Before lockdown forced the Museum of Gloucester to close on 23 March, I was only just beginning to contemplate the idea of a virtual museum. At 55, I would consider myself a traditionalist with a wealth of collections knowledge built up over 31 years of public engagement, but I’m not a tech wizard and the thought of talking to a digital device instead of a human audience was almost completely alien to me.
Luckily, there is a great marketing team in the museum who are very comfortable with social media platforms, and they provided me with all the support I needed to develop virtual tours of the museum that could be shared on Facebook and Twitter during our closure.
Initially I made a list of chronological topics that I could cover using a mix of video and photographs. As lockdown continued, it became obvious that we needed cover a wider range of themes and subjects to keep things fresh.
My Samsung A40 smartphone has a brilliant camera. Once I learnt how to email large files using a Google Drive and I overcame my initial anxiety of speaking to a lens and microphone instead of real people, everything seemed to fall into a logical rhythm. I have now completed more than 30 videos, some of which have had many thousands of views on social media and I am now really enjoying this new type of engagement.
The museum has a digital exhibition planned for the autumn called A Life in Lockdown: Memories of Covid-19 in Gloucestershire. We have invited people to submit digital content for this, which will also be used in a physical exhibition. I am also receiving enquiries from other partner organisations to assist with other virtual content initiatives.
My advice to museums looking to develop digital tours is:
- Research – make sure you know as much as possible about the topic before you start filming.
- Slow down – it’s very easy to rush the narrative especially if you are nervous but it will come across on film much more naturally if you take your time.
- Practice makes perfect – you’re not likely to get it right on the first take and it doesn’t matter how many times you need to repeat.
- Technology – make sure you use a camera or smartphone that can handle the size of files created, produces an adequate resolution and can cope with the subsequent transmission of data.
Nigel Taylor-Jones is the collections team leader at the Museum of Gloucester, which reopened on 3 September