Web Magazine for Information Professionals

The Australian Museums on Line Project

Louise Douglas and Stephen Hall describe the Australian Museums On Line (AMOL) project, which aims to dramatically increase access to the cultural resources of Australian museums via the Internet by 2001 through the AMOL World Wide Web site.


To date, the focus has been on creating a working pilot of the Australian Museums On Line web site [1] which now includes: The AMOL team is now working on substantial improvements to the pilot site, to be in place by June 1997. Enhancements will include: From July 1997 onwards the AMOL site will grow rapidly in terms of museum coverage, database size and features offered to both the museum community and the general public. By 2001 we plan to have the collection databases of more than 80% of Australia’s museums linked through a national server network.

Some background

Conceptualisation of the project began in 1993 when the Cultural Ministers Council established the Heritage Collections Working Party and was brought to fruition by the Heritage Collections Committee in 1995 when it established a separate program specifically to examine at improving access to Australian museum and gallery collections using new technologies. At the same there was growing awareness of the importance of the world wide web as a possible tool, and the Committee focused its efforts initially on a pilot to develop to ‘proof of concept’ stage. This pilot was undertaken by the AMOL Coordination Unit established within the National Museum of Australia from October 1995-June 1996.

What are AMOLs overall objectives?

The following objectives summarise the direction of the AMOL project:

Who will use the AMOL web site?

One of the promises of the I-way [information superhighway] as a vehicle for museum programming is that it reaches a vast new audience. But the vast new audience is composed of numerous small, specialised, audiences with particular knowledge, interests, needs and abilities. If the museum is presented in monolithic fashion, it will be uninteresting to many of its potential electronic visitors. But if museums are clever and rigorous in their analysis, they are in an excellent position to create data that can support users with many diverse points of view. (David Bearman, US collection database consultant, 1995)

An estimated 40 million people are using the Internet worldwide at the moment. Many claims are being made about the extraordinary growth of the Internet, and even if these figures are treated cautiously there is little doubt that the Internet is here to stay and will certainly form another important means of communicating and obtaining information.

Australian estimates for home based use of the Internet indicate that 2 million Australians will have Internet access from their homes by the end of 1997. This figure is likely to be higher if the price of bandwidth falls in the interim.

Statistical data on the way museums are using the Internet are not yet available. Estimating use levels is made more difficult by the fact that museums are still in the process of connecting to the Internet even for general research purposes.

The provision of Internet access to their collections is being addressed only by a small group of museums with the resourcing and management issues usually precluding the majority of museums developing Internet based programs.

The Internet offers an enormous opportunity to enable increased public access to museum collections and activities. Besides this, within the museum community itself it is anticipated that AMOL will be most useful for:

The geographic spread of Australian museums inhibits regular communication between them. Many museum workers see AMOL as an invaluable tool for improving the general level of interaction between museums. The level of use amongst the museum community is anticipated to be high, once AMOL has established itself as a fully operational information system.

The rate at which primary, secondary and tertiary institutions are taking advantage of the educational resources offered by the Internet varies considerably across states and sectors and is often determined by resource issues. However, most state governments have recently moved to ensure their school systems are well connected to the Internet by 2000. As AMOL becomes more widely known as a source of substantial information on heritage and cultural issues, it is anticipated that educational institutions will use it extensively. Specialist subjects featured in many museums could generate great interest if made accessible through the World Wide Web. Possible subjects for development include:

Indigenous people are also increasingly requiring access to museum collections to assist in the process of cultural maintenance and revival.

Further consultation will be undertaken with potential users and in the process of reviewing the web site structure and design, consideration will be given to segmenting the site for particular types of user.

Who is involved in AMOL?

The AMOL project is a uniquely collaborative project in that it brings together the combined resources and expertise of: All three parties contribute funding for the project. A number of consultants have been contracted to undertaken specific elements. They include:

National directory of Australian museums

In February 1996 all Australian museums were sent a questionnaire - responses to this questionnaire form the basis of the National Directory. Approximately 850 out of a possible 2000 survey forms have been received. These 850 responses now appear on the National Directory.

Museums were invited to include basic information (the Australian Museums On Line Information Record - a minimum data set for describing museum objects on AMOL) on five ‘items of interest’ from their collections. About 100 museums were able to provide images with their directory entries. Users can access the national directory by:

Connections to a number of museums which have their own home page can be made via the directory.

The network of AMOL servers and Museum Search

Currently all AMOL information is on one server at the National Museum. The next phase of the project will see a pilot network extension, with the addition of the Western Australian Museum as the first AMOL remote server.

From July 1997 onwards an Australia-wide network of distributed servers will be built on this foundation.

Museum Search is a searchable collection database made up of the collection records of a number of local and regional museums which is searchable as if it were one database.

The first stage pilot version of Museum Search was completed and made accessible through the web site in June 1996. The pilot concentrated on bringing together a diverse selection of local and regional museum communities.

Museum Search comprises collection data from the following 10 museums.

All collections can be searched simultaneously. This is possible because each museum’s data has been ‘mapped’ out of its original database and into a new database.

AMOL also provides separate searches of collection databases of museums with web access - currently:

In selecting participants advice was sought from: In addition, a number of museums (Newcastle Regional Museum and Unley City Museum) enthusiastic about AMOL, approached the AMOL Coordination Unit to be considered as contributors to Museum Search. Criteria used to assess which museums to include in the pilot were: By mid 1997 another 26 museum collections will be added to Museum Search. Although the majority of these museums will be local and regional museums, a number of large museum collections will be included.

Related Projects


  1. Australian Museums On Line Web site,
  2. Environmental Resources Information Network

Author Details

Louise Douglas, Stephen Hall
AMOL Coordination Unit
email: webmanager@nma.gov.au
Tel: 06 242 2122
Address: GPO Box 1901, Canberra, ACT 2601, Australia