Museums in the Digital Age are alive and kicking!

The museum and heritage sector tell us who's doing what digitally.

A few weeks ago I posed an innocent question to a Linked In group asking for examples of digital technology use in museums and heritage sites.

The Future Cemetery Project team have been bowled over by the number responses and the debate continues! Evidence suggests that far from being fusty old institutions, museums are on board and often at the cusp of the digital wave! They seem to be enjoying the ride, too.

I've grouped my favourite responses according to technology type below. If you want to find out more, please join the group and wade into the discussion yourselves, at "Museums in the Digital Age" on Linked In:

Touchscreens / Interactives

"Bushey Museum use two touchscreen computers (one to display artworks not currently on show, and one for a children's interactive program), and seven or eight 19inch digital picture frames. I used to use a couple of digital projectors, but the digital picture frames are far more satisfactory: we are a volunteer-run museum, and the DPFs are quiet, cool, are switched on and off automatically and seem maintenance-free."

"Museum of Liverpool have developed an interactive map which can be seen in gallery – there will be a sample online in due course.  It shows modern mapping, 1stedition OS and aerial photographs layered, and marked on that are important sites along six themes: historic buildings/structures; archaeology; nature; people; film; and place and street names.  Data has been gathered from a variety of sources, so for example, the nature theme includes information on SSSIs and Regionally important geological sites (RIGS) and hope that one day it might be possible to do a smartphone app of some of this content (though the way we’ve sourced information will make © impossible for all data)."

"The Scottish National Portrait Gallery have developed an extensive on-site digital interpretation system called Faces & Places. It uses multi-touch technology to explore portraits and landscapes, travel through history with timelines, watch videos, listen to voices and play games! It allows open-ended exploration of the collection, as the on-site experience is linked to, so the visitor can build on their gallery visit. It is great fun to use!"


"Tower Bridge Exhibition have a Video Booth that enables visitors to send branded personal video messages out to friends and family via e-mail.
The National Space Centre also have a green-screen Video Booth so that visitors can record their own futurist weather report from a virtual studio - reports are then broadcast to visitors outside the booth and shared by email, Facebook and Twitter, which is useful for gathering information from visitors, building a marketing database and maintaining guest relationships."

"The Allard Pierson museum in Amsterdam have an interactive VR reconstruction of one of the top Etruscan tombs (objects displayed in the Vatican museums), based upon natural interfaces (with Kinect camera). Some videos of earlier versions are at: & "


"The Roman Baths have done a lot with digital projections of live action and cgi reconstructions. It works well in Listed buildings where you can't attach display boards to old walls!"

"Have you visited IWM North in Manchester? The Big Picture Show (BPS) at IWM North is unique. It is a 360 degree audio visual experience where continually changing images are projected onto the walls and floor of the Main Exhibition Space at regular times throughout the day creating a total immersive environment. The images are accompanied by soundtracks, some of which are sounds and reminiscences from IWM’s oral history archives. It is IWM North’s unique selling point; and research shows that it is the most remembered and enjoyed part of the visit. It is a key part of IWM North’s core offer to its audience and a key part of the formal learning programme. The shows are approx 10-15 mins long and run on the hour, every hour."


"The soundscapes at English Heritage sites St. Augustine's Abbey in Canterbury, Wrest Park and Battle Abbey - as well as Chiswick Park are among the best. In particular, the way we have created soundscapes for different audiences, inlcuding talking statues for kids and other initiatives for visitors with visual impairments. Most impressive has been to relate the sites to contemporary figures from our own time - so, for example, Archbishop Rowan Williams talking about St. Augustine at Canterbury, or Andrew Motion and Carol-Anne Duffy discussing poetry at Chiswick."

QR Codes

"An example where QR Codes are being used as a very cost effective way of delivering on-line content to phones is at Sainsbury Centre for Visual Arts and The Dragon Hall Norwich: "

"A funerary expert in Belgium just started to work with iBeaken to unlock funerary heritage for the visitors. There is a small discrete label at the entrance of the cemetery.
The visitor scan the code and get the explanations:


“Oxford City Council created a location-sensing smart phone app that navigated users on a trail around the City using augmented reality and google maps. When visitors reached the correct spot, a video of a site specific performance is triggered. It connects up to a web site where visits are made visible on a 'scoreboard'.

“You might want to visit the Museum of Jewish Heritage exhibit "Voices of Liberty", designed by Potion. It is an app based environmental soundscape delivered via iPods.

“The Museum of London has developed several apps. Most recently the Museum launched a new iPhone and iPad app called Dickens: Dark Londonin in the form of a graphic novel. Streetmuseum was the first app the Museum developed for the iPhone and Android systems.  It uses augmented reality - using your camera view overlaid with 3D content you can "see" the Museum's collections in situ around the city. The images are geotagged so appear located on your phone's screen. Building on the success of this the Museum also launched Streetmuseum™ Londinium for the iPhone and iPad. After viewing a timeline history of Roman London, you can use the map view to explore London, tapping on the pins to reveal audio, video and image content. As with the original app, the app makes good use of the iPhone’s possibilities as you dig (swipe) or blow into the iPhone’s microphone to reveal buried artifacts.”

“Tyne & Wear Archives & Museums has just developed an app with Newcastle Libraries and Ideonic "Hidden Newcastle". Visit locations in Newcastle to unlock strange and forgotten stories of real people who once lived and worked in Newcastle upon Tyne. For those not in the city some of the stories come ready unlocked so you can see how it works. At the moment it's only available for iPhone, iPod Touch and iPad, but an Android version's coming soon. See for more info.”

“The UCL Grant museum of Zoology is developing an app that is attempting to augment the exhibits. The app is combined with audio from speakers around the exhibits. Basically, we are trying to put skin and eyes on animal skeletons and provide sounds from their natural habitat. Since this is only a pilot study, we have only managed to augment one exhibit (elephant head) so far..."!/geo:51.508129,-0.128005/zoom:12/cluster...


“I think you've hit the nail on the head in terms of the one biggest issue about mobile technologies- we all use different mobiles and operating systems meaning that one platform doesn't work for all. I know that the Brooklyn Museum did some research on this year and the museum will be concentrating on making these applications more user friendly.

Project Dissemination

“These all sound amazing. We're obviously doing our bit to keep App developers in work, but wouldn't it be amazing to have pooled resources to create the frameworks that could have served as a foundation for all of these projects. My own app for Dancin Oxford benefited from Arts Council England funding, and using these funds to gain greater economy for the culture sector as a whole is very much in my mind. Such as shame most of us work on a project to project basis really.”

One thing I love about the heritage sector is the professional willingness to share best practise and experiences.

So I've started to ask the group about challenges in applying digital technologies. I'm hoping they'll be as forthcoming in sharing constructive criticism and admissions of failure as they have been in praise of success so watch this space! First signs are encouraging, as comments above indicate.

What's clear so far is there is a real appetite in the sector to find out how the Future Cemetery Project and the rest of the REACT Heritage Sandbox go. I hope we don't disappoint!