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?