Monday 12 November 2007

Newspapers - meet hyperlinks.

This morning James Fenton's Guardian article about the British Museum putting its collection database online popped up in my feed reader.

I scanned the article, noting all the good things he had to say about the project (and loving the way that the British Museum refers to the collection items listed on the database as 'flat art'. Love love love it. I am now dividing all art into 'flat art' 'not flat art' and 'art that you can't see but know is there').

Three weeks ago, the British Museum quietly launched its comprehensive website of what it calls flat art: mostly so far its enormous collection of prints and drawings. The drawings, 50,000 of them, have all been catalogued; the prints, by no means. It is hard to say how many of them there are. There is a collection of a third of a million bookplates (yet to be tackled, and perhaps a low priority). There are large untapped resources - for instance, French satirical prints - which have not been published elsewhere in any form, and will now become searchable.

The effort goes back a long way. In 1990 a team of four staff began cataloguing the drawings. It took them 10 years. At present there are on any given day eight people at work on the online catalogue, plus volunteers. What they are feeding into the system is not just the subject, author, dimensions and technical details, but also, where relevant, the scholarly literature on a given drawing, its full provenance, who gave it to the museum and when. From any entry you can then find out, for instance, what is known about the donor of the object (many of the gifts go back to the 18th century).

And then I thought yeah, I'll go to the site - where's the link? So I scrolled back to the top of the article - no link. Then back to the bottom - still no link. And then I realised that in a 1050 word article about a website, there was no link to the site. Print newspapers I can almost forgive, but this drives me crazy.


Kebabette said...

You are kinder than me. When "The Press" in Christchurch writes an article about a new website and never deigns to mention the URL I just want to throttle them.

A ex journo colleague tried to explain their logic to me, but I just don't get it.

Good article though thanks, I'd better mosey off to the British Museum ...

Courtney Johnston said...

I guess the print media's thinking - I hesitate to use the word logic! - is that people are unlikely to type in a URL they read in the paper. But really - it makes as much sense as reviewing a TV show and then not saying when it screens.