#65: Isabel Meyer on digitizing Smithsonian collections & making them available for educational use

Isabel Meyer is the branch manager for the Smithsonian’s Digital Asset Management System (DAMS), and she talks about the process of digitizing different collections within the Smithsonian to better support its mission of “increase and diffusion of knowledge.”

isabel-meyerThere are over 157 million objects in the Smithsonian’s overall collection with over 5 million of them having been digitized within their DAMS. This accounts for just over 3% of their total collection, and their in the process of prioritizing the digitization process and making those assets more widely available.

She mentions the Smithsonian Collections Search EDU site that has over 8.6 million catalog records of museum objects, library & archives materials with about 15% of those that have images.

There’s also the Smithsonian X 3D site, which is currently in an early beta that contains over 20 3D-scanned objects available for download and for non-commercial, personal or educational uses according to their Terms of Use. One particularly interesting example is this 3D laser scan of a Wooly Mammoth

Isabel says that this is an expensive process, and they’re trying to get more funding to make these objects available. Hopefully at some point, VR developers will have greater access and ability to create immersive experiences that include authentic artifacts our our digitized cultural heritage.


  • 0:00 – Intro – Digital Asset System manager at Smithsonian. Digital representations of all of their collections. Capturing more and more objects. Currently at 5 million digital assets. Being used by all 19 museums, 9 libraries and the zoo.
  • 1:43 – Total Objects in Smithsonian is 157 million objects, but doesn’t include event photography and other objects. Probably around less than 3% of it has been digitized. In process of prioritizing what should be digitized.
  • 2:44 – Getting access to digital objects. How do you collaborate or get access to some of these objects. Their DAMS is behinds a firewall. Determining what should be made publicly available. Greatly expanding this portion. There was a lot of reluctance at first. Have expanded tools. Smithsonian Search site at http://collections.si.edu/search/ Sketchbot Robot that draws images in the sand, and want to make that code made available.
  • 5:30 – Copyright may have expired, but Smithsonian owns copyright of the digital version, and make available? Making high-res scans available according to their terms of use and clears for distribution.
  • 6:44 – Tracking metadata within their digital objects. Different categories of metadata, and their DAMS is integrated with their collection management systems. Metadata is embedded within the asset.
  • 8:00 – Announcement of museums that will be releasing objects. Have an existing 3D site with 20+ objects available. It’s an expensive process, and trying to get more funding to make these objects available at Smithsonian X 3D. There’s a rapid capture initiative.
  • 10:04 – What would you hope would happen with this cultural heritage. Don’t know what the possibilities are yet. Researchers, educators and creating new artwork.
  • 10:55 – Potential to collaborate with Smithsonian. Would need to go through the Public Affairs office.

Theme music: “Fatality” by Tigoolio

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Episode 66