The History of Digitalization of the Wien Museum

February 17, 2023

Preface: By Nicole High-Steskal

I met Michaela Feurstein-Prasser two years ago in a course I was teaching at the University of Continuing Education in Krems. Michaela was often able to add deep insights into the functioning of museums and the construction of exhibits to our class. When the LiviaAI-project began, it was clear that we wanted her to join the team to support us in understanding how the digital collections of our partner museums began, especially within the context of Vienna’s rich museums landscape. Her background and interviews really helped us to better contextualize final results of the similarity analysis. We look forward to exploring the topic in greater detail and hope to formalize our results in a long paper in the next year.

The History of Digitalization of the Wien Museum

By Michaela Feurstein-Prasser,, Wien

My task was to find out how the process of digitalization was undertaken in the Wien Museum. My research was mainly based on an extensive interview with Frauke Kreutler and Evi Scheller. Frauke Kreutler has been responsible for the digital management of the collection since the beginning, going back to the first years of the era of Wolfgang Kos. She was involved in all decisions concerning the choice of a database, digitization of the collection photos, the choice of authority control, etc. Evi Scheller has been responsible for the online collection and how the collection is made searchable for the public since 2018. Both credited their former directors Wolfgang Kos and Christian Kircher as initiators and supporters of the digital changes of the Wien Museum, which finds its continuation with their successors Matti Bunzl and Christina Schwaz.

Parallel to the information from the Wien Museum I was also looking for the digital strategy of the City of Vienna and tried to find out if the digital strategy for the museums fits into the global strategy. The city administration has been working on a digital strategy for the city since 2000. The aim is to change Vienna into a “Smart City” using technology to implement a sustainable way of using resources. Interestingly enough, cultural matters play a very small role in this strategy focusing mainly on practical questions like collective tickets for museums, push-up news about events, etc. But there is no digital strategy for museums. This observation is confirmed by Scheller and Kreutler who also described that the Wien Museum is working completely autonomously.

My next step was to read the “Kulturberichte der Stadt Wien” as well as the reports of the “Stadtrechnungshof” to find hints how the digitalization worked and by whom it was initiated. As we know from other museums or other countries very often the initiative to start a digitalization process is a very practical one, like the necessity to inventory a collection. This is also true for the Wien Museum: After the outsourcing of the Wien Museum from the City administration, when the Wien Museum was declared a “wissenschaftliche Anstalt öffentlichen Rechts” it was necessary to establish the exact numbers of objects belonging to the city and transfer ownership to the Wien Museum. For this, the Kulturamt asked the Museum to make a new and complete digital inventory of the different museum collections with the state-of-the-art methods available in 2003. The main aim at this time was to start a quick inventory process, the quality of the inventory should be improved in a second step.

To better valorize the results of the AI process it was also interesting to analyze the way how the “qualified” inventory was organized in the years after the first digital inventory was established. Frauke Kreutler and Evi Scheller described the modus how the objects were inventoried as a very practical one. Exhibitions, publication or e.g., an article in the “Magazin” could be reasons to improve the inventory of a certain objects group. In some cases, a collective decision brings a certain part of the collection into focus, e.g., to inventory the Karl Schwanzer Estate.

An interesting fact for all three museums is that no one really documents the steps of digitalization. As this is often a work in process, done step by step, depending very often on the funding available at a certain moment in time, the documentation of these processes depends very much on the people involved. As a result, the sharing of information by the two main individuals responsible from the Wien Museum was very helpful for me. But the situation of written sources remains very thin.

For me this research project once again showed how important it would be to better document different steps taken in an institution concerning the digitalisation, but also any other decision which has a great impact on the future development of an institution. Keeping a proper archive of one’s own decisions would make a researcher’s life much easier!