Digital cameras or analog photography?
In the early days of documenting written and visual material worthy of protection, this was still preserved using analog processes, such as microfilm or analog photography. This has the disadvantage that such analog objects are bound to material carriers to exactly the same extent and are subject to decay as the originals, whereas digital information can be copied and stored again and again without loss, so that its lifetime can theoretically be extended indefinitely. However, it must be taken into account that the physical file carrier is not damaged or becomes obsolete (if cloud storage is not possible for data protection reasons), and secondly that the selected file format remains valid and readable. Therefore, migration may need to take place at regular intervals. For long-term use of documents, for example, the PDF/A file type makes sense; for pure image formats, the JPG file type has been a proven format for many years, but this is lossy due to data compression.
Digital image databases
Software for managing large quantities of image material is also playing an increasingly important role in restoration. With their help, in addition to mere archiving, it is also possible to sort, edit, keyword and search for metadata of digital photos, such as the location or date on which the image was taken. This can support the conservator's work, for example, in documenting different states of an object, archiving and inventorying, comparing similar objects, researching and exchanging professional information with colleagues.
Digital documentation and mapping
To create digital views of three-dimensional objects, Metigo MAP software was developed for conservators. It offers the possibility to document and map the objects and to examine them on the screen from different perspectives. This makes it easier to work on the object, for example, when it is located in a place that is difficult to access; comparisons can be made between different phases in the restoration process; and damage can be better identified in a close-up view and by comparing different types of views.
Digital libraries and digital museums
These are two different phenomena, but they can overlap: on the one hand, many existing museums and libraries have been displaying some of their holdings online for some years. On the other hand, there are also completely location-independent portals on the Web that present cultural assets - one example of a purely digital library is Project Gutenberg, which makes full texts of public domain literary works accessible on its website.
For museum presentations on the Web, the rule is that they must show the relevant objects in a curatorial context - a deliberate selection, explanations and additional information about the pieces, and a context of meaning appropriate to the exhibition are crucial. Digital presentation facilitates access, for example, for mobility-impaired people, at-risk groups, or simply enables viewing over great distances.
3D printers, GPS tracking, drones
However, digital technologies also offer restorers possibilities that go far beyond the mere documentation of objects. 3D scanning and printing processes have already been used to reconstruct missing parts of sculptures, ceramics and other historical objects. A UV-active substance can be added to the material, which makes it possible to identify the parts produced in the printer on the finished object using UV light. Sometimes, instead of lending and transporting the fragile originals, exhibits are even replicated on site by a 3D printer.
Drones are used in historic preservation when they help document the condition of structures in otherwise inaccessible locations. In this context, storing the GPS data of the respective photo can be additionally helpful in localization. The technology has already been used on Hamburg City Hall and Cologne Cathedral.
Virtual museums and trade fairs in the Corona crisis
In the wake of the Corona Crisis lockdown, many museums developed virtual formats to allow visitors access to their exhibits despite being closed.
Some aimed to mimic the experience of visiting a museum as closely as possible to real life - for example, by offering virtual tours through a simulation of the museum space, sometimes including guided tours at fixed times. Others developed formats that are independent of the actual space and are only possible in virtual space - for example, the MoMa in New York, which offered free courses on modern art via a learning platform, including instructional videos, forums for exchange and knowledge tests. It is to be expected that such formats will continue to exist even after the end of exit restrictions, as they can help to avoid physical visits and thus reduce the risk of contagion.