Making Museum Collections More Accessible

An article about the Imperial War Museum in London but relevant to all museums.

"Digital archives: making museum collections availble to everyone

As the signs outside our building will tell you, the Imperial War Museum London is currently closed until July 2013 while we undertake the first phase of work to transform the museum and create new first world war galleries for next year. But though our doors may be physically shut, access to our collections is still very much open, and not just to those who visit our London site, but to people across the whole world.

With museums and other cultural organisations looking to widen access and make it easier for audiences to engage and interact with their collections, giving an international audience the chance to explore some of our content is no mean feat. But the museum's entire collection is immediately accessible, globally, and at any time of day. Items that were previously only available to those within the museum's walls are now there for anyone with an internet connection to see, hear, watch and interact with.

Earlier this year, we were able to make 14,000 sound recordings from our archive freely available online. These sound recordings bring history to life, allowing online users to listen to first hand recollections from the men and women who participated in and lived with the effects of war. We host everything from the rather unusual story of a British Red Cross nurse serving with the Russians on the Eastern Front, to more familiar examples like the testimonies of conscientious objectors.

And the benefits go beyond access. A digitised archive collection is an educational tool too– teachers and academics can access our collections with ease to enrich lessons or their research. It also enhances the audience experience, with visitors able to access items of their choice, before or after their stay, before sharing their favourite artefacts online, by email or over social media with the help of a tweet.

Above all, new and existing visitors can do the above from comfort of their own homes at all hours of the day, on any day of the week." 

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