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Digitization of Museums: Transforming Experience in the Digital Age

Boy On Trip To Museum Looking At Map And Writing In
One of Anderson Archival's team members

By Team Lead Marcia Spicer

Museums have always been regarded as the interpreters and caretakers of history, science, art, and culture. Immersing oneself in historical artifacts and knowledge can create impressions that last a lifetime. Witnessing displays of historical artifacts firsthand allows patrons to experience history in ways that static exhibits alone can’t convey.

Digitization is a scalable solution for modern museums, but these institutions don’t always have the resources required to truly preserve such artifacts in a lasting way. On top of challenges like funding and staffing, some museums may be hesitant to digitize because digital collections don’t provide the same sort of interactive experience that brick-and-mortar museums offer. Today’s modern digitization services for museums offer a way to preserve and protect the artifacts but also make them available to patrons in a way that still feels engaging and immersive. 

The Digital Renaissance: Benefits of Museum Digitization

Anyone in the cultural heritage field has probably encountered those holdouts resistant to digital technology in museums, but adding virtual elements to a museum-going experience doesn’t have to be all or nothing. Setting aside the pros and cons of a traditional museum experience, digitization of museum collections has many benefits to unpack.

A pressing reason to consider digitization of museum collections is that it reduces—and often fully eliminates—wear and tear on the collection itself. In order to be seen by the public, delicate documents and artifacts must be visible. Most museums implement protections that prevent deterioration, but even museum-grade display cases and frames expose artifacts to light and other environmental factors over time. Digital preservation captures an item as it is in the moment and keeps it in that condition for as long as the digital file exists.

In this way, digitization of museum collections enhances research and educational opportunities because scholars don’t have to manually look through boxes or letters or photos to find useful items. Digital files can make items searchable and linkable, leading researchers to material they might have never found otherwise if perusing a collection physically. This enhanced accessibility creates countless opportunities to share collections with a wider audience. A researcher across the globe can’t access physical collections, even if they know exactly what information they’re looking for. Digitization removes that barrier altogether.

Lastly, digitization of museum collections can ease stress about finding storage space for all those historical artifacts. Historical societies and cultural institutions often receive donations or inherit materials they don’t have space and resources to keep, let alone organize and use for exhibits. Digitization encompasses all these benefits and negates the need to keep physical archives filled with boxes of disorganized materials. Once digitized, museums have the opportunity to store the physical artifacts in long-term storage, ensuring they’re safe from the elements or overuse.

Leading Examples of Digitization in Museums

Museums that make the decision to digitize their collections may not understand the planning and resources required to do it correctly. Many times, the least amount of budget possible is dedicated to subpar digitization, leading to the project needing to be redone over and over.  That’s when partnering with an experienced digitization firm like Anderson Archival comes in clutch. Having digitization done well the first time will save money in the long run.

Some museums use digital technology to add vitality to what otherwise may have been a static exhibit. One local example comes from the Missouri History Museum, which used different interactive technologies for its St. Louis Sound exhibit. This exhibition highlights the musical history of St. Louis, and the physical displays include many auditory elements. Visitors can use their personal devices to hear additional content as they explore the displays.

Larger institutions can also benefit from digital technology elements. World famous museums such as the Guggenheim in New York City and the Louvre in Paris, offer virtual tours of their galleries. Visitors can click through a digital replica of the physical gallery, and each piece links to historical information to learn more. Digitization of these famous pieces allows virtual visitors to see works like the Mona Lisa as closely as they would at an in-person gallery. Digital technology in museums enhances the museum-going experience, and Anderson Archival’s services help facilitate this growth.

Navigating Challenges: Balancing Tradition and Innovation

The COVID-19 pandemic forced many museums and historical institutions to shift their exhibits to online-friendly media, like the virtual walkthroughs described above or linked graphics with primary sources and historical context. While seen as a limitation at the time, this swing showed how digital technologies in museums can be advantageous for accessibility. For example, the St. Louis Sound exhibit was able to incorporate features that allowed patrons with hearing impairments to “feel” the beat of music in the auditory displays.

Digitization adds a layer of security to the historical artifacts and knowledge presented within as well. Digital repository solutions that grant access to virtual patrons also ensure that history is preserved. By uploading collections to a shareable platform, the digital technology serves as a record of the collection in case something happens to the physical materials in the future.

There is one downside to digitization of museums, and that’s the fact that digitizing even simple collections can be an investment. Some museums may be unable to find enough funding to digitize entire collections. Thankfully, digitization is entirely scalable; institutions can choose to digitize select items for a specific project, or develop a digitization plan that uses phases to spread the investment over a longer period of time. Anderson Archival has experience working with a wide range of budgets and can always find a solution that works with the resources at hand.

Future Horizons: Advancements in Museum Digitization

A common hurdle to digitizing museum collections is that some forms of digital capture require permanent alterations to the artifacts, such as unbinding a book to scan the full contents of each page. Many bulk scanning vendors won’t touch a historical collection that can’t be altered to make digitization easier. This presents a big problem for museums with rare book collections, ancient texts, and other one-of-a-kind artifacts that cannot be damaged in any way.

Thankfully, damage-free digitization of museum collections is possible with the right equipment. Anderson Archival utilizes a variety of scanning solutions that can be customized depending on the material and condition of a museum collection. V-cradle scanners hold bound items gently without incurring damage, and a large format vacuum table allows for flat capture of the most delicate documents. There’s a solution for collections of every shape and size.

Digital asset management (DAM) software is more accessible than ever before, with endless providers and customizations to bring any vision for a digitized museum collection to life. Many of them have trial options as well, so that small institutions like local historical societies without enterprise-grade hardware can test the software before making an investment.


Bringing a cultural heritage collection into the digital age does not have to clash with the traditional museum-going experience. Digitization of museums only adds value to what these institutions are already dedicated to providing. Anderson Archival offers solutions that go hand in hand with the mission of museums across the country and can expand their reach. Digital technology for museums does not have to be daunting—all you have to do is give us a call.

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