ICOM logo for International Museum Day

International Museum Day 2020

May 18 is International Museum Day. This year the theme is Museums for Equality: Diversity and Inclusion. In relation to this theme ICOM (the International Council of Museums) has asked “How can museums ensure diversity and inclusion in their digital activities, exploiting the potential of the web?” This is very relevant now in light of many museum spaces being closed due to the Covid 19 pandemic.

The diversity of a museum’s online presence often relates to the non-digital activities a museum does. For example our digital offerings respond to our physical exhibitions, collections and events. So, if those aren’t diverse then chances are the digital content won’t be either. I recently wrote about some of the process behind our upcoming Empire exhibition, especially our aim of ensuring that this exhibition is telling diverse stories. The objects selected for this exhibition can be viewed online. I am also writing a series of blogs that discuss the diverse stories connected with the objects.

Digital offerings also provide the chance to step beyond the limitations of exhibitions and physical collections. It is much easier to link an object to its wider context online. The digital world allows museums to easily connect with the holdings of other collecting institutions and private individuals too. Sharing online also allows people to contribute their knowledge of our collection items. Hundreds of people featured in our photographic collections have been identified through interactions on Facebook, enriching these records. Our Collections Online site also has a comment function for the public to add their knowledge.

Our museum is present on a variety of digital platforms to ensure we are accessible to a range of audiences. The Museum has a well-established Facebook page, a Twitter account and has just started an Instagram page too. We have our own website and we are on other websites such as Digital NZ.Social media is great for sharing fun content that relates to our collections. Lots of museums have been enjoying turning their collection items into jigsaw puzzles like this.

The digital divide can’t be ignored when thinking about digital inclusion. Our colleagues at the Waitaki District Libraries do an amazing job helping people overcome barriers to the digital world. The library staff can help arrange subsided modems for people who need them as well as providing digital skills classes. Once people have access and basic skills our Archive staff can provide more detailed advice on using sites like Papers Past.

In the rush for online diversity it is also crucial that museums respect the wishes of iwi and work with them when putting taoka Māori online. The Otago Museum taoka digitisation project is a good local example of working with iwi on a digitisation project. I hope that in future our museum will share some of the taoka in our care online too.

This Museum Day take some time to explore what different museums in Aotearoa and internationally are offering online. Some interesting hashtags to follow are #MuseumsUnlocked and #CuratorBattle

Chloe Searle