Digital Project Spotlight: Enhancing the Content and Accessibility of a Museum Exhibit with a Virtual Collection

The Beyond the Physical project by Dr. Lisa Young was one of the recent LSA Technology Services Digital Project Partnerships that highlights collaboration between LSA and the U-M Library.
by Joe Bauer, Research Consultant

The Beyond the Physical project by Dr. Lisa Young (Anthropology; Museum of Anthropological Archaeology), was one of the recent LSA Technology Services Digital Project Partnerships. The project grew out of the Museum Anthropology course that Young teaches and focuses on a museum collection of plants used by Anishinaabe peoples of the Great Lakes region to make baskets and mats and blends a physical exhibit with a digital collection to engage students, communities, and scholars. 

The Knowledge Sharing physical exhibit is now showing at the U-M Museum of Natural History until spring of 2022 and is located in the museum's student showcase. It was co-curated by University of Michigan students in Young's course. The physical exhibit has QR codes, which act as a link between the physical and virtual. A visitor can use their smartphone to scan the code to take them to the relevant webpage in the digital collection. Also on display is the Wiidanokiindiwag (They Work With Each Other) exhibit, which is part of a collaboration with the Ziibiwing Center of Anishinabe Culture & Lifeways (Saginaw Chippewa Indian Tribe of Michigan). 

The digital collection contains searchable information and photographs from a 1933 U-M research project with collections housed at the Museum of Anthropological Archaeology and the Bentley Library. The website connects the items in the collections with the stories and histories of the communities where they originated. LSA Technology Services team members Maria Laitan (User Experience Specialist) and Michael Egan (from research software programming services) worked together to create a seamless visual design and user interface between the physical and digital exhibits. In partnership with U-M Library, Metadata Engagement Librarian, Matt Carruthers consulted with the project on how best to organize and structure information and materials. The Google Analytics service from LSA Technology Services allowed Dr. Young to see what works and what doesn’t work with communications and awareness. For example, she can see how much traffic comes in from the QR codes from museum visitors.

Dr. Young noticed a few benefits of the hybrid approach (using a digital collection to augment a physical collection), including enabling students to create and share their research on the museum items within the timeframe of a single semester and to learn how to share their research with the public, including members of Anishinaabe communities. Students can then use this project as part of their portfolio. Additionally, Dr. Young noted that the digital collection enabled her to virtually reconnect archival information at the Bentley Library with items in the Museum of Anthropological Archaeology collections. 

Are you interested in creating a digital project but not sure where to start? You can email us at for an introductory consultation, or drop into one of our virtual office hours (no appointment required). 

Release Date: 09/10/2021
Category: Innovate Newsletter
Tags: Technology Services
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