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Perusing and browsing

Museums and archives are more than ever trying to create their presence online by offering digital collections open to the public within just a few clicks. This opens up new ways of engaging with a museum’s collections than just visiting the actual museum. There are numerous ways in which a museum can form a user-friendly or educative experience by way of collection interfaces. Whitelaw (2015) argues for the limitations in having keywords being the main way in to the archives. According to a Dutch survey presented by Whitelaw, a large part of visitors (21%) to certain museum sites, visits the sites to simply browse the collections without a specific goal in mind. Keeping an interface that primarily offers access through keyword search doesn’t correlate well with the user who would like to casually browse the collections. The casual browsing or searching for an image that fits an individual purpose ties into Isabella Kirton and Melissa Terras (2013) article “Where Do Images of Art Go Once They Go Online? A Reverse Image Lookup Study to Assess the Dissemination of Digitized Cultural Heritage”, where their method of reverse searching images from selected museum's online collections shows how the images were reused. Pictures from the studied museums were used for blogs, poems or simply general discussions on various topics. What their article is showing is the multitude of ways that online archives imagery are repurposed by users and how an image of a painting or artifact is often applied to invoke an emotion or fit a narrative outside of the image itself. The ways of appropriating the online archives could therefore be argued not beneficial by the standard keyword searching interface that Whitelaw highlights as the most common.

An example of an interface using keywords as the main way into the archives is the Swedish National museum. They are the main custodians of Swedish art, and also holds large collections of Scandinavian and international artworks. With over 700 000 artifacts from the 1500s up until contemporary times, the collections are vast and with a wide scope. The primary way of exploring their archive is through keyword search; both with a single keyword or more advanced search where year, artists’ name or country of origin can be searched for. Apart from that, the website have certain highlighted collections of the moment on the front page: here you can for example find text and imagery about Swedish artists in Arabic, as well as a portrait collection about Greta Garbo. By clicking an image, there is some information attached to the image, but there is no option to continue a search departing from the selected image, apart from the artists name if any artist is named. Enabling text translated into several languages is arguably a step to a more open and democratic way of accessing the archives: but the way in as keyword search is limiting. The highlighted collections are easier and more pleasurable to browse, with a longer text in both Swedish and English attached. These collections are curated by the museum in a similar form of a physical collection in a museum, where information and artifacts are attached together to create cohesion and a concept. Not fully enabling searchable archives with a more open interface, these kind of highlights, curated by museum staff offers a pleasurable browsing experience, whilst still maintaining a vital part of the curatorship and knowledge that comes with a museum visit. Bibliography Isabella Kirton and Melissa Terras. “Where Do Images of Art Go Once They Go Online? A Reverse Image Lookup Study to Assess the Dissemination of Digitized Cultural Heritage.” Museums and the Web 2013: Proceedings (2013). Whitelaw. Mitchell. “Generous Interfaces for Digital Cultural Collections.” Digital Humanities Quarterly, vol. 9, no. 1 (2015).


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