The Science Museum Group announced in January that it would make available a vast array of images it has in its collection that have never been seen before. The online repository of scientific images and photos of artefacts is called Never Been Seen because what marks these pictures out from many others at the museum is that they have not been viewed since they were created.
From 2019, the Science Museum Group, which includes the famous museum on Exhibition Road in Kensington as well as the Museum of Science and Industry in Manchester, set about digitising hundreds of thousands of items that were stored in its vast image collection. At the time, this was because they were being relocated to a purpose-built storage facility in Wiltshire. However, the museum’s archivists noticed that since then, large numbers of their digital images hadn’t been accessed, not even once.
Images Without Viewers
To remedy this situation, the Science Museum decided that it would add these stored images to a website where they can be viewed. Now, anyone who logs onto the site will be shown a pixilated version of a photo which they can opt to view in all of its glory or to have another picture put on display at random. Although there is no particular scientific purpose to the exercise, the museum hopes that it will mean that otherwise unviewed images will no longer collect digital dust, so to speak, in a computerised vault. Equally, viewers of the available images will be able to enjoy the thrill of knowing that they are the first person to have viewed the photo on display for about two decades and, possibly, long before that.
This is because much of the original digitisation process was carried out automatically so it is perfectly reasonable to assume that it might even be possible to make a random discovery of an image that has never yet before been viewed by human eyes. The way the website works is to only produce images on its site which have a total lifetime view count of zero. Once someone opts to view the image, this status no longer exists so it will never more feature on the Never Been Seen website.
Given that it is not possible to walk around the museum’s galleries currently because of Covid-19 restrictions, the site offers the thrill of being able to happen upon something exciting at random but it also functions as an almost infinite resource of visual inspiration. Images that have been revealed by the site so far include 18th-century pocket globes, old video game cassettes and even the blueprints for new typefaces. Each image has its own historical significance to science and its own story to tell. Only by clicking on them will these stories come to life.
Never Been Seen is just one of the digital resources that the Science Museum Group has made available recently from its collection. Another is a Random Object Generator slide-show that is available online. Alternatively, the public can now download a Google Chrome extension called Museum in a Tab which displays a different image from its huge collection whenever a new web browser tab is opened.
Spend some more time reflecting on recent developments in the museum sector and learn how others are paving the way for a bright future in the sector by joining us at the MuseumNext Digital Summit in February 2021.
Tickets are available here.
About the author – Manuel Charr
Manuel Charr is a journalist working in the arts and cultural sectors. With a background in marketing, Manuel is drawn to arts organizations which are prepared to try inventive ways to reach new audiences.