Accessibility, Museums and Gaming

March 29, 2010


As a third year mature student studying Heritage, I’ve been fortunate in being able to combine studies with frequent visits to museums, archives and galleries. During the visits, I found myself taking time to contemplate the reasons for the artefacts being displayed and the messages that were being conveyed by the curators.

A placement in my second year, at the Conservation Laboratory, Lincoln, opened my eye’s to a world beyond the Entrance and Exit doors of private and publicly funded establishments and gifted me the opportunity to appreciate and understand the true limitations of these so called learning environments.

What I mean by this actually relates to the artefacts exhibited. Take for example The British Museum, It now comprises over 8 million objects spanning the history of the world’s cultures: from the stone tools of early man to twentieth century prints. http://www.britishmuseum.org/the_museum/history_ and_the_building/history_of_the_collection.aspx However, only a small percentage of these are on display at any one time and of the rest, 1.8m are accessible on-line from its collections.

And please believe me when I say that the British Museum are a long way ahead of the rest of the museum community. From research that I’ve undertaken, I would summise that approximately 3% of UK total holdings are exhibited, with 1% of these rotated once a year, approx. 20% of total holdings are accessioned and available on-line but the remaining 75 – 77% is held in storage.

In America, Yakel recorded that ‘over 4.8 billion artefacts are in more than 30,000 archives, libraries, museums, historical societies, scientific research institutions and archaeological repositories’  and continued ‘fewer than 50% have a collections care plan, over a third of the collections are in unknown condition….and of the institutions surveyed, 25% of their collections are available through a catalogue’ (2006: pp 92 – 96)

Storage versus accessibility again varies across both the United States and the UK with the main determinates linked to staffing, funding and conservation. What seems to be the case, however, is that once an item is put in storage, there it generally tends to stay until capacity levels are reached at which point disposal strategies start to feature !!

I want to change this and these are my proposals for doing so;

1) Digitally record every item of heritage, be it artefact, building or location.
2) Build self-build virtual museums
3) Offer accessibility and hiring of digitally recorded items.
4) Individuals rent items and exhibit within their own mueums within a MMOG environment.

The task sounds relatively simple and certain factors already exist.

We’ve established that approx 10% of items are digitally recorded already, which equates to around 5m items. The virtual museum industry on the web is still in its infancy but design companies such as SANDBOX offer free downloads to enable users to design their own buildings, although the supporting software is limited at the current time. Finally, MMOG’s are expanding rapidly as the internet captures more of the public’s imagination. Games like Astro-Empires and Galactic Imperia attack on-line users by the thousand with no political or demarcation lines intervening.

So where are we today……well we’re just getting started. Let’s assume that the offer of a self-built museum is available, you’ve designed it and now you wish to populate it with exhibits from around the world. A database now lists every item and you can explore the item in a 3D aspect and gain knowledge that’s associated to it whilst viewing it.

You make a decision that this is what you want, then search out a method of display and yes you’d have to appreciate any conservation issues, Lux levels, humidity etc despite the fact that its a virtual environment.

You’ve gathered your items, positioned them and now you need to invite the public into your establishment to generate interest and feedback. All the time you’re doing the same by viewing others establishments.

What we would be able to create is a virtual environment containing a vast wealth of untapped knowledge, within a very real learning environment. An additional advantage would be a world-wide database that statutory/governing bodies could interrogate to establish preferences and levels of demand. The information could then be transferred into a commercial venture with specific marketing and advertisements drawing on a targeted market.

I think this is a potential avenue of consideration that could re-vitalize interest for the younger population by linking the past with modern day techniques of delivery and for the ever-expanding and inquisitive on-line user.

To gauge potential support for my idea, I would very much like to hear from you….what do you think? But more importantly I’d like to understand what you would like to see in your museum, especially as no limits would exist in this environment. Please respond by listing your top 5 or ten objects. My museum would hold the following items;

1) A Spitfire aeroplane
2) King Tutenkamuns sarcophugus
3) Sutton Hoo treasure
4) Hogarth’s Marriage a la mode
5) Statue of David
6) HMS Victory
7) The Sphynx
8) A knights armour
9) WW1 tank
10) Leonardo Da Vinci’s drawings

I really look forward to reading yours.

Alternatively, please view this Prezi

http://prezi.com/fpj6e-ffkunv/

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12 Responses to “Accessibility, Museums and Gaming”

  1. marcusunrealius Says:

    This is a fascinating project and I would be greatly interested in access to a working product. Just the idea of producing an imaginary museum around a series of meaningful artifacts has value, but it would be a powerful learning experience to incorporate the strengths of modern technology to produce a virtual environment.

    My list of 5:

    A Cotton Gin
    A Lancashire Loom
    “The General” (mid-19th Century steam locomotive)
    A Henry Rifle
    A Westinghouse Electric Generator circa 1890


  2. Really like the idea but I wonder what you would find once you collated everyone’s Top 10. Would people stick to a list of ‘famous’ items? Would you be able to see trends by culture and/or location? Also, how do you learn about new discoveries or less well known artefacts – pop ups?
    I will have a think and let you know what my museum would look like 🙂
    P.S. What does MMOG stand for?!?!

  3. Steve Perrin Says:

    Material objects are one things to display, but what interests me is the content of time-limited human minds. The best way to exhibit them is by displaying works created not by groups but by individual human beings such as Goya, Turner, Cezanne, Pablo Picasso, et al., as well as scores penned by the hand of Beethoven or J.S. Bach, Berlioz, and other single-handed works. With instructions to think on these things by holding them in the mind’s eye and imagining their creation from pulsing nerve signals in the brain of another.

    Note: who could access even a small portion of all artifacts in one lifetime? The index by which they are to be classed and located is the essence of this project. That is the key to the project you dream of. Having said that, I wish you success, and the fortune to pay for it.

  4. miztres Says:

    Hmmm…I’ll have to think about this.

    Knowing how Australian’s pioneers aviation around the world and how impacting aviation was to all parts of society I would have to have the Southern Cross as one exhibit.

    I’ll get back to you on this.

  5. Kate Richmond Says:

    Hi Alan,
    I would like to see in my museum-
    1) Mona Lisa Portrait
    2) Maybe a piece of the Terracotta Army
    3) Queen Elizabeth’s Harpsichord
    4) Steam Train
    5) A recording of Jerusalem being sung.

    I think that museums need to be accessible for the future generations, there is a need for the public to see what is contained within store rooms that have been shut off and become hiding places for some of the worlds best kept secrets!

    Hope this helps.
    Kate 🙂

  6. Avril Sanderson Says:

    Interesting idea & a way to allow more people to see things, butwhat about the sense of place & scale. Could the things placed be ahown working if mechanical and would you include intructions on their use? How do you interpret intangible heritage, the people who made or used an object? But is definately a start. My top 5 items
    1.Anne Boleyn’s glove
    2. An arc furnace
    3. The silver punch bowl set from Sheffield & hallmark interterpretation book
    4. Carravaggio’s Road to Emmaus
    5. The dead sea scrolls

  7. cathpike Says:

    The more I think about this idea the more I like it- it could lead to a global village of residents sharing and learning and swopping artefacts – I can see that kids would get involved in a way that they would not engage with a museum.
    My initial top choices(and they would change or need to be added to) include:
    The Luttrell Psalter
    The engraved horse found at Creswell Crags
    The Rosetta Stone
    The veiled maiden statue from Chatsworth
    The wax tablets from Vindalanda
    Lindisfarne Gospels
    St Paul’s Cathedral
    Palladio’s Drawings
    Maes Howe chambered cairn from Orkney
    Victor Horta’s House from Brussels

    Just thought this could be a way of returning the Elgin Marbles!!


  8. Your idea’s are similar to the ‘visible storage system’ found in some museums in USA. The Luce Center displays the reserve collection of American Art and illustrates what can be done when a computerized public access system is installed using as you suggest, only personal computers.
    Do you think museums in England are hiding away their collections of duplicate copies or ‘junk’ so that they can select only the finest objects and present themselves as ‘treasure houses’.
    I believe that as collections belong to everyone, we have the right to see every object, why shouldn’t everything be revealed?
    I wish you every success with your ideas.
    Museums could be more useful and more satisfying places to visit then I find them at the moment.


  9. […] may have found the solution to my museum dreams…a virtual museum!  What!  People have virtual lives, pets, adventures, clothes, cars… why couldn’t I […]

  10. Gina G Says:

    Hi Alan all looking good here are some of my choices

    Staffordshire Saxon Hoard
    Millais Ophelia
    Avebury Stone circle
    Bishops Eye window from Lincoln Cathedral
    The Great Bed of Ware
    Newport Arch
    Hans Holbeins The Ambassadors
    The Basilica of St Mark Venice

  11. IcarusStorm Says:

    1) an archive of mass observation diaries.
    2) The Mary Rose
    3) A Model T Ford
    4) The Magna Carta (one of the 1215 editions)
    5) A oral history archive of the Australian Aborigines.
    6) A French guillotine
    7) Traditional art from the Pacific islands
    8) The American Constitution
    9) Scotts base camp
    10)The Taj Mahal.


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