Online Exhibitions: Access a museum at your fingertips


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Online exhibits are an easy way to connect with culture
by Jennifer Dominiak

Between a demanding work schedule and a busy family life, it can be difficult to carve out time for new activities. You may have good intentions to visit an exhibit at a local museum or gallery, but perhaps the display is too far away, too expensive, or you just have too many items on your ever-expanding to-do list.

Nothing can replace the thrill of seeing an original artwork or historic artifact face-to-face, but with the prevalence of online exhibits, you will quickly find yourself swept down the rabbit hole, captivated by a new wonderland of possibility. 

Explore a mummy online
More and more cultural institutions are reaching out to visitors through online channels, by developing online versions of permanent or traveling displays, or online-only highlights of collection items. Online displays present unique materials to anyone with internet access, and are available to many different people at any given time.

For example, check out Chicago’s Field Museum website to see an online version of Evolving Planet to explore four billion years of life on Earth; take a compelling virtual tour of Edward Hopper’s work at the National Gallery of Art in Washington, D.C.; or study CAT-scan images and a 3-D model of a 2,500-year-old mummy by stepping into Ancient Egypt at Boston’s Museum of Science.

Discover a database of possibilities
Library and Archival Exhibitions on the Web, a searchable database of more than 300,000 links, allows visitors to explore the “rich variety of topics, images, and materials featured in online exhibitions from libraries, archives, historical societies, and museums around the world.” A sampling of online exhibits to discover includes:


Traveling exhibits online
The American Library Association Public Programs Office coordinates a variety of traveling exhibitions for libraries across the country, several of which also have an online presence.

For example, the National Library of Medicine hosts an online version of the traveling exhibit, Harry Potter’s World: Renaissance Science, Magic, and Medicine, a display that uses materials from the National Library of Medicine’s History of Medicine collections to explore Harry Potter’s world and its roots in Renaissance science. The Newberry Library’s Elizabeth I: Ruler and Legend encourages audiences become more familiar with the Queen and the historical and cultural forces that shaped her personality and her time. And the New-York Historical Society’s Alexander Hamilton: The Man Who Made Modern America, examines Hamilton’s central role in shaping the America we live in today.

Check with your librarian or visit the American Library Association website to see if a traveling exhibition is coming to a library near you.

Continuing to learn
A rich array of information is waiting for you at your fingertips. You may be enticed by dramatic imagery and interactive features online. Perhaps you enjoy visiting an exhibit more than once, and an online display provides the perfect opportunity to re-examine and explore multiple layers of information. Maybe you are looking for an outlet for child’s interest in a favorite subject at school. Or perhaps you would like to prepare your students for an upcoming trip to a local museum.
If you don’t have access to the internet at home, your local library is the perfect place to start your online adventure. And after viewing an exhibit, be sure to ask a librarian to suggest books about the topic you just explored online. If you are inspired to visit a museum in-person, many libraries offer free museum family passes that can be checked out like books.

With just a click of the mouse, an online exhibit will help to introduce you to new ideas and spark curiosity about a topic to be more deeply explored at a local library.  

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