Representing a Relationship: The use of metadata to represent the relationship between physical objects and their digital surrogates
Digital collections are increasingly prominent in museums as born-digital material is acquired by institutions, and digital surrogates of physical items are created through digital imaging, digitisation, and reformatting projects. These digital collections are a significant development in museums and a useful tool, particularly for access. When a digital surrogate is created of a physical object, they have an inherent connection to one another. Representing this relationship is important for museums in order to provide context for their collection items. These types of relationships also occur across physical formats, and the consequence of a breakdown in this relationship has been shown in the literature to lead to a loss of context. However, it is unclear how the relationship a physical object has with its digital surrogate is represented in the metadata. Current literature on digital collections only briefly explores existing relationships between digital and physical collections and provides no framework for best practice in a museum context. This thesis examines how metadata is used to represent the relationship between a physical object and its digital surrogate at the Museum of New Zealand Te Papa Tongarewa. The research involved a single-site case study, with interviews and documentary research which were thematically analysed. This thesis shows how the relationship between physical and digital objects are primarily represented at Te Papa through the collection management system’s structure, with some metadata elements representing the relationship incidentally. It also shows that there are differing worldviews and perspectives across the GLAM domains in the language and the drivers of digitisation. This research serves as a snapshot of current practice at one institution and encourages further research to better understand the long-term implications of this and other approaches. For museums, understanding how the relationship between physical objects and digital surrogates is currently being represented through metadata could help support professional practice for both types of collections, ensure the relationship is maintained, and help support existing and future digital interventions in museums.