remaining 2 the whole project period, are needed to implement the project.
This paper comprises two parts: the first part gives a general overview of the project without giving any in-depth detail, while the second explores more profoundly two aspects, namely the selection strategy and benefits assessment. FULL TEXT IN PDF