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. 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