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

info @ archimuse.com

www.archimuse.comArchives and Museum Informatics Home Page

published April 1998
updated Nov. 2010


Why are we Here?

Cliff Quinn, British Columbia Museums Association

Why are museums and galleries and other cultural organizations on the Internet? And doing it with such enthusiasm!

In British Columbia, extrapolating from the 300 museums that we know have computers, and suggest that in the past 5 years all of them have bought at least $2,500 worth of equipment, we arrive at a figure of $750,000 worth of computer equipment. At least 150 of these institutions have paid for Internet accounts for at least 2 years, adding another $75,000 to the total. Even a modest investment in staff time learning software and creating and maintaining Web sites runs the total well over $1,000,000.

In business, company managers look for the ROI (Return on Investment) and look at the COA (Cost of Ownership) for capital equipment such as computers and for dedicating people to a task. Is it possible for museums to look at their investment the same way?

The REAL Question

Questioning the value of computerization, the Internet, or the WWW raises a host of other questions about evaluation of museumsí performance. Stephen Weil, Emeritus Senior Scholar at the Smithsonian Institution in Washington, DC, speaking at the BC Museums Association conference in Prince George in October 1997 asked, "What are the OUTCOMES that we want to achieve?" Knowing these outcomes makes measuring the results easier. This is just as true for the Web Site as for the museum as a whole.

So the question becomes "What are we trying to achieve, and how successfully are we achieving it?"

Starting to Look for Answers

With the objective of trying to define an appropriate model for museums to follow, and rationale for investment of their resources in this new medium, the BC Museums Association undertook a survey in 1996 funded by the Canada-BC Agreement on Culture and Communications.

While this was not a particularly encouraging perspective, it did nothing to discourage museums from continuing to invest. We all ride on the crest of the marketing wave perpetuated by the Wintel monopolies, and we tend to truly believe in and want a new communications medium to put us in touch with our peers and our audiences.

Rationalizing our Participation: What are we doing wrong?

William Sheridan writing in the February 13, 1998 Computerworld Canada quotes Paul Strassman as saying that "computers without an effective business strategy are worth no more than the scrap value of their plastic, metal and glass." If this is true of museums, it is an unfortunate place to put the $2,500 that the local museum has struggled to extract from local government, donors or casinos. He suggests however that "knowledge is still a more important investment than technology; computers can only be justified by the value they add to a business."1

The Internet is a still more nebulous investment. The 1996 BCMA survey found no institution that could point to significant benefits derived from investment in the World Wide Web. People pointed to a change in work methods, and that the Web facilitated this. There was however no evidence that these changes actually benefited the institutions making the investment, or changed the way they behaved. "If you modernize the technology, but you donít modernize the business process, the technology is just a wasted investment. If you are not going to buy into the behaviour, donít waste your money on machines."

As in the business world, it appears that "The Web was never integrated well, or in many cases at all, into corporate strategies." This may point out that many cultural institutions donít have corporate strategies, or that Directors and Boards not take their business plans into consideration when making decisions about computers and the Internet.

One of the great potential values of the web is to assist us in evaluating our products and services. Businesses are encouraged to use the net as "a fourth channel for having an interactive conversation with customers, while still retaining the first three: face-to-face, mail and phone."2 If we focus on the interactive elements of the Web, we can start to see some of the incredible potential it holds.

All of these "channels" must however be synchronized, pointing out some of our failings, and those of many organizations on the web. Their public face does not reflect well on the institution. They donít take the medium seriously, thought they are investing serious amounts of resources.

Commerce on the Net: the great attractor

Beware of holding out high hopes for commercial success on the Internet. While it is becoming increasingly common, and easy to do, there are indications that a "skeptical and cautious" browsing public does not readily accept it. The University of Michiganís Hermes project provides some fascinating and useful insights into commercial uses of the Web.

Every little bit helps though, and perhaps the very obscurity of most of our marvelous commodities makes them good targets for Web sales.3

Current Models

Good insights can perhaps be obtained from looking at the range of web sites now produced by museums, and trying to determine why they have been produced. Though this is not always clear from the site, there must have been originally a reason for the creation of the web site. Following might be some of the groups we might use:

A "Presence"

The fear of being left behind in the electronic world prompts many museums to either create, or accept the offer of a "free web page" from a local provider. Often the motivation is not thought out, and there may be hopes of marketing value. These web pages are often the equivalent to (or less than) an electronic brochure, presenting the most basic museum information. On the positive side, such a page is usually part of another institutionís information, making the museum part of a community (municipality, local ISP, provincial association).

Fulfilling Mandate

Program Delivery

Museum mandate includes community outreach, and at the minimum level, pages may be used for announcement of public events, courses. At a higher level, it is also possible to give courses, provide training, though very few insitutions are attempting this at present.

Presentation of Collection

Web databases can be used to present the collection, or be included in virtual exhibits.4

Facilitation of Public Interaction

The Internet can facilitate many functions that require staff interaction and Web sites. Membership renewals, course registrations, ordering photographs, answering queries are examples.


The museum itself, in a successful site can achieve greater popularity and visitorship. This can be an end in itself, but often is as a result of other successful componenets of the site.

Interactive Communication

A truly two-way site, gathering and providing information can be a truly new and awesome communication tool. The implicit problem here is that you are adding another communication medium to the existing tool set of the museum, and this requires dedicated resource time; computers, Internet connections and people all be committed to this task. Once the expectation has been raised that this will be an important access point to the museum, it must be kept open and current.

Management and Evaluation

The WWW provides the important capability to feed information back to management about preferences and popularity of different facets of the museumís presentation. In effect it is an on-going and current survey of the electronic public. New

Internal Information (Intranet)

Run locally, a Web site can become and important access point for staff to find museum information. Since museums often make use of temporary staff, questions about programming, facilities, collections and other resources can be presented in a coherent fashion. In effect the site can be a procedures and information manual for staff.

Education and Programming

Information on the web site can be tailored to specific audiences, and one of the most important is the educators in the community. Focus this year at the BC Museums Association will be on creating guidelines for museumsí interaction with their communities, suggesting exhibit format, and content presentation that will link closely with the curriculum at appropriate grade levels. While neither school nor museum technologies can be relied on currently (many schools have only one computer on the Internet) web sites could be important delivery and communication tools between museum educators and school staff.


Designing Your Site

"Give away something valuable, (information, software, advice, humor) and people will flock to your site. Original content is the most important trait of a great Web site." (What Makes a Great Web Site, http://www.webreference.com/greatsite.html).

Building a site involves focusing on both the audienceís and the institutionís needs. John December's evaluation is that there are six steps in this design process: Planning, Analysis, Desgin, Implementation, Promotion and Innovation.

Evaluate and Update

While this is part of the process mentioned in the creation of the site, it is too often overlooked, once the site is in place and functioning. You objective must be to get people to return to the site over and over again. It must become a useful tool, one of their most-used bookmarks. So continually evaluate how your site is being used, and always be adding some new treat for people to explore.


A new model for cultural and heritage institutions suggests that cultural organizations are businesses; businesses that operate on only a slightly different model than that of the for-profit organizations that we often admire. We offer products and services, and are in turn remunerated (usually) for them. It is frequently unclear how that remuneration takes place, and unfortunately, as frequently unclear what our products or services are. Knowing our products will enable us to promote them, and to ask for appropriate remuneration, whether in the form of fees, grants or other services.

Steven Weil pointed out that we are very poor at evaluating how our product is received, how well we are performing, whether we are achieving our goals. Knowing the goals will faciliate this evaluation, whether of the institution, or its Web site. With this in mind, a serious, professional approach to Web site design will produce a tool that will be of value to the institution and reflect proudly the communityís heritage.

Last modified: April 6, 1998. This file can be found below http://www.archimuse.com/mw98/
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