4. The origins of the idea
The idea of using the web in this way can be traced to the convergence
a. internal discussions amongst a number of Science Museum staff
about the problems faced in acquiring contemporary material in certain
b. the use of the web as an active research tool in the acquisition
c. increasing use of the web by companies to advertise their products
and the importance in the quality and quantity of information about
their products on their web pages,
d. an awareness of the importance of the Internet Archive (http://www.archive.org/)
and related projects whose aim is to collect and store web information
for use by historians, researchers and scholars and others in the
e. the pressures on museums to make their collections more accessible
to their publics.
One resulting event that followed from (a) was an internal paper
drafted by the Curator of Telecommunications (Roger Bridgman) on a
'Proactive collecting strategy for communication technology' (4),
where Bridgman outlines a strategy whereby companies are approached
at regular intervals and invited to donate examples of their current
products to the collections. The companies would have to prove the
significance and typicality of the items they offer, and the items
will be chosen only if they meet stringent criteria that demonstrate
that the products are representative of the leading technology of
that particular period in question. For example one could use market
share, 'best buy' ratings, best seller ratings and mentions in peer
sampling surveys. The follow up from this would result in those companies
getting high-profile media coverage and donors will be encouraged
to advertise their association with the project. The end result would
be an exhibition at the Museum coupled with the knowledge that the
Museum has collected items that are truly representative of that area
of technology over the time frame in question. This project was called
had the name 'Freezeframe' as a working title, but unfortunately never
became a reality.
The initiative put forward in this paper effectively brings together
the medium of the web and the ideas behind 'Freezeframe'. It suggests
that we can undertake 'Freezeframe' without actually acquiring the
artefacts. Instead we use the web as both the source of product information
and the carrier of contemporary technological 'snapshots' via museum
home pages. This then will enable museums to use pre-determined selection
criteria to decide on suitable acquisitions for their collections
as well as providing an archival record of the development of the
technologies in question.
5. The methodology
A visit to any number of company web sites who manufacture and distribute
computer hardware (such as Toshiba, Compaq, IBM·) will immediately
show the range of products available. They offer very lengthy descriptive
information about these, together with additional information - such
as press releases and other contextual material.
Here is a suggested methodology
· Firstly identify key company web sites that include a high
density of products under consideration, such as laptops. One of the
criteria here should be the choice of companies that are leaders in
the particular technology being considered.
· The company should then be contacted in order that they
are introduced to the initiative and asked if they wish to be involved.
· A set of project pages is then set up on the Museum's home
web site, where the initiative is described and its aims and objectives
are clearly defined.
· Across the range of products and the range of companies
chosen, a selection of products (objects) to be featured is
made - to a set of pre-defined criteria. This is in essence the same
as happens with normal collecting activity, i.e. the products are
chosen to selected criteria.
· On the web pages, set up and capture relevant data fields
and selected images from the description of the products selected,
plus any other relevant material (such as press releases). Include
also the reason the item was included - this description is, as in
normal collecting activities, a vital piece of information. Catalogue-type
data can be mapped into whatever collection management system the
museum is using - for ease of downloading at future dates.
· This data can be amplified by any other relevant contextual
information - eg listing of earlier items from collection, a timeline
of the subject matter, links to other relevant web sites, plus narrative
and other text that puts the new material into an historical as well
as contemporary context.
· The information on the site should be reviewed at regular
intervals and updated, or modified, as necessary and this should be
clearly indicated on the site.
· Finally it is essential to have in place at the beginning
of the process a rigid and well-thought out archival and retrieval
6. Areas of technology that might be considered
There are a number of potential areas that might benefit from this
approach to collecting. For example:
· portable pcs, laptops and palmtops
· mobile phones
· smart cards
7. What does this gives us?
A well designed and moderated set of pages set up as above would
· A virtual 'snapshot', from the museum's viewpoint, of developments
in significant and fast moving fields of technology
· A 'snapshot' that could truly reflect the market place
· An organised, searchable, archive resource for researchers
· A highly visible, flexible and dynamic manifestation of
the museum's collections as they evolve and the ability to share it
with our publics via the WWW
· The ability to reflect on, and monitor, the products as
they evolve and to identify candidates for actual accession to the
· An educational resource
· Potentially stronger links with companies that develop these
· A way of bringing together collecting, virtual exhibitions,
interpretation of collections and research under one umbrella that
is highly visible and dynamic
8. What we can do with the data on the web site?
· Use the information (as a function of time) to decide on
suitable acquisitions for the collections via suitable selection criteria.
· Publish on-line commentaries on the developments (by curators,
or outside experts) at regular intervals, using these virtual collections
and any other contextual information that is relevant.
· Display on-line exhibitions of the material interpreted
and curated by the relevant subject specialist and other commentators.
· Archive (for future research use) the data in a variety
· Use the project as a vehicle for promoting the collections
and involving our publics in the process of preservation of technological
artefacts and supporting information
· Use gallery-based web browsers to give the visiting public
instant updates of what technologies the museum is actively collecting
· Use the project as a vehicle for harnessing closer links
with industry - making them more aware of the need to be part of the
There are plans to undertake a pilot project in the near future based
on the ideas outlined above. The author thinks that a well engineered
scheme has great potential. It could be used as a platform for museums
to begin to use web technology in a proactive and flexible way to
record developments in science and technology and, most important
of all, share them with the wide range of publics who use museums.
1 "Acquisition and Disposal Policy; April
1995 - March 1998", internal Science Museum document. (Back
2 "Making of the Modern World", edited
by Neil Cossons, published by John Murray in association with the
Science Museum, 1992.(Back to text)
3 "Museum collecting policies in modern
science and technology", Proceedings of a conference held at
the Science Museum, London, 3 November 1988, Science Museum 1991.
(Back to text)
4 Private correspondence.(Back
Last modified: March 21, 1998. This file can be
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