With a redesigned website, interactive games, and additional web-based educational content ready to go or under development, the Buffalo Bill Center of the West is rapidly expanding its online presence in 2014. In the most ambitious project to date, the Center has completely revamped its online collections database. Now, nearly every artifact that has been photographed—more than 20,000 objects from the Center’s extraordinary artifact collection—appears online.
The online collection had its start nearly ten years ago, when the first 541 objects, all from the Center’s Plains Indian Museum collection, debuted on a previous iteration of the website (read more). While that version grew to include objects from three more of the Center’s other museums, the new online collection is a complete rebuild, and now encompasses natural history specimens as well.
Seth Johnson, Information Technology Technician for the Center’s IT Department, spearheaded the project. “For us, this new release of our collections online is about more than displaying our treasures for the world to see,” says Johnson. “It’s an invitation for our virtual visitors to interact with our collections in new and interesting ways.”
To that end, in addition to advanced searching and zooming in to the details of images, online explorers are encouraged to “curate” their own virtual exhibits. They can choose objects, write an exhibit introduction and notes on each object, and post comments or questions about any of the objects in the collection. They are also invited to share objects and virtual exhibits through social media networks like Facebook, Twitter, and Google Plus.
“Most of the projects our IT staff and web content creators are developing include this kind of interactivity to engage today’s technologically-connected audiences,” says Nancy McClure, who works with electronic communications for the Center’s Public Relations Department. “We’re incorporating interactivity for those who explore our website and social media sites, and we’re now moving into doing the same for those who visit the Center of the West in person.”
The latest interactive endeavor, launched this week, is a mobile scavenger hunt using QR codes. Interested visitors can search for the codes while touring the Center. By using a QR code scanning app on their smart phone or other mobile device, players can “collect” objects and earn level badges as they go. “Our online collections serve as a foundation for this project,” says Johnson, “so some codes take you to online object records, others connect to blog posts or videos.”
Placed strategically throughout the Center’s museums and grounds to offer a challenge for searchers, the codes remain unobtrusive for those seeking a more traditional museum experience. “Like our other interactives, this one is designed to offer a layer of creative play to the rich learning experience our museums already offer,” says Johnson. “We hope those who engage with the interactives enjoy them, and comment with any questions or ideas to let us know what they think.”
Visit the new online collection via the Center of the West’s website at collections.centerofthewest.org.
Since 1917, the award-winning Buffalo Bill Center of the West has devoted itself to sharing the story of the authentic American West. The Center is an affiliate of the Smithsonian Institution. For additional information, visit centerofthewest.org or the Center’s Facebook page.