Museums and the Web

An annual conference exploring the social, cultural, design, technological, economic, and organizational issues of culture, science and heritage on-line.

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Searching For Meaning, Not Just Records

TitleSearching For Meaning, Not Just Records
Publication TypeConference Paper
Year of Publication2004
AuthorsDoolan, J., Peacock D., & Ellis D.
Secondary TitleMuseums and the Web 2004: Proceedings
Conference Start DateMarch 31 - April
PublisherArchives & Museum Informatics
Place PublishedWashington DC / Arlington VA, USA
EditorBearman, D., & Trant J.
Keywordscollections, database design, information management, interface design, knowledge management, user-centered design

The goal of universal on-line access to museum collections has been one of the most alluring and elusive promises of internet and digital technology. Collections information in the form of text-based records, quantitative data and digital images is available on most museum Web Sites, either dynamically generated in response to user queries or in static presentation formats. Typically, this information is provided through a Web interface to a collections information management system. At the National Museum of Australia, we approached the implementation of a new collections information management system as an opportunity to create an engaging Web interface that not only presented the collection, but use contextualized the objects within a broader knowledge base of Australian history using a range of primary and secondary source material. Working with the vendor of our collections system (KE EMu) and a Web development company (Massive Interactive) with expertise in interface design, we developed a browsing tool to make the most of the museum's digital knowledge assets. The interface is designed to build information relationships based on user queries and click pathways and to present the information in a way which encourages further searching. The interface is highly visual and intuitive, supporting a model of serendipitous searching that offers multiple pathways through the relationships of people, places, objects and events that make up the complex weave of social history.