If museums are places for people to come together and share cultural experiences, then it stands to reason that they must welcome one and all – on-site and online.
In recent months and years, it has been gratifying to see so many museums and galleries striving to make themselves more engaging to a diverse mix of audiences – seeking to move the conversation on from those entrenched and oft-repeated narratives that have been placed under great scrutiny since the events of 2020. Of course, museums must not only challenge their long-standing ways of working but also look to provide deeper access to knowledge and information than ever before. And inclusivity is as much about reaching previously marginalized audiences as it is about reshaping accounts of the past. Thus, reaching those who have never had the opportunity to visit or become familiar with the museum experience must now be top of mind for institutions. But reaching new communities requires doing things differently. It also means making content accessible in formats and on platforms that minority and disenfranchised groups are familiar and comfortable with.
Intelligent document processing (IDP) is proving itself to be a crucial ally for those institutions looking to mine the depths of their archives and digitize works so that they might be searched for, consumed, and enjoyed by anyone with an internet connection. Indeed, many of the world’s leading institutions are investing in digitization that is compatible with the broadest range of screens and devices. Among the most high-profile museums and galleries to make digitization a priority are The Met and the Yale Art Gallery, which have worked with IDP specialists, codemantra, to convert many thousands of collections, including art monographs and rare tomes, into web-ready, ADA compliant e-books.
While the digitization of literary works and artifacts isn’t a new approach, it has historically been a labor-intensive and costly process. For many institutions, this has meant that there remains a large volume of publications within their repositories that are yet to be made accessible to the online audiences. According to a report from the CDC, many existing museum publications simply aren’t optimized for screen readers – restricting 1 in 4 U.S. adults from accessing resources in a fully readable format. However, thanks to codemantra’s AI-powered IDP solution, works can be scanned and converted into searchable PDFs, incorporating rigorous accuracy and quality checks. In short, IDP gets the job done more quickly, reliably, and cost-effectively than many museums may have thought possible.
As codemantra’s Chief Operating Officer, Sanjeev Kalyanaraman explains, “The world has experienced rapid growth in digital consumption in recent times. So, institutions must translate their physical assets into the digital space. We are helping museums and galleries make their documents available to anyone, anytime to support their inclusivity initiatives and meet with international accessibility regulations.” This sentiment is written into codemantra’s mission, with its commitment to “usher in digital and cultural transformation” using its own proprietary IDP platform.
Making it easier for all to discover art and culture
While much of the conversation around inclusivity has quite rightly been directed at redressing the balance of museums and galleries to ensure that the prejudices and preconceptions of the past are a challenge for inclusivity. What digital accessibility and outreach programs must also do is provide valuable opportunities for minority groups and unheard voices to discover information and feel empowered. This requirement has come into sharp focus in recent months as the volatility created by the pandemic and lack of access to physical museum spaces have driven a different relationship between institutions and their audience. What has become clear is that museums don’t just function as custodians of the past anymore; instead, they have embraced their responsibility towards the communities of the present: a responsibility to represent them, to speak to them, and to be open to dialogue with them.
Digitization is just one of the ways that content can be made more available and shared more widely with low representation groups. And the benefit of the creation of searchable PDFs is that this isn’t purely an outbound engagement activity, anyone (no matter their background or familiarity with cultural institutions) can find materials via search engines and social media. Certainly, we know that through 2020 inbound traffic into museum websites soared as content-hungry people locked in their homes found solace in the exploration of themes and issues of interest to them.
While the restrictions forced on society by the pandemic may be temporary, the growing reliance on digital channels is unlikely to diminish in the future. With IDP, museums can tap into these channels to offer enhanced digital experiences to their audiences.
For museums and galleries looking to scale up their digital accessibility initiatives and ensure compliance with regulations, find out more by visiting https://codemantra.com/museum-art-gallery/
About the author – Tim Deakin
Tim Deakin is a journalist and editorial consultant working with a broad range of online publications.