White paper by Driebit and Lava Lab

Let art tell stories!

Digital collections for the new generation of museum visitors

Museum visits in the 21st century call for a new approach. There are new possibilities for installing exhibitions, telling stories and drawing people into the museum. New possibilities offered by technology affect visitors’ expectations and behaviour before, during and after a museum visit. Over the past ten years, museums have begun to digitise all large Dutch collections at a steady pace. As of this year there is even a Nationale Strategie Digitaal Erfgoed (National Strategy for Digital Heritage), which outlines how to best organise such digitisation projects, among other things.

Driebit and Lava Lab have joined forces by sharing their knowledge regarding digital collections, both online and in the physical (museum) space. In this white paper we, Driebit and Lava Lab, present our perspective on digital collections for the new museum visitor and the ways in which we can offer solutions in this field.

We will explain how the synergy between the projects Ginger and Flinck functions as a shared platform that brings digital collections to life in an interactive narrative environment. This leads to new ways of visiting the museum, either physically or virtually, and of enabling a personal and lively interaction with museum collections.



Digital collections

Over the past years, physical museum collections have been digitised and digitally stored. There has also been an increase in the relatively new phenomenon of heritage materials that are originally, or ‘natively’, digital (‘born digital’ heritage). Together they compose our digital heritage. These digital heritage collections allow for many new applications. Only a small part of these digitised museum collections, however, is accessible via the internet. The Netwerk Digitaal Erfgoed (Network Digital Heritage) and other parties are working hard to improve the access to these collections. In order to expand this disclosure and increase the accessibility of the collections, the Nationale Strategie Digitaal Erfgoed (National Strategy Digital Heritage) was presented in March 2015. This strategy by the Netwerk Digitaal Erfgoed was designed as a collaborative effort and is aimed at anyone involved with the management, accessibility and use of digital heritage.

The Nationale Strategie Digitaal Erfgoed is focused on three aspects: visibility, usability and durability. This white paper addresses two of these areas, visibility and durability. The task set forth in the Nationale Strategie Digitaal Erfgoed is to use existing techniques and standards wherever possible, in order to apply financial resources as efficiently as possible. We gladly accept this challenge and recognise the advantage of connecting individual collections.


“The focus within the Nationale Strategie Digitaal Erfgoed is divided into three areas: its visibility, usability and durability.” Nationale Strategie Digitaal Erfgoed, Dutch Government, 2015


Over the past years, various techniques and standards have come to the fore. By now, some of these are proving to be the most commonly used and therefore the most useful. In addition, DEN (Knowledge Center Digitaal Heritage Nederland) has specified the minimum conditions that must be met for digitised heritage materials. The implementation of widely accepted standards is crucial to ensuring the usability of durably stored digital heritage materials. The ‘Linked Open Data’ method, which is currently gaining interest, is an instructive example regarding the disclosure and linking of multiple digital collections.

In short, the digitisation of online collections offers many possibilities, but also gives rise to many questions. For example, which are the options? And how is this relevant to my visitors, or other target groups?






The new generation of museum visitors

In 2015, Lava Lab performed the study Technology and museum visits in order to gain insight in the use of technology by two specific age groups, both in general and with respect to a museum visit. This research consists of an online survey and small-scale qualitative studies on the exhibition Portrait Gallery of the Golden Age (Hollanders van de Gouden Eeuw), a collection of large 17th century group portraits from the collections of the Amsterdam Museum and the Rijksmuseum (Amsterdam), brought together for the first time at the Hermitage Amsterdam.

The age group known as ‘millennials’ (16-30), often considered to be the new generation of museum visitors, uses technology all across daily life and claims to be unable to go without. This group expresses a strong desire to use technology during museum visits, in order to gather information through other channels than the usual options of audio tours and wall texts. This affects the way information is transferred. Visitors choose their own paths and prefer to receive information in an interactive mode that allows them to decide what they will see and which routes they will take. The results of the study are available here.

A lively and personalised experience, interaction, and connection to the users’ own life environment are essential elements to a museum programme aimed at this generation. Research shows that technology is very important to this group, and that they are open to using it during a visit to an exhibition. It creates a new form of engaging with an exhibition, due to the recognition of storytelling methods they know from daily life. Young people have a natural interest in contemporary media, which offer the possibility to personalise a (historical) narrative through a virtual world, to enable individual choices and to encourage interactivity.

In the past few years there has been much experimentation with the online disclosure of museum collections for larger and online audiences. However, if this information is not offered in a meaningful context, or if audiences cannot relate to stories about the production history of an artwork, for example, then this will lack both added value and the experience offered by a physical visit to the museum. According to research, new ways of storytelling are needed in order to engage this new generation.





“My smartphone is more than an object, it is an extension of myself, a third hand, an extra mouth, a second brain, my best friend, my second love.”

Technology and museum visits, Lava Lab 2015


Digital & physical collections


Technology changes and develops at an incredible speed, from websites to mobile phones and wearable technology. The new generation of museum visitors consists of early adopters, who are eager to adapt to new releases and often rapidly do so, or at least take an interest in these developments. We believe three conditions to be crucial in the successful digital disclosure of a collection:


1. An innovative open source platform

Museums struggle with the need to keep updated on developments in this area, let alone adapt to them. Scalable solutions already exist within other branches for the same reason. A scalable solution involves technology that can easily be upgraded, extended or adapted with regard to new developments. Such platforms are created to ensure that the technology in question can be easily reused, adapted and extended by various parties.

2. A flexible information structure

Meaningful disclosure of large digitised collections calls for a user-friendly system with a flexible information structure. The structure of the semantic web lends itself very well to this. It allows museums to supply each museum object with descriptive information and to construct relations between objects, allowing digital collections to be continuously upgraded and to further improve their usability and possibilities for disclosure.

3. Interactive storytelling

Each item within a collection carries a story of its own. The grouping of collection items into an exhibition allows curators to tell an overarching story. Through the digitisation of collections these stories become interactive and accessible to everyone, but these digitised collections lack a physical connection with the exhibition and the exhibited items.As a solution, these stories can be told through a website or webpage but also within a physical exhibition, by means of interactive installations or mobile technology. By narrating and designing a story that suits the means of presentation and is based on the physical exhibition, immersive and nonlinear storytelling experiences can take place.





Ginger & Flinck: the collaboration


This platform is jointly offered by Driebit and Lava Lab. Driebit and Lava, the initiators and administrators of this platform, aim for rapid adjustment to the changing needs of museum employees as well as museum visitors. Ginger and Flick consider museum objects to be objects with both a digital and a physical dimension, managed through a single platform.


Ginger: the semantic content management system for digital collections and ‘born digital’ heritage

Ginger was developed in order to utilise the possibilities of the semantic web and forms the basis for sustainable and interconnected content collections. In this context we take ‘semantics’ to refer to the creation of relations between museum objects. Ginger allows collection managers to create an infinite amount of relations between these objects. These relations ultimately create context and meaning, while providing opportunities to better disclose the collection. Its flexible structure and open, standardised technical course make Ginger well suited for the ambitions formulated in the Nationale Strategie Digitaal Erfgoed.


Flinck: smart connections between collections in the physical exhibition space

Flinck is a plugin within Ginger that enables storytelling for the aforementioned digital objects, which can function in a (physical) exhibition space with the help of wearable technology such as smartphones and smart watches, which use transmitters such as iBeacons (Bluetooth) and RFID (radio frequency) in order to connect the objects to the internet. Flinck allows for new ways of storytelling alongside and about the objects in the museum in a nonlinear, intuitive and interactive manner.






Ginger + Flinck = The internet of arts


Digital heritage offers a wide variety of chances to experience captivating stories, both within and beyond the museum walls. Captivating stories revolve around content, the collection itself. Such a story, however, only comes to life if the visitor’s experience is smooth and logical, but also surprising. The fluent functionality of the underlying techniques, as well as the extent to which they can serve an array of mobile devices, largely determine the visitor’s experience.

Museum objects are treated as objects with a digital and physical dimension. Their meaning can change when the context changes, for instance when a museum object is exhibited or mentioned in a story on a website. In this way, objects and stories can acquire new meanings again and again through Flinck and Ginger.

By combining Flinck and Ginger, collections do not only acquire a new meaning online, but also in physical space. In conjunction with the ‘internet of things’ philosophy, we refer to this as the ‘internet of arts’. Museum visitors will be offered stories that are relevant in the present. Each museum object will be connected to the internet, so that stories can manifest themselves within the physical space through a device such as the popular smartphone, which is already present in the pockets of the new generation of museum visitors and can easily serve as a carrier of stories.

When paired, Ginger and Flinck offer a reusable platform for the disclosure of (digital) heritage, suitable for a wide range of museums and in line with the Nationale Strategie Digitaal Erfgoed. Ginger offers a platform that manages the storage of collections and the coherence between objects in a highly flexible and universally accessible manner. Flinck adds to this by offering these digital collections in a narrative mode on location within the exhibition space. This intuitive way of encountering museum objects and discovering the relations between them offers new possibilities and new relevance to existing collections as well as newly formed ones.


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