Museum Studies at Tufts University

Exploring museums, ideas, and conversation

Tag: online collections

Online Learning Reviews: The Brooklyn Children’s Museum

As mentioned, we’re doing occasional reviews of museum online learning opportunities written for the Spring 2012 class “Museums and Online Learning.” This author has preferred to remain anonymous.

Brooklyn Children’s Museum’s Collections Central:  Useful, But Not Much Fun

Isn’t it the mission of a children’s museum to make learning fun?

If I were a teacher or a homeschooler, I would find BCM’s Collections Central Online a useful educational resource.  If I were a kid, I would find the site helpful for basic research, but not very much fun.

Good Things

The collection provides access to hundreds of objects from various cultures and eras, with good accompanying information.

The site is easy to use.  Although there is a lot of visual information, navigation is intuitive.  Searching and browsing are both supported.

Browsing creates connections.  If you select an exhibit to browse, you are given a short explanation of the theme and a grid of photos.  Clicking on an image takes you to an object page, which provides basic information about the object and the people who made it.  From here, you are given options to explore “more from the same place,” “more from the same category,” or “more from the same makers.”   These options take you to yet another database of related objects.

Other useful features are the ability to enlarge photos to see detail, the use of questions to organize information, and suggestions for ideas to consider.

Things that Should be Better

The site is hard to find, unless you already know it’s there.  Google keyword searches do not lead you to it.

Language used in information sections needs editing to make it kid-friendly.  More in-depth information and a glossary of terms should be moved to hyperlinked pages.

Non-textual information would give a more rounded experience.  For example, in “What’s That Noise?”, sound recordings would provide knowledge of instruments in a way that a description cannot.  A zoomable map would provide geographical context better than simply listing country of origin.

The ability to “collect” objects would allow users to explore individual connections more freely.

There is an option to “draw what you see.”   Cool, but drawings are not immediately posted to the site.  Instead, there is a “chance” you may see your drawing on a return visit.   A virtual gallery for drawings would provide a better sense of connection to the museum.

There are no games!  Interactive games would make the site more engaging for children.

Overall, it’s a worthwhile site for elementary research, but I can’t really see why anyone would use it for anything else.

Online Learning Reviews: Seattle Art Museum

As mentioned, we’re doing occasional reviews of museum online learning opportunities written for the Spring 2012 class “Museums and Online Learning.”

Seattle Art Museum

Whenever I heard about the Seattle Art Museum (SAM), the first thing comes into my mind is the city of Seattle. I like Seattle! Although I have never visited it, by exploring its website I like SAM, too. SAM has a great, varied collection and when it comes to presenting it online, SAM does a good job but needs to improve some of its some online features.

In general, the SAM website is well organized and it is easy to navigate. It is very informative yet the reader is not overpowered by information. The main colors of the website (white, blue and green) are subtle and it relaxes the eyes.  It has a clear design which does not overwhelm the content. But the use of small fonts is a problem. Although I was not inconvenienced it might be uncomfortable for some visitors with sight problems.

In the age of web 2.0, where participation is the key, databased and digitized collections are not sufficient. Online collections should be more than that. SAM‘s “create your own collection” feature works great in that sense. Users can register via their e-mail addresses, select the art they like and create their own virtual exhibits. As well as promoting participation, this feature gives a sense of ownership to the users and engages them with the museum’s collection better.

I believe that “encouragement to explore more” is another important element of participation. But this part is insufficient in SAM’s online collections. The “permanent collection highlights” section successfully gives the visitor a general idea about the collection at a first glance. The “close ups” section on the other hand provides detailed information about the 100 selected artworks. This is the only section which is supported by audio content and offers related pieces to discover.  But, for a museum having more than 23,000 pieces in its collection, the number of the selected artworks should be increased. Also, by adding more “learn more about” or “see related pieces” features, SAM’s online collections would be more engaging.

To reach more people, SAM has to develop its search facilities, too. The only way to search through SAM’s collection is typing keywords. The database is enormous but only experts will know how to pull up information about specific pieces. This would limit the variety of visitors using this feature.

Those are my observations in less than 400 words. What do you think?

Online Learning Reviews: The Isabella Stewart Gardner Collection

As mentioned, we’re doing occasional reviews of museum online learning opportunities written for the Spring 2012 class “Museums and Online Learning.” This author has preferred to remain anonymous.

The Isabella Stewart Gardner Collection

The Isabella Stewart Gardner collection is an amazing array of paintings, furniture, and sculpture, left just the way the late Isabella Gardner intended.  However, she would probably find the online collection a bit of a disappointment.

The design of the museum’s web-site is well-organized, but not exactly informative. I liked that when you click on any art work, the icons of the collection by genre, geography, location and artist name always remain on the right side, allowing for easy navigation. The white background and simple font of the text are not visually stimulating, but at least they don’t tire out your eyes. One major complaint is that the web-site does not have a search bar on the homepage, forcing the viewer to first select a genre to browse through. While the web-site is user-friendly and comfortable to use, it is not particularly impressive or technologically interactive.

Just like the Gardner collection, the content of the web-site is very diverse. Once inside the collection page you can search the collection by genre and geography, which includes a variety of European paintings, European decorative art, American art, Islamic art, miscellanea and Asian art. The collection can be searched alphabetically by the artist’s name and by the name of the painting. The virtual collection’s floor-by-floor and gallery-by-gallery arrangement is exciting, because it translates the unique physical layout of the museum onto the internet.

While the actual collection is quite impressive, the information given online about it is less so. The web-site provides only a year and place of production, where the art work came from, technique and size of the painting, location in the museum, genre and the reference to the author’s other work. More text and detailed information about what is depicted on the art work or its history would be useful and interesting, to give the users a deeper understanding of the piece. Moreover, the image of the work cannot be enlarged more than 10-15 centimeters, making it difficult to see the details. But since more and more museums are adding high resolution photos of art works on their websites, the Gardner museum might think about having multiple choices of the size of art works. Since Mrs. Gardner was a very progressive woman, I think she would like innovations that could be made on the web-site.

New Series: Online Learning Reviews: Wellesley College Davis Museum

It’s a week for new occasional series! This spring, students in the Museums and Online Learning class, taught by Cynthia Robinson, wrote short reviews of various online learning opportunities. We are lucky enough to be publishing them here on the TMSB. They’ll appear over the next few weeks, so keep an eye out. Posts will appear under their authors’ names, or anonymously.

Wellesley College’s Davis Museum:

This Alumna Tells All

It may or may not surprise you that the Davis online collection was not the most memorable aspect of my four years at Wellesley. Perhaps I was too busy when I was there to give it a fair chance. However, upon some investigation, the verdict is clear: the collection’s website is about as impressive as Tuesday night leftovers in the dining halls.

The online collection is separated into the same thematic groupings used at the museum itself. These include, “Perceiving Space in Art,” “The Artist as Curator: Kiki Smith,” “American Art,” and “Stories, Ideals, Beliefs.” If they sound compelling, it’s probably because they are, however grouping them in such a way online seems counterproductive to the purpose of the online collection. Surely in person the collection ought to invite discussion about the art based on theme, but if I’m browsing the site for examples of East Asian art for a paper, within this framework it’s not exactly clear where to start.

For a self professed “academic fine arts museum,” I was also expecting that their online collection might include more resources, perhaps by class subject, or professors’ interests. There are podcasts offered on various subjects, but they fall short when it comes to real research potential. If I’m trying to write that paper on East Asian art, it’s likely that I would want to write it on a piece that I know is in the collection. However, without any research guides, or ability to browse by region or culture, I could see myself pulling an all-nighter hunting for that perfect example. I guess I know it’s not in “American Art,” right…

… Oh wait, I can’t know for sure, because when I click on a link to each theme, I get sent to a brief description of the gallery or exhibition, where I have the option of clicking on various related podcasts. While they range in content from professor lectures, to student responses, to linked art projects, none of them tell me about what art might be found in that gallery.

To try and do that, I click on “Search the Collections,” where I am succinctly informed:

“Images featured in the Davis Museum Collections Database are low-resolution thumbnails, intended for quick reference and limited use.”

And, in case you were wondering, indeed they are.  Too small to see any details, and without any information to further my research, the collection’s use is certainly limited.

Wellesley is my beloved alma mater, and so at least I can say this: the Wellesley experience is much better appreciated by views of the lake, Sundae’s on Sunday, and seeing the collection in person.

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