Want to inject some culture or heritage into your life but don't have the time or inclination to visit a museum? Don't worry; the solution to finding such personal enrichment might be easier than you think.
Thanks to new technology, the simple click of a mouse can bring mounds of information, artifacts or artwork on display in museum galleries across the globe straight to your own computer's desktop and, as classic museology redefines itself in the digital age, such "virtual visits" are becoming more attractive and interactive than ever.
In Israel, curators are among those leading the way to getting museums on the Web.
Using all manner of online platforms, from interactive Facebook Timelines dating back to ancient times to entire multimedia art galleries available in online spaces, Jewish heritage and culture is accessible even to those who are thousands of miles away.
"There was a time a few years ago when if an organization or institute did not have a website then it did not exist, but now that is true for being on social media," states Dr. Susan Hazan, curator of new media for the Israel Museum and head of its Internet office.
"These platforms not only give us a public profile, but people can join you, comment on what you are doing or 'like' you, and that is becoming critical to everything we are trying to do," she observes.
Hazan, who recently returned from lecturing at the Museums and the Web conference in San Diego, talks at length about the Israel Museum's efforts over the past year to get the ancient Dead Sea Scrolls online and joining the unique Google Art Project alongside some of the most renowned art museums across the globe.
"When we launched the Dead Sea Scrolls Digital project, we were worried about getting negative or critical responses," she says, referring to factions that claim the scrolls do not belong to Israel. "We had our mouse in hand and were ready to respond, but then we saw that users were answering each other and the interaction was tremendous! There were discussions and discourse on the artifacts that were both historical and scholarly."
Hazan also points to the Google Art Project, which the museum joined earlier this month, as a "game changer" in the museum world.
She says that it has allowed the institution to put entire art galleries and historic artifacts online for public viewing like never before.
"People who are planning a trip to the museum can use it in advance, and those who have already been here can follow up by looking at the galleries online," she says.
Hazan also emphasizes that one of the most important aspect of the museum's online presence is that those who have never been or who have no plans to visit now can.
"It puts us on the map," she says.
While digital expanses such as the Google Art Project and everyday social media platforms like Facebook, Twitter and Pinterest -- Hazan says that this visual pin board is perfect for museum outreach -- are being widely adopted by museums here and abroad, there is still a debate in the profession about whether such mediums enhance or hinder their work.
Rose Ginosar, director of special projects at the Tower of David Museum, which recently launched its new Facebook page with an interactive Timeline dating back to 1099 (the oldest on Facebook), discounts claims that being on social media will deter people from making physical visits to museums.
"When people start interacting with something it only increases their curiosity," says Ginosar, who oversaw the massive task of uploading thousands of photos, letters and other documents from the museum's archives onto Facebook.
She adds: "If someone based in Oklahoma goes online to read about the museum and learns through our Timeline what we do, then you can be sure that the first place that person will visit if they come to Israel is the museum."
Ginosar also states that being on social media is not only about promoting your wares or developing a brand but also about a new general approach to history and heritage.
"Today, a museum has to go beyond its walls and allow those who are interested the opportunity to interact even if they are more than 10,000 miles away," says Ginosar, who hopes that fans will not only browse the virtual galleries online but will also join the dialogue on the museum's Facebook page by commenting or sending in own old photographs of Jerusalem.
"The world is changing," she observes. "It's no longer about people simply viewing history but more about people taking part in history."
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