Illustration: Jean Jullien

Digital

Mike Ellis, Issue 114/10, p14, 01.10.2014
Websites fall at the last hurdle
Some years ago, I found myself at the Science Museum’s object store in Swindon, wandering in an Indiana Jones Warehouse 13-style hangar with the museum’s head curator.

He suddenly came to life, pointing out objects that constituted the last £100 of his budget spend in 1965 or the “only example of its kind” vacuum cleaner, and I caught a glimpse of the incredible stories that make our collections so amazing.

Then you go online to the ‘collections’ bit of a museum website only to find yourself looking at a badly presented list of stuff, much of it without any images or interpretation.

If you’re a researcher or academic this might be fine, but this audience is tiny compared with the effort and investment that goes into digitising objects.

And don’t get me started on how terrible catalogues are from a search engine point of view. As Nate Solas (formerly at the Walker Art Center, Minneapolis) said, “findability is authority on the web”, and here we are, producing pages that won’t appear high up in Google searches as they’re so badly constructed.

There are, of course, some wonderful examples where a list of objects is complemented by narrative-based experiences, and the movement to make large images available free under an open licence is fantastic too.

Nonetheless, it seems strange that we go so far with digitising work only to fall at arguably the most important hurdle – the bit where our users get to see what we’re about.

Mike Ellis is a director of digital agency Thirty8 Digital. He is chairing a session on museum websites at this month’s Museums Association conference in Cardiff


Comments

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Jonathan Gammond
MA Member
Access & Interpretation Officer, Wrexham County Borough Museum
20.10.2014, 19:21
One of my favourite museum collection websites was Gathering the Jewels. It was organised by themes and contained real information about museum objects held in museums throughout Wales. Loads of money was spent setting up the site, photographing the objects; it even included accession numbers so it was a great way to track down objects to borrow. Also it was really easy to search. Sadly it was replaced by the People's Collection Wales website.