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Exploring museum collections online: the quantitative method

TitleExploring museum collections online: the quantitative method
Publication TypeConference Paper
Year of Publication2008
AuthorsRoberto, F.
Secondary TitleMuseums and the Web 2008. Proceedings
Conference Start DateApril 9-12, 2008
PublisherArchives & Museum Informatics
Place PublishedMontreal, Quebec, Canada
EditorTrant, J., & Bearman D.
Keywordsdata visualisation, online collections, quantitative analysis, social software

Any museum professional will tell you that collections are at the heart of what a museum is about. With collection sizes typically too large to have everything on display at once, museum Web sites have often been called upon to help provide greater access to museum objects. The approach, though, is typically one of depth rather than breadth, focusing on highlighted objects and curated themes. This can deliver great educational content - but how might you build a Web site to represent the collections of a museum as a whole? The paper sets out to answer this question by way of original research and experimentation on real data sets of museum objects, obtained from a number of UK museums by way of a Freedom of Information request. These data sources are roughly hewn together - a technical and semantic challenge that's briefly explained - to form a single, enormous database.The result is a prototype Web site employing a fresh approach to viewing museum collections on-line, eschewing details in favour of high-level overviews and visualisations, incorporating user annotations and revealing insights into the histories of museum collecting. The 'who', 'what', 'where' and 'whens' of objects are all examined in turn as axis for understanding and grouping collections, with the 'why' left open for interpretation and comments. Looking forward, the paper asks how museum objects might fit into a 'web of data', where collections from different museums can be compared with each other, and perhaps even with private and personal collections.