The Museum of Archaeology of the University of Catania (MAUC) is the place where the Guido Libertini’s collection (1888-1953), former rector of the Catania University, is exhibited: the exposition is a journey through the archaeology of the Catania region from the Prehistory to the Medieval age.
The collection’s remarkable core consists of classical antiquities collected by Libertini, to which other finds brought to light over the years of the activities of the Institute of Archaeology have been added. In its entirety, the Museum nucleus consists of 325 finds (fine and common wares, terracotta figurines, inscriptions), and hundreds of coins dating to the Greco-Roman era.
The digitization project
The choice to digitize the museum’s catalogue is based on the relevance of the Libertini collection, on the quality and consistency of the supporting documentation, on the significant presence of legacy data and on the cultural significance that the Museum has for the collectivity and for the University of Catania community. In particular, the inability of public to visit the museum since the beginning of the crisis caused by the Covid-19 pandemic has prompted the scholars involved in the management of the collection to review the traditional forms of exhibition to focus more on related aspects of digitization, and shared use online. This was possible also thanks to the support provided by the students of Archaeology involved in this project aiming to produce a new image of the Museum that will be based on a fluid museum no longer constrained by its physical dimension and in order to enter a new digital perspective.
The MAUC collection digitization project attempted to explore innovative data entry models: all legacy data available for the collection (datasheet, inventories, photographs) and any new data will be made available to encourage new research by teams of specialists, but also their re-discovery by a wider audience, including University students who were directly involved in the data entry process.
All the documents from the collection will be made available and reusable online in an open format [CC BY-NC-SA 2.5 IT – Creative Commons] and connected according to the spirit of a public, shared and participatory archaeology.
Museums and digital experience
Therefore, the digitization project’s aim goes beyond making the Museum’s collection accessible and available online: indeed, the website, into which the work conducted up to now will flow, will be a place in which sharing and the conscious reuse of data will be promoted, not only among researchers and other professionals in the archaeological sector, but also for the general public. The collection digitization project is an opportunity for the launch of social innovation projects which, on the model of other Italian and foreign experiences, through a bottom-up growth process, may give new life to museum collections and create cultural, social and economic value. In this perspective, in order to fully achieve their mission, museum organizations, whose social and not just scientific role is recognized by the International Council of Museum (ICOM), are required to understand the social context in which they operate, to engage community of users and the creation of value for all potential stakeholders.
The tight relation between management models and use of information and communication technologies require the prompt evolution of the ways in which museums deliver their offer, developing the involvement and participation of the user including through experiences of volunteering, artistic co-creation and the use of new technologies. The study of the public and its enhancement is a natural implementation of tools and strategies related to education, communication and marketing, therefore conceived as a strategic orientation.
The project to digitize the MAUC collection, sharing the catalogue online on the dedicated website on the platform of the Catania University museum system, can be an opportunity to start a concrete experience of audience engagement. Digital has been changing public behavior towards Cultural Heritage for some time and is reshaping its museum experience, as is clear from the analysis of social platforms (e.g., Twitter, Instagram, Facebook).
The digitisation project
The project has not yet come to an end. The data relating to the 325 archaeological finds were digitized and managed in the database through a temporary web interface, implemented thanks to the active role of the students, waiting for to be made visible and usable on the definitive web portal that will collect all the data relating to the museums of the University of Catania.
The first phase, namely digitization, was completed in September. This phase of the project was a unique experience also for educational purposes, because digital humanities experts, students and young researchers were involved and worked together for a common goal.
The next step will be the planned 3D digitization of each archaeological element, the creation of a 3D model will be carried out on the basis of the standards currently used in other projects. As part of the digitization project, the MAUC ontology will also be created, through the process of combining and merging well-formed ontologies already in use in other areas, such as OntoCeramic and EpiOnt. Therefore, all data will be available in open format and linked to other digitized collections.
The MAUC digitization project aims to break the mold of a traditional museumization based on the identification of a collection with a physical place, but to make the museum and its collection in an open and fluid place which, thanks to the involvement of students and scholars of the Department of Humanities of the University of Catania, can be a point of reference for future choices of sharing national and international museum collections.