A virtual museum is an online collection of artifacts that essentially knows no boundaries. Take your existing inventory of artifacts online or collect photos and information from supporters and your community to build a portal to your educational message. Not only will you be utilizing a new and modern way to educate your community, you will be creating a tool to engage your donors, supporters and volunteers!
Create an online home
This is a scalable project. Start small and simple, and increase functionality as your time, resources and collection allow.
If your unit has a well functioning website, work with your webmaster or volunteer in charge to define an area of the site for a virtual museum. Depending on the size of the collection and your long-term goals, you can start with one master page and link individual pages with single items or categories of items back to your main virtual museum page. It is recommended that the virtual museum be a section of your existing site, rather than a stand-alone website, if at all possible. This will help retain site traffic and help with overall branding and awareness of your unit.
Using what you’ve got
Want to easily reach beyond the doors of your physical museum? Take your collection online.
This is also a great option if you have a collection of artifacts but do not currently have the space or resources to open an on-site museum.
Translating your inventory of items to a virtual museum can be a smooth process, especially if your items are already cataloged and photographed. Create a format to showcase each item that includes the artifact’s name, use, origin and description. Include a high quality photo. Keep a consistent format for each item. Save all your work in a computer file before putting it online.
Don’t have your own collection? Build one virtually!
If you don’t have a repository of World War II artifacts within your unit, you can absolutely create a virtual museum based on information and photographs cultivated from your unit and your community.
Put out a call for submissions to your database of volunteers and supporters, and make a public ask to your community. Remember, you don’t need physical custody of the item, just a quality photo and detailed information. The item never has to leave its origin!
Catalog and format the submitted photos and information just as you would if you were using your own physical artifact collection. Create a standard format to showcase each item that includes the artifact’s name, use, origin and description. You may also include a field to recognize the submitter by including their name.
Local museums may also be amenable to participating. Reach out and invite them to participate by showcasing one or a few items in your virtual museum. Make sure to get explicit permission to showcase a photo and description of item, and note on the artifact listing the museum that has shared the item. Better yet, include a link back to the museum’s website as a thank you for the collaboration.
Asking for submissions is one of quickest ways to draw unit volunteers and members of the community into your efforts. Capitalize on this engagement. It’s one of the best side effects of creating and maintaining a virtual museum. This involvement will lead to greater overall awareness of your unit’s work and mission, while extending your educational outreach efforts.
Consider including memorials
Don’t overlook memorials, artwork or other local sites that celebrate War history in your community. It can be quite rewarding to sleuth out even the most obscure spots that have a story to tell, and helping that piece of history find a wider audience. If the item you wish to include is not in a public place, make sure to respectfully ask for and document permission to photograph the item for use in your virtual museum, or ask for a photo to be provided.
Places to look:
Schools (call to ask rather than go onsite to look, and get permission to photograph if they have a fitting memorial or piece of art)
Local VFW meeting halls
What should it look like?
Your finished virtual museum can look as elaborate or as simple as necessary, but the key elements will be organization, good content and usability. Practice the same best practices learned from established museums – every item should connect to your overall story and theme, and speak to your core objectives.