A (digital) chain is only as strong as its weakest (web)link

Outside the museum that once started with one of the earliest public collections of the ethnographic type, the Volkenkunde Museum in Leiden, hangs a huge poster with different photographs on it of all kinds of people from all over the world. Pronto the attention of the soon-to-be-visitor is drawn to the different faces on the photographs. Although one might argue if a printed poster can be called a digital public history project, the subject of what is exhibited inside is immediately clear.

Once I bought my ticket I walked into a major hall whereto all kinds of rooms were attached, all with different themes. The room that I was most drawn to (because of personal interest) was the room about North America. I was struck with awe when I saw the broad room with al the glass showcases, with all the different artifacts inside. From an impressive two meters high warbonnet, to little and big axes, to Native American baby-carry-tools, there was a great number of artifacts for me to see at first glimpse. But these artifacts were the artifacts of just one room in the museum. The Volkenkunde museum already housed 240.000 objects in total in 2014 according to an article in the Dutch paper Volkskrant. That great number has not shrunk since, quite the contrary actually. The museum has almost 450.000 objects right now. Even though the artifacts are already fascinating just looking at them with no further information, most average museum visitors would presumably like some more information.

This is the moment that one could ask: how are the staff members of the museum going to take care of the right provision of information to each particular artifact? Either the museum would be overflowing with explanatory signs, or the museum staff would have to carefully select the most important information (possibly causing a lack of information or subjectivity in information selecting).

The solution in the Volkenkunde museum seems to be the setup of digital displays, something that is called ‘window on collections’  in the article of Gwyneira Isaac. On the display one can click on one of the objects that is pictured on the screen. When clicked on, a page appears with elaborate information about the object, such as the name, the year that it is from, the materials that it is made of, how it was used, etcetera.


Photograph was made in the Volkenkunde museum
Display with the different artifacts on it Photograph was taken in the Volkenkunde museum
Photograph was made in the Volkenkunde museum
Example of elaborate information about a specific artifact   Photograph was taken in the Volkenkunde museum

Not only can this digitalised information provider contain a great deal of information, the display with the images also makes the learning and understanding process more interactive. The more because some screens also showed short clips (± 5 minutes) about a subject/object that was shown in front of it. During my visit, children but also adults were watching the fragments and the kids could afterwards answer questions about the artifacts and earn stamps. Again: the digital attributes in the museum caused more interactivity and maybe even fastened the learning and understanding process. The duality of on the one side the digitalised information provision and on the other hand the authentic, traditional artifact is one to cherish. The ‘conservative’ museum visitor can still enjoy the beauty of the traditional objects, while the ‘progressive’ museum visitor can experience more accessibility and more modern ways to present the past.

The Volkenkunde museum had 62.1 (in fte) employees in 2014 according to an article in the Volkskrant. After the fusion of the Volkenmuseum, the Afrika museum and the Tropenmuseum into the Nationaal Museum van Wereldculturen, the number of employees has grown, but what one especially shouldn’t forget is that the digitalization of a museum can create new jobs. For example: a so called DigiTeam can be called into life to take care of the digital features of the museum. The Smithsonian institution describes digitalization as:

“a set of processes that converts physical resources to a digital form or creates materials in a digital format, which can then be shared through digital devices, equipment and networks”

Reading the previous description of digitalization, it is noticeable that the digitalization asks for more employees. In case of the Volkenkunde museum in Leiden, there must be a group of people that take care of the displays inside of the museum, but the museum also needs people that take care of the social media of the museum and of the online collection. Because I think the digital (public) attributes are no substitutes, but rather complementary factors, the museums will presumably need more employees. With these specialised employees, the digital history possibilities of the museum will get more adjusted to the diverse group of people that will visit the museum, resulting in even more accessibility and interaction.

In short, the Volkenkunde museum (but also other (partially) digitalised public history projects) fosters a rich dialogue between the traditional values of a museum and the more participatory values with digital attributes. In a time where technology and the digital world are becoming more and more important, it is crucial for museums to grow with. Once again I would like to emphasize that the digital attributes in the Volkenkunde museum provide more interactivity and the museum becomes a participatory museum. Not only is the more digitalized sphere in the museum good for the visitors, but also for the employees of the museum. The digital possibilities are not at the expense of the traditional image of the artifacts. Moreover the digital additions to the museum will only help the museum to get more accessible and informative. So the digital public history project of the Volkenkunde museum should keep digitalizing, because a (digital) chain is only as strong as its weakest (web)link.

Written by Eva Bakels

83 thoughts to “A (digital) chain is only as strong as its weakest (web)link”

  1. Do you think museums should show more about the roles of their employees who do digital work? Would that encourage more people to consider the career field? To what extent is this work outsourced?

  2. I think if museums showed more of the roles of their employees in the process of digitalization, this could be an encouragement for more interest in this field.
    If I wasn’t especially paying attention to the digital features of the Volkenkunde museum for this blogpost, maybe I wouldn’t even have thought about the work that is behind the displays, the short video fragments, the social media, or even the digital collection. So when there will be payed more attention to the efforts, the thoughts and the people that are behind this (for example by showing a short introduction on the displays), maybe the museum visitors will want to know more about the field of public digital history, or even consider this career field.

  3. Interesting article Eva! Museum Volkenkunde claim to be a museum about people. Do you think this shines through in the way the exhibitions are set up? Could digital tools help us connect the objects to the actual people they belonged to?

  4. Still, Robins said he’s optimistic about the chances that professional football will have a normal season. He thinks that the NFL will benefit from seeing how baseball, basketball and hockey have managed their seasons.

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  6. Questions about how coronavirus will change the sports calendar for the remainder or 2020 are not the only challenge the company faces, however.

  7. DraftKings also has to deal with increased competition: Casino company Penn National Gaming (PENN) has bought a big stake in Barstool Sports, with plans to launch a Barstool-branded sports betting app. FanDuel, owned by UK-based Flutter Entertainment (PDYPF), is a major player too. And gambling giant MGM Resorts (MGM) appears ready to ramp up its online sports betting game as well, now that the company has a $1 billion investment from IAC (IAC), the conglomerate run by media mogul Barry Diller.

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  9. More states are likely to legalize gambling over the next year, too, as a way to raise much needed cash as their budgets come under pressure due to Covid-19, said Jason Ader, a former Wall Street gaming analyst and CEO of SpringOwl Asset Management.

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  11. The House Democratic leadership held a call late Saturday to discuss the possibility, three House Democratic aides and a source familiar with the matter said. There was significant support for bringing the House back on that call but no final decision was made.

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  16. So-called insiders have dumped more than $50 billion worth of shares since the start of May, according to TrimTabs Investment Research. August is on track to be the third month of the past four where insider selling exceeded $15 billion, TrimTabs said. Insider selling is at a pace unseen since 2006.

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  19. But it was the sole record on a day that looked like it could have clinched two. The S&P 500 (SPX), the broadest measure of Wall Street, ended just an inch below its February record.주식디비

  20. It would have been a big deal if the S&P had hit a new record, and it might still in the next few days: Finally hitting the all-time high would mean that it took the S&P about five months to go from low point — during the pandemic selloff in March — to new record. The index, which is the broadest measure of America’s stock market, has been close to record territory for some time now, but it hasn’t managed to quite get there.주식디비

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  22. But by other definitions, we’ll need to wait another month to have confirmation of a new bull market. According to CFRA Research, a bull market is defined as a 20% rally off the prior low that doesn’t get undercut within six months. The S&P is well on track to meet these criteria in September.디비

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    Some investors are worried about a second wave of coronavirus cases further crippling the economy. There are also concerns about the lack of another major economic stimulus plan from Washington.

  31. If all that weren’t enough, the United States and China have renewed their trade tensions. There are also longer-term worries about a nasty comeback in inflation because of the Federal Reserve’s policies of zero interest rates and trillions of dollars in loan programs.

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  34. To put that number into context, “The Lion King,” another live-action remake of a Disney animated film, opened to $54 million in the country last year, according to Comscore (SCOR). The film also brought in less money than Warner Bros.

  35. “Mulan’s” opening is disappointing since the film was built for success in China. The film, which stars Yifei Liu, is led by an international cast and tells the story of a legendary female Chinese warrior who disguises herself as a man to fight for her country.

  36. The reasons why the film, which cost $200 million to make, failed to launch in China is likely due to several factors. Predominantly among them is the coronavirus pandemic, which has ravaged the theater industry. About 90% of theaters in China are open and theaters limited to half capacity.

  37. However, according to the analytics firm Gower Street, China is the nation closest to rebounding to pre-pandemic levels and has already had a blockbuster of its own with “The Eight Hundred,” a film produced by China’s CMC Pictures. That film has accumulated more than $300 million in China since its opening in late August.

  38. In the credits of the film, Disney thanked a Chinese government agency accused of human rights abuses in Xinjiang for its help in making the film. This revelation provoked a storm of criticism and caused a backlash online.

  39. And last year, Liu expressed her support for Hong Kong police as they faced allegations of excessive violence against protesters. That led pro-democracy activists in Hong Kong to call on people to boycott the film.

  40. After multiple delays, the studio released the film only on its new streaming service Disney+ in the US. To watch the movie, Disney+ subscribers had to pay $30 on top of their subscription fee.

  41. The central bank is expected to set new economic and interest rate projections that run through 2023. It may also put more meat on the bones of a new strategy, unveiled last month, under which it could let inflation run higher to help the economy recover.

  42. Andrew Smith, chief investment strategist at Delos Capital Advisors, thinks this is a “seismic shift” in the Fed’s approach to inflation to which the market is not paying enough attention.

  43. “We believe it’s important for the Fed to provide clear and substantive guidance on this new approach given the ever-increasing role monetary policy has held within the financial system,” he told CNN Business.

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  45. See here: Nearly 90% of 860 small business owners surveyed by Goldman Sachs have exhausted their funding from the Paycheck Protection Program and expect to lay off more workers in the coming months.

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