5. Survey Results

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The following sections present an overview of the results of the two surveys. Detailed tables breaking down the results by age, region and other elements can be found in Appendix A.

5.1 Survey of Visitors to Museums

Profile in terms of Internet Use

Eighty-one percent of visitors to museums use the internet, either at home, work, school or some other location. This is considerably higher than the proportion shown by various studies for the general population. (Yahoo! Canada, 2004, Statistics Canada, 2003, Ipsos-Reid, 2002, Leger Marketing, 2003, Nielsen//Net Ratings, ca 2004)

This proportion is higher for visitors to larger museums (87%) than for smaller ones (76%). The proportion is also higher for frequent visitors to museums (89% of those who visit museums once a month or more) than for occasional visitors (about 75% for those who visit museums about once a year or less than once a year). The proportion of internet users decrease as the age group increases, going from 91% for people age 15 to 24 to 53% for those in the 65 and over age group.

When asked if they used the internet to plan their visit to the museum, 78% of the visitors that are internet users answered "no". The proportion of internet users who did use it to prepare their visit is higher for visitors to Ontario museums (27%) and lower for visitors to museums in Quebec (18%). It is also higher for first-time visitors (24%) than for frequent visitors to the museum where the survey took place (18% for those who visit about once a year or more than once a year). The inverse is seen for visitors to museums in general: the proportion is higher for frequent visitors (combining the numbers for those visiting museums a few times a year and the one for those visiting once a month or more, for a combined proportion of 27%) than for occasional visitors (15% for those who visit museums less than once a year or about once a year). As could be expected, the proportion is lower for persons age 65 or over but surprisingly, it is higher for those age 55 to 64.

Where do people look for information about museums and what are they looking for?

According to Tables 1 and 2 below, museums that have their own web space where they provide general information (such as opening hours, directions, etc.), as well as museums that have information on tourism, Chamber of Commerce or municipal websites, do most to help potential visitors in planning their visit using the internet. When citing other web spaces as sources of information, about one quarter referred to internet search engines.

When they plan to visit large museums, people tend to look for information directly on the website of the museum: 57% of visitors to large museums who used the internet to plan their visit cited that source. This proportion is also higher when visiting museums in Ontario (62%) and lower for museums in the Atlantic provinces (30%), where people prefer to look for information on tourism and other sites (61%). People who frequently visit the museum (about once a year or more) also seem to be more prone to looking directly on the museum site (70%). As far as age is concerned, younger people prefer going to the website of the museum (66% for visitors age 15 to 34) while people age 55 and over prefer referring to tourism and similar sites (58%).

Frequent visitors to the museum are more likely than visitors in general to look for a schedule of special events (51%). Frequent visitors also look for a wider range of information. Visitors to museums in the province of Quebec are looking more than others for a schedule of special events (41%) and less for general information (64%). Women cite more items on average than do men (respondents could choose as many items as they wanted).

Table 1: Most popular sources when looking for information on museums over the Internet
Web site% used
The web site of this museum 48%
Tourism, Chamber of Commerce or municipal sites 45%
Other web sites 11%
Don't know/Don't remember 8%
The Virtual Museum of Canada 5%
Table 2: Things that people look for on the Internet when planning a visit to a museum
Item% mentioned
General information about the museum 82%
Schedule of special events 27%
Collections information 14%
Other 13%
e-boutique / online shopping 9%
Images of objects in the collections 8%
Web-based activities 7%
Virtual exhibitions 6%
Learning resources 5%
Discount offers 4%

Impact of the information found on the Internet

The study sought to understand the role of the virtual space in motivating a visit to the physical space: did people visit the museum as a result of finding interesting information about the museum on a virtual space, or had they already decided to visit and then used the internet to find information? Results indicate that 7 out of 10 people are in the latter category. A higher proportion of people from smaller museums and from the Atlantic and Western provinces decided to visit because of the information they found on the internet, compared to the proportion who had already decided on a visit when they looked on the internet. For the former, a higher proportion of people hadn't planned to visit until they found interesting information on the internet. The same is true for people living outside of Canada (46%). Future studies could ask more detailed questions about the information that inspired them to visit (was there a particular event or activity? a specific piece in the collection? the architecture?).

None of the visitors who looked for information because they wanted to visit the museum said that the information they found had a negative impact on their level of interest for a visit. Of course, if there were some people who really didn't like what they saw on the internet and decided that they did not want to visit, they had no chance of being interviewed for this survey, since only museum visitors were surveyed. 57% said the information they found increased their interest for a visit, while the remaining 43% said it had no impact. Given this, and the fact that no one responded that it decreased their interest, it suggests that a visit to the museum's web site would not replace a visit in person, and is likely to encourage a visit. Determining the type of content (images, information about the collections, the institution, or the architecture, the design of the site, the organization of the site content) that increased the interest could be part of a future study. Further study could also distinguish between interest in the form and content of a site.

Reasons for not using the Internet to plan a visit

Table 3: Main reason why people who have access to the Internet did not use it in preparing their visit
Reason% mentioned
Didn't plan the visit 31%
Know the museum very well 28%
Had all the desired information from brochures, newspapers, etc. 21%
Other 9%
Did not have access to the Internet when doing the planning 4%
Didn't know where to look 4%
Too complicated or time-consuming 2%

As mentioned earlier, the survey showed that even though 81% of visitors to museums had access to the internet, only one out of every five of those people used that tool to plan their visit to the museum. What are the barriers that keep internet users from using it for that purpose? Could anything be done to ease their task? (Further study can look at the aspects or content of museum web sites that engaged the online visitor sufficiently to increase their interest in visiting the museum. The relationship between frequency of internet use and web sites as the primary resource in planning visits deserves more study.) For about 9 out of 10 internet users, there is not much that could have been done to make them consider the use of the internet: they didn't plan their visit, they considered that they didn't need more information because they knew the museum very well, they received all the information they needed from brochures, newspapers or other sources, or they did not have access to the internet at the place where they planned their visit. About a quarter of those who reported other reasons specified that they came with family or friends whom they were visiting or because someone (a family member, a friend, etc.) recommended the visit. Those two reasons could be combined with the "didn't plan the visit" category. A case could be made that even for those who know the museum well or have information from other sources, richer content on a museum site could make the use of the internet worthwhile for planning purposes.

About one third of those who reported other reasons said that they just didn't think of looking on the internet or that they didn't think the museum had a website. For those people, along with those who said they didn't know where to look or thought that it was too complicated or time-consuming, a greater awareness of the type of museum information that is accessible online could bring an increased use of that tool. They make up about 10% of the people who were internet users but didn't use the internet to plan their visit.

A higher proportion of visitors to larger museums said that they didn't use the internet because they knew the museum very well (40%). When comparing regions, more visitors to museums in Quebec cited that they didn't plan the visit (40%) and fewer that they knew the museum well (14%). On the other hand, the lowest proportion of internet users who didn't plan their visit is found in Ontario (20%), along with the highest proportion of visitors who knew the museum very well (43%). First-time visitors to the museum were more likely than others to say they didn't plan the visit (40%) while more than 60% of those who visit the museum about once a year (62%) or more than once a year (68%) said they knew the museum very well, which shouldn't come as a surprise.

Follow-up to the visit

About four in ten internet users said they planned to visit the museum's virtual space in the coming days. The results to this question should be treated with caution. The question was asked as a filter to question number 9. Asking the question may elicit a "yes" from people who would not have thought of it unless they were asked. Thus, the true proportion of "yes" may be lower than indicated.

The highest proportion of those who said they planned to visit the museum's virtual space was for people who visit museums once a month or more (48%) while the lowest proportion was for people age 15 to 24 (27%).

Those who said they planned to visit the museum's virtual space were then asked what they would be looking for. The goal was to see if the results would be any different from what people said they looked for when planning the visit (question 4, shown in Table 2) once they had seen the museum. The results are presented in Table 4 below.

Table 4: What will people who plan to visit the museum's Web space after their visit be looking for?
Item% mentioned
More information on the collections 50%
Schedule of special events 40%
Images of objects in the collections 32%
Virtual exhibitions 26%
Learning resources (school programs) 12%
e-boutique / online shopping 11%
Other 11%
Information about the museum's facilities 9%
Web-based activities 9%
Online question sessions with museum staff 6%
Discussion forum with other visitors 5%

People visiting the virtual space of a museum as a follow-up to a visit in person are looking for a richer content than those planning a visit. In particular, images of objects and virtual exhibitions got the biggest increase in popularity. Also, half of those who answered that question said they would look for more information on the collections.

At the same time, 57% of respondents who used the internet to plan their visit stated that the online information increased their interest in visiting. Given this information, having rich collections-related content on the museum's virtual space would not have a negative impact on actual visits to museum, and could increase the interest in visiting in person.

People following-up on a visit to a museum in Western Canada seem more inclined to look for a schedule of special events (55%) and for more information on the collections (61%) than visitors to museums in other parts of the country. People who visit the museum about once a year, or more than once a year, look more for schedule of special events (about 70%). However, those who visit more than once a year are not as interested in obtaining more information on the collections (40%), probably because they already know the collections very well. It is also interesting to note that people who visit museums in general once a month or more seem to be more interested in following up on their physical visit with a visit to the virtual space, showing a higher proportion than average for all items.

Frequency of visits to museums

Table 5: How often do you visit this museum?
Frequency%
First visit 63%
Less than once a year 13%
About once a year 11%
More than once a year 13%

The proportion of first-time visitors is lower among people visiting museums located in Ontario (51%) and higher in Quebec (75%) and the Atlantic provinces (77%). Also, the proportion of first-time visitors is lower for large museums (49%) than for medium and small museums (about 70% in each case).

Not surprisingly, those who visit museums once a month or more are more likely to visit this particular museum more than once a year (39%) and least likely to be first-time visitors (50%). Another unsurprising result is that the proportion of first-time visitors is higher among visitors not currently living in Canada (92%).

Table 6: How often do you visit museums in general?
Frequency%
Less than once a year 16%
About once a year 25%
A few times a year 50%
Once a month or more 9%

About 60% of visitors said they visit museums at least a few times a year. The proportion of visitors who visit museums at least a few times a year is higher in Quebec (67%) and lower in the Atlantic provinces (52%). This same proportion is lower for people currently living in Canada (54%) then for the others (74%). It is important to note that the question was not asking only about Canadian museums but rather about museums in general.

Demographic characteristics

The visitors were divided fairly equally among men (47%) and women (53%). Almost 80% of visitors were currently living in Canada at the time of the survey. The age distribution is presented in Table 7. Note that the interviewer asked to speak to the person who did the most in planning the visit, so this age distribution is probably not representative of the age distribution of all visitors.

Table 7: Distribution of visitors to museums by age
Age groupProportion
15-24 8%
25-34 15%
35-54 42%
55-64 20%
65 and over 16%

5.2 Survey of Visitors to Museums' Web Space

Frequency of visits

The first four questions in the survey looked at frequency of visits: visits to the Virtual Museum of Canada (VMC), to the web spaces of Canadian museums, to the ones of museums from other countries, and finally, frequency of visits in person to museums in Canada.

Table 8: Frequency of visits to the Virtual Museum of Canada site in the past twelve months, for respondents who took the survey from a museum site and for those who took the survey from the Virtual Museum of Canada.
FrequencyMuseum respondentVMC respondentTotal
Never 56% - - - 50%
Once 16% 58% 20%
2 to 4 times 16% 12% 16%
5 to 8 times 4% 11% 5%
More than 8 times 8% 19% 9%

Fifty-six percent of the visitors to museums' virtual spaces who took the survey had not visited the Virtual Museum of Canada in the past twelve months. For fifty-eight percent of those who followed the link to the survey from the VMC site, it was their first visit in the last twelve months. The proportion of respondents who never visited the VMC decreases as the frequency of visits to virtual spaces of Canadian museums increase, going from 79% for those who visited the web space of a Canadian museum once in the last twelve months to 24% for those who visited more than eight times. The same can be seen for physical visits to museums: the more one has visited the VMC in the past twelve months, the more likely one is to visit museums. The proportion of those who never visited the VMC decreases from 69% for those who never physically visit Canadian museums to 25% for those who visit once a month or more. At the same time, the proportion of those who visited the VMC more than 8 times increases from 1% to 16% for the same groups of visitors. This indicates a strong tie between the three types of visits.

Table 9: Frequency of visits to web spaces of Canadian museums in the past twelve months, for respondents who took the survey from a museum site and for those who took the survey from the Virtual Museum of Canada
FrequencyMuseum respondentsVMC respondentsTotal
Never - - - 56% 6%
Once 40% 7% 36%
2 to 4 times 25% 16% 24%
5 to 8 times 11% 7% 11%
More than 8 times 25% 14% 24%

While 56% of VMC visitors had not visited the web space of a Canadian museum in the past twelve months, it was a first visit for 40% of respondents from museum web spaces. The same link between physical visits and virtual visits mentioned above is found again here. Eighty-three percent of those who physically visit Canadian museums once a month or more and forty-eight percent of those who do so a few times a year said they visited the web space of a Canadian museum at least 5 times in the past twelve months. This proportion is down to 11% for all the other groups combined. This indicates that physical visits and virtual visits feed each other, instead of acting as a substitute.

Of course, people living in Canada are more prone to visit Canadian museums' web spaces: 64% did so at least twice in the last twelve months, compared to 41% for people living in the USA and 20% for residents of other countries.

Table 10: Frequency of visits to web spaces of museums from other countries in the last twelve months
Frequency%
Never 46%
Once 12%
2 to 4 times 19%
5 to 8 times 8%
More than 8 times 14%

More than half of the respondents said they visited the web space of a museum from another country at least once in the last twelve months. This proportion is the same for respondents living in Canada, although those are less likely to have visited more often. As a matter of fact, 21% of visitors currently living in Canada said they visited those sites five times or more in the last twelve months, compared to 32% for respondents from other countries.

Patterns of visits to museum virtual spaces of other countries and of Canada are similar. Seventy-three percent of those who didn't visit or visited only once the web space of a Canadian museum in the last twelve months had never visited one from another country during the same period, while only 5% had visited more than eight times. On the other hand, only 16% of frequent visitors to Canadian museums' web spaces (more than eight times) had never visited the web space of a museum from another country, while 40% had visited those more than eight times.

When comparing age groups, the proportion of those who had never visited was lower for people age 55 to 64 (39%) and higher for those under 25 (61%) and over 64 (57%).

Table 11: Frequency of in-person visits to Canadian museums
Frequency%
Never 13%
Less than once a year 21%
About once a year 14%
A few times a year 41%
Once a month or more 11%

About half of the respondents said they visit Canadian museums a few times a year or once a month or more. This proportion is slightly higher for those who took the survey from a museum web space (54%) than those who did so from the VMC (38%), although the latter make up only a small group.

The link between virtual visits and physical visits was already shown earlier in the section but it is again evident here: 76% of those who visited the web space of a Canadian museum five to eight times in the last twelve months and 89% of those who did so more than eight times said they visit museums a few times a year or once a month or more.

Surprisingly, 15% of visitors from other countries said they physically visit Canadian museums at least a few times a year. Only about half said they never do. But of course, they are only a small number and the population for the survey was exclusively people who were looking at the web space of a Canadian museum or at the VMC site and decided to take the survey. This should be kept in mind to put those results in perspective.

How did visitors found out about the site

Table 12: How did respondents find out about the site from which they took the survey (either the museum site or the Virtual Museum of Canada)?
SourceMuseum respondentVMC respondentTotal
Link from (another) museum's Web space 24% 16% 23%
Link from the Virtual Museum of Canada Web site 4% Not applicable 4%
Link from another site 9% 11% 9%
Internet search engine 33% 35% 33%
Someone told me about the site 7% 18% 8%
I learned about it through the media 10% 12% 10%
Other 13% 9% 13%

For frequent visitors to museums' web spaces, a link from another museum was more popular (27%) than search engines (25%), reflecting the fact that those people are already familiar with museum sites. The same is found for people who physically visit museums once a month or more (31% cited link from another museum while 27% chose internet search engine). Search engines were most popular for people who never physically visit Canadian museums (42%) or visit less than once a year (39%). Internet search engines are least popular as a referral among people age 55 and over. About half of the respondents from countries other than Canada and the USA mentioned search engine as their source. Thus, it is important to optimize museum online content for search engines, as well as to create reciprocal links with other museums.

Purpose of the visit

As shown in Table 13, about 4 out of 10 visitors were visiting the web space to look for information to plan a visit to a museum. Another 16% were following up on a recent visit. When those 16% were asked if they had visited the site before visiting the museum, 58% answered "yes". Those numbers cannot be compared to those obtained by the Survey of Visitors to Museums, where 22% of internet users said they used the internet to plan their visit and 40% said they planned to visit the web space of the museum soon after their visit. The two surveys were not looking at the same population.

Table 13: Purpose of the visit to the site
Reason%
Planning a visit to a museum 38%
Following-up on a recent visit to a museum 16%
Neither. 47%

Respondents who frequently visit Canadian museums (a few times a year or once a month or more) are more likely to be following up on a recent visit (19%) than the others (12%), which shouldn't come as a surprise. Also, those who physically visit once a month or more are least likely to be planning a visit (22%). Those who answered the survey in French were more likely to be planning a visit (44%) than those who chose the English version of the questionnaire (34%).

Expectations towards a museum's web space

Table 14: Things that people look for on a museum's web space
Item%
General information about the museum 58%
Schedule of special events 56%
Information on the collections 49%
Virtual exhibitions 36%
Information for professional research 24%
Other 16%
Learning resources 15%
Discount offers 15%
Information on the museum's facilities 13%
e-boutique / online shopping 13%
Information for a college/university project or course 11%
Web-based activities 11%
Information for any other type of school project 10%
Online question sessions with museum staff 6%
Discussion forum with other visitors 5%

The answers to this question don't vary much according to the various subgroups studied. Still, it is worth noting that frequent visitors to museums' web spaces seem to be looking for more items on average, and for richer content.

When comparing the answers to this question with responses obtained in questions 4 and 9 of the Survey of Visitors to Museums, people who are already online visiting a museum website are looking for much more than are physical visitors who say they plan to visit a museum's web space (they choose more items on average).

Table 15: Type of information on the collections that people expect to find on a museum's web space
Item%
General information 58%
Description of objects in the collections 77%
Images of/from the collections 69%
Other 10%

Frequent visitors, whether to web spaces of Canadian museums (more than eight times) or in person (once a month or more) cite every item much more often than visitors with other profiles. They seem to be expecting more in terms of information on the collections.

Goals of a museum's web space

Table 16: Proportion of respondents who ranked each item as the most important goal, the second most and the third most important
GoalsMost important2nd most important3rd most importantTotal top3 votes
Provide information about the museum's hours, events, services and facilities 28% 14% 16% 58%
Increase access to the museum's information and related resources 16% 21% 20% 57%
Provide information that enhances your understanding or experience of the collections beyond what is found in the physical museum 8% 20% 18% 46%
Provide support for the museum's educational mission 11% 13% 11% 36%
Promotion/marketing 15% 8% 8% 32%
Provide support for the museum's research mission 7% 6% 10% 22%

It is important to point out that about 15% of all survey respondents didn't provide an answer to this question, which explains why the total of each column is not 100%. This probably reflects the fact that a question in this format is harder to answer for respondents. The results are sorted according to the last column, which gives the proportion of respondents who ranked each item as one of the three main goals, giving equal importance to first place, second place and third place votes. Even if greater importance were given to first place selections, the ranking of the items would not be different.

Although they identified the same three main goals, respondents who answered the questions in English had different views of the other items of importance from those who answered in French. Anglophones cited promotion and marketing much more often (40%) than francophones (16%), who in turn mentioned the research mission and the educational mission more often.

Demographic characteristics of respondents

More women participated in the survey (57%, compared to 43% of men). The age distribution and the current place of residence are provided in the two tables that follow.

Table 17: Distribution of respondents by age group
Age group%
14 or under 2%
15 to 24 10%
25 to 34 23%
35 to 54 47%
55 to 64 13%
65 and over 5%
Table 18: Current place of residence
Place of residence%
Canada 83%
USA 8%
Europe 6%
Mexico/Central America/South America 1%
Africa 1%
Asia 1%
Oceania 1%

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