PC Magazine: Museums online and off

There is no doubt that the Web has transformed the way people use and perceive museums. From the casual collector with an oddball hobby to the professional curator, museums are exploiting tech. Extensive Web search of collections, podcasts and blogs from curators, and RSS feeds to update patrons on upcoming events have all made museums become more engaging and interactive.

For this story in PC Magazine, I have put together the odd amateur collections that exist in cyberspace that qualify as interesting online “museums.”

I am a big museum-goer. When I travel, I like to stop in on local museums to break up the business trip and spend some time without having to sit in front of a screen typing as I have to spend much of my time otherwise. But of course give me some hi tech gadget and I am in my element.

A show last year here at the St. Louis Art Museum distributed iPods with supplemental audio and video commentary to patrons on one of their exhibits. It was as free as the rest of the museum – other than taking your credit card imprint in case you “forgot” to return the iPod. I found it initially distracting, but ultimately it let me go at my own pace through the collection of paintings and hear more information when I wanted to dive deeper. By the end of the exhibit I was wondering why more places didn’t do this. So much for taking time away from a screen.

Curators at the Walker Art Museum in Minneapolis have been writing their own blog for the past several years talking about many different cultural topics, again giving us ordinary art patrons a bit more insight into the overall process that they use to pick the works that ultimately end up on display. While not for everyone, it does increase the amount of transparency for the process. And some places like the Delta Blues Museum in Mississippi have taken their collections and expertise to the online world where anyone can access them. This is especially nice given that the museum appeals to people all over the world that are interested in the blues. An opposite idea is what the Pacific Asia Museum has done. They made their online presence more of a place to go to find out about Buddhist happenings in southern California, where the museum is based, which is an interesting extension of its mission.

I cover both traditional museums and also have a few fun links to the oddball “collections” that are so often found around the Web and the product of one or two people’s passion for something. In addition to the sites listed, there are others that I found that are collections of travel logo bags from airlines of yore, found scraps of paper that are grocery lists, old men magazine’s covers (there really was a magazine called Climax but it isn’t what you think), old Soviet Red Star bakelite radio sets and Etch-A-Sketch drawings.

The good thing about online museums – whether they are run by professionals or not — is that you can avoid museum fatigue, you don’t have to wait in any crowded galleries, and the entrance fees have all been waived for your visit. Happy visiting.

0 thoughts on “PC Magazine: Museums online and off

  1. I really see Second Life’s potential as an online museum venue – they already exist there. The International Spaceflight Museum is brilliant, immersive, and informative.

    There are art museums, galleries, exhibits in Second Life – I ended up at the Malay History Museum today by random SL search.

    You get 3D representations of museum pieces, descriptive text-based notecards, streaming video, 3d objects hyperlinked to web sites. But you also get to visit with others at the same time and place, discussing what you see and experience, and that part of your brain that remembers having been in a place and time has a rich and persistent memory of “being there”.

    There’s a paper called “A Second Life for Your Museum: 3D Multi-User Virtual Environments and Museums” being presented at the “Museums and the Web 2007” conference in San Francisco April 11-14, 2007.

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