How museums and galleries are going digital

Kelvingrove Art Gallery and Museum

The transfer of museum and gallery collections online during the COVID-19 pandemic is being investigated in research led at the University of Strathclyde.

Strathclyde is working with National Museums Scotland, National Galleries of Scotland and the University of Edinburgh to analyse the digital pathways of visitors to the gallery and museum websites during lockdown.

The study will aim to establish what attracts visitors, which pathways, such as search engines and arts platforms, lead to their engagement and how different stages of the pandemic have affected interaction.

The project is one of three to have received funding of £310,000 through an Urgency Call by Towards a National Collection, a programme of investment by the (UKRI) Strategic Priorities Fund and delivered by the Arts and Humanities Research Council (AHRC).

Professor Gobinda Chowdhury, of Strathclyde’s Department of Computer and Information Sciences, is leading the study. He said: “It’s become clear that the cultural and heritage sectors want to know more about where people look online for information about their exhibits; what they search for, where they come from and how long they spend looking.

“We will be looking at 12 months of the digital footprints of the National Galleries and National Museums Scotland, to analyse and understand the actions and cultural interests of users, whether they are repeat users or whether they have become involved during the pandemic.

“Many people have had no option other than to go online to view collections during the pandemic. We will look across platforms to see whether there has been growth of traffic or different patterns coming from certain groups of users, such as different sectors, school pupils or researchers, working on specific themes in art. We will also examine whether emerging interests or social events have had an influence.

“We will aim to develop our findings for a standardised approach and common framework so that cultural institutions can continue to have an accessible presence during the pandemic and any future events.”

Kevin Gosling, Head of the Collections Trust, said: ‘In lockdown, digital engagement is the only way UK museums can connect with their audiences. As some museums prepare to re-open, others have written off the entire year, and physical visitor numbers are unlikely to rebuild soon.”

Edward Harcourt, Director of Research, Strategy and Innovation at AHRC, said: “We have funded these projects to identify the role of digital collections in addressing the impact of the pandemic on the collections sector as a whole.

“The projects will increase understanding of the full extent of public interaction with online collections and identify digital patterns and practices in order to shape a coherent and comprehensive response that secures the well-being of our heritage sector as the pandemic recedes.”