The Museum of Industry and Huis van Alijn: digital collection, digital strategy

In September 2018, the MIAT (Museum of Industry, Work and Textiles) was renamed the Museum of Industry. This rebranding included a new website and digital strategy in line with its updated mission and vision, and the launch of a major new exhibition: About People and Machines.

At the end of 2019, the Huis van Alijn Museum followed suit with a new website built on the same underlying architecture. Both museums’ websites provide access to images and audio stored in the meemoo archive system. Astrid, a digital strategist who is responsible for project management and policy on digital collections, spoke with us at the end of 2018 about the new digital direction.

Everything that happens in house is now also given an online translation, but digital publications go further than simply posting exhibitions and activities online; there’s also a parallel digital track which is intrinsically linked to the exhibitions without necessarily being an identical match. After all, why bother visiting the museum if the digital versions are exactly the same as the physical exhibitions?

Digital strategy

‘Online access to collections involves more than just publishing all the materials in a digital version. There’s also great demand to make it openly available, for example. This is why iStoire Services, a specialist digital transformation consultancy company, drew up a digital strategy for the Museum of Industry and the Huis van Alijn Museum at the same time,’ explains Astrid. The shared infrastructure behind the museum websites had to satisfy the museums’ requirements for knowledge management, knowledge sharing and open data. The website therefore isn’t just a first step, but also the backbone for this digital strategy. 

Museum websites bring lots of different aspects together: practical information, news about exhibitions and access to collections. Thanks to the new website, the Museum of Industry and the Huis van Alijn Museum can now decide for themselves how they want to provide access to their collections. It enables open re-use and open licences, and means the museums can share audio and video online with their audience.

The fact that the website brings so many different aspects together means that almost everyone from the Museum of Industry has participated in the project at some point. A preliminary phase looked at where everyone wanted to go with the digital strategy and what strengths, weaknesses, tools and system architectures were already in place.

Astrid explains: ‘In order to set up a good website, we and our colleagues first had to answer questions such as who our main target audiences are, what information we have, and what the collections look like.’ Once these questions had been answered, Code d’Or was contracted to build and host a single website platform for both museums. Randoald Sabbe started working as an external graphic designer for the Huis van Alijn Museum, Digipolis supported the launch, and the legal department was also involved. These were all sensible decisions; their input is obviously crucial in terms of openness when it comes to such an important cornerstone of our digital strategy.’ The entire project was brought to a successful conclusion all in the space of just one year.

How did we provide support?

Meemoo played an important role in this digital story. We’ve been digitising audiovisual content for both museums for several years already. And in the context of the new digital strategy, as well as providing access to digitised audiovisual content, the idea also emerged to make born-digital content available – content that has already been published digitally or digitised by the Museum of Industry or Huis van Alijn themselves, such as digital photographs and museum exhibits.

The influx of digital collections from the Museum of Industry and Huis van Alijn is part of a series of pilot projects we’ve been running since 2016. We’ve learned a lot from these projects and been able to set up properly functioning processes already, which is one reason why we were able to scale up our digital collections in 2019. In the context of the two museum’s new digital strategy, together we researched how they could use meemoo’s APIs to automatically display digital-born and digitised content on their platform in a flexible way.