2.3 The Impact of Technology on Museum Work By Function
The interviews revealed that there is no consensus on the extent to which new technologies have impacted upon museums. One interviewee argued that the museum has not been transformed by new technologies any more than society in general. That is, the traditional core missions of museums to collect, preserve, interpret, and make available cultural heritage, has not been altered by technology. Bearman and Gerber (2008) also emphasize the importance of identifying and remaining true to core values.
Technologies are considered the force that helps organisations continually preserve their core values and beliefs while reconceptualising their environments of learning, discovery and transaction. … If cultural institutions are to succeed in taking advantage of new technologies, it is crucial to identify correctly what needs to remain stable -- their essence --and what can change, because it is a means of achieving that goal. (p. 388)
Others have argued that technology has led to an increasing democratisation of museum processes, through the placing of collections on-line, the implementation of Web 2.0 technologies on museum websites, and the increasing role of visitor-generated content within museum practices. Broadly speaking, technology has allowed museums to express their missions to a wider audience, and to fulfill these missions in a variety of new ways.
As previously noted, most museums today have some Web presence and almost all have at least one computer. Many museum offices are networked and employees have access to the Internet; many also use Intranets for internal communication and collaborative work. Museums generally assume that incoming staff will arrive with a certain level of computer literacy skills and will be competent in basic office technologies, including word-processing, electronic mail (email), Internet applications, spreadsheet creation and manipulation, databases such as Filemaker pro or Access, calendar or scheduling software, project management software and presentation software. In addition, staff increasingly rely on portable, mobile devices, such as Blackberry phones and iPhones, which can facilitate communication among those professionals who are geographically dispersed. In addition to basic computer literacy, many museums professionals have specific information technology skills depending on their particular position within the museum or the size and mandate of their institutions.
Technologies have also been adopted and modified to meet particular functions of the museum. The use of new technologies in three main functions, namely, Administration, Collections and Collection Management, and Audience Services are outlined below.
New technologies have helped to support many museum administration functions including facilities management, event planning, and ticketing; marketing, donor relations and fundraising; publishing; and information technology.
a. Facilities management, events planning, and ticketing
Over the last few years various software packages have been designed to support functions related to planning and managing events, as well as ticket sales and registering event goers. For example, Thriva’s event management software manages online registration and online event management.1 Siruisware Salespoint software automates the ticketing process, and supports retail point of sale, online membership renewal, and Print@Home tickets. It also helps museums to collect geographic and demographic data, and manages membership information.2 Ungerboeck Systems International (USI) has also developed a module for its event business management software to support the needs of museums, zoos and public attractions. USI claims that this module is an “end-to-end event management software solution that can be used to manage everything from room scheduling to event registration to invoicing or internal billing.”3 Used in many museums, event management software can handle the scheduling of room and outdoor events, managing tour groups and ticket sales, catering and food services, customer relationship management, facilities management and event registration.
b. Fundraising, membership and donor relations
The management of donor relations is one of the most important museum activities because, as one interviewee stressed, the survival of the museum depends on the institution’s ability to cultivate relationships with donors and to attract potential supporters. Most event management or ticket sales software gathers information about members and visitors, and some of these packages have begun to integrate these functions with support for donor relationship and fundraising. For example, software such a The Raiser's Edge© and eTapestry© integrate online ticketing and admission functions with support for membership, retail point of sale and fundraising. This software allows museum workers to record details about every prospective donor, access demographic information, store relevant documents (such as Word or Excel files), and monitor donor interaction. “eTapestry tracks donors, prospects, and alumni while managing gifts, pledges, and payments. Accessible via the Internet, eTapestry includes easy integration to online donation, Website services, and advanced email tools.”4 The integration of information from membership, point of sale, donations, and gifts provides a more holistic view of the museum’s donors and its members.
The sharing of data across many functions in the museum can assist the institution in providing a more personalized service in a more efficient and effective manner. David Bearman (2008) notes that knowledge museums create and maintain about their customers
can’t remain within the museum shop or files of the development office either; it must be fed into the delivery of online and onsite interactive and interpretive experience. The knowledge representation requirements about customers can be considerable – involving tracking user behaviour through exhibitions and interaction events and building profiles that can individuate future experiences (p. 53).
In-house systems, such as point of sales solutions or fundraising software, can help support membership and donor relationships. Alternatively, some museums are also using the World Wide Web and social networking sites to build stronger connections to their members. Museum websites contain information on exhibits, ticket prices, and upcoming events, as well as information about the museum hours, location, and accessibility. Many sites allow visitors to order their tickets online or to register as a member. For example, the Canadian Science Technology Museum has created a presence on Facebook to connect with its members, while other museums use their Websites to serve this function. (Dawson, McDonald and Trépanier, 2008)
c. Advertising and Promotion
Many of the interviewees suggested that there are several reasons for any museum to develop and maintain a website: to establish a presence; to network; to present information to the public. Many also stressed the importance of websites for advertising and promoting their institutions. A study undertaken by Jim Devine (2008) revealed that websites have now become the primary marketing tool for museums. Both institutional websites, containing wikis, blogs and even Twitter functionality, as well as social networking websites, such as Facebook and YouTube, have become important advertising and promotional vehicles for staying in touch with members and potential visitors. Furthermore, social networking sites such as Facebook and Twitter can serve as marketing or communication tools to access the public in a more personalized or casual manner than traditional museum advertisements or publications. For example, the Royal Ontario Museum and the Art Gallery of Ontario both have YouTube channels on which they post videos to announce upcoming exhibits, highlight recent acquisitions, and advertise educational programs. The Art Gallery of Ontario distributed a number of short videos to promote its special Valentine’s Day events via this channel. On this particular video, the manager of the museum’s boutique discussed Valentine’s Day gifts that were available to purchase and which staff would beautifully wrap for customers. In addition, the chef of the gallery’s restaurant described the meal he was preparing and curators highlighted their special tours that visited objects relevant to the Valentine’s Day theme.
In addition to online tools, many museums continue to publish materials in print format for sale or promotional purposes. Larger institutions that publish in-house rely on specific software to facilitate the design and layout of publications and to produce print or digitized final products. Typically, this software consists of Adobe InDesign, Photoshop, Illustrator, and Dreamweaver. Museum professionals who work on publications must therefore be skilled in the above-mentioned applications, as well as in basic production techniques. Many interviewees noted that publications remain an important museum product and museum professionals need to know how to produce high quality text and digital images for their publications.
Another change that was noted by interviewees was the shift to project-based business and collaborative work. According to one interviewee, museum professionals are entering the field more accustomed to working in groups, drawing on the expertise of many to perform complicated tasks. As a result, museums must respond to this conceptual shift in work organization to ensure that new professionals can perform in ways with which they are familiar. Institutions, for example, might introduce project management software or Intranets to facilitate information-sharing and the management of projects, or chat programs to allow for geographically dispersed real-time communication. Social networking tools are also becoming more commonplace within the museum workplace, as more professionals are accepting these technologies as solutions for collaborative project-based work.
Museums have also used website technology for internal communications and collaborations with other institutions. According to Brian Dawson (2008),
Internet-based collaborative platforms are examples of tools that have unquestionably had a profound impact on the creation and sharing of knowledge. These platforms are also making their mark within organisations. …. With capabilities beyond person-to-person channels (e.g., email and instant messaging) or one-way platforms (e.g., intranets, corporate Websites and information portals), these ‘new technologies are significant because they can potentially knit together an enterprise and facilitate knowledge work in ways that were simply not possible previously (p. 323).
The Canadian Science and Technology Museum Corporation’s Idea Bank is one example of digitally mediated collaboration. Dawson explains that the Idea Bank was established to support the production development process and works as a repository to capture ideas during the innovation process. All museum staff have access to this repository and can use it to document ideas brought from outside of the museum and those developed in-house. Employees can also comment on ideas posted by other staff. Heavily promoted throughout the corporation and after sixteen months in use, Dawson (2008) notes that employees contribute two ideas per month on average (p. 324).
Dawson also notes that the Canadian Aviation Museum created an internal Wiki to promote collaboration within the Museum. The Wiki served as a meeting place where staff across various departments could co-author and edit content for the Museum’s projects. One key goal was to facilitate participation, for example to encourage people to contribute content to the museum’s website and to promote repurposing of content, for example, adapting newsletter content for the website (Dawson 2008). Social book-marking sites, such as Delicious and social news sites, such as Digg and reddit, also help museum staff to stay on top of “hot topics” and share information about new trends or technologies that have not yet been published in traditional print or web media.
f. Information Technology
The technology experiences of those interviewed varied, as did the size and mandate of their institutions. Nevertheless, recruiting and retaining expertise is a common challenge for most museums. In small museums with minimal staff, museum professionals tend to be generalists who participate in a range of activities from fundraising to curation, leaving little time to specialize in any particular new technology. On the other hand, larger institutions, such as the Royal Ontario Museum, or the Getty Research Institute in Los Angeles, tend to have information technology departments with professionals who have expertise in website development, multi-media applications and/or collections management software. Regardless of size, most institutions customarily outsource at least some of their technology needs to third party providers. Website design, for instance, is commonly outsourced to a third party specializing in this activity. Likewise, museums frequently work with external firms to develop multimedia applications, telecommunications functions, human resources activities, and/or website monitoring. However other interviewees indicated they preferred having in-house expertise because internal information technology staff understand how the museum works. Brian Porter, of the Royal Ontario Museum, suggested that when an institution outsources IT functions, it ends up spending too much time helping contractors understand why certain approaches do not work in a museum. Porter indicated that having in-house expertise is more cost-effective in the long run.
A sophisticated understanding of new technologies, however, is crucial even if tasks related to IT are outsourced. Interviewees stressed that museum professionals need to be able to communicate the benefits and limitations of IT to management and to the public, as well as be adept at communicating with third-party providers to ensure that they provide a product or service that complements the institution’s mission. Paul Marty, of the College of Information, Florida State University, notes that many managers fail to realize that the museum Webmaster makes decisions that have ramifications across the museum. The Webmaster now sets information policy and determines the content and functionality of the museum’s website.
Museum professionals also need to know how to choose appropriate technology for the task at hand; funds spent on inappropriate technology is money lost. Several interviewees also noted that new professionals do not necessarily need programming skills when they enter the field, but should have a good understanding of information management, taxonomies, data manipulation, and IT theory. An understanding of the history of technology will also help new professionals avoid trend-jumping, and promote careful consideration of technology prior to its adoption.
Perhaps the most important IT challenge, however, is convincing management to understand both the benefits and limitations of technology within a dynamic working environment with conflicting priorities. Information technology seems not to be a core function of the museum, and therefore it does not always receive adequate funding. Few museums can exist today without a level of technology and technological support. Acquiring expertise that understands both the museum context and new technologies, whether in-house or outsourced, is key to building a solid information management program and developing innovative and interesting content for the public.
2.3.2 Collections and Collection Management
a. Information about Collections
Collections and information about objects are a fundamental component of all museums; accordingly, the care and documentation of these collections are an integral part of museum work. Parry (2007) notes, “the museum collects information, as much as it collects material things. Computers’ ability to process, store and distribute information has proven, therefore, to be entirely compatible with this function.” (p. 70)
Many interviewees noted that the collection resides at the core of any museum’s work; hence, many museums have committed to building databases, and/or strengthening metadata to facilitate access to their collections amongst researchers, the public, and other museums. Yves Bergeron highlighted the need for shared standard vocabularies and methodologies for data banks and stricter rules amongst museums. Data-sharing also requires that metadata meets a specific standard of interoperability so that it can be easily migrated from one IT infrastructure to the next. There is no shared vocabulary among museums for describing collections, nor is there a standard form of metadata used across all collections even within a single institution.
While organizations such as CHIN have been instrumental in improving access to collections, there is still a lot of work to be done in the area. Cleaning data and adding to metadata are, nevertheless, tedious and time-consuming tasks. Migrating legacy data to new formats takes time and digital asset production continues at a prodigious rate. Furthermore, Roger Baird, of the Canadian Museum of Nature, suggested that the management of legacy data (150 years worth in the Canadian Museum of Nature case) presents special challenges. Unfortunately, many museums are not able to cope with the amount of work necessary, and the expense of this work.
Interviewees also pointed out that bad data or poor information made available on the web reflects poorly on the subject expertise of museum professionals and the authority of the museum. At the same time, other interviewees noted that the public demands access to data that museums simply have not had the time or money to properly review. Paul Marty notes that most users do not ask for 100% accuracy, and if we wait until all information is 100% accurate and available, museums will never upload their material to the web. Moreover, Witcomb (2007) writes that new technologies and improved access to information on the Web have caused some to question the museum institution’s authority and to suggest that curators need “to become facilitators rather than figures of authority, and [to support] an openness to popular culture, [and] the recognition of multiple meanings, (p. 35). Projects such as the Steve Museum, which support user-generated descriptions of works of art, allow the visitor to create labels for each image and make these available for other online visitors to view. Furthermore, the Steve Museum project found that visitors approach art objects from a different view than traditional museum documentation (Trant 2009).
Bearman (2008) suggests that the advent of the Web has dramatically transformed the task of describing museum objects, redefining museum audiences and causing museums “to rethink the purposes and ways they represent knowledge” and consequently “No longer will it be acceptable that the contents of the museum databases speak ‘for the museum’ and with that anonymous authority. Now it will be necessary for individuals to sign contributions to the database and speak with their own authority” (p. 52). Furthermore, he posits that museums “often find that the public needs facets of description that are not usually employed by their curators. Some knowledge representations may be specifically oriented to the public, or even special age or interest groups within the public, while the same knowledge might be represented in a different way for internal use” (p. 51-52). Whether used internally by curators or museum staff, or accessed by the public, the information in the collection management system is key to managing the collection. As Roger Baird pointed out, if the link between specimens and their information is broken, the collection is compromised. Jennifer Trant (2008) concurs. She writes,
The maintenance of museum documentation for future use is a more complex question than preserving it for future access. For information about collections to have meaning, it must be available in the context of those collections, supporting their understanding and enabling their interpretation (p. 286).
Therefore, collection managers must have fundamental knowledge of information management techniques and the management and use of databases.
b. Collection Management Systems
Computers have supported the management of collections since the 1960s, however, these systems have evolved in sophistication since the 1980s and 90s (Bearman 2008). These systems are often the backbone of the museum. Delphine Bishop, of the National Gallery of Canada, noted that almost all museum departments use the collection management system, and each contributes information about a particular object. Many interviewees also noted that museum professionals must have a good understanding of how collections are maintained and managed, and how information about these objects is recorded in a collections management system (CMS). A CMS typically records:
- administrative information
- transactional information (such as accession, loan and de-accession)
- descriptive information
- information regarding provenance
- condition information
- donor and valuation information
- rights information
- location and movement information
Some collection management systems are moving beyond this basic functionality and now support links to digital images of objects to metadata about the object, or to include donor and fundraising information. For example, PastPerfect4 collection management software includes fundraising software that creates and tracks “fundraising campaigns, events, activities, and pledges”.5 In addition, the software includes WordRite, a full-featured Rich Text word processing software, which helps “create and print stylish mail merge letters for membership and contact mailings.”6 PastPerfect4 also supports multimedia catalogue records with the functationality to attach video clips, audio files, digital images, MS-Word documents, Excel spreadsheets, and Web pages.7
c. Digital Imaging
The creation of digital surrogates, and the management of digital born museum objects, provides both existing opportunities and challenges for many museums. Paul Marty (2008) highlights some of the opportunities that digital technology provide. He writes,
The advantages of digital information representations include the ability to make a virtually infinite number of perfect copies of digital surrogates, and transmit them great distances with no loss in quality; to offer new levels of interactivity between objects; to take advantage of hypermedia and multimedia to remove objects from the constraints of physical space and present arrangements impossible in physical galleries; to provide remote access to information resources for visitors, scholars, researchers and students; and to target unique information needs by either broadcasting information resources to wide audiences or narrowcasting information resources to individual users (p. 33).
However to reap these benefits museums require expertise in creating and working with 2D and 3D images. In his interview Roger Baird explained that 3D authoring tools, such as a 3D camera, allow museum professionals to create a three-dimensional image of specimens based on data models. Not only does this permit researchers to access collections at a distance, but it also limits handling of the physical specimens. Imaging technology can increase access to the collection, while helping to preserve the original object. Baird noted that the Canadian Museum of Nature has been able to share its in-house knowledge of 3D imaging with other cultural heritage institutions. Interestingly, Bill Greenlaw, of the Nova Scotia Museum, commented on the important contribution that the Canadian Museum of Nature has made in this area.
Though technologies and images provide exciting opportunities, Marty (2008) also discusses challenges including problems of copyright, the blurring of individual museum identities online, the loss of individual details and lessening sense of reality, and the concept of the aura or authenticity of digital objects. The proliferation of IT has also resulted in increased rates of format obsolescence and, as a result, museums now face considerable challenges when attempting to preserve digital assets. To help support the management and preservation of these assets some museums have purchased Digital Asset Management Systems. A subset of Enterprise Content Management (ECM), Digital Asset Management (DAM) consists of the tasks and the decisions surrounding the ingestion, annotation, cataloguing, storage, and retrieval of digital assets, including digital images, animations, videos, and music files. DAM can also refer to the protocol for downloading, renaming, backing up, rating, grouping, archiving, optimizing, maintaining, thinning, and exporting these files. Within a DAM infrastructure, each asset is referenced and managed by its metadata. Some museum workers, in particular curators and collections managers who work within a DAM infrastructure, must therefore be proficient in using appropriate metadata standards, have a solid understanding of information management, as well as expertise in the care and preservation of digital objects. This challenge was also noted by Murtha Baca, Head of the Getty Vocabulary Project at the Getty Research Institute. The creation of digital surrogates, and the management of digital born museum objects, provides both exciting opportunities and challenges for many museums.
Yet the preservation of digital objects is not just a technical issue. This dimension of preservation also requires museum professionals to be are aware of, and concerned with, issues related to the preservation of digital objects. Bill Greenlaw noted that digital photographs are sometimes mistreated by museums because they are perceived as “intangible objects”, and saved en masse onto CD-ROMs and other media storage devices which are sitting haphazardly on shelves. This is quite unlike “tangible” film negatives and analogue photographs that are carefully preserved in the vaults. The transition from tangible to intangible objects is also forcing museum professionals to re-consider basic concepts of traditional museology. For example, if a digital image can be copied easily and effectively, and disseminated widely via the World Wide Web, which version of this image is the authentic record? What can one do with a digital surrogate that he/she cannot do with a physical object? Furthermore, how does this scenario impact the “authentic museum experience” for the public? (Marty 2008)
d. Digital Art
While digital surrogates have forced some museums to reconceptualize ideas about objects, audiences, and their roles in society, digital born material, such as digital art, has also raised questions about traditional categorizations and the relationship among curators, conservators and creators. Beryl Graham (2007) notes that new media art is one area requiring particular attention, especially with respect to how the cycles of life of ephemeral objects are recorded. She explains that “sometimes what causes the shock is simply digital art’s tendency to hybridize and stray across media boundaries (another digital art naming from the 1990s was, of course, multimedia) contemporary artists tend to use any means or media necessary to make their work, making it particularly difficult to categorize” (p. 101). The creation and preservation of new media art also cross boundaries between disciplines within and outside of the museum context. For example, “collaborations between archivists, technicians and curators can help achieve more long term stability than the shifting grounds of curating alone” (p. 104). Organizations like the Fondation Daniel Langlois pour les arts, la science et la technologie in Montréal, whose fundamental mission is to research the intersections of art, science and technology and to collect electronic and media art, has partnered with many museums to further this developing area. Programs such as the Variable Media Network, developed in conjunction with John Ippolito at the Museum of Modern Art in New York City from 2002 to 2004, or the SSHRC funded project DOCAM (Documentation et conservation du patrimoine des arts médiatiques; www.docam.ca), undertaken by an alliance of universities and museums from 2004-2009, are the products of such work.
As previously mentioned, museums are also undergoing a conceptual shift that many believe has been triggered by the advent of networked computer technology. Traditionally, collections have fallen under the exclusive domain of the curator; however, information technology allows each collection to be shared, at least as parcels of metadata and digital images traveling across vast telecommunications networks. While the museum will never cease to preserve its collection, opening up access has changed the focus of the museum from its preservation activities to its interaction and engagement with the public
2.3.3 Audience Services
The development of Web 2.0 technology has provided museum professionals with new ways of thinking about connecting with their publics online and involving these publics in the museum environment. Paul Marty explained that it is “no longer about the visitor in the life of the museum but the museum in the life of the visitor,” meaning that with the interactive web and new levels of connectivity, museum visitors access the museum before they physically visit it, and continue to visit the museum website after they return home.
a. Onsite Visitors
Kirsten Ellenborgen, John Falk, and Kate Haley Goldman (2008) suggest that the motivations of visitors to the physical museum vary significantly from visitors to the museum’s website. They state that
Physical museum goers are seeking experiences—learning, experiences perhaps, but experiences none the less. In contrast the Internet was created for resource sharing and communication. This distinction shapes the current differences in motivation in the two ventures. (p. 192)
Their research also suggests that “people come to places that are identity shaping” and that there is “little research that indicates that virtual museums are identity shaping” (p. 193). For this reason, it is important for museums to continue to design exhibits for their physical spaces and not to abandon such endeavours completely to the web.
The way that exhibits are designed and executed has changed in response to new technologies. For example, museum professionals plan exhibits and exhibit spaces using a number of available technologies. The essential platform for exhibition design appears to be AutoCAD, a document and design drafting software that helps curators visualize the three-dimensional space of the gallery and museum artifacts. Many interviewees recognize that manipulating AutoCAD requires a special skill set that needs intensive training. Other products, such as Virtual Gallerie, build on design programs and collection management systems enabling designers to import images from the collection management system to create 3D images of the museum. When planning and designing exhibits, curators “can hang paintings, arrange sculpture or other 3D objects, move and/or paint walls, estimate building costs, and perform other tasks in a 3D virtual gallery that they would otherwise perform in the physical world.” Not only does the type of software help curators visualize an exhibit, but it can also help donors visualize an exhibition during the planning phase, and potentially convince them to donate material or funds to the exhibition. Moreover, the software allows visitors to virtually ‘walk through’ the museum, interact with the museum object, add audio or video content, experience the exhibition at a distance, or create their own exhibition.8
In the physical museum, curators often include kiosks and other interactive components to exhibits to entice the public to seek more information about the works or the creators of these works. As Paul Marty noted in his interview, kiosks used to be relegated to the corner of most museum spaces, but now technology is considered more holistically at the inception of exhibition planning. One interviewee pointed out that exhibition teams should include members of the IT department so these teams have adequate IT expertise at all stages of the development of new exhibitions. Museum professionals need to know how to work with kiosks and build new applications for their use.
The development of kiosks and other interactive components requires multimedia-authoring expertise. Multimedia authoring describes any process adopted to produce multimedia applications, such as interactive online exhibits, tutorials, brochures, videos, walk-through demonstrations, or business presentations. An authoring tool, such as Adobe Flash and Adobe Fireworks, facilitates the creation of these multimedia applications by using a scripting language to bring together text, graphical, and audio data.
As several interviewees noted, many museums are incorporating multimedia applications into their existing websites, both as online exhibitions and to encourage the public to visit their institutions. The San Francisco Museum of Modern Art, for example, has produced Making Sense of Modern Art, an online guide to its permanent collection of modern and contemporary work. This guide can be accessed through the museum’s website at http://www.sfmoma.org/msoma. It was authored using a tool called Pachyderm, developed as a collaborative project by the New Media Consortium (NMC) and the San Francisco Museum of Modern Art (SFMoMA), and funded by the Institute for Museum and Library Services (IMLS). Pachyderm is an open-source authoring environment for creators of web-based and multimedia learning experiences, and uses a modular and easily updateable rich media design. Most significantly, Pachyderm helps museums ‘tell a story’ online using digital assets already available at institutions, and reaches a broad, geographically-dispersed audience. Other guides, such as Kurio, designed for families and friends who visit the museum, facilitate group interaction and utilize a game structure. Wakkary et al. (2008) explain that Kurio allows for scenarios such as the following
a family imagines themselves as time travelers lost in the present because their time map is broken. In order to repair the time map, family members complete small tasks and collect information from the museum reconstructing the time map each time. (p. 368)
The proliferation of mobile devices has also encouraged museum workers to begin thinking about multimedia authoring tools that re-appropriate web content and make this content accessible to users of cell phones and other pocket browsers. This process could be as simple as publishing an RSS feed to mobile phones, or as complex as designing audio tours to be downloaded and used on personal mobile devices. One interviewee explained that making audio tours available to the public on personal mobile devices also reduces the financial burden placed on museums to purchase and maintain traditional audio tour equipment. Consequently, there is an effort, particularly in larger institutions, to develop applications that provide interpretive information about the institution and its collection, and to make these available to the public without any face-to-face interaction with museum staff.
b. Online Visitors
The desire for identity-shaping space notwithstanding, museum websites can enhance visitor experiences and provide opportunities for visitors to contribute to the museum. Moving exhibitions online and out of the physical museum space has had a transformative impact on cultural heritage institutions. As Parry (2007) concludes
With both physical forms themselves (the architecture) and our conceptions of them (the discourse) transformed, we witness a movement from a museum space that is prescribed, authored, physical, closed, linear and distant to a space that instead tends to be something more dynamic, discursive, imagined, open, radial and immersive. A movement, we might say, from ‘hard’ space to ‘soft’ space (p. 72).
Not surprisingly, Web 2.0 and social networking are perhaps the most significant and growing set of new technologies in the current landscape. Web 2.0 refers to a second generation of design and development that facilitates communication, and secures information sharing, interoperability, and collaboration between a host and the public. Examples of Web 2.0 technologies include wikis, blogs, video- and music-sharing applications, social bookmarking, and content syndication (RSS). Many museums have adopted Web 2.0 technologies and are using these to communicate with the public about their collections, upcoming or ongoing exhibits, and educational programming. “Collection X” at the Art Gallery of Ontario, for example, is an online gallery that allows members of the public to upload their own content and to apply tags or ‘folksonomies’ to the gallery’s own digitized collection. This site encourages the public to become more involved with the gallery and entices them to visit the institution to see the gallery’s works first-hand. Some museums, such as the Smithsonian’s Latino Virtual Museum, have even experimented with developing virtual exhibits in Second Life.9
Geographic information systems have also been used in conjunction with online exhibits in a Web 2.0 environment. A geographic information system (GIS) captures, stores, analyzes, manages, and presents data that is linked to location. GIS applications are tools that allow users to create interactive queries, analyze special information, edit map data, and present the results of all these operations. Several interviewees discussed projects at their respective institutions that use GIS to link artifacts with archeological information in the form of a digitized map. There are also efforts to use GIS data to harness traditional knowledge, and to connect this information with the museum collection. The Inuit Heritage Trust, for example, has launched the Arctic Bay Online Atlas, which allows the public to record traditional place names in indigenous languages on a digital map. This information is then displayed along with archeological dig sites and added to the institution’s metadata around works retrieved from these sites.
Yet some museums have taken a more cautious approach to Web 2.0 technologies. One interviewee remarked that folksonomies and social tagging are chaotic in nature and will present a significant challenge for museums in the future, as they do not comply with any existing information management standard. Other museums continue to monitor the rise of Web 2.0 technologies, but have not adopted them for use in their institutions. This might be related to a lack of funds to support the development of Web 2.0 applications, or a shortage of human resources to pursue their use. Alternatively, some museums might suffer from a deficiency of expertise in Web 2.0 technologies and simply have not yet had the opportunity to update the skills of their workers.