The University of Notre Dame has been awarded a $455,000 grant from the Andrew W. Mellon Foundation to create a Unified Preservation and Exhibition Platform — a software solution that will enable universities to access museum and library holdings through a single online portal.
University library and museum officials nationwide have long sought solutions that would enable their collections and artifacts to be easily discovered online.
However, museums and libraries have historically been independent gateways for faculty and students to engage with scholarly resources, research tools, historical information and cultural objects. Users can access the physical collections at different locations, but not all resources are available online. Collection management systems are optimized for each respective field, but they do not interact well with each other. Thus, scholars are unable to efficiently conduct expansive research across these university holdings.
The Snite Museum of Art and the Hesburgh Libraries — including Rare Books and Special Collections and University Archives — will use their expertise and extensive holdings to develop a new software platform to address this universal challenge. University officials believe the new platform will have a transformational effect on research, teaching and learning at Notre Dame and other institutions facing similar needs.
“Notre Dame is blessed with extraordinary library and art collections, including artifacts that have unique historic, cultural and religious significance,” said Thomas G. Burish, Charles and Jill Fischer Provost at Notre Dame. “We are grateful to the Mellon Foundation for providing us the means to share these collections more broadly with scholars as well as the public.”
In addition to enhanced discovery and access, the single-portal platform will reduce technological and administrative barriers that often hinder collaboration between libraries and museums.
The project will unite previously independent efforts to build digital infrastructures. Library developers will build on existing tools — including the institutional repository CurateND and the locally developed Digital Exhibits and Collections application — to create a new resource that meets the needs of both museums and libraries. An integrated system that aligns administrative and technological infrastructure will both reduce technology overhead and curatorial redundancies and increase resource discovery and research productivity.
“The platform will provide seamless access to the University’s cultural and historical holdings — from artwork to manuscripts to archival recordings — through the same online system for the first time,” said Edward H. Arnold University Librarian Diane Parr Walker. “The results will have significant impact on pedagogical access, scholarly engagement and research outcomes at Notre Dame and elsewhere.”
“Ultimately, the goal is to align our resources to ensure that diverse stakeholders can easily perform research across University collections. We anticipate that this new platform will encourage comparative research, innovative joint exhibitions and deeper integration of artwork, rare books and artifacts into University teaching,” added Charles Loving, director of the Snite Museum of Art.
The three-and-one-half-year collaboration aims to yield contributions far beyond the Unified Preservation and Exhibition Platform itself. The software will be optimized for the cloud infrastructure, thereby making it more capable, scalable and less costly than software deployed on a local network infrastructure. It will feature a shared administrative back-end system to calibrate data entry and optimize collection management workflows for both library and museum environments. The team will also document collaborative processes and best practices to facilitate seamless adoption of the technology by other academic institutions.
Notre Dame shares the Mellon Foundation’s commitment to advancing museum-library collaborations through freely available, scalable solutions. The project will be published through several open access channels, including Notre Dame’s institutional repository, CurateND. Outcomes will also be widely shared with library, museum and open-source development communities.