Pacific Virtual Museum launched

A pilot project to establish a virtual museum that would give visibility and access to digitalised Pacific cultural heritage and records has been launched.

Pacific Virtual Museum Pilot Project Programme Manager, Tim Kong, told the Samoa Observer that it is an initiative of Australia’s Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade (D.F.A.T.) and is implemented by the National Library of New Zealand, Te Puna Mātauranga o Aotearoa and the National Library of Australia.

He said the pilot project is funded until February 2022 and the objective of the Digital Pasifik website is to give people in the Pacific and of the Pacific visibility and access to digitalised cultural heritage items and records.

“These records are mostly held in galleries, libraries, museums and archives that are outside the Pacific region and often maintained in storage. We aim to provide people living in the Pacific the ability to see these items and to access them,” he said.

“We hope the impact will be enduring as well as providing visibility and access to cultural heritage records held outside the Pacific, the pilot aims to enable and highlight the work and records of Pacific-based institutions and community groups. 

“We know that for Pacific people, our cultural heritage is held in oral stories, in performance, in crafts and traditional techniques.”

According to Mr Kong, the cultural heritage of the Pacific people can be recorded and are available in digitised platforms, which the Digital Pasifik website can share alongside records such as books, objects, photos and maps held in more traditional libraries, museums, galleries and archives.

“We hope that ability to see items from multiple collections will help Pacific Island people explore and discover a much richer cultural heritage,” he added.

“We hope that by contributing Pacific based knowledge with the wider world, the pilot project will help rebalance the narrative that shapes and defines the Pacific.”

“From a technical perspective we designed the site to be mobile first, and to work well on low bandwidth networks, such as 2G or 3G. 

“We have done this to reflect the reality that data access can be limited and at times expensive in the Pacific, and hope that this design approach ensures the site is usable and effective in locations such as Samoa.”

Asked how successful he thought the pilot project was, he said: “Our hope is very successful.”

According to Mr Kong, for them the pilot project would be successful if the Digital Pasifik site is useful to people living in the Pacific Islands, and for those of Pacific Island heritage who are living around the world.

“If the site can enable connections, story-telling and sharing of our cultures between generations, that will be the greatest success,” he said. “The promotional video created for the launch event captures what we hope success will look and feel like.

“Our second measure of success will be if the pilot project can support the work that museums, galleries, libraries, universities and archives are doing in the preservation, labelling and sharing of Pacific Island stories. 

“This includes those that are in the Pacific and beyond it, as each of them have a role and ability to support cultural heritage.”

Asked whether some of Samoa’s cultural heritage could be found in Digital Pasifik, he explained that any item tagged “Samoa” appears in the Samoa section, and there is a wide range of objects, images and documents.

Mr. Kong added that he is excited that the work of Joseph Churchward is accessible through the site, who is a Samoan graphics designer and typesetter, which they had chosen his font for the Digital Pasifik website.

He further explained that the items found on the virtual museum are items they share from their seven initial content partners, but are currently in talks with a number of potential content partners from around the world, including the Museum of Samoa.

Mr. Kong then revealed one of the unique aspects of their project through its use of metadata and being fully digital. 

He explained that the Digital Pasifik site is repository and they do not host any of the items one can see on their site, with only thumbnails and key details that are in the digital catalogues managed by their content partners.

“This means that to view the original item, a user of the site, is always directed back to the content partner that holds the record or item. This allows us to present thousands of records, and to present them in ways that reflect the nature of the Pacific experience,” he said.

“We want to act as a bridge between the worlds of Pacific people, and the worlds of galleries, libraries and museums. We want to act in ways that support relationships between those worlds, and enable people of the Pacific to discover items and discuss that they don’t know exist.

“Critically because we only share copies of metadata held by a content partner, we are never taking anything from these content partners.”

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