An ambitious experiment by the University of California at Berkeley is making it possible for Internet users to explore any museum in the state for free.
The Museums and the Online Archive of California, MOAC, provides access to historic and cultural materials at 11 public and private museums in the state.
The current archive contains 150,000 historic and contemporary images of artifacts, installation art, paintings, manuscripts, photographs and architectural blueprints.
University officials say the experiment will eliminate costly and time-consuming travel by researchers.
Richard Rinehart, MOAC project manager, said online access to museum collections has been limited and subscription-based in the past.
“Most material in museums is all locked away in vaults. It has been hidden from us by the very institutions we hire to preserve and protect it for us. Our ultimate goal is to open it up and make it available to the public,” Rinehart said.
The San Francisco Museum of Modern Art is among the museums available online and more museums are expected to join the ranks, Rinehart said. There are more than 2,000 museums in the state.
MOAC offers high resolution, thumbnail images of collector's items, descriptions about the collections and information about artists and objects. A central server enables researchers to search across all collections at once.
The two-year experiment is financed with a $500,000 grant from the federal Institute of Museum and Library Services.