In recent years the public has placed increasing pressure on museums to add collections to the world wide web.
Going online has made good sense to CAMD museums which are able to physically exhibit only a small fraction, at any one time, of the over 55 million objects in their collections. Already over 30 million visits are being made annually to CAMD museum websites.
To meet demand the museums have digitised collections, developed online educational material and created digital technology to enhance museum-user interactions.
The results have attracted world-wide attention. In 2011, the Australian Centre for the Moving Image not only won the ‘Best of the Web’ Education award at the international Museums and the Web conference for its ACMI Generator but also the ‘Best Overall’ new web technology over competitors like the Smithsonian and the British Museum.
In the same year, Museum Victoria’s Access all Areas podcast, which provides behind the scenes visits to museum sites, was judged best new initiative in the audio/visual/podcast category at the same conference. In 2010 the National Museum of Australia won the Podcast category with its Audio on Demand program.
Thousands of collection items and associated information have already gone online – not only for preservation purposes but because digitising collection data can unlock critically useful information.
Some of the many uses this information can be put to include:
- creating high quality, authoritative Australian online content for primary and secondary students in ‘connected classrooms’ around the nation;
- building a knowledge basis for interactive, high definition video conferences between students and experts from around the world;
- developing digital story-telling projects and other creative art programs which use cultural collections as a jumping off point;
- staging ‘virtual exhibitions’ which can reach even the most remote communities;
- facilitating use of collection resources by academic researchers;
- providing online inspiration for the next wave of Australian designers and innovators;
- reconnecting communities disrupted by colonisation with lost cultural heritage;
- encouraging opportunities for users to curate their own online collections;
- inspiring content for mobile applications and services; and
- launching platforms and supporting information for ‘citizen researchers’ to record observations and ideas.
More work remains to be done. While CAMD welcomed recent Federal support for Australian national museums to bring collections online, much significant data remains to be digitised in State, Territory and regional collections. CAMD has recommended that the proposed National Cultural Policy:
- give priority to the digitisation of culturally and historically significant material culture from the collections spread around Australia;
- support the development of a digital atlas of Australian people and culture; and
- encourage cross-portfolio support for the creation of online learning content for schools drawing on Australia’s vast cultural collections.
The National Broadband Network (NBN) is the largest infrastructure project in Australia’s history. If it is to help Australia to become one of the leading digital economies by 2020 it needs not only to invest in cable and trenches but in the all-important areas of online content and capacity building for its users.