Simon Stephens, Issue 119/06, 03.06.2019
All museum staff need basic digital literacy
The impact of digital technology has been one of the most exciting developments in museums in recent years. Few areas have remained untouched, whether it’s collections work, exhibition design, audience engagement or workforce initiatives.

A few years ago we introduced a digital column and digital review section in Museums Journal to reflect this. We have also published one-off articles, such as the feature in the April issue looking at the implications of working with big tech companies. And the Museums Association (MA) has developed a series of events for the sector to share ideas and best practice, including an annual digital conference, which takes place this month at the Museum of London (see p17).

What many discussions about the subject reveal is that while digital working has been one of the most inspiring areas, it has also been one of the most challenging. There are endless possibilities, but numerous pitfalls. 

The MA’s Empowering Collections report highlights the need for a more strategic approach 
to online collections. “Museums need to bring their collections alive for growing audiences online,” the report states. “This means going beyond the standard model of putting collections information on a website.”

Funding for tech projects can be sporadic and uneven in museums but, despite this, talented individuals often have the freedom to experiment and innovate. But it is also true that a lot of money has been ploughed into projects without clear aims.

The challenge is to make sure that this spirit of innovation and experimentation is maintained, while introducing more clarity of purpose and strategic thinking. This will happen only if basic digital skills and understanding are improved across the board, not just for those in digital teams.  

The MA is involved in an initiative to develop a new approach to digital literacy for museums, One by One, which is funded by the Arts and Humanities Research Council and led by the University of Leicester’s School of Museums Studies.

A key part of achieving wider digital literacy will be support from those in leadership positions. Investment in staff skills is also vital. Without these, it will be impossible for the sector to reach its full digital potential.

Simon Stephens, editor, Museums Journal