Auckland Museum has recently expanded its online presence with the introduction of a series of exciting new web exhibitions and collections. The Museum can now display highlights from its many unique collections, provide interactive educational tools for teachers and their classes, and create online exhibitions using records that span multiple curatorial areas. The web exhibitions complement a visit to the Museum by showcasing many of the specimens and artifacts that are not physically on display.
Online access to the Museum's impressive collections has been made possible by MUSE, a web-based interface and search engine for curatorial records. Atlantech developed MUSE to import datasets from the Museum's dbTextWorks and Vernon database platforms and allow the imported records to be searched and accessed by the public. The flexibility of the MUSE system has enabled the Museum to showcase many unique records and collections online.
Because MUSE collates records from multiple databases, web exhibitions can include records from multiple curatorial areas. For example, records from the Marine Biology and Land Vertebrates collections could be used to create a web exhibition about New Zealand wildlife. Museum staff can then draw thematic links between the various records by offering a written overview of the web exhibition, as well as including descriptions of the individual records in each exhibition. The ability to add descriptions is especially important, as the Museum's records contain curatorial information, but little descriptive text to put records in context for the public.
The Museum website currently has seven web exhibitions which explore the history of the Museum, Auckland City, Pacific Peoples, and New Zealanders at war. Each web exhibition presents a series of images from the Museum's collections, many of which are not on display at the Museum. The web exhibitions offer insightful narratives which link photographs, paintings or sketches to the overall themes being explored. The web exhibitions also help to raise public awareness about what the Museum does above and beyond its obvious functions.
Museum staff can also display a selection of records and images from a single collection online. This approach was used for the six Pictorial Collections currently on the Museum's website. Each Pictorial Collection showcases important works from an individual collection and, like the web exhibitions, provides a thematic overview with descriptions of the individual works.
The Sparrow Collection is a successful example of this approach. Six photographs from the Museum's Sparrow Industrial Pictures collection were selected for the online Pictorial Collection. Sparrow Industrial Pictures is put into historical context by an introduction, while descriptions of each photograph explain the significance and stylistic importance of the images. Online Pictorial Collections will become an important part of the Museum's website, as they allow the public to view and learn about the wide range of photographs, paintings and sketches that are not on display at the Museum.
The MUSE system also offers educational tools which allow teachers, classes and children to interact with Museum staff online. Online educational exhibitions can be created to complement the Museum's temporary and permanent exhibitions. The Vaka Moana, Da Vinci, Vikings, and Ko Tawa exhibitions currently have corresponding educational exhibitions online, with more to be added in the future.
Educational exhibitions are structured like web exhibitions, with thematic introductions and descriptions of individual records and images. Every record and image is also complemented by a series of questions for children. The questions range in difficulty to suit different age groups. Children and teachers select the types of question they would prefer (what, why, how etc.) before answers are recorded in a text field. The answers are then sent to a Museum staff member who replies by email. Teachers can also ask for questions to be addressed by a Museum guide when their class visits the Museum on a school trip. This direct personal contact gives teachers and pupils the opportunity to interact with Museum staff who are experts in their curatorial field.
With interactive exhibitions and collections, the Museum's website has become a truly world-class online educational tool. The public now has greater access to a range of the Museum's unique collections, and each online exhibition is complemented by expertly written introductions and descriptions. The flexibility of the MUSE system will allow the Museum to add many more web exhibitions in the future, limited only by the imagination and dedication of the curatorial staff.