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Who uses digitised collections?

The idea of a ‘supply chain’ is really to ensure that all of the decisions that museums, archives and libraries make about digitisation are guided by a clear understanding of who is going to us the resulting content, and what they need to be able to do with it.

Who uses digitised collections?

The ‘customers’ of a digitisation project usually include:

  • The museum, for use in marketing, audience outreach and educational services
  • The museum, for use in managing the collection, keeping it safe, conserving and interpreting it
  • The funders who are putting up the money to cover the costs
  • The senior management or Trustees of the museum
  • The end-users, who might want to browse and enjoy the content or actively get involved in sharing and adding to it
  • Another group of end-users who might want to develop commercial products and services using your content
The different kinds of use

There are countless different ways to make use of collections-based content. In our ‘supply chain’ model, we have broken these down into 3 broad groups of use:

  • Non-commercial use
  • Social sharing
  • Direct commercial use
Non-commercial use of digitised collections

‘Non-commercial’ in this sense means that people are using your digitised collections for any purpose that doesn’t involve them making money.¬†Examples of non-commercial use include:

  • Personal use and enjoyment
  • Self-directed research
  • Educational use in schools or by informal learners
  • Crafting, making and ‘homebrew’ projects

The key thing about non-commercial use is that it allows people to build a personal relationship to your museum by interacting with your content. Although there is relatively little form evidence, many museums have reported the benefits of allowing users to ‘play’ with their collections in terms of support and visits.

Social sharing

In this age of social media, online audiences often download, share, like and generally promote collections-related content to their networks via a huge range of platforms.

The influence of this ‘peer-to-peer’ sharing is becoming increasingly important. As audiences become used to receiving and acting on recommendations from their friends, the more they can share your stories and images, the wider the reach your content will have. Examples of social sharing activity include:

  • ‘Liking’ or sharing content via a social platform like Facebook
  • Taking photographs in-gallery and sharing them over platforms like Instagram, Tumblr or Pinterest
  • Sharing reviews of exhibitions or visits to the museum
  • Assembling interesting or unusual content into short, attention-seeking lists and articles (for example in Buzzfeed)
  • Sharing interesting and relevant material within a specific community, like a network or special interest group
  • Posting content and images to Wikipedia

There are many different terms used to describe the kind of rich, sharable content that people will like and promote to their friends. It is sometimes referred to as ‘snackable’ or ‘kick’ content.

Commercial re-use

There are many industries that depend on a constant supply of rich, engaging and unusual content to power their services, products, apps or websites.

Examples of commercial uses of your digitised collections include:

  • Inclusion in advertising campaigns and product packaging
  • Direct licensing and print-on-demand of prints and canvasses
  • Licensing images for 3rd parties to apply to products
  • Using scans and 3D objects in TV & film production
  • Providing thematically/period-appropriate content for inclusion in computer games
  • Licensing of images for inclusion in books and ebooks
  • Provision of content for subscription-based services like mobile phone company channels
Deciding which uses to support

Different use cases can deliver different benefits to your museum. Allowing people to download and share content for non-commercial use can have a tremendously positive impact on your visitor figures, as well as encouraging people to support your museum.

In a few very specific cases, commercial re-use of your digitised collections can yield useful income. You should be aware that the costs of developing digital content for commercial uses is generally higher (because the expectation of quality tends to be higher) and the financial benefit is often very small because any revenues have to be shared with partners or used to cover costs.

The Collections Trust’s research suggests that where people are making money from their digitised collections, it tends to be in one of the following situations:

  • The museum already has a high-value brand with a strong consumer profile (in which case the commercial partner is often paying for the right of association as much as for the content itself), or;
  • The content fits into a well-defined commercial niche, such as a particular cultural theme, design or event with an existing strong commercial offer – generally, the museums that have made money from ‘niche’ content do so using a very small number of very high-quality or unusual images.

If your museum’s digitised collections don’t fall into one or both of these categories, then it might be best to think about opening them up for non-commercial personal use and social sharing, so that they can encourage more people to visit your museum!

Date created: 2015

Publisher: Collections Trust