I learned on HYPERALLERGIC today that the Norman Rockwell Museum digitized 50,000 images from the Norman Rockwell photograph collection!
What I find to be so awesome about this project is that it demystifies, as much as possible, Rockwell’s choices in image selection and inspiration for his paintings. I think so often I have considered the value of digitization in terms of specific documents which tell a very important story– like the William Still collection— and less about how a digitized document could actually support a better understanding of something already well known in terms of a visual image– like a Rockwell painting.
I was also interested in how this project came to happen and how long it took to do the work of digitizing such an extensive collection. According to the article, “The process of archiving and scanning the images, which had been stockpiled in 239 boxes until Venus Van Ness, the Norman Rockwell Museum’s archivist, did a preliminary survey of the photos in 2011, took a full two years and was completed in August 2014 with the help of a $150,000 grant from the Institute of Museum and Library Services.” This investment from the IMLS, of which I know many archives request funds, made me think less about the grant application itself and more about the decision making processes of the IMLS. How do they choose what they decide to support in terms of digitization?
When I visited the IMLS website and searched for digitization grants, I found a handful of options, most of them initiatives specifically for Native American initiatives. A few of them were more broadly based, including the Museums for America and National Leadership Grants for Libraries. However, all of these grant applications accepted a broad-ranging amount of projects beyond digital work. So now I am wondering, to what extent do digital initiatives matter to funders and how does a project like the Rockwell digitization project rate in comparison to a request for funds to properly store an unprocessed collection in acid free boxes, which then led me to wonder how do archivists prioritize what to ask for in terms of funding?