Perian Sully, Project Manager, Balboa Park Online Collaborative

Perian Sully is working with Balboa Park Online Collaborative (BPOC), which is a group of 27 organizations located in Balboa Park, San Diego, California. She is responsible for digitization of objects, placing those collections online (either on the organization’s website and/or Flickr) and implementing a DAMS (Digital Asset Management System). Combining all images in one location has allowed BPOC staff easier access to images and their corresponding metadata.

Digitizing Prior to BPOC

Some museums have completed some photographing of collections in a haphazard way (for exhibitions, photograph sale orders, etc). Each museum and individual within those museums had a different way of digitizing. Perian is working on reusing these images rather than starting over from scratch depending on the resolution, etc. of the image by creating a repository of all the images and is helping staff evaluate what can and shouldn’t be used in an online collection.

Flickr Commons and BPOC Institutions

San Diego Air and Space Museum and the Museum of Photographic Art are both members of Flickr Commons. Each museum has gone about incorporating user ‘tags’ in a different way. The Air and Space Museum has 104,000 images, which means they are not able to handle all responses and the archivist adjusts the catalog when he can. The Museum of Photographic Art has 500+ images in comparison, which allows the registrar to change the catalog and update Flickr more often. Having a smaller collection is easier to update than trying to update tags all the time.

Staff versus Demand

There is more demand from the organizations involved to have their collections available online; however there are two staff members (Perian and an assistant) that attempt to digitize items from the different organizations. One of the scanning stations travels around the Park, which allows organization staff and/or interns to help with the digitization of items. While having other staff and interns help when they can, it lessen the load on Perian and her assistant, but it makes me wonder how often they go back to double check the digital items and/or metadata entries to make sure it was done correctly.


Some strategies that Perian and her team have implemented to help make the digitizing easier for everyone include having automated metadata that can be accessed through each organization’s database, and building in ways to streamline the process of digitizing, uploading, etc. without relying on Perian or other staff.

What is Coming Next?

Dana asked Perian what she thought would be next for the online collection database. While not new to the online community, Perian believes that museums (depending on what the technology will require) is semantic web search results. The example Perian used was Amazon’s “If you like this, than you should like this” browse bar. Online museum collections that make suggestions like this and provide the option of sharing your “lists” will probably be one of the next things considered by museum staff that deal with online collections.

Listen to the interview

Listen to the streaming audio recording from anymeeting.


  1. megan says:

    As someone who didn’t know a lot about the digitization process and the creation of online collections databases beforehand, I learned a great deal from the interview with Perian. One of the more interesting aspects of the conversation for me involved copyright and permissions considerations for online images. As we learned in our readings about tagging and Flickr Commons this week, institutions that employ an outside service like Flickr have to be comfortable with releasing things into the public domain and allowing fair use of the image. However, it is important to build in controls to protect the integrity of the collections and how they are used. I am intrigued by ways of making collections available but moderating their use. Maybe the images that are released are in a lower resolution format. Perian also mentioned another way to mediate institutional concerns about permissions without relinquishing all control is to release the images under a creative commons license. To me, this seems like a good moderate approach to permit educational access to collections without museums feeling that they face the threat of giving up all institution control over how the collection is being used as a result of digitization. If these moderating approaches are consistently provided as an option to cultural heritage organizations during the digitization process, I think that more museums would be inclined to participate in other online sharing mediums without feeling as though they are ceding too much institutional oversight and authority to the public.

  2. jared says:

    The digitization process is something new to me as well, but something that definitely intrigues me. Right off the bat Perian had me thinking about aspects of digitization that I had overlooked in the past, such as the life cycle of digitized images. I keep up on technology, and am aware that cameras now can produce higher resolution photographs than cameras 10 years ago, but that is just something that I never really thought about, having to keep updating your digitized collection as technology changes. What are the standards for this? Right now we are able to take what I think are high resolution, great quality photos, but what happens in 10 years when this technology is replaced? Will it be 3-dimensional images? Or are we at a point where the quality is good enough that updates will be few and far between?

    I also liked hearing that Perian will help organizations according to their means. Even if it is just using Flickr to host images, it is still a big step in the right direction of making digitized collections available to the public. This is such an important task for museums to undergo, and without proper help it can seem very daunting.

  3. juliana says:

    Like Jared, I started thinking about the obsolescence of digitized objects and what that means for any digitization project. At some point, it seems that every museum should have a dedicated digitization division just to keep up with the demand and the changing technology.
    I would be daunted by the Sisyphean task of constantly creating new images of objects in the collection only to have to replace them (potentially in 3-D), so thank goodness for people like Perian!
    One thing I’ve wondered in regards to copyright issues is that if the museum creates the photograph of an object, the museum has copyright on that photograph, correct? So couldn’t they put it online without fear of infringement?I realize that it’s somewhat different for scans of photographs, especially where the photographers are still alive, but what about very old paintings? I was a little confused as to the difference between a creative commons license and public domain, because they both effectively allow you to use the images the same way. I’m glad Perian touched on these issues because I’ll definitely have questions for our copyright module.
    Lastly, Perian brought up one really good point about search-ability: you can get away with an ugly interface if it’s incredibly easy to use and useful. For example, she said Amazon is not pretty, but people love it because it has a powerful algorithm for searching, and has the ability to bring up related items. I wonder if museums could use corporate sponsorships with tech companies to develop similar algorithms to deal with the massive amounts of data resulting from a digitized collection…

  4. cherie says:

    I definitely could identify with Perian’s explanation of the challenges around file naming conventions. When I worked on my internship, I developed the naming conventions for all of our digital files that were uploaded to our back end system for the e-commerce site. Unfortunately, we had a wonderful volunteer who took all the photos and just didn’t get the importance of consistent naming. I would come in once a week to create product descriptions and associate the product with its set of pictures (thumbnail, normal, and enlarged). Products usually had at least two views (from the front and from the top) and sometimes up to four or five….times three for each view…times the number of products to bring up that week. We quickly had data files in the thousands very quickly. So one week, the photographer might use the standard for some products and others weeks, she wouldn’t. Maybe she’d call a front view ‘Thing-1-front (T).tiff’ and the next one of the same object but different view would be ‘thing2 sive view E’ (mispelling intentional on my part). There were days I wanted to run screaming from the office. We also had the problem of having her reshoot because the lighting wasn’t right or simply because we couldn’t find it and it was actually faster to have her come in and reshoot than trying to go through the thousands of files. I can totally imagine Perian’s situation with 27 different organizations and the myriad conventions.

  5. ryan says:

    Wow, I can definitely relate to some of the issues Perian mentioned in the interview, especially about data storage, collections management/cataloguing procedures, metadata processes and DAMS implementation and access. I do not envy her position because I got a glimpse of the incredible task and stress involved when I interned at the Imperial War Museum in their Department of Collections Management. Like Jared and Juliana, I had not really thought about the importance of a centralized department to handle data and collections management before. From my experiences and after listening to Perian I am sold that museums should have a collection of staff focused on managing their data across the institution and digitizing collections.

  6. averie says:

    Like many of you that have dealt with collections, we can share our frustrations regarding certain aspects of collections management and digitizing collections like Perian mentioned. Me and about 4 other techs are currently digitizing and inventorying item upon item. Every. Single. Day. Our department is quite small, but with direction, we get one step closer from completing a 100% inventory of over 100,000 artifacts. We have about 75,000 in our database at the moment. This goes to show how important digitizing a collection can be. It keeps things organized that’s for sure. Before, records were all written by hand and filed. Regarding staff and demand, with our small staff and deadline to complete our task by 2013, it can seem quite daunting. After that is completed, all the mistakes and quirks will be left for the second complete inventory. As Perian mentioned, it really can see never ending but you do get experience variety, which makes things exciting.

  7. Emma says:

    I am not familiar with the digitization process used in museums (I have read about it, but lack any experience in this area) and I thought Perian did a great job explaining the overall process specifically within the context of her job at Balboa Park.

    I originally asked the question about how to digitize an object from start to finish and really appreciated the depth of Perian’s answer. As a photographer, I was really curious about the type of equipment and software that she used as well as how (in terms of what digital format) she/her assistant photographed objects, and finally how the images were converted so they could be viewed, used, and downloaded. I think her description of the process really illustrates how much time and effort goes into placing a digital collection online for internal and public use. I was surprised when she said her assistant got through so many photos (I think she said it was 500 or so per day) as I was expecting the number to be much lower.

    Perian touched on this at the end of the interview, but I wanted to reiterate it; it will be very interesting to see, as digital media and technology increase, how it will directly affect the digitization of museum collections. As we all know, with technology it is never known what will be created or developed next and how that might affect, specifically, digital management in the future. I would be interested to ask Perian if she knows of or has heard of any digital collection management software/technology or methods utilized by museums that are cutting-edge and/or very advanced (more so than the average museum) and what are her thoughts on it?

  8. angela says:

    Perian’s role is definitely interesting and challenging. I did learn about the basic flow and procedures involved in digitization projects from the Museum Technology class before, and the idea I had was basically how to plan and do it best from scratch. Perian mentioned that for some institutions she is adapting what they already have rather than starting all over; this is something that never crossed my mind. My biggest takeaway from the interview is that we have to be flexible and smart with digitization (and yes, with most other things we do in museums and in life!). While digitization can be a very mechanical process (I’m now recounting her description of what she and the assistant do on a daily basis), a role like hers requires strategic planning and implementation to come up with different solutions that best suit the needs and circumstances of the many institutions.

    The recommendation algorithm like Amazon’s that she mentioned got me into thinking whether this is truly helpful to users of museum catalogues. It makes a lot of sense with book purchase – if I buy a sci-fi, I would probably be interested in another sci-fi or books by the same author, etc. But if I view a picture of Monet, does that mean I’m really interested in Monet? I could just be randomly browsing, because viewing is different from buying (cost involved). Even if I’m truly interested in Monet, I could probably be able to browse by artist in the catalogue given that it’s a pretty common way to categorize. If I view a photograph of a vintage staircase in a dark atmosphere, what are the attributes that arouse my interest in the first place? The age, the object, or the environment? Or the tone of the photo, or the emotions I have looking at it? I think the issue here may be that our interest in art pieces can be the result of a large number of reasons, and sometimes they can be very personal. In order to grasp why a person likes a particular piece and make sensible recommendations, the algorithm would probably need to be very intelligent and complicated. Perian also talked about the difficulty with the massive amount of data that would have to be dealt with in order to make this work. I’m just thinking if users would find it useful to begin with, but maybe I’m thinking too narrow?

  9. brian says:

    I’d like to apologize to all my classmates for missing the question for Perian this week. Work has been crazy these past two weeks. I wish Id gotten a question in because Perian is working on a project similar to the one I was working on as a contractor at the West Point Museum.
    Digitizing a collection is one of the great challenges. Without it there really is very little content for a website. But looking at a museum’s collection particularly a large one the task is so huge it is more than a little intimidating. While I know each museum is different I would have liked to know more about the strategies she uses to work through large collections. I’m in full agreement with her that having the metadata in place before hand is extremely important. We are still in the process of making the digital records accurate so that when we begin photographing on a mass production basis, the records will be prepared for the images.
    I really do like her idea of using an Amazon like feature that recommends artifacts to people. Angela I understand your reluctance, however, I can easily imagine a history museum like the West Point Museum, recommending other Civil War objects and or images to users. Or if someone shows an interest in uniforms showing uniforms of various time periods. We already index the objects to a certain extent. Shouldnt be too hard to expand on that idea.

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