Leading Museums, Museum Leaders

Exploring museum collections online

Science Museum Group Collection website.

John Stack, Exploring museum collections online, Science Museum Group Digital Lab, 23 January 2018

In 2017 the Science Museum Group relaunched its online collection website. The website consolidated a number of existing websites publishing digitised collection material — organised by subject or area of collection — into a single presence.

Over 282,000 objects and archival records were published and over 27,000 of these were illustrated with at least one image.

This represents about 6% of the object collection (estimated to total 406,000 objects) and only a tiny fraction of the archival collection (estimated to be around 7 million items).

Beginning in 2018, the Science Museum Group will undertake a large-scale digitisation project. Through this work we hope to digitise approximately 240,000 objects and publish them online.

According to the 2015 ENUMERATE survey of European cultural heritage institutions, science and technology collections are 19.5% imaged and online, so this ambitious project is a step change in digital access to the Science Museum Group Collection and will take us from significantly behind the sector to becoming a sector leader.

As we consider this ambitious project and the impact it will have on the Group’s collection website, we are giving some thought to how a diverse range of audience types will discover and use the collections. Where possible collection images are published under a Creative Commons licence and the catalogue is available via a public API (application programming interface).

However, as is the norm for most cultural collections online, the primary mode of discovery for the content is via search. This limits discovery to those who already know the collection and are looking for something they know is there or speculative searches which may or may not return results depending on what is in the collection, what has been digitised and how it has been catalogued.

Over recent years, a number of cultural institutions, individuals, companies and academic researchers have begun to explore new forms of discovery for cultural heritage collections online which address this limitation and seek to offer new forms of browsing and discovering digitised gallery, library, archive and museum (GLAM) collections.

As we embark on our project we are keen to explore how we might facilitate audience discovery of the wealth of material that will shortly be published online.

This blog post outlines some of our background reading…

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Council of Australasian Museum Directors c/o Mr Brian Oldman, South Australian Museum PO Box 234 Adelaide, South Australia 5001 Australia, © CAMD 2022
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