Over the last several years, every industry has innovated to remain solvent and relevant. Most workplaces that moved from brick-and-mortar offices into virtual spaces and venues found ways to engage with visitors and new audiences on virtual platforms. These transitions have been incredibly difficult for museums and many of them are ongoing. Even so, museum directors, curators, and collections managers have discovered that investing in the digitization of museums and their collections yields several benefits. When museums increase their virtual offerings, they increase access to their collections, which encourages engagement with patrons of all ages, backgrounds, and abilities. When museums elect to undertake archives digitization and object photography, their collections are granted new life in an age when virtual experiences are both in demand and becoming increasingly impactful.
History Associates Inc. (HAI) guides museums as they pursue this project. Their museum collections experts work with museums to digitize their collections so patrons can engage with the important cultural and historical information within these collections. HAI can help your museum capitalize on your chosen virtual platforms’ potential to showcase your collections. At HAI, we have seen what aspects of going digital have worked well for museums, and what elements of pandemic-era museum management are better left to expire. Read on to discover several positive outcomes of pandemic-related changes many museums made and learn why museums are well advised to heed these lessons in the present and into the future.
1. Digital Offerings Improve Accessibility
When museums were forced to close their doors to the public, many found themselves scrambling for ways to remain financially stable and keep their collections accessible. As a result, many museums innovated new ways to engage with their patrons. Most of these innovative events took place online: from virtual trivia nights to online lectures available to the public and virtual museum tours, people were invited to engage with museums in a new way.
The upshot of all of this virtual innovation has been increased access to museum collections and experiences. When these offerings are available online, anyone with a computer and an internet connection can engage with them; in this way, local museums become accessible to patrons all over the world. Online offerings also increase accessibility for museum patrons with disabilities—for example, visiting museums online eliminates barriers associated with traveling to and through museums for those with mobility limitations. Virtual offerings also eliminate the barrier associated with the costs of admission and travel to museums. Visiting an online museum, after all, is free!
Another important lesson learned about accessibility during the pandemic era is that people enjoy engaging with museum collections on their own terms. When patrons can “guide themselves” through a museum’s collections, they spend as much time with the exhibits as they choose, and can prioritize for themselves what to spend time viewing. This empowers patrons to “make the museum their own,” as they personalize their online experience.
Museums also now recognize the value of having a strong social media presence. When museums make the elements of their collections accessible on curated social media platforms including Twitter, Instagram, Facebook, and others, this opens up another avenue of access for patrons. Patrons engaging with museums on social media may represent a different demographic from those who seek out the museum’s website or the brick-and-mortar museum itself. More engagement with the public is good for museums, as is improved accessibility for those with health and travel restrictions. At a time when visitor numbers were down, museums increasingly reached out to the public through their websites and social media. New digital tools enhance users’ experience at and with museums. Museums should continue to engage their public with virtual offerings of all kinds.
2. Refocus on Your Institution’s Vision
When every museum’s foot traffic suddenly evaporated during the height of pandemic-related shutdowns, museum directors and staff had time and energy for other projects. When the day-to-day obligations of running a physical museum went away, museum staff had more bandwidth to take on projects in service of their museum’s vision and goals. As a result, over the last several years, museum teams have placed new or renewed focus on projects and initiatives that may otherwise never have been taken up. New energy and realignment with larger goals have led to increased engagement, more ambitious initiatives, and completion of projects that long sat on the back burner.
3. Revitalize Your Museum’s Connection to the Community
At a moment when museums’ in-person connections with people living in or traveling to their communities were severed, they learned to forge new kinds of connections. Museums quickly adapted to continue serving their communities. Even with their physical locations closed, museums of all kinds began offering free online learning resources, access to their digital collections, virtual tours, and online exhibits. Despite the constant adjustments public institutions had to make during pandemic-related shutdowns and reopenings, museums continued to execute their missions. They revitalized their efforts to connect with communities by creating virtual, more accessible opportunities for engagement. The pandemic became a time for museums to refine their mission statements and goals, and museums examined their practices with an intent to discover how to stay relevant to their community’s needs and interests.
Communities also recalibrated their relationships with local institutions. When online offerings improve accessibility and patrons can engage with museum exhibitions and staff more often and in a larger variety of ways, museums become more vital presences within their communities. Museums’ growing awareness of ways to connect with the people they serve can only benefit the institutions and their communities. The collections held in public trust will always be a rich source of information about the past, but with intentional engagement with their communities, institutions can play a greater role in the here and now. Because museums are more attuned to these opportunities, a more dynamic and richer relationship with patrons is possible.
How Can We Put These Lessons into Action?
The experts at HAI understand that the institutional changes over the last few years have pushed many museums to increase their digital offerings and rethink their approaches and missions. This renewed vision is good for museums and communities. Our museum collections experts seek to help museums choose technologies that will best aid them in executing their vision. We partner with institutions to analyze their needs and find the best option for their size, budget, and values. HAI experts have extensive experience with traditional museum collections management software and cloud-based software. Their insight and execution can help you ensure that the lessons your museum directors and staff have learned as a result of changing pandemic-era realities are not lost.
HAI will help you capitalize on all the knowledge you have gained throughout this experience to make your museum and its collections more vital than ever. Contact History Associates Inc. today to learn more about how we can help you digitize your collections and further engage with your community!