Reviewed October 2020
Courtenay McLeland, Head of Digital Projects and Preservation
University of North Florida
The New Museum Digital Archive provides access to documentation of the New Museum's rich programmatic and institutional history spanning the past 43 years. The Digital Archive was first launched in 2010 and relaunched with a new design in 2017. Content continues to be added which includes records populated with information about events, digitized ephemeral material, printed matter, and images. Audio and video recordings of public programs are included in the digital archive as well. Content is freely available through any browser and does not require the creation of an account for access.
The archive is presented in a way that encourages browsing and serendipitous discovery through interaction with navigation menus. On the home page, content is arranged in broad categories such as Exhibitions, Public Programs, People, Print & Ephemera, Sounds, Oral Histories, Videos, and Building Initiatives. On the Archive Search page, users are presented with similar, though slightly different, broad categories of material. There are subtypes among the options to narrow down content through browsing to navigate within categories of material. For example, exhibitions may be narrowed down by type or by site. There is also an engaging view of Print Ephemera that invites visitors to browse by dragging or swiping in either direction. From there, users may enter into the record and, in most cases, open a full-text PDF of the item. When the material is under copyright the PDF has been redacted beyond the cover image and a note instructing interested viewers to contact the archive has been added.
The categories into which the materials are organized for browsing are not in alphabetical order. While it is plausible that this arrangement represents a hierarchy of where items fall within the collection or an estimation of potential research interest, the intent of the presentation order is not made clear. Fortunately, the site also provides a search function. Among the options beneath the search bar is a sort function that does not appear to be fully integrated. This function only works within the broad overarching categories of material available from the homepage but lacks a repository-wide impact on entries or lists of search results. Clicking on sort after conducting a search causes the list of search results to disappear. In a separate area of the site, a Chronology section provides a browsable view by decade within which users may use a dropdown menu to select a particular year.
Though the site design appeals to both academic and non-academic audiences, researchers will find value in the included museum event records as sources of authoritative information about themes, dates, listed participants, and more. Some event records may only contain a single representative image, but no additional linked digital objects while other records are linked to a variety of formats of content. Records may include descriptions of the events as well as names of panelists, speakers, or performers. Press releases available as downloadable PDFs are available as well. These publicly accessible PDFs do not have embedded metadata, but this is not likely to impact most users.
It is evident that much effort and creativity went into presenting the material in this vast archive to a broader audience in such an interactive and visually appealing manner. The content is of value to both casual visitors and researchers. Still, the navigation and searchability of the resource should be improved so that serious researchers more easily discover relevant content. Possibilities abound for enhanced metadata as the digital archive continues to grow.