Six million people a year visit the New York Metropolitan Museum of Art - aka The Met - and I've been among them several times on trips to the US.
But what about those people who can't get there in person? How can they access and experience the treasures of that big building in Gotham?
That's one of the challenges facing Sree Sreenivasan who next month joins the Met as its first Chief Digital Officer, charged with exploring new digital opportunities for the institution.
It's a big task and one that's seen as vital to the future development of one of the world's best known museum brands, second only to the Louvre as the most visited art museum around the globe.
Sreenivasan will also be responsible for the direction of the museum's digital media department and the visibility of digital media in both the gallery’s online platform and in the gallery itself.
When asked why he's taken up this new challenge, Sreenivasan says:
“To me, the Met represents a shared history, not just for New Yorkers, not just for Americans, but for all of humanity. I’ve loved the Met all of my life. I grew up around the corner from it. I spent my childhood playing in the playground that’s right next to it. And when you’ve loved something for 30 years, and you get the opportunity to find ways to share this thing you love with the world, how can you say no?
"Much of my work in recent years has been about connecting the physical and the digital, the in-person and the online experience. Now I look forward to forging new connections between the superb, expansive collections of the Met—which are a true representation of our shared global history—and the two billion people who use the web.”
Sreenivasan comes to the Met from his role as Chief Digital Officer of the University of Columbia. He's also a member of the faculty of the Columbia Journalism School.
Explaining the appointment, Met CEO Thomas Campbell said:
“Sree comes to the Met with a strong background in the communication of ideas. His work in traditional journalism, his role as a commentator on technology and media issues, and his expertise in websites and social media will all be key to the Museum’s work in the digital space. His academic background will also position him well within our community of scholars, and we look forward to working with him as we leverage mobile, in-gallery, and online platforms for the Met’s collections.”
It's already apparent from comments made by Sreenivasan that he sees storytelling as a big part of his strategy going forward and that he wants to emphasise experiences over the mere collection of things which galleries, libraries, archives and museums (GLAM) are more typically associated with.
“People tend to think of museums as places full of things in cases, but they really should be living, exciting places. Museums have an immense ability to help us stay connected and share with one another. That’s the hidden power of GLAM. GLAM institutions of the future aren’t just going to be focused on collecting and exhibiting. They’re all ultimately evolving into venues for interactive storytelling."
“My job isn’t just to help with the online traffic but also the in-person experience,” he said. “In the end, it’s all about storytelling.”
It's an increasingly familiar theme across the museums and galleries community. In a recent presentation, Nick Poole, CEO of the Collections Trust, an independent charity, whose mission is to be the leading organisation in the management and use of collections and technology in museums, libraries and archives by 2015, picked up on the current digital agenda for museums.
This includes systems integration, developing engaging and participatory experiences, responsive web development and gallery-based experiences.
Poole makes the point that the majority of museums are moving away from a distinct digital strategy towards a policy of embedding digital into broader organisational strategies, such as content publishing, fundraising, market/audience development and outreach. He notes:
"The key principle is integration - digital is neither different nor separate and is only sustainable in the context of your museum's broader strategic development."
He also advises that museums need to take a more consistent and coherent approach to digital rather an tactical, piecemeal one:
"We have to stop doing things differently for each new project or partnership and start to develop digital content and services that area scalable and future proof. The strategic approach to this is called COPE (Create Once, Publish Everywhere)."
We've come a long way since those stuffy school visits to the museum.