Doing museumy things when buildings are not there..part of an ongoing debate. Here the Museums Association looks at online only museums .
Read it here, if you have membership subscription: A museum without walls | Museums Association. or here is a transcription:
A Museum without Walls: Rebecca Atkinson
“What happens when a museum goes online only?
Middlesex University’s Museum of Domestic Design & Architecture (MoDA) closed its public gallery spaces last summer, but promised to return with an “exciting online initiative” to take its resources to a wider audience.
That time has now come, and a new website has been launched to showcase its collection.
Following Maurice Davies’s blog, which sparked a debate about whether collections and physical buildings are more important than impacts, I went to visit MoDA’s collection centre in Collingdale, north London, which continues to care for the collection and provide access on an appointment basis.
Zoe Hendon, the museum’s senior curator, kindly gave me a sneak preview of the new website ahead of its launch and answered my questions about how it will all work.
She also told me about the challenges MoDA faced while still a museum in the traditional sense (i.e. in a publically-accessible building), particularly the problem of attracting audiences to a relatively inaccessible area on the outer edges of London.
Hendon is keen to stress that MoDA is still a museum – after all, the point of a museum is to share collections and it will still do that, albeit not in the traditional sense.
The website has been designed to showcase the collection but doesn’t attempt to replace the experience of actually seeing the collection. Hendon also rejects the term “virtual museum”, which she says implies that it doesn’t exist in reality.
Instead the hope is that Middlesex University students, researchers and the wider public will use the site to what MoDA holds and, if they wish, book an appointment to see specific objects at the collection centre.
There’s logic in this approach for all museums. Online collection databases are often difficult to navigate, but many people like to know what they’re going to see in a museum before making the effort to visit.
A lot of work has gone into tagging objects for the the MoDA website so that online visitors can search the collection or browse different categories.
Hendon believes this can liberate museums from expectations because an online museum allows for more free exploration and creativity.
It’s a different role for a museum to take, but it’s one MoDA intends to make the most of. I like the website and, if marketed properly, it will surely provide a useful resource for students and other audiences.
But is it still a museum, now it no longer offers displays in galleries and easy access for visitors? Nothing can replace the experience of seeing collections (whether paintings or art deco wallpaper sample) up close, and it’s sad that people will no longer be able to browse MoDA’s collection in a curated display.
Still, the good news is that the collection is still being seen through loans and touring exhibitions. Ten objects recently went on tour to Japan, while the Victoria and Albert Museum’s current exhibition of the aesthetics movement also included several MoDA loans.
As Hendon points out, these loans have brought the museum’s collection to more eyes than it could ever hope to attract in Collingdale, and at a much reduced cost.
In a time of cutbacks, it’s hard to argue with that logic”.