The British Museum has partnered with the Google Cultural Institute (GCI) to provide people around the world with online access to more than 4,700 of its exhibits using the search giant’s Street View tool.
The project is billed by Google as its largest indoor Street View mapping project to-date. Viewers can use the tool to walk through 85 of the museum’s rooms and examine their exhibits.
The result is available to view now, by clicking on the “Explore the British Museum with Google” link on Google’s home page.
Speaking at the launch event for the partnership at the British Museum in central London earlier today, Matt Brittin, president for Emea business and operations at Google, said the project is part of the company's ongoing work to make the world’s information accessible to all.
“It’s about enabling users to discover artworks in new ways and help the cultural sector connect with digital technology that is for everyone,” said Brittin.
“You have the Museum of the World and now it’s possible for it to be accessed by the world. Today we have 2.7 billion people online, and that is going to double in the next five years, so the potential for the world to be connected to this information and this cultural heritage is phenomenal.”
Brittin explained the project is designed not only to make it possible for people to enjoy the museum’s exhibits from millions of miles away, but also allow it to showcase items that have to be kept under wraps from the public.
As an example of this, he cited the 6th century Admonitions Scroll, which is an item that is only available to view for a view months of the year because of its fragility.
The British Museum is one of 800 museums and sites of cultural importance CGI has worked with since 2011, to help them share their collections and exhibits with the world by cataloguing them online, so they can be preserved for future generations.
The story of the world
Chris Michaels, head of digital and publishing at The British Museum, said the project is the latest in a series of online steps the organisation has embarked on to make its collections visible to more people than the 6.7 million visitors the museum welcomes every year.
To date, this has seen the museum recreated in the sandbox building game Minecraft, and partner with Samsung in 2009 to create digital classroom environments so schools around the world can access its exhibits.
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“Two hundred and sixty two years ago, the principle of the museum was to tell the story of the whole world to the people of the world, but – of course – that would never have been possible for the museum at that time,” he said.
“As the internet gets to everyone in the whole world, in an interesting way, we get to do the job we were supposed to do properly in the first place.”
Despite all this, Amit Sood, director of the GCI, was keen to stress to event attendees that the browsing experience offered by Street View is not intended to save people from going to the trouble of visiting.
"The Google Cultural Institute is a non-profit within Google and a non-commercial endeavour, so we only work with non-commercial partners. It is also not a place where we are trying to remove the physical experience of visiting the museum and experiencing art,” said Sood.
“This is a question a lot of people say: 'If you put this all online will people stop visiting museums?’ This is totally untrue. The more they are interested, the more they want to come and see the real thing.”