Rapidly digitising 10,000 collection items

Rapidly digitising 10,000 collection items

Collections Data Technician, Gareth Watkins, describes some of the improvements we’ve made in the last six and half months to digitise our collections faster, and gives us a glimpse into some of the gems the team have uncovered so far.

What do these images all have in common?

A possum looking out from a tree
Possum at 530 Stokes Valley Road, 1960s, Lower Hutt, by John Johns. Gift of the Estate of John Johns, 2014. Te Papa (O.042209)
A man posing topless covered in a white substance
Untitled. From the series: Love Songs, 1999, New Zealand, by Judy Darragh. Purchased 2003. Te Papa (2003-0018-2)
Black and white photograph of a woman wearing a cap looking intensely at the camera
The blue cap, 27 February 1914, by Leslie Adkin. Gift of G. L. Adkin family estate, 1964. Te Papa (A.008608)

They’ve all been digitised through Te Papa’s Accelerated Collections Digitisation Programme and on the 14 Feb (Te Papa’s 20th birthday) the team photographed its 10,000th collection item.

Digitising our collections faster

The Accelerated Collections Digitisation Programme (ACDP) was launched in August last year as a way of creating greater online public access to Te Papa’s vast and significant collection.

As the name suggests it’s about targeted and rapid digitisation of our collections, while working to international best practice standards.

Alongside photographing the collection items in high-resolution we are also clearing rights and adding contextual information to the records like names, locations, and subjects to make the items more discoverable online.

A person digitising the a negative
Collection imaging technician Melissa Irving digitising the 10,000th collection item as part of the Accelerated Collections Digitisation Programme (ACDP), 2018. Photograph by Dionne Ward. Te Papa (100965)

How it works

The ACDP team is made up of two imaging technicians, a data technician, a collection manager and a rights officer. This team is supported by curators and team leaders.

With over 2.5 million collection items to choose from the team started with 2D objects, focusing initially on the photography and works-on-paper collections.

Specific groups within these collections are proposed for digitisation and then assessed by the team. The selected items are then retrieved by the collection manager and delivered to the imaging team.

At the same time a rights clearance process is happening.

The high-resolution images are then loaded into our collection management system and checked for quality.

The catalogue records are enhanced and the information and images are then published to Collections Online.

Our biggest month so far for digitisation was in September 2017 with 2,639 objects photographed. This was closely followed by 1,933 objects in January 2018.

Even though 10,000 collection items have been photographed so far, we are still in the process of publishing them to Collections Online. Keep an eye on the blog as we highlight collections as they become publicly available.

Help from new technology

As part of the digitisation programme we invested in new imaging technology, with the purchase of two Phase One kits including the new iXG cultural heritage camera. It’s only the 52nd iXG camera ever produced, and the only one in New Zealand.

The iXG camera and lenses are specifically designed for this type of imaging and deliver superbly detailed images while being able to cope with lots of volume.

It’s wonderful to be involved in a project that’s utilising cutting-edge imaging technology to make taonga from our past more accessible online.

A glimpse into the treasures we’ve digitised so far

We’ve photographed thousands of New Zealand postcards from Muir & Moodie and digitised over 1,000 film negatives and colour transparencies from Glenn Jowitt relating to the Pacific.

Tivaevae (quilt) hanging on a line with palm trees in the background
Tivaevae (quilt) hanging on a line, Cook Islands, circa 2003, by Glenn Jowitt. Gift of Glenn Jowitt Estate, 2015. Te Papa (E.007698)

We’ve photographed James McDonald’s glass plate and film negatives from the early 1900s which document aspects of Māori life.

A Maori family in front on a marae
Family, 1912 – 1926, by James McDonald. Te Papa (MU000523/001/0058)

We’ve photographed Leslie Adkin’s negatives which capture family life in the Horowhenua early last century, as well as negatives from Wellington-based photographer Fred Brockett.

Two small girls eat food out of mugs
Tea for two, Wellington, by Fred Brockett. Purchased 1957. Te Papa (A.010482)

We’ve also photographed close to two hundred works-on-paper:

Drawing of a naked woman in the trees
Squinancy tree, circa 1945, Auckland, by A. Lois White. Gift of Hans and Martha Lachmann, 1995. Te Papa (1995-0020-53)

The 10,000th collection item photographed

And so what was the 10,000th collection item we photographed? It wasn’t any of the previous images, but this film negative from Steve Rumsey, being held here by imaging technician Dionne Ward:

Holding a negative up to the light
Digitising the 10,000th collection item as part of the Accelerated Collections Digitisation Programme (ACDP), 2018. Photograph by Melissa Irving. Te Papa (100967)


A black and white photograph of a man in a desolate landscape holding a camera
Untitled, 09 May 1955, New Zealand, by Steve Rumsey. Purchased 1998. Te Papa (F.008668)


  1. Wonderful cultural treasures! I can’t wait for more and more of images of past times to understand how it was then in NZ.

  2. Miharo| Fantastic

  3. Thanks for your post Gareth. It’s really good to see the latest technology being brought to bear on the objects (and specimens) that Te Papa is charged with caring for and making accessible. One thing worries me, and that’s the word rapidly. In this age where success is gauged in meeting contract targets the push to ‘get it done before the due date’ can and at times does lead to the corruption of data associated with objects, so please take the time you need to keep these taonga safe, even if it means missing a contractual deadline.
    Ian Payton

  4. Thank you for an interesting and informative article.

  5. Fantastic work team! I can’t wait to see what other gems you discover! 🙂

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