Curators Grab the Toolbox: The Next Generation of MCN Leaders

What happens when curators with no background in technology or database management decide to tackle a collaborative web project? This case study follows the ongoing development of the Winterthur Museum, Garden & Library’s Boston Furniture Archive, free, online resource for the study of furniture made in Boston, Massachusetts, between 1630 and 1930 ( The core of the Archive is a database of photographs and metadata that document furniture owned by museums, other cultural institutions, and private collectors; objects described in research files at the Winterthur Library; and pieces illustrated in trade publications and auction catalogs. In addition, the Archive offers learning tools that provide context to the metadata, such as an illustrated glossary of furniture terminology. Over the past three years, furniture and decorative arts scholars have shaped the structure and content of the Archive based on their experience as researchers and teachers, balancing depth with accessibility to a public audience. The project has required these curators to gain fluency with the language and conventions of digital projects in order to guide the work of technologists. Additionally, the Archive’s goal of collecting, collating, and sharing collections data from many institutions, some of which do not have full-time collections or IT staff, has challenged Winterthur staff to think beyond the norms of their own institution to consider questions of sustainability, the needs of partners, and possible future uses of data. The development of the Archive offers a model for other collections-based, curator-guided, and audience-driven digital projects. Speaker: Session Leader : Sarah Parks, Project Manager, Boston Furniture Archive, Winterthur Museum, Garden & Library MCN 2016 Presenting Sponsor: Piction New Orleans, LA