Online Museum Working Group

- Introduction

How do we distinguish between someone's fly-by-night website that shows pictures of their favorite things and a serious 'virtual' or 'online' museum?

This question was recently posed by staff at the US Institute of Museum and Library Services (1). Current legislation (PUBLIC LAW 111 - 340 - MUSEUM AND LIBRARY SERVICES ACT OF 2010) includes the following wording:

As used in this subchapter:
(1) MuseumThe term “museum” means a public or private nonprofit agency or institution organized on a permanent basis for essentially educational or aesthetic purposes, that utilizes a professional staff, owns or utilizes tangible objects, cares for the tangible objects, and exhibits the tangible objects to the public on a regular basis. Such term includes museums that have tangible and digital collections and includes aquariums, arboretums, botanical gardens, art museums, children’s museums, general museums, historic houses and sites, history museums, nature centers, natural history and anthropology museums, planetariums, science and technology centers, specialized museums, and zoological parks.
Section 273(1) (20 U.S.C. 9172(1)) is amended by inserting
�0�Such term''.(2)
This wording permits IMLS to address digital holdings but only in museums that also have a brick and mortar facility. True "virtual" or wholly online museums are not eligible for these funds.

Congress will reauthorize the Museum and Library Services Act in 2016. The purpose of this group is to recommend wording for the new bill that will enable IMLS to make grants to purely digital museums without opening up the application process to every blog site and picture gallery.

You may participate in this effort at any of three levels.
  1. As a member of the public you may leave a comment on this page. No signup, registration or personal information is required.
  2. To join the working group, please send a message to requesting membership and briefly outlining your expertise in this area.
  3. Once some progress has been made by the working group we will convene a smaller drafting committee to craft the wording we suggest for the upcoming legislation. Members of this committee will be chosen by the working group.
The draft legislation will be passed back to the working group for approval and/or revision. A final document will be offered to the correct Congressional Appropriation Committee for its consideration.

(1) personal communication via telephone with Liza Loop, Susan Hildreth, Christopher Reich, June 19, 2014

(2) URL accessed June 19, 2014

- Museums and the Web 2015 F2F Session

8 people convened for breakfast on Sat., April 11 to discuss "What makes an Online Museum Real?" Participants agreed that limiting eligibility for IMLS funds to organizations that "exhibit[s] tangible objects" is "crazy" in today's world. Several criteria for characteristics of "real online museums" were suggested but the group did not come up with a comprehensive list. Key points included:
  • Digital objects are as important as physical objects
  • Online exhibition now has greater public reach than physical walk-in spaces
  • Online presentation creates unique challenges for controlling audience access
  • Linked open data procedures blur boundaries of ownership and conservator responsibility
  • Preservation process is different for born digital artifacts
  • real museums contribute to public knowledge and understanding but may, as in the case of some children's museums, not be deeply involved in academic scholarship
  • professional curation is important in online museums
  • online galleries and exhibitions are as "real" as physical ones.

A variety of topics emerged during the discussion ranging from the importance of active participation in democratic processes such as this legislation to the changing nature of the objects that populate the modern world (physical, abstract, informational). We concluded with acknowledgement of how thinly stretched each of us is by our work obligations and a commitment to bring our diverse professional networks into this ongoing conversation.

Participants included:
  • Liza Loop, History of Computing in Learning and Education Virtual Museum
  • Alice Campbell, Virginia Commonwealth University Libraries
  • Eleanor Fink, Art and Technology Advisor
  • Neal, Design for Context
  • Amos Lieberman, Missouri History Museum

- Members

We will meet online periodically to deliberate synchronously about the issues we post here. The results of our deliberations will be presented and discussed at the Museums and the Web Conference, April 8-11, 2015.

- Some first thoughts by Liza Loop, June 19, 2014

Some types of web sites:

  • Simple, informally-formatted, picture collections (with captions but no interpretation)
  • Illustrated blog sites that include situational explanations, narrative or interpretation
  • Linked blog sites that include graphic images, narrative text and links (on or off site) to further information about an item
  • Cataloged galleries that include searchable catalogs with standardized metadata for each image

Museum features be continued...

Museum functions

  • Collecting
  • Storing
  • Preserving
  • Cataloging
    • attaching metadata
  • Sustaining
    • financially
    • data continuity
    • personnel
    • presence
  • Providing access to
    • scholars
    • students
    • public
  • Interpreting
  • Researching
  • Teaching
  • Entertaining
  • Promoting community activity

- Definitions from other Organizations

According to the International Council of Museums (ICOM), museum is:
  • “A non-profit, permanent institution in the service of society and its development, open to the public, which acquires, conserves, researches, communicates and exhibits the tangible and intangible heritage of humanity and its environment for the purposes of education, study and enjoyment” (ICOM website).

- Ideas from Working group members

Please add them here...

Notes on virtual museum interview

.....Elizabeth Merritt, Director of the Center for the Future of Museums at the American Alliance of Museums, was kind enough to share her notes from an interview held a few years ago. Some of these references may need to be updates but this is an important starting place.
(...note from Liza Loop, Aug, 2014. It would be great if someone were willing to check out each of these links and give us an updated status on each of these sites. Once we have a set of criteria for serious virtual museums a spread sheet indicating which sites met which criteria would also be helpful. Volunteers???)

Notes for NYT Museum Section Virtual Museums article

Museums with important virtual components

Missouri Historical Society

Worlds Fair exhibit (Essentially just a map/diagram linked to photos and captions)

Tour of communities History Happened Here looks like it never worked. Just a data dump of Jewish historical organizations, no evidence of actual public engagement.

Maine Memory Network a statewide digital museum arising from partnership between the state museum and the state library, to increase access with holdings of historical societies across the state.

Maine Community Heritage Project emphasizes dynamic audience and community engagement, crowdsourced online exhibits. Museum staff and librarians work together with community members teachers & students.

Museums that are purely virtual (but serious)

The Girl Museum committed to researching girls in art history and how these images reflect cultural ideals and realities. “

Traditional museums are primary storehouses of material culture, places to learn about art and objects of the past. While we are this, it is the intangible- the ideas and memories of girl history, how they brought us to the present, and their future implications that we are collecting.” Features a collaborative exhibit with the American Poetry Museum about girls and sex trafficking –will launch March 31

2011. Heroine Quilt—crowdsourced exhibit. Flash animation.

The Adobe Digital Art Museum

SEC Historical Society Virtual Museum and Archive of the

History of Financial Regulation. “Exhibits” seem to mostly be a lot of written text plus a few photos. Some audio and video archives.

Virtual Instrument Museum Basically a collections catalog with images, text, audio recordings and some video.

Brockport Community Museum The Brockport Community Museum, provisionally chartered by New York State in 2002, is a "Museum Without Walls." With no building of its own, it brings local history directly to diverse constituencies through projects that include exterior interpretive panels, interior display case, and educational content within this web site. A lot of the links are not actually there-not clear how active the site actually is. Most interesting part is the museum history—classic story of deciding to shoehorn a museum into an historic building, tying it to community redevelopment, then finding it was too expensive. By that time they were already chartered. Decided to go virtual instead.

"Lebenswege" in Rhineland-Palatinate, Germany, museum on migration

Museums that started virtual but went or hope to go physical

The Smithsonian Latino Virtual Museum

The Museum of Motherhood “The mission of M.O.M. is to showcase the value of mothers, mother-art and mother-work around the world, while documenting the herstory of (m)others in perpetuity.” Trying to build a physical building in Seneca Falls, NY the home of the Suffragette Movement.

The Advertising Icon Museum

The Sackrider Museum of Handbags will eventually lead to physical space

National Women’s History Museum also hopes to have a physical space (has been working since the late 90s on this) Have the support of Meryl Streep. Have “cyberexhibits” like “Claiming their Citizenship: African American Women from 1624-2009” Text and a few photos.

The Women of the West museum started virtual but merged with the Autry and acquired a physical presence.

The Food Museum “We've been putting up actual exhibits for over 25 years, from small galleries in Brussels and Washington to major exhibitions at the Smithsonian and Ottawa's National Museum of Science. Our kiosk-sized food exhibits are available for lease. We also bring food programs to schools, festivals and other gathering places.” One of their goals is to “To locate an appropriate permanent home for The FOOD Museum, its collections and the Global Food Heritage Project.” “Its collections, covering a wide range of the world's foods, are stored in New Mexico. Its core collection, The Potato Museum, is the world's largest on the history and importance of the potato.” Some people involved in the museum were guest curators for the Smithsonian’s Seeds of Change exhibit.They have an exhibit in the Denver International Airport concourse. But latest updates seem to be from 2006. The blog is still active but not very weighty.

Physical museums that became virtual or are considering it

McCormick Tribune Freedom Museum
Was physical, now a bundle of resources, programs and a mobile exhibit van, including some web-only exhibits

A list of medical/science related virtual museums:

Virtual Valve Museum:

Virtual Typewriter Museum:

Virtual Museum of Music Inventions:

Music Museum of New England:

Virtual Museum of Canada:

Phil Seed’s Virtual Car Museum:

Virtual Shoe Museum:

The Color Museum

The Museum of Online Museums:

GreenMuseum: online museum of

environmental art founded in 2001.

Sock Museum:

- References and related documents

American Alliance of Museums Request to Congress
Metadata for Digitally Distributed Video Games at the Seattle Interactive Media Museum

- Ontology

This section is for vocabulary, definitions and relationships between these items.
Please add to this list and link to similar lists/taxonomies/vocabularies/ontologies used by other institutions

online museum
virtual museum
conference session
virtual exhibit

- Discussion

Subject Author Replies Views Last Message
Museums Showcase Attitudes and Beliefs as Well as Objects LizaJune LizaJune 0 21 Mar 19, 2015 by LizaJune LizaJune