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Virtual Museums and Cultural Heritage: Challenges and Solutions



This paper examines the role of virtual museums as information resources for preserving and promoting cultural heritage. The focus is on strategies for the preservation, documentation and representation of historical and cultural heritage including addressing challenges associated with historical sources and their organization and support. Issues related to searching for resources related to virtual museums, their aggregation and documentation are also discussed. is highlighted as one solution to organizing information about virtual museums and their content on the basis of the resource-aggregation of information resources of historical and cultural heritage.
Virtual Museums and Cultural Heritage: Challenges and
Nadezhda Povroznik
Center for Digital Humanities, Perm State National Research University, Perm, Russia
Abstract. This paper examines the role of virtual museums as information re-
sources for preserving and promoting cultural heritage. The focus is on strate-
gies for the preservation, documentation and representation of historical and
cultural heritage including addressing challenges associated with historical
sources and their organization and support. Issues related to searching for re-
sources related to virtual museums, their aggregation and documentation are al-
so discussed. is highlighted as one solution to organizing in-
formation about virtual museums and their content on the basis of the resource-
aggregation of information resources of historical and cultural heritage.
Keywords: virtual museums, cultural heritage, digital collections, information
systems and resources
1 Introduction
Modern information systems and resources are enabling new understandings of
cultural heritage. The digital environment is diverse and includes a very wide variety
of informational resources. Virtual museums play an important and multifuncational
role in this environment.
Virtual museum resources have varied purposes, functional features, and many dif-
ferent audiences. As a result it is difficult to define the concept of a "virtual museum",
and the range of definitions reflects this variety [1-5].
The concept of "virtual museum", as it is understood here, is an information system
containing a conceptually unified electronic collection or set of collections of objects
(items) with metadata, which has the characteristics of a museum, and which facili-
tates research, education and discovery activities in the virtual space.
Virtual museums may include unique and rare objects of cultural heritage, the
preservation, documentation and representation of which are important for research
and public use for educational, and scientific purposes. Virtual museums often repre-
sent a wide variety of resources in terms of organizational and functional content, and
therefore suggest many different possibilities for representing cultural heritage. In
terms of scientific usage of these sources, virtual museums have great potential, and
yet we are often not able to use them effectively due to limitations in the organization
of fundamental information resources. The study of virtual museums as a specific
kind of informational resource is important to identify effective ways to structure
these resources for use in scientific knowledge as well as digital cultural heritage in
education, arts, fashion industry, commerce and other spheres.
The purpose of this research is to consider the main obstacles to the effective use
of digital cultural heritage, the problems associated with virtual museums as infor-
mation resources for the representation of cultural heritage, and also to discuss the
resource-aggregator as a recent example of best practice in retrieval
and documentation virtual museums.
2 Related work
Theoretical understandings of virtual museums are connected with the formation of
virtual or digital museology as an auxiliary scientific discipline [6-8]. Researchers of
virtual museums have paid attention to issues of designing virtual museums for high-
quality visualization of cultural heritage sites [9-10], using virtual museums content
in education [11-12], copyrights and open access to cultural heritage [13-14], the
social impact of virtual museums and their digital content on different spheres of hu-
man life and communities [15-16], among other issues. The question of the effective-
ness of the use of virtual museums and their resources in humanities, education, cul-
ture and art and other fields were also considered. Thus, the limitations of the use of
specific technologies in the representation of cultural heritage have been analyzed, the
advantages of 3D technologies have been shown in contrast to the two-dimensional,
often represented in the form of only one projection images [17]. The problem of the
representation of objects of the cultural heritage in isolation from the context has also
been discussed [18]. In this regard, the need for a comprehensive review of the prob-
lems of using virtual museums and their resources in the study of cultural heritage
becomes particularly important.
On the other hand, the improvement of virtual museums can be achieved due to the
cataloging of existing virtual museums. Nowadays, there is a wide range of catalogs,
which contain the lists of virtual museums. These catalogs have different content:
1. lists of virtual tours in virtual museums [19-20];
2. lists of virtual museums (lists of virtual resources of real museums) [21-25];
3. lists of thematically-oriented virtual museums [26-27];
4. lists of virtual museums with particular purpose (e.g. educational) [28-29].
The majority of the mentioned catalogs are lists of information museum resources,
which contain hyperlinks and have short description of resources. Moreover, the ma-
jority of such catalogs has popular character and are not used for scientific studies.
We should mention here the informational recourse V-must (Virtual Museum
Transnational Network) [30], which also contains a list of virtual museums. But the
authors of this resource have developed the system of virtual museum description,
according to which a user can choose the necessary type of a virtual museum and get
the list of necessary resources. Description system includes such parameters as: Con-
tent (virtual museums are classified by their subjects archeology, history, natural
history, ethnography, arts, technology); Interaction technology (the possibilities for
users to take an active part in the work of the museum games, virtual tours, voice
control systems etc.); Duration; Communication; Level of Immersion; Format; Scope
(possible applications of the virtual museum resources - Educational, Edutainment,
Enhancement of Visitor Experience, Entertainment, Promotion, Research); and Sus-
tainability. The difficulty of the use of this catalog is that the categorization is based
on the authors' suggestions but not on the real facts of existing virtual museums. That
is why, the developers of this resource had to sort the virtual museums according to
the definite categories and many categories did not include any virtual museums (they
turned out to be empty). Moreover, there is only a limited number of virtual museums
listed only 58.
There are also site-aggregators, which allow not only the cataloguing of virtual
museums but unifying their resources under one platform. The project
EUROPEANA, for example, is a major site-aggregator [31]. Its allows the searching
of exhibits and online collections of more than 140 organizations from different parts
of the world. Yet its disadvantage is that only allows working with first-rate world
storage institutions. So, it is hard to fulfill the developers' demands to improve the
3 Problems of existing virtual museums, connected with the
preservation, documentation and representation of Cultural
A critical look at the creation of virtual museums, the analysis of problems, and
difficulties in their usage indicates recommendations to improve the quality of these
information resources.
We can identify and classify several main blocks of problems relating to existing
virtual museums, which appear to be obstacles for effective usage of digital cultural
The following are problems connected with the sources and their organization:
problems of metadescription (and its absence) and the variability of used standards;
problems of the origin and authenticity of the source and the possibilities of its
quality of digital copies;
organization of sources and
multiple sources format.
Problems connected with the information support (a legend) include:
Not all information resources pay attention to the questions of conditions and
origin of sources.
Problems of the organization of information in the VM space include:
Lack of research and complexity of its functionality;
Attention is not paid to the possibilities and methods of using hosted resources; and
The absence of classification, subject distribution or other types of material catego-
Overcoming these difficulties will improve the quality of resources created by
GLAM institutions, increase their informative impact, and expand the possibilities of
using digital cultural heritage in humanitarian research, education and other spheres.
The key to improving the quality of resources is the professional approach to their
creation. Much depends on the scale of informatization of institutions, on the budgets
and development priorities of GLAM organizations, their understanding of the further
possibilities of using the created digital content and directions of development of the
information infrastructure of cultural heritage.
4 Problems of the usage of virtual museum resources in
humanities studies
A vast array of virtual museums is an important means of preservation, documenta-
tion and representation of cultural heritage. However, there are a number of problems
hidden in the very specificity of these information resources, which prevent from the
effective involvement of cultural heritage (CH) in the research process.
Firstly, the significant part of museums appears to be educational resources, rather
than research and academic ones. The purpose of resources certainly affects the nature
of its implementation and maintenance (in particular, such important factors as
metadata and legend may be ignored).
Secondly, the variety of formats of representation of some types of sources re-
quires a more unified approach for expanding the possibilities of the use (such as the
creation of custom collections etc.).
Thirdly, interpretation of information prevails over the quality of imaging CH-
resources when resources are only a few examples of the narrative, rather than a self-
contained part of a virtual museum structure.
Fourthly, there are problems of the availability of virtual museums and their CH-
content, which are commercial products that prevents the democratic spread resources
and, therefore, greater involvement of the sources in the scientific revolution.
The search of virtual museums with the necessary topic is a problem, too. The
number of virtual museums has increased very rapidly but the search of needed in-
formation resources poses challenges (including the necessity to make requests in
search systems).
The listed difficulties show, that, on the one hand, we should pay more attention to
versatile study of virtual museums as a special type of information resource. It means,
that we should sort out the main types of virtual museums, analyze the meaning and
audience of resources and reveal the basic classes of represented sources.
5 Aggregator as a way to organize data of the
virtual museums and it’s sources
The Center for Digital Humanities of Perm State National Research University de-
veloped the platform “History-oriented information systems”, which is a catalog of
different history-oriented information systems [32]. It contains descriptions of a list of
historically-oriented information systems as well as the results of their use in humani-
ties and education. Information systems are connected with scientific publications and
other publications, which have the relationship with the information systems and their
resources. Aggregator includes virtual museums, directed to the
representation of cultural heritage.
We think that aggregator has wide possibilities for the organiza-
tion, cataloging and documentation of virtual museums and their contents. The Ag-
gregator helps to overcome the problems of finding the resources,
more active and effective use of virtual museums and digital cultural heritage in hu-
manities, education, art and culture. At the same time, in the structure of the aggrega-
tor a multiresource approach is laid that allows to unite not only
virtual museums, but also any information resources focused on the representation of
historical sources, cultural heritage, including electronic archives and libraries, virtual
collections, etc. Virtual museums are important components of the information infra-
structure of the digital cultural heritage, so some of the elements of the aggregator’
description are designed specifically to describe the structure of virtual museums.
Basic elements of description are: the resource name and address on the Internet,
the organization-creator, the authors, the country (in which the resource is created, if
definable), the language of the museum interface and the source, the year of the crea-
tion and the sources of support (research funds and other organizations ) and some
The following parameters are sorted out as the basis for the classification of infor-
mation resources:
the type of virtual museum;
target audience;
types of representation of the CH-objects;
period of time;
relation to the humanities (history, sociology, cultural anthropology, etc.);
the presence of legends;
the presence of virtual tours and other ways of real museum space repre-
the availability of ways of interacting with the digital cultural heritage;
guidance and recommendations for the use of virtual museums’ sources
(age-related, educational and others); and
the availability of personal account and its possibilities (e.g. the creation
of one's own collections on the basis of virtual museum resources).
Systematization of information on the appointment, organization, target audience,
the structure of the other elements of virtual museums allows the user to filter data
when searching. At the same time, the distribution of information about the resource
content helps to identify groups for common features, simplify the search of required
resources and creates an important basis for researching the virtual museums them-
selves as information resources. Thus, the creation of an aggregator dedicated to the
virtual museums and cultural heritage enhances the ability of detection thematically
close virtual museums, as well as realize a variety of other needs.
To date, the retrieval and information-analytical capabilities of the aggregator have been developed. The next stage is to develop a variety of visu-
alization capabilities of the detected data, including sorting of the categorized infor-
mation (quick access to virtual museums according to their category, type and other
characteristics), as well as the possibility of storing individual results of queries in the
user's personal interface. The diverse data visualization system is assumed to appear,
including, the mode of the digital map to display the query results to the geographical
location of museums.
At the moment the aggregator is actively used at the Perm Uni-
versity in the educational process in the course "Information technologies in humani-
tarian research", within the framework of which students learn to analyze information
resources, fill the aggregator with data, search for interrelations between resources of
different types, study the use of resources aggregator in research.
6 Conclusion
Thus, the opportunities for the effective use of virtual museums and digital cultural
heritage depend on a whole range of factors, such as the quality of digital content and
the documentation of data on virtual museums and their resources. Creation of new
virtual museums should be based on important principles of formation of valuable
resources, which will have diverse purposes, as well as expand the opportunities of
their use.
The filling and development of the aggregator’s catalog can allow virtual museums
and their resources to become more widely available. This can enable virtual muse-
ums to be more central to research and educational processes. This can also become
the basis for providing and communicating important information about the peculiari-
ties of existing virtual museums as information resources, geographical specificity of
virtual museums, variety of themes and other aspects.
The problem of many existing catalogs of virtual museums is connected with the
restricted need for them and limited possibilities for development. Versatile analysis
of virtual museums has the potential to enable greater understanding of the value of
virtual museums as resources for storage of cultural heritage and in support of re-
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The goal of this study was to investigate students’ views of the interactive Virtual Museum of Al Hassa Cultural Heritage. In this context, a study was carried out during the second semester of the 2014–2015 school year among sixth-grade elementary school students in Al Hassa, Saudi Arabia. After participating in an interactive virtual museum, 118 students answered a questionnaire after the teaching intervention. SPSS v.21 was used to analyze the data. The results indicated that students had a positive attitude toward the use of an interactive virtual museum in cultural heritage education. The results support the inclusion of cultural heritage in the social studies curricula in K–12 education in Saudi Arabia in order to raise awareness and knowledge of national heritage. The results also confirmed the views of experts regarding the importance and the value of virtual museums as a method for effective learning about cultural heritage.
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Online virtual exhibitions (VEs) are acknowledged as important complimentary counterparts to physical exhibitions. It overcomes space, time and location restrictions and allows global visitors to access these priceless and exciting treasures that are stored in museums, archives and other institutions on a 24/ 7/365 basis. Well constructed VEs can offer alternative experiences to the "real thing" and open up other opportunities that include learning, more content beyond physical exhibits, active participation and contribution by visitors through forums and uploads, online shopping, and others. This paper provides a state-of-the-art review, and illustrates concepts and design considerations for the development of VEs that can be highly effective and efficient with minimal technological knowledge. By considering the important issues of metadata, system architecture design and development techniques, it becomes possible to generate a series of VEs to meet the needs of different user groups and at the same time cater to the constraints of the client computers, thereby providing the users the best possible experience in engaging with the VEs.
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Museums are interested in the digitizing of their collections not only for the sake of preserving the cultural heritage, but to also make the information content accessible to the wider public in a manner that is attractive. Emerging technologies, such as VR, AR and Web3D are widely used to create virtual museum exhibitions both in a museum environment through informative kiosks and on the World Wide Web. This paper surveys the field, and while it explores the various kinds of virtual museums in existence, it discusses the advantages and limitation involved with a presentation of old and new methods and of the tools used for their creation.
In this information age, virtual museums can be seen as a reflection of the new philosophy of post-modern museums. This philosophy has changed the educational role of the museum and given weight to the renegotiation between museums and their visitors. In this sense, museums have become much closer to and conscious of the visitors with whom they are communicating. The train of thought of this paper mainly follows the Constructivist view of Hein's research into museum education. The purpose of this study is to seek answers to the following questions:1.What are the differences in education and learning between physical museums and Web-based museums?2.What is the educational role of virtual art museums? 3.What are the ideal design and educational strategies for art museums seeking to transfer from physical forms to Web-based forms? 4.What are the important factors for constructing museum online learning programs? 5.How do the current phenomena of online museums fit this study's proposed theories? To answer these questions, this study adopted the methodologies of literature review and case studies. From the results, the following conclusions emerged, which suggest that virtual art museums: 1.Evolve from 'object- centric' displays to 'user-oriente d' interpretation.2.Embrace two-way communication and interactive approaches from a narrative perspective. 3.Develop multiple learning experiences and equal-opportunity educational opportunities for different types of participants.4.Create web logs and online communities, and evaluate visitor data to understand directions for future improvement. 5.Integrate cooperative space for online discussion and participation in virtual exhibitions.
Slovar aktualnih museynikh terminov
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Interv'yu doktora iskusstvovedeniya, glavnogo nauchnogo sotrudnika Laboratorii muzeynogo proektirovaniya Alekseya Valentinivicha Lebedeva (2006) Mir museya J. 11. URL:, last accessed 2018/01/10.
User-centered Digital Museology: Towards Profile Adapted Virtual Expositions
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Kanellos I. (2014) User-centered Digital Museology: Towards Profile Adapted Virtual Expositions. URL:, last accessed 2018/01/10.