Sharing collections online

Museums today are faced with a dizzying range of options when thinking about opening up their collections online. They can deliver content via their own website, mobile-optimised or otherwise, develop platform-specific apps, develop picture libraries, share content with 3rd party platforms and participate in projects like Europeana and the BBC Digital Public Space.

But how do you decide where and when to place the effort? Which platforms should you work with, and on what terms? What is the cost of participating in these things, and what kinds of benefit can you expect to see back in return?

When I first proposed ‘Share and Sharealike’ as the topic for my presentation to the Museum Computer Group’s ‘UK Museums on the Web 2012’ conference, I thought that it would be straightforward to find answers to these questions. In fact, after nearly a month and a half, I have found that my presentation has gone from an idea to a research project to a book ‘Sharing Collections Online: A Practical Guide’, to be published by the Collections Trust early next year.

The central idea emerging from the research is that decisions about online collections have to be driven by a combination of:

  • The needs, values and behaviours of the audience your museum or gallery aspires to serve.
  • The culture, values and attitudes of the people who work for and lead the organisation.
  • The mission which sets out the terms of your aspirations.

In thinking through the options, it is essential to realise that digital content in itself is not different from any other aspect of the museum or gallery and that it ought to form an integrated part of achieving your mission. Also, that ‘digital’ is not an audience – it is a channel, and the process of targeting audiences is only marginally affected by the fact that the interface is a digital one.

The research has spent a lot of time looking at the difference between primary, content-based ‘experiences’ and secondary, metadata-based discovery and promotional tools – and finds that they exist along a spectrum of activity which can help your museum or gallery engage your audiences.

I will be presenting the initial stages of these findings at UK Museums on the Web, but I would really like to open up a conversation about how and why museums and galleries are sharing their collections online. Please have a look at the slides below and then use the comments field to let me know how your museum or gallery is handling the process of deciding what to share online!

Date created: 2012

Author: Nick Poole

Publisher: Collections Trust