British Museum is digitizing its entire collection in response to recent thefts

The British Museum has announced plans to digitize its entire permanent collection, totaling over eight million pieces, as reported by ARTNews. The museum announced the move as part of ongoing efforts to increase security and public access. Back in August, the museum reported the theft of thousands of pieces, including over 1,500 historical artifacts, so this announcement is likely in response to that.

The project will require the documentation and upload of more than 2.4 million records and is estimated to take more than five years to complete, so you’ll have a great time cruising a virtual version of the museum sometime in 2029. Digitization is also an expensive process, which has been one of the primary hurdles when it comes to these projects. British Museum will spend a grand total of $12.1 million on the process.

“It is my belief that the single most important response to the thefts is to increase access, because the better a collection is known – and the more it is used – the sooner any absences are noticed,” interim museum director Mark Jones said in a statement.

Despite the aforementioned theft being the primary motivator behind the digitization project, the museum’s also using this announcement to fend off repatriation requests for the return of items. Museum board chairperson George Osborne told the UK Parliament’s Culture, Media and Sport Committee that they plan on using the digitization efforts as a response to these requests, saying the museum has a “pretty good website” that offers digital access “even if you cannot visit.”

However, the museum doesn’t currently have the money to complete the project, though it vows to raise the funds via private investors and not by asking taxpayers or the British government. The museum has already digitized half of its collection as part of a project started back in 2020.

Speaking of 2020, the early days of Covid forced many museums to hasten digitization efforts. The Grammy Museum digitized its entire archives and many NYC-based institutions followed suit, among numerous other instances.

Even before Covid, there were plenty of digitization efforts in place, particularly following a report by the National Science Foundation that urged these projects as part of a comprehensive strategy to protect the actual items from outside elements and to allow increased access for researchers. However, that same report says it’ll take decades before most museums are fully digitized at a global cost of $500 million, as noted by Science.

This article originally appeared on Engadget at 

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