Understanding Information-Seeking Needs of Online Museum Visitors
There are many different types of visitors and users of museum digital media. Visitors seek different types and levels of information for a variety of needs and purposes. The way people access and search for information has drastically changed since the advent of the Internet. In today’s modern society, if an institution does not have an online digital presence it does not exist to the world. Statistically, visitors to museum websites outnumber physical visitors three to one (Marty, Burton Jones, 187). Museum professionals need to think about how the digital museum can address the ever changing and increasing needs of online visitors. This is a considerable task but one that must be continually updated and increased in order to remain current with the expanding digital-access expectations of visitors. Knowing and predicting the digital expectations and needs of visitors can help museum professionals guide the development and role of the museum in relation to the public (Marty, Burton Jones, 183).
The digital information setting in which digitized content is generated and provided has changed. These changes allow the sharing of digital data and encourage innovative developments in research although concerns of licensing persist in the reuse of the data and images. Future research in this area, of visitor needs and expectations, could encourage museums to: (1) examine use and users of readily available cultural and heritage materials, (2) disseminate and foster the comprehension of cultural data, (3) influence other institutions to share their data in a public method, (4) construct aggregation and research resources to connect information sources to encourage collaboration,(5) and develop best-practices to utilize computing facilities to evaluate and process the considerable aggregates of data available. (Terras,733).
Technological innovations are changing how visitors and museum professionals approach and develop cultural institutions (Bertacchini and Morando, 60). Visitors expect increased and instant access to information about collections, educational resources, general information, and special exhibitions. Grade school teachers, college students, museum professionals and many other types of visitors require different kinds of digital data, such as object information, lesson plans or guides, images, institutional information, etc. While every need cannot be met, institutions must endeavor to attempt to meet as many as possible. The increased visitation online can lead to more physical visitors and publicity. In many ways a digital presence provides legitimacy to the institution as a whole. Providing accessible and clear institutional information, publications, resources, etc. implies that the institution is open and transparent to the public.
Despite wanting to create more access for visitors, institutions are recognizing this access may require the museum to relinquish control over their digital media. Creating digital access may “potentially enhance economic and social value through serendipitous dissemination and reuse” (Bertacchini and Morando, 60). Bertacchini and Morando also state that when museums tightly control their digital media, this can “enable museums to generate new revenues in information markets and to retain their position as gatekeepers of authoritative and trusted cultural content” (60). I personally see the potential increase of economic and social value as more important for the development of the institution and for long term revenue production. Providing more access creates more interest in the minds of the digitally savvy generation. I believe that if access is not provided, these visitors will just move on to another institution that will provide the digital media and will not look back.
Hannah Johnson, Graduate Student, Museum Science & Management, Education Track
University of Tulsa, 2017
Bertacchini, E., and Morando, F. “The Future of Museums in the Digital Age: New Models for Access to and Use of Digital Collections”. International Journal of Arts Management, Vol. 15, No. 2, Special Issue: Digital Revolution in Arts and Cultural Organizations (WINTER 2013), pp. 60-72. HEC – Montréal – Chair of Arts Management. http://www.jstor.org/stable/24587113 Accessed: 08-03-2017 14:21 UTC
Marty, P. F., & Jones, K. B. (2009). Museum informatics: People, information, and technology in museums. New York: Routledge.
Terras, M. (2015). Opening Access to collections: the making and using of open digitised cultural content. Online Information Review, 39(5), 733-752. doi:10.1108/oir-06-2015-0193