Website Evaluation: The Museum of the City of New York

In this post I will examine the Museum of the City of New York’s Collection Portal which can be accessed at MNY_HomePage #/CMS3&VF=MNYHomePage. The information on the “About” page tells us that this is a beta site that has taken the first step in what the Museum hopes will be a much larger digitization project. Fifty thousand photographs have been catalogued and uploaded, and, surprisingly, many of them have never been available to the public before.

Designed by Analogous, the look and feel of the website is exactly as it should be: sleek and clear. The only colors used are orange, gray, and black, which fit well with the black and white photographs in the collection. There is absolutely no clutter on this site—no extra “noise.”

There are several ways to search for something. There is the Browse option which appears on the homepage. One can browse by featured artist, era, or borough. (The borough browsing menu would not upload while I was using the site, although the other options worked well.) Beneath this menu are horizontal rows of images of the featured artists, which move as one glides the cursor over them. There are also the options for basic and advanced searches. The advanced option allows the user to enter at least one of the following: keyword, artist/maker, subject term, excluded subject term, and/or accession number. Overall, it is very simple to search for images on this site; the process is intuitive.

The Museum appears to be quite willing to aid users. Three different e-mail addresses are listed for contacting them: one for general questions or comments, one that specifically deals with the Collections Portal, and one for research questions.

After searching for photos matching the keyword “Bensonhurst” and finding a few, I noticed the menu on the right that leads the user to click on subject terms in the displayed photographs that can link the user to similar images. I ended up looking at photos of Bath Beach and I will describe the record as an example.

After clicking on the thumbnail, a screen appears in the center with the photo and catalogue information. One has the option to zoom in on the high resolution photograph up to 200%. (One can only save low resolution photographs, though, for one’s own personal use on a PC. A “lightbox” feature is available, though, that allows users who register (for free) to save images that they can return to later.) The following information is listed, without headings: photographer’s name; title—in this case it is untitled but the record still reads “Brighton Beach Baths”—; description of what the photograph is of, not about; the material of the photograph, the date it was taken, the height and width, and finally the accession number and another museum identifier. I am pleased with the very basic description. It does not seem to invite debate, but provides the user with the least prescriptive information. It is extremely helpful to be able to click on a link on the side that connects me to photographs with at least one of the subjects assigned to this one, although some of the possible subjects offer somewhat unlikely connections: A beach scene that includes a rollercoaster in the background is also labeled with the subject “houses,” for example, because buildings are slightly visible in the background.

A “How This Site Works” page is helpful to users as well, and a list of the collections available is also accessible.

Overall, the Collections Portal of the Museum of the City of New York seems to be exactly what users are looking for: it is extremely clear and easy to use, it presents results requiring no guesswork, and it has a pleasing design. Users will be delighted in the availability of images that they haven’t seen before, of which they can even order reprints or save a copy. And not even having to register is a plus.