Whilst Tristram Hunt (Director of the V&A) is questioning the value of digitising museum and gallery collections, Europeana has launched Art Up Your Tab which brings a new image to your screen every time you open a new tab in Chrome.

Tristram Hunt commented that whilst digitising collections enables many more people to see them online, rather than having to go to the museum or gallery, and people can also see works which are not on display, the process of digitisation is costly and perhaps that money could be spent better on something else.  As technology and standards have developed over recent years, the quality of early-digitised images is not always as good as current ones. 

Europeana is a Europe-wide project to digitise art works and objects from collections across Europe, and now comprises over 53 million images.  Art Up Your Tab uses some of these (around 60 at the moment), covering everything from Breughel river scenes, to paintings of Inuit fishing in Greenland, to technical drawings of plumbing equipment, to postcards of Socialist-era Romania, to photographs of 20th century technology.  We would have difficulty downloading all these images if we were still reliant on modems like this!

There seems to be a glitch in the random selection of images because often the same few appear in succession, but it's a great incentive to keep opening new tabs to see what's next.  There are several constraints which affect how many images are available: a sufficiently high-res image, the maker of the work must be known, and there must be a direct link to the image.  The metadata in the collection is not always satisfactory, again perhaps a reflection about how standards for digitisation have changed over time.