The British Museum is widely regarded as one of the world’s foremost research institutions. The extensive online collection is a well-organized and useful tool for accessing one of the largest digital collections available from any museum. The collection contains 2,149,655 records which commonly include a high resolution image, archaeological provenience, acquisition information and a basic description of the object often with some additional history and cultural context. This wealth of resources represents a multitude of groups and time periods. Additionally, the search engine for the online collection allows for a high degree of specificity including a date range, geographical and cultural categories that would make this database ideal for a more research-oriented site visitor to find a specific object or limited set of comparable objects.
Drawing from these online collections are dozens of online tours, which focus on specific groups of objects from the online collection that are brought together to tell a story. As opposed to the database which might serve a more scholarly audience that already knows what object they want to see, the section linked above for online tours provides dozens of these tours with a more general audience in mind, showcasing the cultural relevance of selected pieces from the museum’s online collection. While some museums certainly have flashier displays and virtual walking tours of their exhibit halls, the British Museum focuses on providing valuable content rather than making an aesthetically pleasing or innovative online experience. It certainly provides an area of possible future improvement to take their online presence to the next level.
The online resources from The British Museum are typical for what can be expected from digital collections of many museums, but what sets the online presence of The British Museum apart from other museums is the scope of the digitization of its collection. There are 2,149,655 records which represent approximately 3,500,000 objects, and while this is still only a small portion of the total physical collection of the museum, it is far above average size for a digital collection. As museums continue the process of digitization, we can look forward to seeing more expansive online collections on par with this one, but for now in terms of the number of objects available and the information available about them, The British Museum stands out in the area of museum digitization and open access.