Royal Collection Trust: Presenting The Queen’s Art

Andrew Davis, Royal Collection Trust, UK

Like all museums and galleries, RCT produces a wide range of texts on collection items, aimed at different types of physical visitor – exhibition wall labels, catalogue entries, schools booklets, audio guides, scholarly articles, conservation reports. This paper will look at RCT’s attempts to replicate this provision (and re-use and preserve this content) on our website, in an attempt to provide different user pathways to the Collection for different levels of digital visitor. Is it possible to meet the needs of the traditional, more scholarly, users of digital collection resources, whilst also engaging the ‘floating’ visitor, potentially on social media? What would this success look like?

We have been digitising the Collection for years. Traditionally, this was viewed as a catalogue, so it was searchable with filters/keywords. It wasn’t particularly browsable – a user had to know something about what they were looking for to be able to find something. The aim was for completeness of coverage of the collection, rather than highlights (there was little curation in the presentation of the collection beyond our exhibition microsites).
Audience research suggested that the more casual web browser found the language used too curatorial in tone (‘like reading a published database’) and the sheer volume of information overwhelming, causing them to leave the site. In response, we introduced curated ‘trails’, to serve as introductions to highlights of key themes and areas in the collection.
One challenge was that to add this new, lighter, treatment of an object, we traditionally have had to overwrite the existing denser content, which would have meant that the content was lost. The new Collection Online (COL) introduced the idea of a hub record, from which this other content, such as exhibition labels and backlist publications, collection trails, conservation stories, could be flagged (and vice versa), allowing much easier navigation between types of content. Further work is being undertaken on how we might identify further the types of narrative that will entice visitors.
Further challenges remain – how do we ensure that a visitor encounters the right ‘level’ of content for them upon entering the site? Should we expect referred visitors from social networks to engage beyond the point at which they enter? And how do we know that what we are doing is working?

Culture 24 – Let's Get Real Phase 4: What's the Story?