Museums are wonderful cultural institutions and learning opportunities, but they’re limited in their reach, only available to locals or those able to visit. 3D scanning and printing are changing that, however, by allowing museum collections to be digitized and made available for free online. In the case of the Benjamin Harrison Presidential Site, the entire collection will be available for 3D printing, so that virtual visitors will have the opportunity to download and print pieces of history.
The New Century eCollection initiative will open up the former president’s museum to the public through 3D scanning and digitizing the full collection, which will be made available for free online. Partly funded by a $50,000 Lilly Endowment grant, the digital platform is being offered in partnership with IUPUI University Library and School of Informatics. Currently, less than 10 percent of Benjamin Harrison’s collection is accessible to the public through guided tours and special exhibitions, but once the site goes online, it will all be available and easy to access.
We were recently given an opportunity to speak with Charles Hyde, President and CEO of the Benjamin Harrison Presidential Site, about the initiative.
Why was this site in particular selected to be made available to the public for 3D printing?
“The Benjamin Harrison Presidential Site decided to pursue this initiative because of the nature of our collection, and our determination to make it broadly accessible without limitations or artificial constraints. We are a privately funded and operated 501c3 organization, and this independence allows us much greater strategic and operational agility. Only presidents from Herbert Hoover forward are part of the federally-managed Presidential Library system.”
What sort of items can people expect to be able to 3D print? Are there any that stand out as being of particular interest?
“The initial phase will allow us to 2D and 3D scan over 6,000 items of national significance from our collection, directly relating to President Harrison and over a dozen other presidents. As we’ve started to make the STL files available to program partners, they’ve been especially excited by a statue of Benjamin Harrison by the artist Charles Niehaus, the Centennial Cane—a folk art piece given to Harrison in celebration of the 100 year anniversary of the presidency from Washington to Harrison—and the Horn Chair, another gift to Harrison for the Centennial ‘blinged out’ with diamonds, exotic fur and gold plaques. It’s astonishing how the scans capture the fineness of these details. It opens up a world of possibilities for professionals, researchers, educators and enthusiasts to engage with a museum collection in new, exciting and unexpected ways.”
Will other presidential museums be opening up their collections to the public in the same way?
“We believe that this is the future of museums, and we’re working to demonstrate an innovative model of success for other institutions to explore and emulate. We would not be surprised to see many other museums following suit in the next 5 years.”
Is there any other information you’d like to share?
“Our efforts are informed by our vision as an organization to become the most innovative, impactful and civically-engaged presidential site in the country by 2020. Our objective in leveraging this emerging digital technology to our mission-driven purposes is threefold: preservation, education, outreach. This requires both big thinking and bold action:
- PRESERVATION: We will better preserve our nationally-significant collection for future generations by visually documenting artifacts in their entirety—whether they are 2D or 3D.
- EDUCATION: We will make our collection more accessible to visitors, educators, and researchers by building robust metadata around this e-collection. It will open up original materials, letters and artifacts for exploration by students, researchers and educators that have never been accessible before.
- OUTREACH: Less than 10% of our collection is currently accessible to the public. National treasures like letters to the founders and extraordinary mementos from more than a dozen different presidents are never seen, and we recognize that this is a lost opportunity.
Ultimately, it’s about impact, and we want to be smart and sustainable in our investments. So rather than the conventional approach of sinking large amounts of capital into a vast physical space that would serve only a local or regional audience, this new digital collection will open the Benjamin Harrison Presidential Site to the world—24 hours a day, seven days a week—in new, compelling and engaging ways.”
The Benjamin Harrison Presidential Site is the first museum in the country to make its entire collection digitally available in this way. The 3D scanned collection is expected to become available to the public online this November. Discuss in the Benjamin Harrison forum at 3DPB.com.
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