This week, we talked about public engagement. The term “virtual museum” has been a controversial phrase for many people, but especially in Germany since the 1990s, who challenged the established definition proposed by the International Council of Museums (ICOM). ICOM says that a museum is a physical space where objects are selected, preserved, interpreted, and exhibited. Critics of the idea of the “virtual museum” say that “virtual” and “museum” are oxymorons, and the importance of physical museum space and engagement with real objects, asserting that the virtual cannot act as a substitute for the real encounter with authentic artifacts.
A methodological approach considers representations of museum collections in virtual space and “e-tangibles” as additional forms of communication that neither replace nor compete with physical museums but address different needs. Digital entities summarizing digital reproductions of museum objects appear as online databases, web portals, and digital exhibitions. Museums systematically digitize their collections, providing open access to object data and digital images through websites, portals like Europeana and Deutsche Digitale Bibliothek, and utilizing semantic web technologies and digital standards like LIDO and CIDOC-CRM.
Digital museum features, including augmented and virtual reality, enhance conventional museum space. Augmented reality offers insights into hidden details, brings specimens to life, and provides untold stories behind collections. Virtual museum space integrates tools to augment museal reality, complementing and enhancing conventional museums through interactivity and user experience.
The goal of a virtual museum is to consider object biographies, link data to the uniqueness of objects, and present a multi-layered view while imparting narratives that emotionally engage visitors in both virtual and conventional museum spaces. Achieving this requires the integration of digital and immersive tools and methods to represent conventional museum space in the virtual world, creating an extended museum experience that encourages the joy of discovery. From a scholarly perspective, having links to biographies and supplementary materials is a dream, and I can only imagine how this would enhance the in-person museum experience.
However, implementing a virtual museum is challenging, and the digital museum documentation standards mentioned above, such as WissKI, can help in data harvesting, but modeling and mapping data remain complex and time-consuming tasks. Bridging the gap between theory and practice involves exploring the virtual museum as an interdisciplinary and transdisciplinary field of investigation.
Crowdsourcing provides museums with a unique methodology to establish new relationships with their audiences, transforming the conventional museum-user dynamic by involving the public as curators, experts, and researchers. This approach not only enriches the user’s experience but also enhances the museum’s data and access points. By incorporating the public’s vocabulary and style of description, crowdsourcing expands the museum’s voice, making collections more accessible to a wider audience and fostering mission-driven experiences that encourage engagement with the institution.
In the online landscape today, where the public encounters misinformation, biases in search results, and often invisible artificial intelligence, maintaining a status quo that hinders the mission of museums is counterproductive. Projects like crowdsourcing, seen as an extension of museums’ mission-driven work, offer an opportunity to challenge existing power structures and consciously shape the course of the institution. Acknowledging participation as integral to the institution’s mission allows for the allocation of staff, time, and resources to address contemporary issues affecting the public.
In “Crowdsourcing Metadata in Museums: Expanding Descriptions, Access, Transparency, and Experience”, Jessica Brodefrank discusses how projects like “Tag Along with Adler” contribute not only to understanding research topics but also serve as real-time case studies evolving through actual work at institutions like the Adler Planetarium. As the public’s online habits evolve, cataloging should shift their focus on both the “about” of collections. She advocates for more institutions to engage in crowdsourcing and metadata-generating projects that leverage the enthusiasm and insight of their audiences. These projects provide meaningful opportunities for the public to experience collections and make them more discoverable. Crowdsourcing emerges as an effective strategy to enhance transparency, accessibility, and representation within museum collections, playing a crucial role in museums’ online presence.
I’m really excited about the GLAMWiki project. I suggested to Veronica to incorporate the Feminist Wiki Edit-a-Thon as an ASGO event, since I think lots of art historians would be super interested in this. I’ve found lots of wikipedia pages, particularly of women, that are really insufficient and inadequate.