The catalog’s one-many problem : reading the Walker Art Center’s online collection catalog
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A museum catalog is a legible, interpretable information system that acts as a rhetorical exposition of the museum’s collection and work. The unity of a collection is of course distinct from that represented in a catalog, and still further from the reader’s experience of it. But the information that comprises such an assemblage of individual records or representations, consistent metadata, support the ability to “read” collections as finite, enclosed, or complete. Here I perform a close reading of the elements and relationships that underpin the Walker Art Center’s online Permanent Collection catalog, an emergent publication funded by The Getty Foundation’s Online Scholarly Catalog Initiative (OSCI). I incorporate multiple layers of interpretation into my reading of the structure and contents of the museum website, drawing on concepts developed in information science and textual studies by Bonnie Mak and Johanna Drucker. My performance of reading of the new catalog helps me begin to address how collectively, online representation in virtual frames, contextualization within a website, searching, and browsing support divergent interpretations of a collection catalogue as a text. I conclude that to engage a catalog at a scholarly level, and to interpret and synthesize meaning of the catalog as a text, the museum must situate its self-representation spatially and temporally.