Overview of MW98: Why you should attend MW98 Learn new skills to enhance your museum site Explore issues and controversies facing Museums and the Web Experts featured at MW98 Commercial products and services to enhance your web site Organizations supporting MW98: Online interchange regarding the virtual museum experience Juried awards to best web sites in 5 categories Overview of MW98: Why you should attend MW98 Learn new skills to enhance your museum site Explore issues and controversies facing Museums and the Web Experts featured at MW98 Commercial products and services to enhance your web site Organizations supporting MW98: Online interchange regarding the virtual museum experience Juried awards to best web sites in 5 categories

Overview of MW98: Why you should attend MW98 Learn new skills to enhance your museum site Explore issues and controversies facing Museums and the Web Experts featured at MW98 Commercial products and services to enhance your web site Organizations supporting MW98: Online interchange regarding the virtual museum experience Juried awards to best web sites in 5 categories

Archives & Museum Informatics

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published April 1998
updated Nov. 2010



Andrea Ott, Computer Advisory Coordinator, Ontario Museum Association, Canada

Most cultural organizations have been built on a structure of volunteers. With the advent of the Internet, there is a new medium to explore and expand services in museums and related institutions. I will illustrate new methods of extending services in volunteer based cultural organizations using the example of the Ontario Museum Association and several museums and related institutions in Ontario1. In addition I will also address electronic volunteerism in the museum profession. This paper is not so much about volunteers volunteering electronically, although this subject will be addressed, as setting up an appropriate environment to attract audiences to and service a volunteer based organization using the Internet.

In this paper, I will use the following definition of volunteer activity: "anything done, made, given of one's own free will." In the case of museums, the definition is meant to mean to service the existence of the institution and its services to the public. In the context of a professional association, like the Ontario Museum Association, the meaning is often extended to providing service of one's own free will for the advancement of the museum profession and assistance to the museum professional in servicing the existence of a cultural institution and the public. This paper will refer to both sectors.


Museums and related institutions can provide services to their audiences by simply providing the forum for communication and discussion. Forums may include not only listservs but also e-mail publications, electronic conferencing using products such as FirstClassTM software as used and described at the CultureNet web site, video conferencing2, a web site such as the Forum section of the Canadian Heritage Information Network web site and in the proper context chat lines. Listservs thus far have been the predominate mode of electronic discussion but as the technology and societal literacy expands the use of some other methods will likely grow.

At the Ontario Museum Association, we have set-up a listserv "onmuse-l" where individuals can share information of interest with museum professionals, students and others concerned with art, heritage and culture in Ontario, and "Trillium", an institutional membership based electronic network. By simply offering a medium we are encouraging volunteerism by colleagues sharing information in the community. Often, the information is professional such as conservators responding to conservation issues. In addition, we publish an electronic publication to members of Trillium. Trillium News provides timely information on advocacy issues, professional development opportunities, technological information and current job postings.

Few will disagree that the Internet has in itself been built on sharing information or should we say "volunteering" our time and expertise to help other cyberspace users. This practice is most evident in the listserv. It is an understood practice to contribute information you are aware of for the mutual benefit of all on a listserv. In exchange, when you have a question or problem, others will respond often saving you a great deal of time and potentially money. In addition, active participation is a wonderful method of professional development. Solid professional reputations in one's area of expertise have been built on listerv discussions and one can gather much valuable information and contacts. Increasingly, participating on listservs is being considered more and more part of our jobs and recognized as such by our employers. Indeed, it is part of our profession to assist our colleagues and the public as well as stay abreast of issues in our fields of expertise. The medium of the listserv only makes such participation much more individual driven in that we choose to participate rather than have someone come to us personally for information.


Most museums begin their World Wide Web site by placing information on their services, location, membership benefits, hours of operation and programs. In addition, most sites contain links to other sites of interest to the visitor. Many museums can develop such a website in a relatively easy manner thereby attracting the larger world to their institutions. These are relatively simple processes in the sense that the information is already there. However, museums and related institutions may also place other information not so common on the Internet that would be of benefit to their audiences thereby increasing their virtual visitation.

The Ontario Museum Association is a service organization for the members and the public. Membership and Public information has been included on its site. In addition, the OMA has mounted a guide of Ontario museums of over 500 institutions. This service was completed with relative ease. A database of institutions was initially produced to publish a Guide of Ontario Museums. With simple programming to HTML we were able to mount the site and thereby service a world-wide audience attracting larger audiences to our services and the services of our members. The electronic guide is the major current attraction to our web site.

In addition, the Ontario Museum Association will be investigating mounting other existing services on the Internet. An electronic journal to supplement our existing newsletter Currently is being investigated. Our popular job posting services will also be investigated for placement on-line possibly only password accessible for members. Some registration and order forms are already on-line with the possibility of expanding to electronic cash. As more and more museums obtain e-mail accounts, we are developing an e-mail network of all museums in the province for advocacy and information dissemination purposes to feasibly reach all museums very quickly without the long distance charges that a similar fax network incurs.

Many museums are also extending existing information on-line. Museums are increasingly using e-mail address lists to market their programs and more and more museums are requesting e-mail addresses from members and other contacts for this purpose. Creative projects like this use limited resources for development since they exist elsewhere in the institution but can have a large impact on the efficiency of the institution. Museums are also exploring placing volunteer registration forms on-line and related volunteer information on-line such as the Burlington Art Centre. The Tom Thomson Memorial Art Gallery has placed gift shop items on-line.


Of course, an institution's WWW site is a basis for developing and servicing a volunteer base, providing services to the public and attracting audiences to the institution. Rather than only placing existing institutional information on-line, museums and related institutions are experimenting with specific projects specifically designed for the web.

The Ontario Museum Association has completed two such projects to date. We collected information to compile a listing of traveling exhibitions available for loan and a listing of collections management vendors. The traditional method would have been to publish this information but the cost of printing and distributing this information made it more attractive to publish on-line for the benefit of our constituency. We hope to extend and offer other services such as this. In addition, the Ontario Museum Association will be exploring the development of its site with a public forum on museum topics, a public relations section on the benefit of museums to the community and the importance of volunteerism. It is hoped that by servicing our constituency through the web site that new audiences will be attracted to the organization and the public will have an increased appreciation of museums.

Many museums have been completing similar projects on the World Wide Web. The most concrete and often cited example is virtual exhibits, on-line exhibits with images and text. The Banting Museum, Tom Thomson Memorial Art Gallery and MZTV Museum of Television all have virtual exhibits on-line. Archives are placing archival information on-line such as the Peterborough Centennial Museum and Archives. Some institutions have also placed an archives of past exhibitions on-line complete with images such as Mercer Union. There are now two types of visitors that some museums are conducting audience development reports on: the physical visitor to our institution and the virtual visitor to on-line exhibitions.

The Internet is a new medium of communication and as such is a medium that has products that are conducive to it alone. Projects can sometimes be delivered more cost effectively on-line as well as reach audiences otherwise inaccessible. The point of these type of projects is to service members and volunteers; attract new audiences to the institution; save the institutions time with telephone calls, mail, faxes and e-mail; and public relations and awareness building.


Statistics indicate that continuous learning is a facet of the new marketplace and technology based training (TBT) will increase 31.3% by the year 20003. Technology based training is the discipline of designing systems for support of workers in training, which ranges from simple audio tapes to highly sophisticated simulations employing virtual reality. The advantages are long range cost efficiency, ability to reach large geographical areas, reduced learning time and better student performance4. Museums and related institutions have an opportunity to take advantage of these important trends.

The Ontario Museum Association embarked on its first attempt on providing distance learning on the Internet in partnership with the University of Western Ontario, November 3 to December 12, 1997. Twenty-five individuals participated in a six week on-line course entitled "World Wide Web Page Design for the Museum Professional" using the Web and a listserv. The self-directed course provided the basics of web page creation and design in a museum context. The intent of the course was to have each participant finish the course with a web site, critiqued by colleagues, the instructor and a on-line volunteer committee of museum advisors. Advertising for the course included using listservs which enabled us to attract two participants from outside Ontario and one participant from the United States. The subject matter of this course was well suited to this endeavour and to reaching the Association's membership base which is dispersed over a large geographical area.

The Ontario Museum Association will be investigating other methods of offering distance education services. The Association offers a Certificate in Museum Studies consisting of nine courses, one distance education in partnership with Laurentian University using a resource binder and e-mail and telephone communication, and eight courses of three days each offered in museums across the province and taught by professionals in the field of the subject. We will be investigating assisting this Certificate on-line with registrations, reading lists and important WWW site links. Video conferencing, electronic conferencing, website development and listservs will also be investigated for special seminars and courses. It is hoped that we will open other methods of communication throughout the Association's core activities thereby opening the Association to a wider audience and more efficiently servicing our existing members.

Museums in general are beginning to offer information about their education services on the Web such as program descriptions with registration forms as in the example of the Burlington Art Centre. Heritage Toronto has placed ideas for teachers for school programs and a Toronto History Quiz on-line. This is the beginning of educating via a web site which also increases the interactivity and resource value of the site.


As with any medium of communication, the Internet offers the potential for sponsorships, donations and partnerships. Many web sites now have sponsorships for their sites. Often placing the sponsor logo on the web site is part of a larger project such as sponsorship of a museum exhibition. Having a web site which attracts a wider audience increases the appeal of the sponsor. Of course the key with sponsorships is to have attractive features in the sites that also attract large audiences.

Many museums have received donations of services for the building of their web sites. Areas of donation include e-mail accounts, server space, web site design and maintenance. Museums are attractive for this type of donation for local Internet service providers as museums tend to naturally attract local audiences for community services and events. The Ontario Museum Association encourages its members to obtain a domain registration, ensure that they do not sign into expensive maintenance contracts, and for small and mid-sized museums have volunteer or staff expertise to update a site. The development of a web site is an excellent area to solicit volunteer assistance, particularly from the younger generation often familiar with the new technologies. The Museum for Textiles web site is an example of a site completed entirely be a volunteer. In addition, there are many internships, co-op, summer and other employment programs that are very conducive to the development of a museum's web site.

Partnerships tend to refer to working with colleagues in offering services. The Ontario Museum Association offered a free seminar in association with BGM, a Canadian company that completes digitization and multimedia projects as well as photographic image services to a broad range of clients. BGM already offers free general seminars to the public on digitization, prepress and image processes, and were very willing to produce a specialized workshop when given the needs of the museum community. Our members had the opportunity to learn about the new technologies at no fee while BGM could market to the museum community. The participants of the workshop met after the workshop to discuss their perceptions of the workshop and share methods for implementing the new technologies in their institutions. An on-going partnership has been developed with the Canadian Heritage Information Network to assist Ontario museums with Internet connections and training. As well, CHIN hosted the listservs on its server that the Ontario Museum Association has set-up. The Ontario Museum Association is networking with colleagues, the public and private sectors in delivering services to its constituency. The intent is not to duplicate resources that already exist in the community but to assist colleagues and other partners in servicing member and public needs in the most mutually beneficial manner.


I started out this paper speaking of electronic volunteers. So far I have discussed transforming a volunteer based organization onto the Internet. As with any medium of museum operation, there are volunteers servicing that medium. In an electronic environment there will increasingly be volunteers that volunteer electronically be it through electronic communications, development of web sites and on-line education programs, and donation of services and money. The most common area of volunteering is via the development of a web site and many institutions have benefited by such volunteers be it through donation of money or services, sponsorship or partnerships. There are institutions that exist entirely by volunteer services where all services including the Internet is completed by volunteers. This paper also discussed electronic communications and how on a listserv we as professionals may be perceived to volunteer electronically. As with all volunteering, doing so can benefit a career substantially. By providing volunteers with a network of communication such as listservs and Internet connections, organizations can conduct its business including volunteer activity more efficiently.

To recap, volunteer based service organizations can transform their services to members and the public substantially with the use of the Internet. Some of the key methods are:

offer forums of communication to the membership and public using listservs, electronic newsletters, electronic conferencing, video conferencing or chat lines;

place existing institutional resources on-line that are of interest to the membership and public while adding interest to the web site;

use web sites, electronic mailing lists, listservs and electronic publications to market the services as well as the value of the institution's services;

explore use web sites, listservs, e-mail mailing lists, electronic publications, video and electronic conferencing that can potentially save resources on existing administrative functions;

explore delivery of valued education services on the Internet;

use volunteers to develop the your web site and electronic services;

build special projects for the Internet if it fulfills your institution's mandate and is the most viable medium for the product; and

look for partners in sponsorship and offering services to build on your institution's web site.

Throughout this paper, I have attempted to illustrate through example how the Ontario Museum Association and museums in Ontario have used the Internet to develop a volunteer based organization. I am sure there are many other examples and innovative projects in the world that have been left unidentified. We need to be open to the trends in society and the development of new technologies in the development of museum and related institutions new technology services. We all know it is hard to predict the direction new technologies will take in the future. It is important to keep abreast of trends, take the time to investigate the opportunities new technologies present to museums and be creative in our approaches.


Andrea Ott
Computer Advisory Coordinator
Ontario Museum Association
George Brown House
50 Baldwin Street
Toronto, Ontario M5T 1L4
e-mail: omachin@planeteer.com
tel: (416)348-8672
fax: (416)348-0438

1 This paper will use the examples of Ontario museum and related institutions web sites. The intent is not to provide a comprehensive overview of web sites in the province. Relevant museum web sites may be left unmentioned. Refer to the Ontario Museum Association web site at http://www.MuseumAssn.on.ca for a complete listing of Ontario museum web sites.

2 For a practical resource on video conferencing, see Hazan, Susan, "CUMuse-Me: A Video Conference Series for the Muses," in Spectra 24, no. 4 (Summer 1997): 42.

3 Macromedia Authorware, a technology based training authoring software package for web-based mulimedia and learning, seminar in Toronto, December 1997.

4 A good reference on the advantages of technology based training in a training environment in this case Canadian Forces schools is Maj Molly McCarthy Senebald, "Technology Based Training: A New Imperative for Training Developers" at http://home.interhop.net/~cflstc/mccar-3e.htm.

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