Years ago, if you wanted to see something in a museum you’d have to go there and see it – there’d be no way about it, and so sometimes we’d have to be prepared to travel far and wide to engage with precious artefacts.
Yet, with the advent of the internet in the late twentieth century, and with its use soaring beyond incomprehensible levels today, there is no denying that we are in a much more interconnected world. Now, many museums are capitalising on these digital trends, and are digitising their archives rapidly, and at length.
Whilst there is no replica for being physically in a museum, and viewing the archives up close in person, digital archives are a fantastic alternative to spread the contents of archives across the globe – to audiences who would have never been able to step foot inside a museum.
These digital archives have the potential to reach masses and generate a whole host of ‘virtual visitors’. Yet, it is important to realise that in order to gain and maintain this traction, the archives need to be beautifully and simply displayed, functional and inviting.
You may have a the most interesting content in the world, but if you are hosting your archive on a lacklustre, dull and difficult to navigate site, then you can’t expect anyone to stay around for long and look further. A well-designed platform is crucial to attracting and capturing the attention of your virtual visitors. Head of User Experience at Capture Ltd, Simon Mallindine notes that a clean website theme is crucial for an enhanced user experience. Adding animations, different layouts and colour to suit the character of your archive ensures that your digital archive is not hosted on a ‘cookie-cutter’ site and can easily be updated as the archive develops.
Chances are, no matter how niche your archive, it will encompass different topics – perhaps its divisional by different geographies, seasons, kingdoms or asset type. Drilling down your content in groups, and subgroups, and displaying these on your site will allow your virtual visitor to get to grips with the exact type of content own – ultimately, providing them with clarity. Clean organisation of an archive allows museums to boast the different material they own, and helps visitors find what they are looking for without having to crawl through hundreds, thousands or millions of assets… a win-win really!
You may have a good number of virtual visitors – but there is no harm in more, right? One of the main ways to drive more engagement is by using your biggest champions – your current visitors – by encouraging them to share the content they are already engaging with.
Providing them with the ability to share certain assets to via social channels, email or simply with a direct URL – straight from the digital archive itself – will broaden the reach of your digital archival content and be sure that audiences far and wide can enjoy your archive as much as you do!
Therefore, in a world that is becoming increasingly digital, museums have huge potential to jump on the digital bandwagon and ensure that their content is not confined to a shelve in the museum, but in fact readily available all around the globe. However - in order to successfully do this - museums must pay attention to how they portray their archives online; using simple but effective web design, organising archives into functional collections and offering the ability to share content - in order to gain, maintain and grow virtual visitors.