The staggering disparity between what cultural heritage collections hold in their storage facilities and what they are able to publicly display (typically 5% or less of their total holdings) is a well-known fact. For example, the Victoria and Albert Museum shares the following information on its website:

The V&A collections consist of 233,742 museum objects and works of art which are suitable for long-term gallery display. These are the ‘Display Collections’. In addition […] there are 2,044,441 books, drawings, prints, photographs and archives which are available to see in the Museum’s Study Rooms [...]. These are the ‘Reference Collections’. These items can only be displayed for short periods for conservation reasons […]. At 31 March 2015 there were 2,278,183 items in the Museum’s collections […]. There were 60,124 collection items on display (incorporating 24.4% of the Display Collections) […] at 31 March 2015.

In an attempt to bridge the gap between invisible archived collection and public performative display areas, cultural heritage institutions worldwide have implemented varying degrees of “visible storage” designs along with web-based interactive programs. However, on-site digital access tends to focus on the items on display, while the digital exploration of collections kept in storage areas is intended as an online (and often off-site) activity. Rather than narrowing it, this approach may in fact widen the gap between traditional exhibition displays and digital access.

The ability to enable iBeacon/VR access allows to explore how to make stored collections visible to the public. Collection visibility enables data collection and the structuring of metadata associated with the stored collections made available to the public, thus informing  ways in which visitor-generated data about collection storage is collected, interpreted and activated.

The research scope of Digital Bridges is therefor two-pronged. On one hand, we plan to investigate, and to question, the efficacy of emerging technologies (combining iBeacon and VR) in overcoming the barriers between storage and display, archive and repertoire, research and curation. On the other hand, this effort will allow us to also research how metadata-based access enables a deeper engagement with cultural objects, building upon the “loop” between analog museum objects, on-site exhibitions, digital research, and online dissemination, which was begun in 2015 with The Future of Memory.

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