What links a map-building project in Minecraft, a virtual exhibition exploring art and AI, and a computer games festival celebrating play? In her second report from the Inclusive Digital Museum Innovation project, museum consultant Rebecca Mileham discusses exciting cultural initiatives and their implications for digital inclusion.
The projects above were all among the visionary activities presented by partners from Korea and the UK as part of the Inclusive Digital Museum Innovation project’s second international workshop on 21st September 2022. Every presentation sought to share research and resources to equip the culture sector as it grapples with digital inequality and seeks to broaden access and participation.
Session one – digital innovation in libraries
The National Library of Korea set up its National Digital Library in 2009 with the aim of widening access to knowledge. The library has been undergoing digital transformation ever since, reflecting a changing society, as Mingi Kang, Deputy Director of the Digital Information Planning Division explained.
She presented the library’s latest survey data which showed that younger library users generally felt satisfied with their experience. Older people were more numerous, but less satisfied – despite the library’s state-of-the-art internet services – and also tended to be the users most at risk of exclusion and disadvantage in society.
The library plans to offer a learning platform and hands-on workshops and cultural events to help older users develop digital skills. ‘It is vital that libraries are fully committed to ensuring that no one is left behind,’ said Mingi.
The same spirit, but a different audience, is at the heart of a UK-based project to encourage disadvantaged young readers using the computer game Minecraft.
Sally Bushell, Professor of Romantic and Victorian Literature at Lancaster University, and Stella Wisdom, Digital Curator of Contemporary British Collections at the British Library, presented Litcraft, a resource that enables 8-12-year-olds to build charmingly accurate virtual versions of literary maps from classic books they are reading.
The team tested the resource and associated activities in schools, but found that IT systems and sceptical teachers often presented a barrier. It was librarians who proved to be the project’s champions. ‘Public libraries in the UK have long been working to conquer the digital divide – they are trusted community spaces promoting digital inclusion,’ said Stella. Members of the Living Knowledge Network, a partnership of public and national libraries, now use Litcraft to encourage reluctant readers into a virtuous cycle of crafting maps, and enjoying reading books.
Physical and social aspects of technology
Both the National Library of Korea and the British Library are working with online partners such as Google Arts and Culture to continue their journey towards digitisation. But, as the discussion following the first session explored, physical library facilities will always be vital for access to reference and heritage collections, as well as for in-person events.
The benefit of face-to-face contact was underlined by Young Yim Doh, one of the Digital Inclusion Project’s leaders, and Professor at the KAIST Graduate School of Culture Technology. She shared resources (see below) from her research into game design for disabled people, and for older users, noting the success of intergenerational workshops to uncover older users’ needs in game design. ‘For older people, intimacy and human interaction is a very important part of growing their digital literacy,’ she said.
Session two – science museums and digital inclusion
When the pandemic struck, and museum doors closed, the same question faced many institutions – how can you create a successful online exhibition?
Instead of building virtual versions of physical galleries, the National Science Museum of Korea in Daejeon decided to make a three-dimensional experience accessible only online, explained Juha Lee, an Art and Science researcher at the museum. The team chose a question ideal to tackle in a virtual space – ‘Can AI create art?’ – and included interactive activities to explore whether an artificial intelligence can ever truly paint a picture, play music, or dance. A specially-created AI chatbot called DA:ON welcomed and guided visitors.
‘Of course, it was all very experimental,’ says Juha. ‘We knew that if there were problems with the interface, page loading speed, or flow, then visitors would just close the window immediately.’ Visitor research showed a predominance of younger, male visitors. There were fewer from older audiences who are less likely to own smartphones – but a pleasingly broad geographical reach. ‘What struck us was that the exhibition went beyond spatial and regional limitations. It can be enjoyed from anywhere, at any time,’ said Juha.
In the UK’s Science Museum Group, the Learning team is creating accessible and inclusive web-based resources through a commitment to a science capital approach. This means looking through the eyes of users and considering their relationship with science, as Emilia McKenzie, Digital Manager, told the session.
She is developing Wonderlab+, an activity website for children and families who may not be regular museum-goers or feel at home with science. During the project, there have been several rounds of prototyping and user testing, plus accessibility work to ensure neurodivergent people and those who use assistive technologies are included too.
And at the Science and Industry Museum in Bradford, UK, the team behind the Yorkshire Games Festival aims to address an intergenerational digital divide that often exists within families. By celebrating computer game play, creativity and coding, the festival seeks to showcase the multiple career options available in the games industry, inspiring future digital creators – and crucially, their parents and carers, too.
Kathryn Penny, Head of Screen and Cultural Engagement at the museum, believes the Festival can help overcome socioeconomic inequality too. ‘We want the Games Festival to appeal even more to audiences from our priority areas, in Bradford, where there are multiple indices of deprivation and we can make the most difference by inspiring future digital creators,’ she said.
Digital access and exclusion
In the discussion following session two, the question of healthy game-playing arose. Addiction to gaming is a worry in both Korea and the UK – and the role of digital culture and social media in shaping the experience of our lives certainly requires ongoing research and attention.
Yet there was a clear message that came through the meeting as a whole. Digital access has changed the ways available to us to learn, to play, to work, to interact, to consume culture, to create media, to communicate, to participate, to share and be part of communities and movements. To be excluded from digital access is an increasingly bitter blow – at any stage or situation of life.
As Young Yim Doh commented, ‘Galleries, libraries, archives and museums are the ideal place for life-long learning and to connect people to digital culture, so that no one is left behind.’ The Inclusive Digital Museum Innovation project is usefully showcasing ways to put this into practice.
Game Design Guide for Adults in their 50s and Older:
Game Accessibility Manual: