50X50 Stories of Visionary Artists from the Collection

In celebration of its fiftieth anniversary, the San José Museum of Art (SJMA) developed the digital publication 50X50: Stories of Visionary Artists from the Collection, highlighting fifty artists in the permanent collection. This publication shows the Museum’s support of artists as visionary thinkers and helps transform SJMA into a museum for the twenty-first century.

50X50: Stories of Visionary Artists from the Collection provides free worldwide access to a selection of multimedia materials that describe the lifelong work of SJMA’s modern and contemporary artists. Documentation of artworks, exhibitions, and studios engages readers in their professional as well as everyday lives, their ideas, and their creative processes. This open-access publication is available for free online and in multiple formats for download, including PDF and EPUB.

Although initially looking at the OSCI Toolkit (developed by IMA Lab @ Indianapolis Museum of Art) to build the 50thAnniversary publication, we came to realize that the OSCI Toolkit was sunsetted and we confirmed that it was no longer being maintained and would not be a viable platform for the publication. With this, and the open-sourced goals of SJMA for this project in mind I began to dive deeper into the Online Scholarly Catalogue Initiative (OSCI) and familiarize myself with its contents. Some of the most important takeaways of the OSCI Toolkit experiment was that it wasn’t particularly fiscally sustainable, especially for small digital teams with fewer resources and it required significant maintenance over time. The OSCI research also identified that discoverability on the web and longevity were major issues for digital publications and that museums need effective tools that make it easy to distribute a publication online in various formats.

Multiple format publishing increases accessibility online and allows for immense flexibility and reach. Avoiding vendor lock-in was also of concern, given that the toolkit was based on a Drupal platform. I began to understand that a high level of content flexibility ensures future accessibility and adaptation. So, I began searching for other, more sustainable alternatives for our publication. Eventually I was led to the concept of static-site publishing and the publishing tool called Quire, being developed by The Getty. This seemed a user-friendly tool to implement and a sustainable one that provides some protection from immediate technological obsolescence, as it is built from plain text and does not require a backend database or CMS to maintain over time.

Quire–the Getty’s digital publishing platform– is optimized for longevity and discover-ability, allowing output in multiple formats from plain-text files as well as print-on-demand PDF files. These factors were critical in the Museum’s decision to use this platform for a milestone anniversary publication and a timely opportunity to examine sustainability in the digital publishing realm. Quire’s data driven approach that privileges meaning over design, text as data, and separation of content from presentation allows content to shift and adapt to new technological landscapes, as it can be more easily extracted from plain text documents. It also provides as editorial process that is easily adaptable to what many museum professionals are used to and makes use of tools with which these individuals are already familiar.

In determining what type of software to use for the Museum’s fiftieth-anniversary catalog, questions, and concerns around ongoing maintenance, future migration, and accessibility were carefully weighed against available options, especially considering its purpose as a testament to the history and evolution of the collection.