As a result of recent shifts in the ways museums make their collections available to their communities, patrons now have digital access to a wide array of exhibits and information. This improved digital access to museum collections is a positive outcome of the changes museums have made to their museum collections management practices in response to pandemic realities. Museum directors and staff were forced to pivot to digital exhibits and to create technology-based solutions that allowed them to continue to serve their communities. As a result, many museums now offer both physical and digital collections. Their physical collections remain housed onsite, and their digital collections are available online, or as enhancements to physical collections.
Within this new arrangement, museums are able to make their collections more accessible to enrich their storytelling abilities. Museum collections management systems (CMS) that build on the strengths of physical museums and the capabilities of digital offerings can help your museum create dynamic exhibits. Museums should capitalize upon their flexibility and ability to pivot into the digital realm.
A Flexible CMS Gives Museums and Patrons Options
As institutions were forced to adjust to changing rules regarding masking, attendance, and open hours, they learned that their traditions and habits could be changed. This logic applied to the way many museums made their exhibitions available, too. Instead of obligating patrons to enter the museum building to access their collections, museums increasingly made their collections available online. In some instances, long-planned exhibitions were re-envisioned as interactive online digital interactive exhibitions. These patron experiences remained meaningful and invited communities to interact with museums remotely. In other instances, museums sought to re-imagine their in-gallery exhibits for a digital environment. The Indiana Historical Society, for example, expresses its decision to bring its in-gallery immersive storytelling online as an effort to make “online exhibition project goals aligned with physical exhibit goals.” Innovative exhibits like these use technology to invite community members to interact with museum collections; in this way, they both complement and extend the museum experience and offer patrons new ways of interfacing with museum objects and exhibits.
When your museum’s collections are accessible online, they can reach audiences all over the world. Online offerings also increase accessibility for museum patrons with disabilities by eliminating barriers associated with travel. Virtual offerings also eliminate any cost barriers that might prevent patrons from visiting your building, and the right CMS can enable your organization to offer meaningful online experiences to those accessing your collections online. Museums can have continued—and even enriched—engagements with community members, even if their buildings are closed. Carefully curated digital collections, made available on user-friendly software platforms, enable museums to continue acting as community resources, irrespective of other factors that might prevent patrons from attending them in person.
Museum professionals have observed what elements of going digital have worked well for museums, and what elements of pandemic-era museum management are better left to expire. Three pandemic-era lessons, in particular, should continue to inform museum staff and directors’ decisions about how to grant access to their collections going forward:
- Digital offerings improve accessibility.
- Renewed focus on an institution’s vision leads to innovation.
- Renewed public interest on the web makes institutions valuable resources within their communities.
These lessons advocate for renewed attention to existing communities combined with innovative ways of improving access. One such innovation is for museums to curate physical and digital exhibitions and management systems that complement one another and meet community needs.
Digital Enhancements Enrich Patrons’ Experience
Digital technology can improve patrons’ access to your collections inside of your museum, too. The experience can be made more immersive as patrons view your museum’s physical collections while hearing, reading, or watching videos. In this way, people with a variety of needs and preferences can interact positively with your museum’s collections. For example, your collections may include very small items with details that are difficult to see. In these instances, a QR code could be provided that directs patrons to a digital platform where they can zoom in on the object and access more information about it in a variety of media formats. Similarly, audio and video interpretation can replace docent-guided tours and provide another point of access to important items in your physical collection. HAI’s experts can assist you in finding and utilizing software that allows patrons to access your collections at the level of detail that best spotlights its objects’ significance.
Of course, many exhibits do not translate well—or completely—to a digital platform. Some institutions feature immersive spaces, landscapes, and soundscapes. The experience of attending the National Museum of the Marine Corps, the National Infantry Museum & Soldier Center, and the National World War II Museum, for example, cannot be fully translated into a digital format. But experienced museum professionals can partner with your museum to create digital additions to existing exhibits that enrich attendees’ knowledge without interrupting or taking away from the immersive experience offered at these unique institutions.
Digital solutions allow patrons to learn about items in your collection at a high level of detail and at their own pace. Patrons for whom items in the collection are positioned too high to see, are difficult to access because of crowds, or are inaccessible for any number of other reasons can more easily access digitized versions of these items. Another advantage of digital enhancements to your physical collections is an increased level of detail. Your staff includes passionate experts who are knowledgeable about your collections. Digital platforms enable them to share their expertise at length and to highlight the aspects of each object that might elicit the most interest in your museum’s community members without being constrained by the physical exhibit’s word counts.
Museum Collections Management Experts Help Make the Most of Your Physical and Digital Collections
History Associates Inc. (HAI) provides museum consultants who can assist you in finding the right technology to help you curate and present your digital collections in a way that showcases them effectively to your community. Now that patrons have become habituated to accessing information from home, they expect to encounter more than just open hours and informative blurbs on your website. HAI museum consultants work with your institution to discover how you want to make your collections available to the public, and what software platforms, whether cloud-based or on premise, would best allow you to accomplish this. The right CMS can ensure that your online presence adds to the overall value of your museum and its collections.
Your museum may also want to enhance patrons’ experiences onsite. Many digital options exist for enriching attendees’ understanding of your physical collections, and HAI’s experts are knowledgeable about both the options available and the most effective ways to offer these enhancements. If your institution is seeking to create a more immersive experience onsite, our museum collections management team can help develop digital tools that can accompany items in your collection, including text, images, audio, and video.
Contact HAI today to learn more about how we can assist you in not only assessing and selecting the best CMS for your institution but also utilizing it to best showcase your collections and serve your community.