I really love the Internet for research. It connects us to materials and people around the world. As a visual person, I find the availability of photographs and other visualizations on just about any subject especially gratifying. You can visit places and eras that you physically may not be able to.
One of the invaluable services libraries and museums provide, especially now that more of their collections are being digitized, is access to historical periods and obscure topics. (Like the Peter Parker collection of 80 paintings of Chinese patients with large tumors or other major deformities – that’s not a joke!)
And that’s only the beginning – using library and museum websites and digital collections to find primary sources for research has other benefits as well:
- Copious metadata: the provenance (origins and history) of documents or items, including details like dates, original creators, owners, and chain of custody, are clearly marked when known, and when unknown, that is clearly stated, too.
- Materials that physical items were made of are also given, often with information on the techniques involved or links to further reading in connection with museum exhibits.
- Many libraries and museums group items in their digital collections into more easily browsable subgroups, for example by era, style, type, or topic.
- Copyright information is easily available: any limitations to re-using the materials are clearly given. There are also collections that concentrate on items that are in public domain.
- If digital materials are made available for re-using, often there are multiple formats, sizes, or resolutions. That’s great service!
- Sets of search results are often smaller than online in general. Finding an answer is faster!
- Digital collections are created by professionals. While this doesn’t completely eliminate the possibility of errors, online materials at libraries and museums are researched, curated, and checked, which increases the reliability of the information provided.
- If additional information or clarification is needed, it’s the job of museums and libraries to at least try to help. That’s literally why they’re there!
Below are just some amazing digital collections from museums and libraries around the world:
- Alaska’s Digital Archives
- Biblioteca Nacional Brasil: Biblioteca Nacional Digital Brasil
- Biblioteca Nacional de España: Biblioteca Digital Hispánica
- British Library: Digitised Manuscripts
- Collections of the National Library of Australia
- Digital Library of the Caribbean (subset of the University of Florida Digital Collections)
- Germanisches Nationalmuseum: Online Holdings
- Library of Congress: Digital Collections and Services
- The Metropolitan Museum of Art: The Collection Online
- Nagasaki University: Digital Collection
- National Library of China: Service Online
- National Library of Finland: Digital Collections
- National Museum of [South] Korea: Collection Database
- New York Public Library: Public Domain Collections (subset of NYPL Digital Collections)
- Oceania Digital Library (a project of PRRLA)
- Russian State Library: Digital Library
- Smithsonian Libraries: Digital Collections
- The Universal Digital Library
Must. Resist. Internet. Rabbit. Holes!
Image: The Drawbridge via NYPL (The Miriam and Ira D. Wallach Division of Art, Prints and Photographs: Print Collection, The New York Public Library, New York Public Library Digital Collections; 1748-1751; etching; by Giovanni Battista Piranesi)
Out There is an occasional feature highlighting intriguing art, spaces, places, phenomena, flora, and fauna.