Virtual museums in the past as well as today have generally been connected to some sort of physical museum that have decided to either make a virtual version of a physical exhibition or new virtual exhibit altogether. Virtual Museums have often become a way for physical well-established museums to market themselves and to make themselves more accessible to a larger audience. Of course there are virtual museums and exhibitions that are not connected to a physical museum but then they are often connected to some sort of organization or company such as Google and Google art project or Valentino and the Valentino virtual exhibit. Can a virtual museum function as a standalone project, and a museum in its own right, not just as an exhibit. A museum that incorporates all of the various principles one connects to a physical museum? My answer is yes! But I have yet to find any of these virtual museums. If you have any suggestions, please share!
The main principles one connects with the definition of what a museum is, is collect – preserve – display. These days museums also function as for instance meeting places and institutions of education.
There are examples of where the collect aspect of museums have been implemented into virtual exhibits (and by collect I refer to collecting items that can be put into a museum collection and used in the various aspects of the museum, not just collected data from users about how the virtual exhibit is used). One example of this was Silence of the Lands where users were asked to contribute with sounds that they had recorded digitally within the area and also attached GPS coordinates to. These sounds were uploaded to the Silence of the Lands database and implemented into the virtual exhibit on a map. This way the Silence of the Lands project created their own collection of items for their exhibition.
The database and items then of course also had to be curated for the future, as digital contents have to be curated just as physical objects to you. The preserve side of the virtual exhibitions involves largely digital curation, as items such as the sounds of the Silence of the Lands project, are digitally born material that needs to be preserved and curated accordingly.
The display aspect of virtual exhibition it’s also the most essential side of the virtual exhibitions, whether online or in the form of an app. Just like the physical exhibition, the display side of the virtual exhibitions varies greatly from exhibit to exhibit. There’s no template exhibit to follow, there’s no specific idea or technology either. As I previously mentioned they can be available online as well as in the shape of an app and one can still today find CD-ROM versions.
The meeting place aspect of the virtual exhibition are strangely enough not as incorporated as it could be. With all the various web solutions available today for communicating online, it’s strange it’s not implemented more into the virtual exhibits. That doesn’t mean there are no such project though. The Ask-a-curator project function as a type of communication online between museum professionals and the community, so does communication via forums and various social media channels.
Some virtual exhibitions have implemented some tools into the exhibitions that are specifically aimed at educational departments. It can be a matter of educational material or information on how to approach the virtual exhibitions. Some virtual exhibitions even have a separate exhibition aimed at for example higher education institutions and another virtual exhibition aimed towards the general public.
All in all, I do find that by implementing the various aspects of what a museum is considered to be, into a virtual environment, it is possible to create a proper virtual museum. A museum that function as a standalone museum, and a museum in its own right. Not just as an attachment to a physical museum or project. As a previously mentioned, I have yet to find a virtual museum that I find fulfills all of these aspects of the physical museum. But if you have any suggestions please share in the comments section!