April 11-14, 2007
San Francisco, California

Bookmarking In Museums: Extending The Museum Experience Beyond The Visit?

Silvia Filippini-Fantoni, University Paris I - Sorbonne, France & Antenna Audio Ltd., UK; and Jonathan Bowen, Museophile Limited, UK


Over the past few years, some museums have launched multimedia projects (on PDAs, kiosks, and Web sites) that allow visitors to bookmark information of interest for later use at home or in the classroom, in at attempt to prolong the museum experience, build a stronger relationship with the visitor, and facilitate the learning process. Despite its great potential, however, there is still very little evidence that bookmarking actually works in the terms envisaged by its promoters. To consider this question, we will analyze examples of different on-line and on-site applications, accompanied by a detailed investigation of usage statistics and evaluation results carried out in part by the authors and in part by museums. We will consider case studies from Tate Modern, the J. Paul Getty Museum, the Museum of Science in Boston, and The Tech Museum of Innovation in San Jose, among others.

Keywords: bookmarking, personalization, evaluation, pre- and post-visit experience, handheld devices, kiosks


No longer content within the physical confines of the actual building, museum professionals have been taking advantage of new technologies such as the Internet, handheld devices (PDAs, etc.) and mobile phones to reach their public at home, in the classroom, and on the move. One of the most interesting tools to support this need of extending the experience (Falk & Dierking, 1992) beyond the confines of the museum itself has proven to be "bookmarking" (Filippini-Fantoni, 2006a), the moniker given to a range of technologies that allow visitors to "save" information of personal interest (Hidi, 1990). The bookmarking of Web pages, implemented within Web browsers, has been in use since the 1990s (Abrams & Baecker, 1997). In the context of this paper, bookmarking may involve information from the museum Web site, kiosks or audio guide (MP3 player, handheld device or mobile phone) for later use. It provides a degree of personalization for users (Bowen & Filippini-Fantoni, 2004; Filippini-Fantoni & Bowen, 2005). Visitors can retrieve the bookmarked information either via links in an e-mail sent to the visitor at the end of their visit or via a personal page on the museum's Web site, accessible to the visitor through a username and password. If bookmarks from other visitors can be accessed (e.g., on-line or via e-mail), a sense of virtual community can be generated (Beler et al., 2004).

When well-integrated into the visitor experience, bookmarking can be a powerful tool for supporting the learning experience in museums (Csikszentmihalyi & Hermanson, 1995) and creating a stronger relationship between the institution and the visitor. The ability to save an important part of the content encountered during the museum visit and access it at home or in another context allows the visitor the possibility of focusing more on discovery and the aesthetic experience while in the museum and to leave the more traditional didactic aspects for later. Research also indicates that repetition is a major mechanism for retaining memories over time (Brown & Kulick, 1997), so bookmarking can play an important role in increasing visitors' knowledge about a collection or exhibition as well as stimulating a positive response to their visit and the intrinsic desire to learn more. In a culture of "information on demand", bookmarking has the potential to become a major bridge between the "real" and the "virtual" museum visit.

One Tool, Multiple Platforms

Because of its great potential, in the past few years some of the world's leading museums have been progressively incorporating bookmarking facilities into their Web sites, kiosks and audio guide solutions. A selection of museums offering ongoing and past bookmarking projects is provided in Table 1.

On-line Kiosks Handheld or audio guide Mobile phone
- MIA + Walker Art Center
- The Getty (Getty Bookmarks)
- Virtual Museum of Canada
- Eternal Egypt
- National Museum of Australia
- NMWA (Art Tales)
- UK NMSI (Ingenious)
- MFA Boston
- Tate Online
- Cleveland Museum of Art
- The Getty (GettyGuide)
- London Science Museum (In Touch)
- The Tech Museum (Tech tags)
- Cité des Sciences (Visite+)
- Orlando Science Center
- Tate Modern
- MOS Boston
- Cité des Sciences (Visite+)
- My Art Space

Table 1: A selection of museums offering ongoing and past bookmarking tools,
organized by type of platform.

The first examples of bookmarking to appear were on-line applications, including:

Here visitors to the Web site can bookmark from the on-line collection sets of favorite artworks that they can later access and update or send to friends and family. In some cases, these personal digital collections can be accompanied by images and annotated with personal comments. See Figure 1 for an example from the Virtual Museums of Canada.

Fig 1: An example of an annotated personal collection from the Virtual Museum of Canada.

Fig 1: An example of an annotated personal collection from the Virtual Museum of Canada.

These tools are particularly useful for people using on-line digital collection information for research and educational purposes. Teachers, for example, can select and print out a list of artifacts for the visit, set up study sets, provide personalized recommendations and/or test the knowledge acquired during the visit by asking their students to create personal exhibitions. On-line bookmarks can also be of support to those wishing to carefully plan their trip to the museum. The Getty and Tate on-line bookmarking systems, for example, allow on-line visitors to create a printable map of the selected artworks in preparation for an eventual visit, as shown in Figure 2.

Fig 2: Printable map of the Getty Villa from Getty Bookmarks.

Fig 2: Printable map of the Getty Villa from Getty Bookmarks.

On-site at the museum, dedicated computer kiosks can also offer bookmarking facilities. One of the first examples was the Make your own gallery kiosk that premiered at the SFMOMA San Francisco Museum of Modern Art's Points of Departure exhibition ( in Spring 2001 (Bowen & Filippini-Fantoni, 2004). This allowed anyone to "bookmark" images of the exhibition's art pieces into a virtual on-screen gallery and add their own commentary. More recently (2005), the J. Paul Getty Museum developed a series of multimedia kiosks (GettyGuide - see Figure 3 and; Filippini-Fantoni, 2006b) available both at the Getty Center and the Getty Villa. These allow visitors to save content of interest (videos, descriptions of artworks, artist biographies). Visitors can then either send the saved information to their email addresses or access it on a personal Web page created on the museum's Web site. Similarly, the National Gallery's Art Start kiosks within the gallery in London include an "add it to My Tour" feature that allows visitors to bookmark objects of interest. These bookmarks can then be sent via e-mail and/or printed out so visitors can find them more easily during the visit (Filippini-Fantoni, 2006a).

Fig 3: A screenshot of the GettyGuide kiosk showing the bookmarking feature at the bottom.

Fig 3: A screenshot of the GettyGuide kiosk showing the bookmarking feature at the bottom.

Analogous applications are also available in different science museums, where the use of interactive kiosks in the exhibition space is more common. The Tech Museum of Innovation in San Jose, for example, successfully uses RFID-tagged tickets to allow its visitors to bookmark images, videos, lab tests and games' results. (RFID - Radio Frequency identification is a generic term for technology that uses radio waves to identify objects automatically. In this case, the system is used to identify individual visitors who wear the RFID tagged ticket as a wristband and use it as an identifier every time they need to bookmark information from one of the kiosks.) The content saved by the visitors during their interaction with the museum's numerous kiosks can then be accessed on the museum Web site after the visit via the number that is indicated on the RFID tickets. Such tools can also be used for educational purposes in the context of a school visit.

As an example, the marine science education centre at the Gulf of Maine Research Institute (GMRI, in Portland, Maine, allows 5th and 6th grade students to save the observations, hypotheses, evidence and findings collected during their interaction with the museum installations and interactives to individual science notebooks which they and their teachers and parents can access at school or home on the institution Web site. On their personal sites, students can annotate, update and export all of their digital movies and images to create additional extended research reports.

In more recent times, bookmarking has also been extended to mobile technology that accompanies visitors through the galleries, capturing spontaneous interests and bursts of curiosity so that visitors can follow up on what caught their imagination. Increasingly, handheld devices including bookmarking facilities are now used in larger museums to provide visitors with audiovisual information about exhibits. One of the most successful examples of this type of application is the Multimedia Tour ( for the permanent collection at Tate Modern, developed in cooperation with Antenna Audio. The Multimedia Tour, which provides rich and captivating audio-visual information about the collection, allows the visitor to e-mail home links to the museum Web site for more detailed information on artworks of interest.

Like the Tate Modern tour, the handheld guide offered by the Boston Museum of Science for the temporary Star Wars exhibition (2005-2006,, allowed visitors to bookmark information of interest for later use at home (Reich & Chin, 2006). However in this case, the visitor, instead of receiving an e-mail with links to the on-line collection information, was given access to a personal page, created on the museum Web site, with additional information about the bookmarked items. See Figure 4 for the Star Wars example from the Museum of Science in Boston and Figure 5 for an example from the Tate Modern Multimedia Tour in London.

Fig 4: Screenshot from the Tate Modern Multimedia Tour, showing the bookmarking feature.

Fig 4: Screenshot from the Tate Modern Multimedia Tour, showing the bookmarking feature.

Fig 5: Screenshot from the Star Wars Multimedia Tour at the Boston Museum of Science, showing the bookmarking feature.

Fig 5: Screenshot from the Star Wars Multimedia Tour at the Boston Museum of Science, showing the bookmarking feature.

Among the different types of mobile technologies (MP3 players, iPods, handheld devices) used in museums to provide gallery interpretation, mobile phones including bookmarking functionalities are also gaining momentum, especially because of the visitors' familiarity with the device. My Art Space (, for example, is a UK project that allows students on a school visit to one of the three museums participating to the program (D-Day Museum in Portsmouth, Urbis in Manchester and the Study Gallery in Poole), to discover, "collect" and annotate information about viewed objects on a mobile phone distributed before the visit. After the trip, students and teachers can retrieve the bookmarked information on the My Art Space Web site. The idea is to encourage young people and general visitors to explore and "acquire" cultural artifacts, curate their own virtual galleries, and construct personal narratives to share with the general public as well as their family and friends.

Fig 6: A screenshot from the My Art Space Web site, which allows users to retrieve information bookmarked in museums.

Fig 6: A screenshot from the My Art Space Web site, which allows users
to retrieve information bookmarked in museums.

Bookmarking: Does it Really Work?

As we have seen from the examples above, since the late 1990s museums have introduced bookmarking on PDAs, kiosks, and the Web in the hope that it will help prolong the museum experience, build stronger relationships with visitors, and facilitate learning. However, despite its great potential, there is still very little evidence that bookmarking actually works in the terms envisaged by its promulgators.

To resolve this question, we will analyze usage statistics and evaluation results of some of the projects mentioned above, carried out in part by the authors and in part by museums themselves. In particular, we will consider case studies from Tate Modern, the J. Paul Getty Museum, the Museum of Science in Boston, The Peabody Essex Museum in Salem, the Cleveland Museum of Art, the Science Museum in London, and the Tech Museum of Innovation in San Jose. We are particularly grateful to these institutions for their cooperation in sharing the results of their evaluations and in allowing us to conduct further research on their existing projects. The data, despite being limited in size, give a good indication of the trends, problems and possible solutions related to the use of bookmarking in museum throughout the different types of platforms.

Besides these few case studies, however, we have found it quite difficult to collect useful feedback about bookmarking projects. In fact, most systems are not set up to track what users do and when they do it; they do not necessarily collect useful information such as number of unique visitors, first time versus repeat visitors, the number of bookmarked items, etc. Moreover, in order to assess the effectiveness of these tools, log data analysis is often not enough to understand the rationale behind certain user behaviors. Qualitative research in the form of focus groups, usability testing, interviews and questionnaires are of fundamental importance to shed some light on the how and the why of bookmarking. Unfortunately this type of research often requires competences, time and money that most museums do not have or do not wish to invest in what is often considered a low priority area.

Do Bookmarking Applications Meet Museums' Expectations?

In the following we discuss the overall results rather than the mass of data concerning bookmarking collected for individual museums in the projects mentioned above. The figures suggest that bookmarking rates can be quite variable. However, except for a few success cases, such as Tate Modern and the Tech Museum of Innovation (both around 40% usage), the majority of the projects lag well behind museums' expectations. (Please note that the 40% figure is not relative to the total number of visitors, but to the number of people using a PDA in the first case and receiving a RFID-tagged ticket in the second case.)

The more disappointing ones are on-line applications, which seem to suffer from the general lack of visibility on museum Web sites. The Getty's on-line bookmarking system (Getty Bookmarks), for example, which is buried deep down in the secondary pages of the museum's Web site, registered only a total of 1,969 accounts between January and December 2005 (see column V in Table 2 below). This is a very small figure when compared to the total number of unique visitors to the Web site (column I) or the number of unique visitors to the on-line collection (column II), where the bookmarking feature is hosted.

Column I Column II Column III Column IV Column V
Number of website visitors Number of Art directory visitors Number of Getty bookmarks page visitors Number of Getty bookmarks visitors who logged in Number of bookmarking accounts created online
January 856,976 441,383 2,972 495 230
February 786,372 394,049 2,785 627 306
March 903,463 440,029 2,883 454 221
April 889,667 425,120 2,741 505 236
May 786,313 389,542 2,356 353 159
June 605,347 344,957 2,128 340 150
July 708,756 300,279 2,277 373 138
August 730,383 318,718 2,263 377 143
September 838,497 371,856 2,180 327 137
October 928,708 422,851 2,703 441 168
November 887,912 426,783 1,271 232 81
December N/A N/A N/A N/A N/A

Table 2: Log data from the Getty Web site.

Similar results apply to the Cleveland Museum of Art with only 700 registered collections over a little less than two years (September 2004 - April 2006) and the Peabody Essex Museum, with 6,200 registered users between June 2003 and April 2006. (More insight into on-line bookmarking and personal digital collections will be the object of a separate study with Professor Paul Marty of Florida State University.)

Kiosk-based solutions seem to perform slightly better than on-line applications with bookmarking rates ranging between 6% (GettyGuide - Filippini-Fantoni, S., 2006b) and 40% (Tech Tag - averaged over three years). Similarly, bookmarking rates on handheld devices are also quite variable, ranging between 10% (Star Wars exhibition - Reich & Chin, 2006) and 43% (Tate Modern).

Click through rates, which indicate the percentage of users that follow up and go on-line to access the bookmarked information, are even more disappointing than the bookmarking rates. With the exception of Tate Modern, with a 44% click-through rate in the summer of 2005 (19% of the total number of PDA users), all the other projects are well below 10%. The Star Wars Multimedia Tour at the Boston Museum of Science, which was very similar to the Tate Modern application, only had a 10% click-through rate, which corresponds to 3.7% of the total number of PDA users (Reich & Chin, 2006).

In Touch (Bowen & Filippini-Fantoni, 2004;, a kiosk-based bookmarking system available as part of an interactive exhibit at the Welcome Wing of the London Science Museum since 2000 had an average 8% click-through rate in 2004, similar to the 7% average obtained by the Tech Tag RFID-based system (17.25% of the 40% bookmarkers). In the case of the GettyGuide kiosks, the click-through rates drop even lower, ranging between 0.22% and 2.6% of the total number of kiosk users, depending on the period considered (Filippini-Fantoni, S., 2006b).

Why Are Visitors Not Bookmarking?

The results described above, apart from a few exceptions, are often considered disappointing by museums. In fact, such low response rates make it very difficult for them to justify a continued investment by their sponsors, and often result in cancellation. The Star Wars Multimedia Tour, for example, has been confirmed for the traveling version of the exhibition, but no bookmarking tool will be provided. The reasons indicated for the choice are high costs (to set up a wireless network or a hotspot solution in the museums included in the exhibition tour) and low response rates. In the next section of this paper we will try to challenge this idea of failure, but for now let us try to understand the reasons for this apparent lack of success.

First, the majority of the public does not seem to be very interested in bookmarking. At Tate Modern, for example, PDA users indicated "lack of interest and time" among the main reasons for not bookmarking. "It makes sense here," commented one of the respondents. "I don't feel the need for more information at home and if I did I'd go to the Web site and look it up on my own." Similar responses were provided by participants to the GettyGuide evaluation, where 21% of the users indicated that they were not interested in the bookmarking feature, while 17.4% did not have the time to use it (Filippini-Fantoni, S., 2006b).

Similarly, PDA users at the Star Wars exhibition declared that they were not interested in the feature (9%), did not have time (9%), or did not like receiving an e-mail (7% - Reich & Chin, 2006). These types of responses seem to suggest that, for most visitors, the experience starts and finishes at the museum and there is no need or curiosity to extend it beyond its walls. Moreover, in a society where people are constantly exposed to educational and visual content, fear of junk e-mail and information overload also represent a serious obstacle to the use of bookmarking in museums.

Besides the general lack of interest and time and a fear of information overload, outlined above, there seem to be other factors behind the fairly poor response rates witnessed by bookmarking tools. One of them is the lack of visibility, which appears to be a major problem, especially for on-line applications that are usually hidden in secondary pages of museum Web sites. For example, none of the participants in a teachers' workshop at the Getty Villa (see below) was aware of the existence of the on-line (Getty Bookmarks) bookmarking features, despite visiting the Web site quite regularly (Filippini-Fantoni, S., 2006b). This point is particularly important, as very little visibility has been given so far to the Getty Bookmarks, particularly on-line. Even searching for relevant keywords using Google can give poor results, and museums could learn to benefit more from search engines in this regard (Numerico et al., 2005).

Despite its potential as an educational tool, My Getty Bookmarks is, in fact, buried deep down in the art section of the Web site, where it has been recently removed from the secondary menu. When asked why they visited the Getty museum Web site, most of the 17 (out of 32) teachers who had been on-line claimed that they mainly used it to plan a school visit, or look for lessons plans as well as information about artwork/artist/exhibitions. This suggests that besides the art section, the bookmarking feature should be advertised in the education section of the site, where most teachers are likely to go to plan a museum visit, as well as on the home page (Filippini-Fantoni, S., 2006b).

Kiosk and PDA-based bookmarking tools seem to suffer from a similar fate: 23% of the participants in the Star Wars Multimedia Tour evaluation indicated that they were not aware of the existence of the tool, despite being given a full description of the device's functionalities by the distribution staff (Reich & Chin, 2006). Similarly, 57% of the visitors to The Tech, even when using the RFID tagged ticket, are not aware of the existence of the Web site and therefore are not able to follow up on their visit by accessing the bookmarked content on-line.

This suggests that museums should put more effort into advertising their bookmarking features, both on-line and onsite, to make sure that as many visitors as possible are aware of their existence and know how to use them. Advertising them on all museum brochures, the Web site, introductory videos and audio-guides is of fundamental importance to spread awareness. A key role in this respect must be played by the on-site staff giving assistance to visitors while using kiosks in the gallery. Consider, for example, the case of Tech Tags at the Tech Museum. Through better advertising, staff training and a more effective tag distribution policy, the bookmarking and click-through rates have considerably increased in the past three years, raising respectively from 28% (bookmarking rate) and 12% (click-though rate) in 2004 to 54% (bookmarking rate) and 21% (click-though rate) in 2006.

Another key factor in improving the success rate of these applications is to make them as transparent, intuitive and easy to use as possible, unfortunately very often not the case. The most enlightening example, in this respect, is the bookmarking application of the GettyGuide kiosks, where 35.6% of the non-bookmarkers indicated that they did not notice the feature, despite it being available on each screen, while another 19.6% did not understand what facility was being provided (Filippini-Fantoni, S., 2006b).

In order to determine the real nature of the problems, the museum carried out task-based usability tests with seven GettyGuide users (six women and one man) between the age of 14 and 70. These tests were very valuable in helping the museum understand that the bookmarking functionality, as it is set up now, is too complex for the user to understand without guidance from museum staff. First, the word "bookmark" is confusing for the user because it does not convey the idea that the system allows the user to save information for later use at home. Moreover, the word bookmark seems to prove particularly difficult for non-native speakers. Tina, for example, a 44-year-old Norwegian with little computer experience and relatively poor English, had no idea to what the word referred. She had never used it or encountered it before.

When asked what other terms the museum could use to better express the fact that the system allowed the users to save information and access it later at home, three out of seven respondents suggested the word "e-mail". Sending an e-mail is what visitors think about when wanting to retrieve information of interest at home. As a matter of fact, it is something most museum visitors understand, are familiar with, and have done at least once in their lives. In contrast, setting up an account, which is what the system here allows them to do, is somewhat less common, especially when the account in question is set up on a kiosk in a museum and then accessed on-line through the museum Web site (Filippini-Fantoni, S., 2006b).

Problems of transparency related to the use of wrong terminology have also emerged in other situations. In the case of the Tate Modern Multimedia Tour, for example, the museum chose to use the expression "e-mail information home" to indicate the possibility of bookmarking information about one or more objects covered by the tour. The term is fairly self-explanatory and, even when the staff does not have the time to brief the visitor in detail, users can normally work out what that entails on their own. In contrast, on the Star Wars multimedia tour, the term "bookmark" was used to indicate exactly the same functionality. The result was a much lower bookmarking rate (10% instead of 43%), which, even if also influenced by other factors, is a proof that transparency and clarity are of fundamental importance for the success of these solutions.

As underlined by the various evaluations, lack of interest, visibility, transparency and simplicity are the main reasons for the poor performances of bookmarking tools in museums. While there is not much we can do about the lack of interest, the other problems can be easily addressed, resulting in improved take-up rates.

Can We Really Talk About "Failure"?

In the previous sections of the paper, we have seen how and why, in the majority of the cases analyzed, the performance of bookmarking solutions is definitely below museums' expectations. However, despite the apparently disappointing results, we cannot help but wonder, is it reasonable to talk about actual "failure", as many museum professionals have quickly insinuated, or is there "another side of the coin"? As may have already become apparent, we are fervent believers in the second possibility, for three main reasons, as discussed below.

First, the data need to be analyzed in a wider context of use. If we consider the Tech Museum project, for example, since its launch in 2004 over 300,000 the RFID tagged tickets have been used, and over 50,000 visitors have accessed their bookmarked information on-line. What is also important is the percentage of visitors that used the tag in more than one visit (3.2%), suggesting the ability of the system not only to create continuity between the pre and post-visit experience, but also to support an ongoing relationship between the museum and some of its public. These numbers are quite significant if compared to the success rates of other more traditional marketing or educational campaigns in museums.

Secondly, what it is very important to define here is not only the number of visitors using the bookmarking functionalities but also how much benefit these tools bring to the few visitors who are using them, especially from an educational point of view. Do visitors actually learn something through the process? Do they retain more information as indicated by research in the cognitive science field? Unfortunately, most of the studies conducted so far do not address these issues, mainly because of the difficulties inherent in measuring learning over an extended period of time (during the visit and after the visit) and in different locations (in the museum, at home, in the classroom, etc.). However, preliminary data from the Tate Modern evaluation indicate that actual learning occurs when at least the visitor using the bookmarking feature is motivated by reasons other then curiosity, such as interest in specific artists, research or as a teacher preparing for a school visit.

Thirdly, and most important, the low success rates of these applications might be an indicator that, while bookmarking does not actually appeal to the so-called "general public", it represents a useful tool for a group of committed visitors including art lovers, researchers, students, teachers, second-time visitors, etc., who come to the museum with a specific educational or research purpose in mind. This hypothesis is confirmed by data from the evaluations of the Star Wars multimedia tour and of the GettyGuide kiosks. In the first case, bookmarkers are a dedicated population: they are very interested in science, are great Star Wars fans, and visit the museums more often than non-bookmarkers (Reich & Chin, 2006). Similarly, bookmarkers using the GettyGuide kiosks are more likely to be second-time visitors, to spend more time at the kiosk and to use the interactive device to look up specific information about art rather than t satisfy simple curiosity.

It is for this group of enthusiastic visitors that museums need to develop bookmarking applications. This entails taking them and their specific needs into consideration when setting up bookmarking tools, but also advertising the tools through the right channels.

Bookmarking In The Classroom

A prime example is that of teachers, one of the categories of visitor that is more likely to take advantage of bookmarking applications. Research conducted by one of the authors at the Getty Villa with a group of 32 (K-12) teachers seems to confirm their general interest in using the bookmarking functionality (particularly the on-line version) before, during and after the visit to support classroom activities (Filippini-Fantoni, S., 2006b).

With the exception of only a couple of teachers who did not feel comfortable using technology in the classroom, most of the respondents seemed enthusiastic about bookmarking and eager to use it for different purposes: "Possibilities are endless. It is an amazing feature. I'm excited to use it!" remarked Julie, a 6th grade teacher. And again: "Exciting idea!!" commented another 6th grade teacher.

For most respondents, the main reason for wanting to use on-line bookmarking is to plan and to prepare for a museum visit: "It is great to be able to make our own tour to follow or to go over specific pieces before our visit to the museum," commented Lara, another 6th grade teacher. By allowing teachers to select specific artworks from the on-line collection, "Getty Bookmarks can make the preparation and organization of a study trip easier and the tour more meaningful for the students." The importance of having a tool that helps students develop "personal connections" with the works of art they are going to see in the museum is of fundamental importance for educators. A 6th grade teacher from the Topanga Canyon area, for example, commented: "I hope to get my students to look closely at ceramics so when they come to the museum they will have a personal connection." Another 6th grade teacher added: "I can definitely see myself using these tools for helping the kids have a visual connection. It can help students get a much better understanding. It helps bring the information alive".

In the hope of helping to create excitement and familiarization with the exhibited objects, teachers envisaged using bookmarks in PowerPoint to prepare presentations or slideshows, to create lessons plans and curricula, as well as to initiate discussion about artworks before the visit: "We can use them as a classroom project; students can work in groups to create a PowerPoint project to show what is available or what they are interested in studying. They can also see in detail all the pieces that they are interested in learning about," commented a 6th grade teacher.

Besides helping them to prepare, bookmarks can support teachers during their actual museum visits. Maps of selected artworks can be printed out and distributed to students who can look for their favorite objects and " practice map reading skills." Another interesting way teachers envisaged using bookmarks at the museum is to create worksheets with artworks on view, including a space for annotation, where children can write their comments or notes during the visit. In a similar fashion, bookmarks can be used to set up scavenger hunts, assigning different groups of children sets of artworks and questions to which they need to find answers. Bookmarks can easily turn the museum visit into something not only educational but also enjoyable for the children. However, in order to support these functions, it is important that bookmarking systems allow for multiple collections (under the same username), annotation, and readable printing.

Another sought-after scenario in which teachers envisioned using the on-line and on-site bookmarking feature is to allow students to follow up at home or in the classroom on what caught their attention during the visit. "Students can revisit the works they have seen in the museum at home with their parents or as part of a homework assignment," remarked Nina, a 5th grade teacher. "After the actual trip they could then use the information to tell others about their experience," added another respondent (an 8th grade teacher).

The easiest way for students to share their experience with others is to "create their own collections of favorite artworks enriched with comments and annotations that they can then publish or send to friends and family," said a 6th grade teacher. Similarly, younger children can use the list of bookmarks to create "personal coloring books enriched with stories that they can then take home and share with their parents," added a 1st grade teacher.

The list of bookmarks can also be used to both "evaluate the knowledge acquired during the visit by the students and to allow for further research on specific artworks," commented another 6th grade teacher. To all intents and purposes, the fact that an important part of the content concerning the museum visit can be made accessible at home or in another context allows the visitor to focus more on discovery and the aesthetic experience while in the museum, and to leave the more traditional didactic aspects for later, as underlined by one of the respondents. "It could help me to focus my students' interest on the visit and provide background knowledge upon which to scaffold," said an 8th grade teacher. Further, "they love to hear the stories, so I can share my bookmarks with them."


This paper has covered the use of "bookmarking" in museums using the results from a number of case studies to evaluate the benefits and weaknesses of the approach. On the surface, the take-up of bookmarking could be deemed to be disappointing. However, it seems likely that a small but important core of visitors find such facilities extremely worthwhile. For example, teachers can benefit hugely in the use of such facilities to prepare for and aid a school visit. At the J. Paul Getty Museum, the teachers' enthusiasm for the Getty bookmarking tool is excellent proof that, when targeted to the right audience, these tools can represent a significant added value for the community.

Bearing this in mind, museums should on the one hand try to reduce their expectations about the usage of these tools, by setting more realistic targets, and on the other hand aim to maximize their impact by improving their visibility as well as their interface design. Ensuring that visitors realize the facilities exist and exactly what they provide could improve take-up significantly. For example, many visitors, especially those with English as a second language, find the term "bookmarking" confusing. It appears that more familiar terms, like "e-mail", would help in making it obvious to visitors what the facility provides, without the necessity of having it explained by museum personnel.

For the future, it will be desirable to promote more qualitative evaluation in museums and more academic research. This could help to better define the usage framework for these tools and to clarify the long term benefits these will bring to the museums and their visitors. In summary, despite an apparent slow initial take-up in general, we believe there is a future for bookmarking in museums provided that it is marketed correctly, targeted appropriately, and made easier to use without explanation.


We would like to thank the following people for providing information on the projects mentioned in this paper: Mike Ellis at the London Science Museum; Jane Burton and Gillian Wilson at Tate Modern; Holly Witchey and Leonard Steinbach at the Cleveland Museum of Art; Jim Forrest at the Peabody Essex Museum, and finally Timothy Lynn, Susan Wageman and Greg Brown at the Tech Museum of Innovation. A special thank you goes to Christine Reich and Elissa Chin at the Museum of Science in Boston for carrying out a thorough evaluation of the Star Wars Multimedia Tour and its bookmarking functionality and sharing it with us; and to Erin Coburn, Tim Hart, Steve Gemmel, Greg Garcia, Claudia Chittim, Vicky Porter, Susan Edwards, Annelisa Stephan, Brad Sealy, Diana Carroll and the entire Web team at the J. Paul Getty Museum for helping me to carry out the GettyGuide evaluation. London South Bank University provided office facilities for part of this research, with helpful technical support from Dudley John.


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Cite as:

Filippini-Fantoni, S. and J. Bowen, Bookmarking In Museums: Extending The Museum Experience Beyond the Visit?, in J. Trant and D. Bearman (eds.). Museums and the Web 2007: Proceedings, Toronto: Archives & Museum Informatics, published March 1, 2007 Consulted

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