Recent Digitization of Museums and Impacts on Accessibility

The #MuseumsFromHome trend is growing, largely as museums cater to societal demands in the wake of COVID-19. Although the swift change toward digitizing scholarly materials and exhibitions has been fueled by quarantine, this push toward accessibility has long been awaited. Looking now at our beloved museums in the digital landscape, it is time to consider what aspects of digital museum culture should be accepted into our new normal.

By Sabaat Kareem

While the digitization of exhibitions and hands-on courses is no new concept, it has suddenly become more relevant than ever before. Museums across the world have designed online tours, workshops, and other resources to teach and entertain all of us quarantined at home. Museum giants like the Met and the MOMA have opened their collections to the public by offering prestigious free classes and online installations. What has become increasingly clear during this pandemic and the subsequent wide access to art and scholarly source is the previous inaccessibility in museums. Accessibility of museums and intellectual culture in general have been under examination for the last few decades. Not only have museums taken care to reevaluate conventional taxonomy and language, but leading scholars have increasingly published research on modern institutional limitations and areas for growth. Nevertheless, museums have struggled greatly to arrange their collections and adjust their voices in order to welcome as much of the public into their doors as possible. The extreme influx of online exhibitions has not only proven the great value of digitizing experiences but has also suggested how our new normal could be adjusted after we are free to move around again. 

Like many other museums, Design Museum Everywhere has made a shift. Among the digital programs offered by Design Museum Everywhere are podcasts, educational activities, blog posts, and virtual events. We’ve always had the advantage of not relying on a single building or location to draw in visitors, and we focus on design’s impact instead of special collections. We’re able to pivot quickly due to our size, but also able to fulfill our mission even more. In this way Design Museum Everywhere can reach new people and share accessible material. Now, during this pandemic, museums of all sizes are radically changing their offerings. 

The following questions are worth pondering: why did it take a pandemic for our well established museum culture to create accessible digital resources and to widen the reach of their scholarly material? Now that we know what online museum culture can be, how can we change our new normal? What improvements still need to happen to improve the new online museum interactions?

From academic essays and lectures to quick and free activities for children to work on at home, the amount of content we have to explore during quarantine is immense and has driven the standard for digital museum culture to a new high. As we are all reflecting and wondering how to design a better “normal” for our society, hopefully the easy and wide access to scholarly materials and fine art through digital means will become part of our evolving normal.