Databases and Digital Collections: Virtual Spaces for Collection Sharing
Nena Couch and Helena Hantáková
The Arts and Theatre Institute (ATI) in Prague collects, processes, and provides access to objects and work relating to the theatre, pursues research, initiates and participates in international projects, and publishes scholarly work. The Jerome Lawrence and Robert E. Lee Theatre Research Institute (TRI) at The Ohio State University (OSU) has a similar mission to serve as an archive for performers, playwrights, choreographers, designers, producing organizations, and theatre and dance companies, and to advance the study and inspiration of the performing arts. In addition to their service missions, these organizations are related very specifically through their holdings on Czech theatre, especially scenography. In order to share our holdings with each other and users internationally, we have partnered on projects and explored other ways of combining our resources to enhance user access. The purpose of this presentation is to discuss collaborations to share collections, particularly in a digital environment which includes ATI’s Virtual Study, and OSU Libraries’ growing Digital Collections which serves as an online repository for TRI’s digital content.
Czech Collections at The Ohio State University
The Jerome Lawrence and Robert E. Lee Theatre Research Institute has been acquiring Czech and Slovak scenography and theatre documentation since the 1970s, building on teaching initiatives of The Ohio State University Department of Theatre faculty with study tours to Prague, in particular the Prague Quadrennial, and to Bratislava. The first Czech acquisitions were theatre posters and print materials brought back from those 1970s study tours; however, the beginning of the Lawrence and Lee Institute Czech design collection was an auction purchase in 1998 of designs that included work by Josef Jelínek. 1998 was also a pivotal year for Czech theatre as a programmatic area at OSU when the Department of Theatre and the Academy of Performing Arts in Prague through then Rector, scenographer Jaroslav Malina, agreed to cooperate on collaborative activities. In 2000, Malina was OSU‘s first Czech guest artist in residence. Since that time, guest artists have included scenographers Jan Štěpánek and Simona Rybáková, designer and director Petr Matásek, and University of Masaryk Fulbright Fellow and theatre scholar Barbora Přihodová. Simultaneously with programmatic growth in the department, the collections also grew with the addition of a significant set of drawings by Jan Sládek, and later many others by important scenographers from František Tröster to current artists. The collection now holds hundreds of designs by Czech scenographers and continues to grow. In addition to the design collection, the papers of Jarka M. Burian, the foremost English language scholar on Czech theatre during the second half of the 20th century, offer a tremendous resource for researchers, supporting the use of the wonderful scenographic holdings and documenting both textually and photographically the work of many of the scenographers. The Burian collection includes not only material on Czech theatre and performance, but also significant cultural and political events, including Prague Spring, during the many years of the Burians’ research trips to Prague.
User statistics show that the Czech collections are among the most heavily used of the performing arts collections held by the Lawrence and Lee Institute both for research and teaching. The collections are used for teaching in a variety of courses including Theatre design and research methods classes as well as classes offered through the Department of Slavic and East European Studies. In addition, every eighteen months to two years, a course on Czech Theatre and Culture is offered in preparation for taking the class attendees to the Czech Republic for a study tour which includes visits to theatres and cultural and historical sites of importance both in and outside of Prague, and, every four years, the opportunity to attend the Prague Quadrennial. The Institute has also been honored to welcome visiting scholars from the Czech Republic, Slovakia, and abroad who have spent significant research time with the Czech holdings.
The Arts and Theatre Institute in Prague
Founded in 1959 as the Theatre Institute, the Arts and Theatre Institute (ATI) in Prague provides the Czech and international public with a comprehensive range of services in the field of theatre and individual services connected to other branches of the arts (music, literature, dance and visual arts). The Institute has at its disposal one of the largest theatre libraries in Europe, a video library, photo archives, a rich documentation and bibliographical collection. The special Department of Collections and Archives was established as a separate department in 2009. The collection specializes mainly in contemporary stage design production (from the second half of the 20th century) and focuses on the works of persons who deeply influence the art face of the Czech theatre after 1945. The collection consists of originals of scenic and costume designs created by Czech stage designers for Czech singular for foreign stages.
ATI and OSU Collaborations
Since 2004, the Lawrence and Lee Institute and the Arts and Theatre Institute in Prague have had an ongoing collaboration that has resulted in four major exhibitions on Czech theatre design: Metaphor and Irony: Czech Theatre Design from 1920 to 1999 (2002: Ohio Arts Council Riffe Gallery and national tour), Metaphor and Irony II (2004: multi-venue exhibition on the OSU campus and national tour), Strings Attached: The Living Tradition of Czech Puppets (2013: Columbus Museum of Art), and Shakespeare in Prague: Imagining the Bard in the Heart of Europe (2017: Columbus Museum of Art and national tour) which also included an international symposium. Showing stunning examples of 20th and 21st century theatre scenography loaned from Czech institutions and supplemented by holdings of the Lawrence and Lee Institute, these exhibitions have engaged, inspired, and instructed American audiences and OSU students. In addition to the exhibition collaboration, ATI has also partnered with OSU in providing contacts, speakers, and information for the study tours that OSU Theatre faculty have led over almost two decades.
The Virtual Study of ATI
All databases which are created in ATI are available on the Internet through the Virtual Study.
This includes a library catalogue with a research module and user account administration tool, an extensive bibliographical database of articles linked to the full texts of articles (accessible only via the Institute’s internal network), a video library, a database of Czech theatre productions since 1945, a database of theatre photographs and a database of scenographic items and documentation containing copies of stage and costume designs.
In digitizing our collections and making them publicly accessible, we have made sure to observe the provisions of Act no. 121/2000 on copyright protection. For this reason, some digitized materials cannot be made available via the internet, but are available to registered researchers for study purposes at the offices of the ATI. This concerns primarily the digitized collection of items published after 1900, several designs from the scenographic collection, and photographs for which we could not secure permission from the copyright holders. These items are labeled accordingly on the internet. Anyone interested in studying these materials will be helped in the study rooms at our offices.
The Scenography Collection of ATI
The aim of the collection is to methodically gather, store, catalogue, and present the significant works of Czech stage design, both from a historical perspective, as well as the current development of contemporary theatre. In addition to the works of the personalities who have greatly influenced the development of Czech theatre since 1945, priority of the collection is given to the contemporary works from the 1990s. The collection contains works created by Czech stage and costume designers for the theatres in the Czech Republic and in particular those theatres abroad. The collection includes primarily original stage and costume designs and models. The information about the basic identification of each artefact – including digital reproductions – is fed into the database (also linked to the Theatre database), which was created specifically for this collection.
There are 3 parts with descriptions of the object in the catalogue record
a) Record frame
b) Basic information
Object name and description
Place of origin
Way of acquisition
c) Additional information
Name of author
Date of origin
Material and production specification
Way of adjustment
Connection to the theatre productions database
Theatre production description – title; year of production; name of the theatre (ensemble); playwright name; name of director
The same catalogue record will be used for the description of the objects from The Ohio State University Lawrence and Lee Institute collections. A special field is prepared and added for the address of the collection owner. Objects are connected with the name of the author and also with the theatre production in case it was done by a Czech artist.
The OSU Digital Collections repository
The OSU Czech designs are currently described for internal purposes in PastPerfect, museum software which is used to manage collections. These records are not publicly accessible. The OSU Libraries‘ Digital Initiatives program is building Digital Collections, an online repository for digital content, which will ultimately provide access, within copyright restrictions, to all digitized images of the OSU-held Czech designs with the metadata migrated from the PastPerfect database. Several metadata schemas are used to describe the digital resources within the Digital Collections repository, primarily Dublin Core, VRA Core for the description of visual works, and PREMIS for preservation metadata. The metadata elements used by both of these OSU systems, PastPerfect and Digital Collections, include many of the same fields as the ATI database. While we are currently sharing individual images and associated metadata between OSU and ATI staff, the future hope is that images and metadata can be harvested directly from the OSU online systems.
While Czech theatre is the primary focus of ATI, it is a smaller, but very important, focus area for the OSU Lawrence and Lee Institute. For both institutions, providing access is a critical part of our missions. The online resources of ATI and OSU are among the ways that the institutions individually provide access, and our goal is to enhance that access. Extending the ATI database and including records of objects that are in the collections of The Ohio State University Lawrence and Lee Institute collections will allow researchers to gain a more complex access to information about the works of Czech authors. The idea of including objects from other collections into the ATI database of stage design brings a new quality both to the database and to our cooperation. It allows for a broader research perspective and offers a more comprehensive view of the work of Czech stage designers.
 For an extended description of the Czech collections of the Jerome Lawrence and Robert E. Lee Institute see Nena Couch, “Czech Collections of the Theatre Research Institute at Ohio State University,” in Czech State Art and Stage Design: special issue of Theatralia/Yorick 2011/1, eds. Christian M. Billing and Pavel Drábek (Brno: Masaryk University, 2011): 277-291.Další >>