Archives & Museum Informatics








last updated:
November 30, 2017 12:56 PM

Survey of Museum Web Implementations, 2005

David Bearman and Jennifer Trant, Archives & Museum Informatics

published on-line March 2006.

Between January 1 2005 and the April 2005 Museums and the Web conference, 166 museums from 17 countries participated in a survey organized by Archives & Museum Informatics. The majority were from the USA (92) including 35 history museums, 32 art museums, 13 general museums, and 12 science museums. In addition, 33 Canadian, 9 UK, and 9 Portuguese museums responded. This report summarizes some of the findings of that survey. [1]

I. Management

A. History

Museums responding to this survey launched their web sites. relatively long ago. Twenty pioneers launched in 1994. In the following four years, 22, 20, 22 and 23 museums responding here had web sites online. More than two-thirds the respondents launched their web sites in the first five years of the WWW. From 1999 on, an average of 6 sites were launched annually by respondents to this survey.

Not surprisingly, museums with large budgets launched relatively earlier and those launching since 1999 have been significantly smaller, though a number of museums with very small budgets launched in 1994 – 1996, probably through the efforts of one individual.

B. Staff and Budget

Out of 150 museums reporting, the average museum reporting to this survey employed 2 full time equivalents on staff to manage their web site with a median of 1 and a maximum of 14.5. Two third of the institutions reporting devoted fewer that 2 person years to the Web annually.

FTE Equivalents Devoted to Web by number of museums reporting (150)

This time was divided between an average of 1.14 on development and 0.97 on maintenance. But the data reveal huge divergences with some institutions spending no resources on one or the other and no strong pattern of where staff were allocated.

Above staff salaries, these sites reported an average budget of approximately $35,000, which, even given the way that non-profit organizations work and the failure to budget many real costs into day-to-day operations, seems excessively low. Median expenditures are given as $8000 and even the maximum figure of $500,000 which is given by an organization with a $200M budget and a web staff of 13 seems modest given that the web site hosts over 250,000 documented items with 50-100,000 images. Although the data are not expressed entirely in ways that make the web budget as a proportion of the overall budget explicit, it seems that few, if any, museums are yet expending 1% of their budget on their web presence. This is amazing, given that the average web site was attracting 9,232 unique visitors a day, which unfortunately we cannot compare to actual visitors to these same museums, but is in any case a sizable average number.

In future studies we believe that we will need to break out these figures more carefully to identify the technology costs, outsourced expenses, training, on-going digitization expenses, authoring, data analysis and the like. In order to obtain data that is roughly comparable it appears necessary to identify common categories that may not be “in” each budget as reported.

C. Assigning Responsibility

1. Overall

A cross-departmental team is responsible for just under half of all museum web sites. Older sites (59.6% of those pre-1997), and those maintained on in-house servers (58%) are more likely to be directed by cross-departmental teams. Sites hosted on ISP’s are managed by such teams in only 36% of cases.

Primary responsibility for the museum web site is not predominantly located with any one department. The largest single responsibility is assigned to Communications and marketing, but even here they run less than a quarter of sites. IT departments are responsible for just under 20% of the sites, and even they have responsibility for only 24.6% of sites that are hosted on the museums own servers. Sites first established in 1999 have a much greater than usual location within the Development Office, reflecting the boom that helped launch them.

Those first launched between 2000 and 2004 have a much greater than average chance of being located in the Directors Office, probably reflecting the larger perceived risk following the bust and also the rhetoric of the web as a strategic venture. But in half of the museums reporting, responsibility for web activities is dispersed quite widely, from curatorial, education, publications, library, new media and registration.

2. Content

Responsibility for the content of museum web sites. is shared by numerous departments. Only Communications and marketing has this charge in more than half the museums, but in more than a third curatorial, education, and the Director’s office share in content generation. Quite a few respondents listed 8 or more departments responsible for content generation reflecting the distribution of responsibility for web-based information on all aspects of the museum programme to each relevant department.



3. Design

Museums were much more concentrated in assigning responsibility for design of their sites. Over one third assigned this to Communications and Marketing. Fewer than one quarter gave the charge to the Director’s Office or IT which were runners up for the job. The web team and new media designers were given this task in museums that had such expertise. Public programs and outreach were often cited where there was no Communications function per se. Overall it is clear that museums appreciate that design is a specific skill and assign the task to communications designers when possible.

When museums shared responsibility for design with outside contractors (24%), there was no single function that the museum contracted out. Some museums reported aesthetics as their; others as an outside designers choice. Some took responsibility for the architecture and technical implementation; others hired contractors for that. Some museums hired a firm to do ban initial design and have been elaborating on it since; others did their site and have hired outside contractors to maintain it. We did not ask about the museums assessment of the success of its strategy, but presume that those reporting split responsibilities are still relatively pleased with the division of labor they have introduced.

II. Technology

A. Hosting the site

Museums that launched their web sites early are more likely to host their sites on their own servers (52.1% of self hosted sites were launched by the end of 1996, while more than 53.3% of IS hosted sites were launched after 1998). But early launch does not correlate with whether museum staff, an outside group or a combination of the two designed the site; almost half of all sites are designed in tandem with in-house and contracted staff. Even national museums used outside contractors and museums staff as often as museum staff alone, and over 20% used outside contractors solely despite an enviable average of 5FTE dedicated to their web sites.

Many museums reported arrangements in which they do not solely host their sites. Frequently these were co-location agreements under which the museum server, or one belonging to a university of government entity superior to the museum, is located at a commercial site for backup purposes. In some cases, e-commerce functions or streaming media were supported by a commercial host while other functions ran off the local server.

Museums do, however, maintain their own sites. Over 85% do so when they host the site, but even the majority of those hosted on ISP’s are maintained by the museums own staff (55%). Fewer than 5% of museum sites were fully maintained by outside contractors.

Top 10% of sites see more than 20,000 visitors a day; next 10% more than 7500; the median is about 1500 visitors (unique IP’s) per day. Most sites can identify specific days, whether related to a Yahoo story, an external event, or a special program in which their norm was exceeded by an order of magnitude. Incredibly, 20% of sites still do not analyze their data at all.  Museums used a dozen different web log analysis packages; WebTrends led the tools currently deployed with 32 installations, followed by, Advanced Web Stats (9), and Urclin and Webalizer at 6 each.

B. Technology Choices

The vast majority of museum web sites. have been designed for those with contemporary browsers (4.0+, 86%) and use XHTML and CSS (59%). Few museums are accommodating earlier browsers (27%), AOL (20%) or screen readers (25%). Over half of sites (54%) require a Flash™ plug-in, exceeded only by the use of pdf’s (61%). Fewer sites require Quick Time™ (35%) or Windows Media Player™ (29%) with only a few (13%) requiring Real Audio™ and Real Video™.

Although fewer that 20% of sites use only static pages, the strategies for dynamic page rendering are highly diverse. 38% use active server pages (asp), while 22% employ php, 20% csi, 18% cold fusion, 13% java and 21% other, proprietary, strategies. Over 80% of sites employ databases to deliver content including 55% for collections searching, 42% for calendars, 35% for library catalogues, 28% for museum shop items, 24% for exhibition profiles, 20% for educational programs and over 10% for a range of other applications from membership and ticket sales to charitable giving.

C. Redesign

Most of the respondents have undertaken “major” redesigns of their sites quite a few times. Of the 61 sites first launched between 1994 and 1996, only 2 have escaped redesign altogether. Seven claim more than 5 redesigns, and 25 have been redesigned 3-4 times. The remaining 27 have been redesigned once or twice. Not surprisingly, fewer redesigns have been required for sites that are of a more recent vintage. None launched since the start of 2003 have been redesigned as many as three times. Of 39 launched since 2000, only five claim to have been redesigned more than twice. While the relatively small numbers surveyed produce a few blips, the overall result is clear: sites age, and their owners tend to feel they need redesign on an average of once every two or three years.

We would expect relatively larger and wealthier institutions to redesign more. It turns out this is the case, though the deciding factor may have more to do with the aspirations of larger museums to have more fully functional sites. The annual organizational budget average. was $16.4M for those with 5+ redesigns and their average launch was 1997.  Only slightly smaller, organizations with 3-4 redesigns had an average annual budget of $14.7M and an average launch of 1996.25. Those with 1-2 redesigns had an average budget of $10.8M and an average launch of 1997.8.  (5.9M for no redesigns, average launch 2000.9) The clear evidence is that redesign is age based. Future research could help us to understand why redesigns were undertaken - whether because functionality was lacking, or simply because a fresh look was desired and could be afforded.

III. Programmatic Support

A. E-Commerce

Just under half of the museums reported an e-commerce element of the Web-site by 2005. Although half of all web sites. reported were online by the end of 1998, only 15% of the e-commerce applications were launched that early. By the end of 2001, just over 25% of all the reporting museums had e-commerce functionality. Of those with e-commerce, the application with the greatest penetration was museum shop sales with over 75% of e-commerce enabled sites supporting this function. Membership sales were enabled by 56% of the e-commerce sites and charitable giving by 47%. Other functions – exhibition and event ticket sales, rights and reproductions, and publication sales – all featured on less than 25% of e-commerce enabled. Some less usual e-commerce services included applications for fellowships and grants, animal adoption, course and field trip registrations, and gift certificates.

A significant portion of museums without any e-commerce functionality announced special events (46%), exhibitions (40%), and educational programs (40%) and over 30% had a regular e-mailed newsletter. Not surprisingly, those with e-commerce functions on their sites were the heaviest users of e-mail announcements relating to business, with about 20% more participation in every category of e-mailing and twice the proportion of e-newsletters. However, even though they were active in fundraising, museums with e-commerce functionality were not significantly more likely to provide access to their web-sites for physical visitors to their museums, a service that only a third of museums


B. Educational Programming

E-Commerce did not compete with educational programming. Rather it seems that museums with the ability to add functions to their web sites. are more likely to introduce a broad array of value-added activities of which e-commerce is only one. Yet education was preferred over e-commerce. Museums without e-commerce functionality were nevertheless likely to have developed at least some educational programs specifically for the web (54%), though those with e-commerce were more likely to do so (73%).

Nevertheless, when we examine this in more detail, we find that the majority of museums without e-commerce developed no new educational programs for the web in 2004, whereas 62% of those with e-commerce developed some new programs and 30% developed more than three such programs in the preceding year. Museums with e-commerce functions had a longer term commitment to their educational programs as well. Over two thirds viewed their educational offerings as permanent, while fewer than half (46%) of the museums without e-commerce characterized them that way, imagining them on-line for the life of an exhibit or some other limited duration instead.

1. Audiences

All museums in our survey made most of their on-line educational programming with the general public in mind (66%).  46% of museums viewed children as the target of at least some of their programs, and over one third were developing programs with high school students and museum goers in mind as the primary audience. University students and scholars were much less likely to be targeted, and contrary to expectations were not the audiences identified by university museums (12.5% and 11% of the museums identifying these target audiences were universities, or, looked at the other way, only 22% of university museums were developing programs for these audiences). Presumably scholars and university students are presumed to be able to use museum resources without dedicated programming.

C. Access to Collection Data

Over half the museums in our survey feel they have 75% or more of their collections represented in their CMS. The wealth of the museum is not a significant issue; those with 100% in their CMS had an average budget of $11M and launched their web sites. on average in 1996.9; those who had fully catalogued their collections in their CMS had an average budget of $10.6M. The museums which felt they had 75% of their collections represented in the CMS were slightly better off; they had an average budget of $18.8M and launched their web sites. on average a few months earlier in 1996.6. Those whose collections were fully catalogued to the 75% level had an average budget of $16.3M.

But having collections catalogued, and having them accessible on the web, were two different things. Almost two thirds (63%) of those museums that have 100% of their collections in their CMS do not have a link between the CMS and the web site, as do 57% of those with 75% of their collections in their CMS!

Museums success in putting their collections cataloguing on-line did not seem to be strongly related to their choice of collections management system, as long as they had such a system in place. Only 36% of museums had more than 5000 collection object records on their web site, yet over 5,000 records were placed online by 38% of KEmu museums (3/8), 40% of the Argus museums (4/10), 41% of Gallery Systems clients (7/17), 41.6% of Willoughby (5/12), and 53% of  those with miscellaneous other systems, commercial and in-house developed. In future research we should discover the date of first implementation of a collections system and the size of the overall collection in order to better understand how these factors might be influencing the implementation of searchable collections databases.

On the other hand, image access may be related to collections management system choice, or to size of institutional budgets which are strongly correlated with systems. Overall 23% of sites provided access to more than 5000 images online; such sites were offered by no museums using Argus systems (average budget $9.9M), 23.5% of Gallery Systems clients (average budget $16M), 41% of Willoughby museums (average budget $20.7M), and 50% of KEmu implementers ($37.9M average budget). While few museums using “other” systems had in excess of 5000 images online, the four (out of 30) museums in this category that did provide significant access to images had an average budget of $82M.

Almost three-quarters of museums surveyed had an on-going digitization program in place and many of those which did not planned to implement one within the next 18 months. The impacts of such programs was clearly felt on the web site While two institutions without digitization programs managed to get more than 250,000 works documented online, and one without digitization reported 100,000-250,000 items catalogued online, none had more than 50,000 images available on their web site Of the museums with digitization programs, eleven had more than 100,000 items catalogued and eight reported more than 50,000 images online, including three museums with more than 100,000 images online and one with more that 250,000. Although the museum with the largest number of searchable images was a national museums, on the whole this group was not much ahead of others in this respect. Since museums had some edge on average over art museums, but of course they have much larger collections.

D. Non-Web Programming

That the web is merely one aspect of the museums overall program is clear from the finding that museums with e-commerce capability not only produce more educational programming that is available on the web, but also produce more educational programming that is not (53% vs. 43%). Future research might examine in more detail whether online commerce, for example, more closely reflects the characteristics of each museums’ off-line commerce than it does the maturity of its web site. Similar comparisons might illustrate the extent to which the web is interpenetrating with schools programs, development, or outreach and suggest the relationship between highly developed programs in any of these areas and web manifestations of the same functions.

[1] A detailed analysis by types of museums in some countries is possible. In the US, there are enough replies from art museums (29), general museums (11), history museums (32) and science museums (11); in Canada art museums (12) and history museums (10) and for the United Kingdom national museums (6), have sufficient numbers of returns to support such detail.

Informatics: The interdisciplinary study of information content, representation, technology, and applications,
and the methods and strategies by which information is used in organizations, networks, cultures, and societies.