GLAM/Case studies/Thomas J. Watson Library at the MMA, New York

by John Byrne / Johnbod and William Blueher / WilliamDigiCol

Catalog from 1899, described by Arthur Hoeber, together with many illustrations

The Thomas J. Watson Library is the main library of The Metropolitan Museum of Art ("MMA") in New York City. Watson Library, in collaboration with other departmental libraries, has created a Digital Collections of over 17,000 items (as of May 2013, still expanding). One of the primary focuses of the digitization effort has been MMA publications. The Museum Libraries are in the process of digitizing all MMA publications from 1869 (The Museum's founding) to 1963, which complements the Digital Media and Editorial Departments' efforts to digitize all MMA publications from 1964 to the present. Currently there are over 1,100 books published by the MMA, including large "doorstopper" exhibition and collection catalogues from as recently as 2009. These are available as downloadable PDF files from their website, and represent a massive resource for anything to do with art history and the history of art.

William Blueher, or User:WilliamDigiCol, a staff member from the library, has been working with Wikipedia to place links to this material in the appropriate Wikipedia articles. Several hundred links have been added to Wikipedia, mostly as "Further reading" or "External links". This initiative was undertaken as a means to increase usage of the Digital Collections. Prior to collaborating with Wikipedia, an average of 62 visitors a day were visiting the website. Watson Library decided it needed to do more to attract users to its growing digital holdings, so the collaboration with Wikipedia began. Now, over 50% of the traffic going to the library's Digital Collections is referred by Wikipedia. Additionally, the total number of pageviews has jumped from just over 5,000 a month (prior to adding any links in Wikipedia) to over 45,000 in the last 30 days (an 800% increase), and the total number of visits per month has jumped from around 1,800 to over 12,000 (a 566% increase). Currently, the website averages 412 visitors per day, up from the original 62 (a 565% increase). These figures testify to the fruitfulness of this collaboration.

The working process can be seen at the working page where WilliamDigiCol proposes links and Johnbod comments (anyone else is welcome to participate), sometimes suggesting additional ones and sometimes suggesting the book may not be sufficiently relevant. The agreed links are then posted to the pages by WilliamDigiCol. This page then functions as a record of the links made and the process that led up to them.

The collaboration in fact began when Johnbod reverted some early link additions by User:WilliamDigiCol, but explained on his talk page [1] why he had done so, and what were the useful links to post. The working style was taken from an earlier collaboration Johnbod was involved in with the Victoria and Albert Museum in London, where a similar "clearing" work page was used. The collaboration is entirely remote; we have never met or even spoken by phone.

The links offer readily available high-quality sources for the articles they are included in, and they have led to article expansions and corrections, and at least one new article - Gold glass.

Thomas J. Watson Library


From the MMA site: "The Thomas J. Watson Library is a world-renowned research collection with over 800,000 volumes. It is The Metropolitan Museum of Art’s central research library, and its mission is to support the research activities of the Museum staff; in addition, it serves an international community of scholars. Holdings reflect the Museum’s encyclopedic collections, with emphasis on European and American art, architecture, and decorative arts, ancient Near Eastern, Egyptian, Greek and Roman, Asian, and Islamic art, as well as an extensive collection of clippings and other ephemera relating to the Museum’s history.

The primary mission of the Watson Library Digitization Initiative is to expand access to the Library’s rare and unique materials by developing, supporting, and promoting a distinctive digital collection of these items.

The initiative will target materials that fall outside the parameters of other major digitization efforts, such as Google Books or the Internet Archive, and make them accessible to support the scholarly endeavors of Metropolitan Museum of Art staff and an international community of researchers."