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New ways for museums to explore and share their collections

Museum curators and researchers will soon be able to investigate and study works of art in multiple museums and galleries without leaving their desks.

This development is made possible by the SCULPTEUR project, which was completed this month. The project, which is the first of its kind, has unlocked the digital potential of the collections of the Victoria and Albert Museum and the National Gallery in London, the Uffizi Gallery in Italy, the Centre de Recherche et de Restauration des Musees de France and the Musee de Cherbourg.

Over a three-year period, computer scientists from the University of Southampton's School of Electronics and Computer Science and IT Innovation Centre worked in conjunction with other project partners, to find new ways for the associated museums and galleries to search, explore and share their rich multimedia collections.

The drive for museums to broaden their online services and to share their digital collections has meant that there is a new desire to unlock their internal repositories and make them more accessible to others.

Dr Matthew Addis of IT Innovation commented: 'There is a wealth of new opportunities for museums and galleries to make extended use of their digital collections and to provide new online services to the community. However, many barriers exist due to immaturity of technology, lack of standards and best practice and difficulties in combining information from multiple sources within a museum or when distributed across the Web.'

SCULPTEUR has used Semantic Web technology to apply a combination of knowledge engineering, content-based analysis and digital library interoperability, which means that rich sources of information on cultural heritage can be easily found within multiple distributed collections.

Dr Kirk Martinez of the Intelligence, Agents, Multimedia (IAM) group in the School of Electronics and Computer Science, added: 'Users of museum collections don't always know how to describe exactly what they are looking for, or instead they might want to explore a particular topic, for example how different materials and techniques have been used by a group of artists. Up until now, there has been no way to search museum collections by content such as 3D shape, or navigate by concepts. The work we have done on this project will help them search and browse in new ways.'

According to James Stevenson, Photographic Manager at the Victoria and Albert Museum: 'SCULPTEUR gives those searching digital archives new techniques that enrich the creativity of both the visitor and the museum professional. The traditional way for digital librarians to search image databases by text is often restricting and frustrating. SCULPTEUR liberates these restrictions.'

More Information.
Posted by Joyce Lewis on 20 May 2005.