Libraries and Museums at the University of St Andrews have been doing digital differently. With the rapid digitisation of collections for teaching and research, we sought to find new and innovative means of making these collections accessible to our audiences. The result of this was the Exhibit visual storytelling tool, supported by the Esmée Fairbairn Collections Fund and developed by Mnemoscene and the University of St Andrews.
Exhibit is designed to promote engagement and learning with digital collections by offering a unique visual experience for users. It can be used to present both 2D and 3D objects, and offers audiences the chance to get up-close and personal with collections. Audiences can take their time with each object, uncovering detail and creating a unique digital experience – one that could not be replicated in person.
Powered by IIIIF technology used globally, Exhibit allows diverse audiences to offer their own interpretations of collections on an international scale.
How do I use it?
Exhibit uses the Universal Viewer and is compatible with IIIF (International Image Interoperability Framework). In simple terms, IIIF is an open standard for delivering high-quality digital objects. A manifest is created for each object which can then be imported into Exhibit, presenting high resolution images and 3D models.
Institutions with IIIF enabled collections can present objects in Exhibit, pulling through the relevant attributions and copyright information in the same manifest. This means that objects from multiple institutions can be used in Exhibit. For example, objects from the University of St Andrews can be viewed alongside material from The British Library, to compare and contrast collections.
While it may sound complicated, all you need to do is:
- Copy and paste the manifest URL – usually available from the collections online database – of your chosen objects into Exhibit and you’re ready to start putting together your Exhibit.
- Once your chosen material is imported to your Exhibit, you can add text, zoom in on images and rotate 3D models. The flexibility of the tool allows you to guide the viewer through each aspect of the objects you wish to showcase.
Exhibits can also be widely shared by the URL, linked to on social media and can be embedded into websites.
Ways of storytelling
Exhibit offers a variety of ways to showcase your chosen objects.
Kiosk mode allows you to leave your Exhibit on a loop. You can decide how much time each slide is on show for, making it an ideal tool for digital displays or exhibitions.
Slides mode offer a new alternative to traditional modes of presentation, with a sleek design and seamless transition moving through slides.
Scroll mode lets you scroll through the Exhibit, providing a platform to showcase material in a way which is user friendly for desktop and mobile users alike.
The new quiz function means you can use quizzes throughout your Exhibit for even more audience-object engagement. You can make multiple choice questions on each slide, as well as creating pinpoints on the object itself
Teaching and assessment – what’s possible?
Originally designed and used for online teaching and seminars, Exhibit continues to be used in assessments. This has ranged from Exhibits on chosen topics, to visual analysis exams.
The tool allows such assessments to be conducted remotely and securely, as Exhibits can be password protected. As a result, the tool has become a key feature of the core assessment for teaching modules. Exhibits can be duplicated, meaning an Exhibit can be copied and expanded on further by students.
Thinking outside the box
The ability to think and programme outside the box with the Exhibit tool has been one of its key strengths. Alongside object showcases, guided views of maps and interactive displays, Exhibit has been used in an Escape Room experience – using the quizzes function to get participants thinking about how they progress to the next test, with the collections holding the secrets.
Another unique use of Exhibit we have piloted is our Headspace programme. Run online during revision and exam periods by our Learning and Engagement team, Headspace guides the viewer through an artwork, employing mindfulness techniques to encourage engagement with collections in a way that could not be replicated seeing the artwork in person.
Our key takeaways from this work are:
- Working collaboratively across departments – the combined expertise of our teams has led to unique interpretations of how the platform can be used. Better still, having input from different teams at the development stage.
- Set objectives and learning outcomes for your online experiences just as you would in person, and ensure they guide you in the development stages.
- To design the experience with the platform in mind – rather than simply trying to replicate an experience you have in person on the platform. By manipulating the possibilities of the platform and letting them guide you, stronger digital offers can be developed.
Written by Eilidh Lawrence, Learning and Engagement Manager and Lydia Heeley Digitisation Officer, Libraries and Museums, University of St Andrews