Victoria and Albert museum’s new Collections website aims to be ‘intuitive and informative’ by including user-generated content, video interviews and behind-the-scenes footage.
I haven’t been to London’s Victoria and Albert Museum since before the long ten-year refurbishment program began. Even the name reeks of the Age of Empire and the thoroughly dry experience I endured schlepping around there as a kid. If the V&A Collections website is anything to go by, I need to go back soon.
The V&A Collections web-site has been re-organised into themed sections with community pages and video. I remember the V&A as very grand, slightly stuffy and rather old-fashioned museum, perhaps unfairly. This new approach puts over one million art and design objects on display on the revamped website and pushes interactive to front and centre; new ‘community’ pages allow visitors comment and add pictures including their own work, which, the V&A says, provides more user-generated content than any other museum site.
Distinct from the main V&A Museum site, http://www.vam.ac.uk/ and live since May 2011, the site now has a rather funky search front-end and offers more in-depth views of subjects and topics. You can dip in by topic, period, styles and activities. Being one of the foremost publicly funded museums, each ‘hub’ contains articles, videos and study resources. Where I look askance is at the V&A Channel, lets viewers see video interviews with artists and designers, behind-the-scenes footage, tours of the museum and recordings of fashion shows.
To quote Sir Mark Jones, the V&A’s director, at the launch of the new site, “..the V&A has spent the last 10 years creating beautiful and contemporary settings for its collections and restoring our buildings. We now have a website that reflects this transformation and is well-designed, compendious, intuitive and informative.”
The standard search is good; the advanced search really shows off the capabilities of the site using the search criteria;
- Object name/Title
- Place of origin
- Earliest year to Latest year
- Museum object number
- Current location
And if that all produces way more than you wanted, you can limit the search from all records down to only those records with images or to best quality records including images and detailed descriptions.
As the V&A admits in it’s user notes, “some records have minimal information; others are very detailed. Some have high quality photographs; some have more basic images; others have yet to be photographed.” the process of digitisation is ingoing. What is a little confusing is that the National Art Library and the Archive of Art and Design, are catalogued on a separate library database, also available on-line but not through the main Museum website or the Collections website.
What it really needs now is some kind of integration layer to unify the three strands of the V&A’s material.
Every museum’s got a little shop…
The Collections site might come across as a giant catalog shopping site, given the in-built shopping cart on every single page; whatever you’re looking at, you can buy digital and physical prints. It is reasonably subtle in keeping with the V&A’s overall classy presentation and I’m not going to begrudge the V&A for attempting to recoup some investment where it can.
There is clearly a well-thought out plan for terms for licensing and copyrights applicable to the material and by the V&A API; “you are welcome to use the information and the images for personal use and educational purposes in print or on the web…” to this end the Collections site has a published Applications Programming Interface (API).
“The purpose of the V&A API is to maximise access to all our collections and encourage use of them. We wish to provide access to the API with as few barriers as possible. However, we reserve the right to require the use of API keys, or some other form of authentication in the future.
There is a best practice guide and some fair-sounding limits on how the V&A monitors and regulates the use of its content;
“…do not make an unreasonable number of API calls or use the API in a way which significantly compromises the experience of other users of the API. As a guideline, you should make no more than 3000 API calls per day at a rate of no more frequently than one request per second. The V&A may choose to limit the number of API calls more formally in the future.”
To me, this is the proof that the V&A has thoroughly embraced the digital age. RC