I came into my museum studies program with an interest in digitizing collections. I had volunteered on a project photographing butterflies, which introduced me to the possibilities of improving collections access while preserving fragile specimens. Throughout my classes, sections on digital access always piqued my interest, so when I heard about the opportunity with Connecting Content, I jumped on it. Connecting Content is a unique and exciting project and, it turns out, exactly the kind of project I’m advocating for with my Master’s thesis.
I’ve been investigating online access to digital collections specifically with natural history museums in mind. It turns out, most natural history museums don’t do much to make their digitized collections findable by the average person. Even high profile natural history museums present their digital collections through keyword searches that can be difficult to use, sometimes even for research experts. This is interesting for two reasons: one, natural history museums do want to encourage interest in natural history. Two, art museums have been making browsing of their collections websites creative, accessible, and even entertaining for years. My research is focused on applying user interface strategies from art museum collections websites to natural history collections websites.
So where does Connecting Content fit into all this? It’s at the forefront of what I hope is a trend towards creative and multidisciplinary collections web presences that seek to engage all types of visitors, not just researchers. By attempting to virtually re-unite specimens with field journals and published literature, Connecting Content will provide a more complete picture of the process of natural history research to everyone and a unique window into an exciting field for the general public. Connecting Content is a pilot study and with a little luck more and more innovative projects like this one will be coming to a natural history museum near you.