Make collections available on-line to ‘virtual visitors’ not just researchers

Museums and archives are trusted repositories of knowledge both in terms of the collections held and the interpretation attached to them. However, on-line collections are more traditionally the preserve of researchers who will interrogate a system. At Tyne & Wear Archives & Museums (TWAM) we  have developed a more  ‘casual’ interface to our on-line collections (via  a  partnership with Microsoft Research And Newcastle University). Visitors to our website have the choice of a more traditional search engine to interrogate our holdings or they can select to ‘dive right in’. Images are presented giving the virtual visitor the opportunity to flick through and find out more by simply selecting images that pique their curiosity.

Both portals to the collection sit side by side on our website at

We are still working to refine the collections dive section, and researching the way our ‘virtual visitors’ interact with it. More information about this R&D project can be found at:

In addition we are using social media to make specific on-line collections available – for example photosets are made available via flickr such as WW1 era criminal photos from North Shields




Why the contribution is important

At one level this contribution illustrates ways  for Musuems and archives in particular to think about ‘virtual audiences’ rather than simply creating on-line catalogues that will only appeal to researchers.

However, it also illustrates the importance of partnership working. Our Collections Dive project needed the experience of Newcastle University and Microsoft Research to make it a reality. It is proof that you do not need in-house technical expertise – but rather a desire to find partners with technical skills who can help you achieve your vision for your collections. Funding to support these partnerships to experiment is vital (Collections Dive was funded by the Digital R&D fund for the Arts).


by BillGriffiths on August 03, 2017 at 04:05PM

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  • Posted by sarahyounas August 04, 2017 at 09:35

    Bill makes a great point about using social media platforms such as Flickr to make our collections more accessible and available to audiences. What's really fascinating to us is how our audiences use those collections once they're out there. We’ve learned a lot about how audiences creatively reuse our collections, usually in ways that we as a museum would never have imagined or considered. Take for example the ‘Criminal Faces’ Flickr set that Bill has posted, one of our most popular sets originally posted to share the stories behind the mugshots (which in itself is quite exciting and generated lots of discussion on Flickr and beyond) has inspired widespread sharing online and thousands of new conversations around topics such as extinct calligraphy styles, handsome men in early photography, Edwardian hats, moustaches etc.

    Making collections accessible and being open to creative reuse is greatly beneficial, it helps us as a Museum to ask questions about the public value of our collections and how we can better understand and work with audiences to realize and release the untapped potential of collections to reach wider audiences and stimulate more public discussion.

    You can read more about the creative reuse potential of collections in this article

  • Posted by willpsaunders August 09, 2017 at 16:34

    I'd be interested to understand what you have learnt from the "Dive Right In" approach to search and what audiences have made of it?
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