I’ll freely admit, I was slightly apprehensive when I got assigned the task of presenting on the Tate website. Coming from an Art History undergrad, in which physical works of art and published texts form the centre of your world, and ‘digital heritage’ is a term that is still treated with caution (if it is treated at all), I felt a bit thrown in at the deep end.
The other reason for apprehension arose once I actually started research – the Tate website is absolutely vast. It is difficult to comprehend how truly massive this wealth of resources is, and it is growing every day. Blogs, articles, videos, What’s On, new apps, Tate Recommends – it is constantly being updated and changed. So where on earth do I begin?
Considering that I, as an interested Museum Studies student, hadn’t been making use of Tate Online I began to wonder who actually does use it, and to what end? This became the basis of my presentation, and I decided to focus on three different type of website users – families, tourists and academics – analyzing what the website had to offer for each of these users.
When visiting a museum website, tourists have a specific goal. Much of what a tourist wants to know is addressed on the Homepage, with information about events and exhibitions at each of the Tates.
The ‘Visit’ page can be accessed from the Homepage, and includes opening times and other general tourist information.
The What’s On page is more interesting, because it gives the visitor some many more options as to how to proceed. They can search for events by category, by gallery, by audience type etc. This would be of value to more interested tourists, but one thing that came up in discussions afterwards was the question of, realistically, how many tourists are actually interested in extra events at the Tate when they visit?
Families can use the What’s On search options to find family specific visitor information and events, such as weaving workshops at the Tate Modern, or family trails at Tate St Ives.
Tate Online has an online resource specifically for children called Tate Kids, which is aimed at families for use at home allowing children to engage with the collection without having to actually be in the physical gallery space.
They can curate their own online gallery, play games, and look up craft ideas. It seems like a really wonderful resource for children and a great introduction to the Tate collections.
For adults, there is the Blogs & Channels page, guided searching through the Art & Artists page, and resources such as the BP Displays, which take the online visitor through some of the galleries work by work, meaning that the adults too can engage with the collection without having to leave the comfort of their own home.
In discussions this brought up the question again of how many people really make use of these resources. How many parents sit their child in front of the Tate Kids website to amuse them for an hour or so? How many children take the initiative themselves to play on the Tate website? It seems to be a recurring issue – the Tate has a huge wealth of resources online, but how many people are actually using them?
I thought this would be an interesting group to address because they would already know the collections pretty well, in contrast to most tourists and families, and would be visiting for research purposes. However, I came to the conclusion that the website is least useful for this group of people. The relevant pages that they might use are spread across the site – they can be accessed via the catalogue search, via the Research tab, via Blogs & Channels – making it least easy for this group to navigate the site. More significantly however, perhaps the most important information online for academics is the information about the archives, lists of journals and publications and information about visiting the reading room. The most relevant information for this group is not online, but in the archives of the Tate.
It seems that Tate Online is a wonderful but underused, and perhaps overreaching, resource. It doesn’t serve to bridge the gap between online and onsite spaces, but it is an experience all of its own. In discussions however, my seminar group concluded that people don’t go online for a Tate experience (we went on for some time trying to define that abstract thing that is ‘Tate-ness’), and we weren’t entirely sure who was using much of what Tate Online has to offer. On the other hand, we don’t have access to Tate’s market research or really know who is using the website, and in this developing technological age perhaps Tate Online might yet come into its own.