A museum’s collection is made of both tangible objects and knowledge and is meant to be seen and shared with the museum’s audience. If museum labels often show where an exhibit is lent from – and sometimes to which museum it is lent to – very few museums give their audience a comprehensive resource of where their exhibits travel outside of their own venue.
Among the biggest exhibit and knowledge lenders, the British Museum has a key place. With some 8 million works and some of the leading British experts in various fields, it regularly shares its assets with visitors of museums and galleries across the UK, so much that is actually lends more objects that any other museum in the world.
The sharing of collections with a huge ecosystem makes the British Museum a true museum dedicated to British citizen. And Museum of the Citizen actually is the name of a project carried out by the Museum for a year until last March.
It shows how the British museum is a resource for citizens who cannot come and physically visit it, and not only by lending objects like the super popular Sikh fortress turban. Of course, it has been digitally sharing information in various forms with the public: by crowdsourcing a reconstruction of the museum in Minecraft, by creating 3D models of more than one hundred exhibits, by partaking in a BBC podcast series and by making exhibitions and a geographical timeline of its exhibits with the Google Institute.
But besides sharing with a wide audience, the museum has also become a real resource for professionals through a Knowledge exchange programme.
What it’s in it for the British museum, you ask? Well, there is only so much you can do and that much you can thrive within your own walls. Having a network of partners allows to both show collections that would stay hidden because of the lack of shelf space and help your curators grow by working with fellow curators from other institutions.
Gathering all those initiatives on one page also is a way to show that they are all connected. They were launched separately and for different audiences – gamers, professionals, visitors from other museums, makers… – but are all part of the same impulse to spread the assets of the British Museum.
To go even further in promoting the network that is built around the British, it would be interesting to have access to a map of British Museum loans across the United Kingdom (or the world), to the history of loans of a given object or to a calendar of current speeches and conferences by experts from the British Museum.
And because all major museums are big lenders, it would be both great to see them share want they lend… and well as to see smaller museums show what they borrow.