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I have recently been directed to the virtual Roma exhibition of The European Library, called ‘A Roma Journey‘.

The European Library is effectively a portal to the national libraries of Europe, who have contributed and made available on the website a digitised selection of their treasures.  The exhibitions pull these together thematically.

For ‘A Roma Journey’ the description promises that it will ‘unravel[] the Roma’s rich oral heritage’, thus enabling the visitor to ‘share the experiences of this nomadic culture’.  What one encounters, however, is a mere grid of thumbnails without further comment or explanation, leaving me to wonder whether these two objectives – unravelling the heritage, sharing the experience – will be achieved for any visitor/user except those with an existing and in-depth knowledge of Roma culture.

Such non-experiences always frustrate me.  The notion of an online exhibition using treasures from multiple libraries is exciting and deserves the funding it received.  And yet an opportunity was missed to really enthuse ordinary people.

Meanwhile, the online medium is perfect for telling an engaging multi-media story that uses collection objects creatively and intelligently as part of a narrative.  In fact, what could be better than a storytelling format to convey the sense of an oral culture – a true ‘the medium is the message’ moment!  Such a solution, of course, requires interpretive planning and a good understanding of user needs.

Alas, I find that too often, proper interpretation still does not receive its deserved place in the European museum and heritage context.  However, there are a few beacons of light that recognize that museums etc. provide a public service and should be managed in a visitor-friendly way.  I do hope this insight will spread more widely.

Until then, I can only recommend a good browse of the US National Park Service’s WebRanger activities for children that use original objects in a way that could have been used for the ‘Roma Journey’.  I particularly liked ‘Photo Explore‘ and ‘The Patriot Spy‘.  Happy Exploring!

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