In the quest to understand how museums can create value for users/visitors online, IdeK is asking five questions to colleagues around the world.
Five questions on Digital online offerings
Please tell us about yourself
My name is Paula Bray and I am the DX Lab Leader at the State Library of NSW in Sydney, Australia. I develop, manage and promote an award-winning team that uses existing and emerging technologies to build experiences, both online and onsite. The DX Lab, Australia’s first cultural heritage innovation lab, is a place where ideas are explored, and this work has been recognised in international and national media.
I am responsible for delivering creative, engaging and new ways to explore the Library’s collections and data sets through a diverse range of digital experiences. The DX Lab is a place for creative partnerships with digital peers, cultural heritage organisations, students, researchers, artists and creators. I have over twenty years’ experience working in cultural heritage institutions, including the State Library of NSW, Powerhouse Museum, Art Gallery of NSW and the Australian National Maritime Museum.
Today museums are expected to deliver value online, not just use the website as a shop window but engage new as well as loyal audiences, or audiences that might not even visit the museum physically. What should the digital online offerings of a contemporary museum comprise?
The GLAM sector engages with their audiences online in different ways, usually via their collections, social media and programming, that suits the needs of their audiences. As the technology changes rapidly and audiences became more tech savvy on how and when they want their content, it does mean that we need to stay researched on trends and what our audiences want and how emerging technologies can be used in engaging ways. For us in the DX Lab we can test and try things out with our audience in fast and very public ways to get feedback quickly. As the Library’s research and innovation team we get to build experiences that test and try ideas out before they become large-scale and more expensive digital offerings. This prototyping approach can be used by any Museum or Gallery and it is starting to be explored more by institutions world-wide, either through their Labs or lab style work.
How can museums deliver value online to younger audiences, considering their online habits and of course privacy and integrity.
Most Museum, Galleries and Libraries want to engage with younger audiences as they are a much harder group to reach and maintain. Possibly due to all the other content that they can get to quickly via their social media channels and interests. When creating content/experiences for younger audiences online then we need to ask them what they want and how they want it. We can’t assume that they will engage with our content. Consideration needs to be given to what platforms they are using, how they will share the experiences and how they might promote it. They need to have a connection to the stories or the content. For one of our experiences, that asked audiences to upload a portrait of themselves via Instagram so we could collect the face of New South Wales in 2018, we asked younger audiences why we should do this and how. We interviewed many young people to find out what would motivate them to get involved. Research is key to any digital experience. You need to understand the audience you are trying to reach and think through all possibilities, including their privacy and any consequences that might occur in relation to this.
Creating value online long term as a museum will affect traditional work methods and organizational structures. What do you consider is the most important step for museums to take to build capacity for value creation online?
Having a multi-disciplinary team that can respond quickly can be very useful. Ideas come from a range of different people and if that can be harnessed and used effectively then it creates opportunities for staff to engage with audiences to understand them better. Online teams need to be diverse and not just be based on technical skills alone. Ideally mixing with the rest of the organisation, everyone works in digital now.
Being responsive is a really good value to work with. This might be in the form of what is happening in news cycles, such as what we are all experiencing now, or at the micro community level. Museums, Galleries, Archives and Libraries have such rich collections that can be highlighted at any time. Communities like to connect with their local organisation and at times like this we can provide information or relief through our digital content very quickly.
What would you recommend to museums wishing to take the next steps towards creating and delivering online value in the upcoming years?
Web technology is moving at a fast pace. Unlike the print publishing industry, the web can always be modified and updated once it has gone live. Having a strategy of publishing early to get feedback to improve online experiences is a value that we have experienced at the Library through the DX Lab. Thinking of the web as a prototyping platform can be very useful. Telling audiences that you are trying something and calling it an experiment allows them to understand that potentially the experience isn’t quite as polished or as finished as it could be. This in turn allows for modification for constant improvement.
The GLAM sector is embracing a more Open Access philosophy world-wide these days and we should continue to see this rise. Sharing our work, ideas, learnings, code and knowledge to help others create with our collections is vital.
Can you give an example of a museum that you think creates value online and that has taken an extra step to increase their online offerings?
There are many and not just right now. The Walker Art Centre decided several years ago to try publishing in a news-style approach. They demonstrated that trying something with the web is important. It may not have been sustainable, but they were willing to try it. The Rijksmuseum in the Netherlands built a new website years ago with full screen images and promoted the remixing of their collection via their Rijks studio. This was very forward thinking at the time and still exists today, influencing many other institutions.
I think nowadays it is about providing others with access to our collections in better and more open ways. There was a big step by the Metropolitan Museum of Art in New York to make its public domain works available through a Creative Commons Zero license. Just recently the Smithsonian released nearly 3 million images that can be downloaded, shared, and reused without permission.
The Philbrook Museum in the US is taking a lot of risks and trying new things with its audiences, particularly online. They have reacted promptly to the global COVID-19 crisis in a responsive way providing interesting ways to stay connected with the Museum even during the closure period. These are all on their homepage.
I am excited to see the work that is currently coming out of the International GLAM Labs community. This is where the web is really being explored and technology being pushed and tested to engage audiences in new ways.