2. Survey Objectives

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As museums expand their online profile, they continue to ask what a virtual presence can mean to an audience, the ways in which the audience can experience it, what the audience wants from it, and how a web space can relate to the museum's physical space.

In developing their virtual presence for more effective audience engagement, museums want to know what visitors to both spaces are seeking, how museums can meet their needs, and what the correlation is between visits to the web space and to the physical space. Museums have a history of visitor awareness and visitor needs' surveys. As the internet is a newer environment, there is less information about visitor needs and patterns in this virtual space.

Since the launch of the Virtual Museum of Canada, in March 2001, the Canadian Heritage Information Network has been conducting research on web visitors in order to assist the museum community in understanding the needs of this new type of visitor. CHIN has used a number of means, including focus groups on the Virtual Museum of Canada itself, online surveys to determine the audience and user interests for the VMC, a database of user feedback received, and this 2004 two-pronged in-house and online survey to determine the relationship between the two spaces.

With the widespread adoption of internet use, there has been concern among some museum professionals that access to online museum content might decrease public appetite for visiting museums. Several studies have explored visitors' uses of and interactions with museum Web sites (Chadwick 1997, Chadwick 2000, Hafner 2000, Kravchyna & Hastings 2002, Johnson 2000, Sabin 1997, Soren and Lemelin 2002, Pre-Digital Cultural Content Forum papers 2004), and there is anecdotal evidence to suggest a link between the two, suggesting that online content actually increases the interest in visiting a museum. One of the most common uses of museum web spaces is for visitors planning a visit to the physical museum. Most online visitor surveys are by their very nature self-selecting, that is, respondents have chosen to do the survey, and thus the surveys do not have the sample methodology of an in-house survey. In addition, the people who choose to participate are possibly those who are most comfortable with the internet, and such respondents may not be representative of the general online population.

Some other studies (Loomis & Elias, 2003) have tried to determine the links between web sites and interest in visiting museums and libraries, finding that web site use would increase their likelihood of visiting the museum. However, it was felt that there was need for a large-scale study to examine these issues. In 2003, CHIN proposed a national study intended to provide museums with an understanding of the link between visits to the virtual space and physical space, enabling them to develop front-end and back-end content.

The overall objective of the two surveys was to help build a better understanding of why people visit museums' web spaces and how those visits are linked to visits to the museum's physical space. The study aimed at answering questions such as:

  • How should the web space of a museum relate to its physical space?
  • Do people use the internet when they prepare a visit to a museum?
  • Where do people look for information?
  • What are they looking for?
  • Do they use the internet as a tool to enrich a past visit to a museum?
  • What are the reasons why some internet users don't use it to plan their visit to a museum?

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This resource was published by the Canadian Heritage Information Network (CHIN). For comments or questions regarding this content, please contact CHIN directly. To find other online resources for museum professionals, visit the CHIN homepage or the Museology and conservation topic page on Canada.ca.

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