The outward-facing content of your museum’s collections should, ideally, be well-organized, effectively presented, and facilitate your viewers’ understanding. An excellent digital exhibit provides increased access to your museum’s collections, allows for ongoing engagement with materials, and can inspire members of your community to visit your museum in person.
Museums across the US are investing in digital technologies that enable their institutions to reach more people and include more of their collections than ever before. These digital exhibits can be costly. Particularly for smaller institutions, it is critical to balance the cost associated with higher-end digital exhibits with their benefits to your viewers and your institution. HAI has a wealth of insight to offer about the various platforms available for digitizing and showcasing your collections, and exhibit content development services help museums maximize the benefits of these technologies.
As museum directors and staff are aware, museum websites currently serve a diverse online community, including millions of teachers, parents, and students. An effective digital museum exhibit invites these users to interact with your institution’s materials and highlights the significance of your collections. In this way, your museum’s digital presence can become a community resource, even for those who cannot visit the museum in person.
Digitizing your museum’s collection increases access to your collections, aids in their preservation, and creates a cache of content for use in digital exhibits. HAI’s professional records managers and project managers can help you identify your museum’s goals and the narrative you intend to portray through the presentation of your collection.
We maintain a variety of strategic partnerships with digitization and digital preservation vendors who bring these goals and narratives to life through technology. Our approach to exhibit content development ensures that your records are digitized to industry standards and best practices. Furthermore, we work to help you create user-friendly systems that work in service to your museum’s mission without adding to your staff members’ workload.
What is the Spectrum of Digitization Options Available?
According to a recent Knight Foundation survey of museums, dedicated digital staffing is severely limited, and digital strategies are still emergent. But leadership support for digital projects is high. Museums recognize a need for technologies that make their collections accessible online, and museum leadership wants to make this access a priority. A variety of platforms can address this emerging enthusiasm for digital museum engagement.
These platforms exist on a spectrum of price points. Each of these can be used to assist your institution in creating engagement that exhibits your collections in their best light. Open-source options are available; these are free or lower-cost ways to exhibit your digital collections that may be sufficient for your museum’s needs.
From there, tiered paid offerings are available. More expensive options typically feature more interpretive features, customization options, and increased interactivity. The higher-end companies offering these technologies may work with you throughout the development phase, and assist you in understanding and learning to use the software you purchase. Higher-end museum exhibition platforms tend to be more interpretive than less expensive options. Less costly software and open-source platforms tend to be more collections-focused and object-based.
HAI understands that each museum must be mindful of a different set of goals, requirements, and constraints when creating digital exhibits. Our exhibit content development experts learn about these factors from you and your staff. They then guide your institution in creating a strategic plan for showcasing your digital collections.
Depending on the digital platform and vendor a museum chooses, the percentage of the yearly budget required for maintaining digital exhibits can be very high. If cost is a limiting factor for your organization, our staff can assist you in choosing the technology platform that maximizes the impact of your exhibits within a specified budget. Similarly, if your organization’s priority is to provide interpretive material or to use a highly customizable platform for your digital exhibits, we can guide you to one of our partners who can offer these options.
Digital exhibit platforms offer a spectrum of features:
- From static to interactive
- From generic to highly customized
- From objects-based to interpretive
- From out-of-the-box technology to museum-specific software customization
HAI can assist you in determining where on the spectrum your museum hopes to exist, and which of the features would best spotlight your museum’s unique collection.
What If We Are Short-staffed?
As of 2022, museums were short-staffed, and many of them face budget shortfalls. In an NPR study, 40% of museum directors indicated that their operating incomes fell by an average of 40% in 2020. Half reported that their staff size had decreased by an average of 29% compared with pre-pandemic levels. Museums are therefore facing labor and funding challenges, even as they pivot to online platforms to ensure their collections remain available and relevant to the public they serve.
Taking on the project of developing new digital exhibits with a small staff and limited budget is a challenge for any institution. And as museum directors know, learning and maintaining technology can be burdensome for your staff, particularly when they are experts in history and not digital museum exhibit software.
Enlisting HAI means expanding your team to include people who are well versed in using available technology, and whose attention will be dedicated to helping your museum showcase its significant materials effectively. We can help you strategize which features are most crucial to your mission, and most manageable in terms of your budget and the technology burden for you and your staff.
What Do HAI’s Digitization Services Include?
When we enter into partnership with your organization, we offer a full range of services to assist you in organizing, selecting, and exhibiting your museum’s collections. These services include:
- Strategic planning
- Selection assistance
- Metadata creation
- Project management and coordination
- Quality assurance
- Grant assistance
Every museum has a unique mission. And every museum has a unique financial and staffing situation. Our collections experts can help your institution decide what technology is best suited to showcase your collections, given these factors. And we will remain with you every step of the way, from the planning stage to the completion of your digital exhibits.
HAI is an agile partner. We can pivot with your organization as your needs and priorities change. Throughout the strategic planning process, we will help you to identify the technologies that will best facilitate the creation of excellent digital exhibits for your institution. And if your funding levels change, or new technology needs emerge, HAI and our trusted partners can provide you with the support and expertise to respond to these shifts. We have assisted other institutions in emerging successfully from these kinds of changes, and we are prepared to help your institution do the same.
Our exhibit content development services help museums capture the imagination through sights, sounds, and words. Let us collaborate with you to develop digital exhibits that provide your audience with a richly layered and accessible learning experience. Our team has years of experience assisting institutions in telling their compelling stories and access to valued partners that will ensure that your museum can go digital. Even better—we can help your institution create attention-grabbing and informative digital exhibits that your museum will be proud of.