During last week’s assignment, where we had to evaluate a library or museum’s online digital collection, I found myself very critical of Newberry Library’s digital presence. I was definitely frustrated while looking at certain digital exhibits that appeared underdeveloped, and frankly mad when I couldn’t access exhibits that were only available through computers onsite (and these exhibits looked well-made and interesting). I have never been a tech savvy person and my academic career in history has only required me to use PowerPoints, so I came into this class with minimal to no knowledge of the work that goes into digital exhibits. After reading my peers’ blog posts this week, I think some of my judgements were misguided. While it is important to be critical and to learn from other institutional sites, I have also learned that there are a lot of elements that need to be considered when producing online exhibits.
The limited working experience I have at museums and libraries have shown that these institutions are usually understaffed and underfunded. Therefore time and money are quintessential when considering the development of an online exhibit. It is important to know if there are enough people to create a team that could devote the proper energy into the project. For example, The Polish Museum of America is currently digitizing their library catalog (yes, they are still using a card catalog!) but they rely on volunteers and interns to undertake this task. However, volunteers aren’t steady and interns have other jobs to complete. As far as my knowledge goes, I think they are still in the process of finishing this project. While it isn’t an online exhibit, this example demonstrates how a job needs significant man hours for it to be completed. I definitely felt overwhelmed while I entered the information into the computers, because I knew I was hardly making a dent into the project. My time at the Museum also taught me the importance of funding. The Museum relies heavily on membership fees and entry fees, this limits what exhibits and events they could launch. If the funding isn’t there for an institution to create and maintain an aesthetically functioning digital exhibit then the question of “is it worth it?” should be considered.
Another crucial element to any online exhibit is copyright. Does the institution have permission to use the specific material in the projected exhibit? It will be futile if time and money was put into the project for it to only be taken down due to the improper knowledge of copyrights. This is a key concern when dealing with material online, especially if it is not under “fair use.”
These are what I assume are the most important factors when designing an online exhibition, however there are probably plenty of other considerations but I lack the requisite knowledge. For example, as Maggie mentioned, what platform will the institution use in creating such an exhibit? I have no idea what the programs she mentioned are, or how much they cost. This is definitely important for institutions to consider, especially if they have to buy the program and potentially hire someone if no one knows how to use it (although I’m sure most individuals working in libraries and museums will have the appropriate knowledge). Luckily, my New Media course is designed to give me the proper introduction to these platforms, as well as other valuable digital media knowledge that will be useful for me in the future!