Monday, 5 March 2012

Owning Your Museum

I was struck by this interesting video from Glasgow Museum about their resource storage facility and how it is one of the most open and publicly accessible museum storage spaces in the world and the biggest in Europe. See here for more about it.
They have over 1.2 million items in their collection and as I noted in my research report into impact it is valued at over £1.4 billion, making it the single biggest fiscal asset held by Glasgow.

The Scottish people own this museum, but only 2-3% of it is ever on display at any given time. That's why it is great that they are digitising portions of it so we can gain access to otherwise unseen content. But the physical access to this storage space to see the artefacts is equally important. The materiality of museums and collections cannot and will not be replaced by digital access.

Recently I took my kids to the V&A museum and we had a fabulous time in the Sackler Centre and then we roamed the galleries and halls.


These are pictures of the boys "owning" the museum by taking rubbings from the mosaic floors as they explored lines and shapes in the museum. They then went back to the Sackler Centre and made models inspired from their exploration. They also got to use computers to make funky carpet designs and more.

Now, I am a digi-geek, but digital needs to be augmented with experiences like this. My children feel ownership of the museums they visit because they can touch, feel, see, and even smell or taste the experience. They are part of the museum and they want to make things. They love museums, like the Science Museum because you can play with the exhibits while learning and they loved the sculpture at the V&A because we could count boobies and share gory stories from Roman mythology. They get to create, to make and enjoy the "owning" of the museum and its collections.

How does this link back to Digital Humanities? Well, in November Neal Stimler held a video panel at the MCN2011 conference on digital humanities and asked for contributions. There were some particularly good ones and I will highlight The Scholar of Tomorrow by Merete Sanderhoff, SMK as particularly inspiring and child centred.

I also took the opportunity to make a contribution and my boys joined in too: "I want to make, I want to explore, I want to have fun" is what they said.
I said we need to consider how we can get our scholars into the museum, to be part of the experience and help work with museums to connect with the past and create the future. I hope we can go there together.


  1. Great post Simon -- as a fellow geek I completely agree, except perhaps on one point. The digital stuff should augment the physical, not the other way round. In other words the digital experience should be integrated with the physical wherever possible. Museums in particular, too often hold these two as separate experiences or try to replace the one with the other and that's a mistake.

  2. Julian, many thanks for the comment. I agree with you about the integration and if I gave a different impression that was a mistake. I am thinking about another blog post about how digital is becoming more integrated than in the past within museums, so I thank you for the encouragement to think about this issue. Maybe you could post some examples where you think it has been done very well?