Page last updated at 12:42 GMT, Monday, 23 February 2009

Museum lovers' social networking

By Sean Coughlan
BBC News education reporter

British Museum
Museum visitors will also be able to meet online

Museum visitors will be able to share their cultural passions in a social networking website.

A group of the UK's most famous museums, including the British Museum and Victoria and Albert Museum, is creating a collective website.

As well as finding information about exhibits, museum lovers can use the website to create communities based on their historic and creative interests.

The National Museums Online Learning project is to be launched this week.

The 1.5m, Treasury-funded project also involves the National Portrait Gallery, Natural History Museum, the Tate, the Wallace Collection, Royal Armouries, Sir John Soane's Museum and Imperial War Museum.

Online scrapbooks

These major museums have always been popular places for meeting places and days out - drawing tens of millions of visitors each year. Now they will offer an online meeting place.

The museums are collaborating to allow online visitors to search across their combined collections, so that a single search might gather material from any of them.

Three Graces, V&A
The Victoria and Albert Museum is part of this major collaboration

It will also allow visitors to set up social networking groups on the website where they can talk about what has inspired them and about their creative interests.

The project allows visitors to collect scrapbooks of images or text or videos that they find in the museums, which they can share with other website users.

The project describes this as "serendipity in action".

"What we want is people to be inspired and talk to each other," says Carolyn Royston of the Victoria and Albert Museum.

"They will be able to create communities of interest around collections."

To prompt creative responses there will be videos showing how people might react to what they see in museums, including Ian Hislop talking about Hogarth and Vivienne Westwood on the influence of the Wallace Collection.

For schools there will be a search process called "WebQuests", which will allow pupils to investigate the combined resources of the museums.

The idea is that a class studying Queen Victoria, for example, might find a painting from the National Portrait Gallery, information about clothing from the Victoria and Albert Museum and historic objects from the British Museum.

The museums taking part in this venture are among the country's most popular destinations for visitors and school trips. Last year, the British Museum alone received more than six million visitors.

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