On September 2, 2018 the Museu Nacional (Brazil’s National Museum) experienced a terrible fire that led to an estimated loss of more than 20 million specimens and artifacts – approximately 90% of its collection.
As museums have evolved, so have their exhibits. We’ve seen displays go from wax model recreations of Neanderthals, miniaturized versions of places, touch and play set ups to interactive digital panels, integrated multi-media, and even augmented reality (AR) and virtual reality (VR) set ups that enhance the exhibit experience.
Last week we introduced the topic of 3D digitization in museums. The post investigated 3D digitization adoption and explored one of the two main methods: photogrammetry. This post will evaluate the second method—LIDAR scanning—and will conclude with recommendations for museums to consider when choosing a 3D digitization method.
With increased availability of affordable virtual reality (VR) and augmented reality (AR) technologies, it may seem like 3D digitization of environments, objects, and structures is fairly new. For museums, experimenting with 3D digitization began in the early 2000s and is now becoming commonplace within a museum’s digitization lab.
The ability to digitize and publish collections online through a collections management system has helped reinvent how museums present their holdings. In the beginning, there was resistance to publishing digital images of collection objects online. This was due to a (now proven false) concern that people would no longer visit the museum if they could view collections online.
In the United States, the Federal Communications Commission (FCC) has officially ended net neutrality and internet service providers (ISPs) are no longer regulated in their provision of internet usage. The end of net neutrality has many profound implications, and when you consider what it might mean for museums and other cultural institutions, the repercussions can be catastrophic.
It is undeniable that technology has a growing presence within the museum sphere. At first, audio-visual technology was harnessed by the museum to augment the museum’s exhibits and provide an enhanced user experience. However, with the universality of everyone owning a smartphone, the museum has seen an increasing rate of technology encroachment, and not of their own making.
Museums know they need money, but they’re often so overwhelmed they can’t put ideas on paper. While it may seem counter-intuitive to focus on your problems, this is exactly what I recommend to museums.
Failing to win a grant your museum applied for can feel very personal. It’s natural to have feelings of sadness and frustration, and wonder what went wrong. This is a post to help you move past the rejection letter and use failure to strengthen future applications.
Whether you’re undertaking a grant-funded project or a project being done in-house, project management principles should be applied. Most museums and other historical organizations don’t have a project manager on staff, and the idea of project management can seem overwhelming.
With few exceptions museums rely on grant funding to supplement their annual budget. While it’s recommended a museum cultivate a stream of income that supports its yearly activities, most museums can only afford to keep the lights on and maintain a spartan staff.
Image: University of Missouri’s Museum of Art and Archaeology
The University of Missouri’s Museum of Art and Archaeology exists to “advance…understanding of artistic and cultural heritage through research, collection and interpretation. [They] further their mission by preserving, enhancing and providing access to the collections for the benefit of present and future generations.” A museum staff of 12 (including part-time and student help) manage a collection of almost 16,000 objects, with a particularly strong antiquities collection.
Working with collections in a library, archives, or museum (LAM) setting requires knowledgeable professionals. Through a combination of specialized education and experience gained in the field, professionals amass knowledge and skills developed for a very niche area. Most positions found within a LAM will require a high level of education and experience, but not every professional position needed can be funded.
As discussed in a previous Library, Archives, and Museum (LAM) post, archives and special collections are often found within museums. While “special” is indicated in the name, the specialness can cause heartache and extra work for staff members who aren’t used to working with Archives and Special Collections (ASCs). This post will help define what ASCs are and identify common areas where ASCs aren’t special.
At any given time, museum visitors only see 10% of a museum collection. When I was working at the Smithsonian, I believe the statistic was even lower—a whopping 1% of collection materials were on display! Now consider the possibility of a related but differently categorized collection – that of the museum’s archives. Archival materials rarely make it onto the museum’s exhibition floor and yet they are critically important to correctly interpreting the museum’s objects.
Museums are filled with experts in collections care, display, and education, but they aren’t always filled with experts in project management. Defining and measuring project success is not a practice I see conducted consistently in museums.
Staffing shortages are a common issue for museums. As in many nonprofit sectors, museums manage staffing shortfalls with volunteers. Volunteers can be a huge benefit to a museum because they often come with expertise and skills acquired from a lifetime of experiences.
Museums are now expected to have an online presence. At first, this meant museums needed a website with information about their hours of operation. Later, it meant museums should publish content and information about current and permanent exhibits. Now, the expectation is that museums have a digital presence for all artifacts.