By Dr Heidi Campbell, Digital Engagement Curator at Maynooth University
My name is Heidi Campbell and I am the Digital Engagement Curator at Maynooth University Library. I was already familiar with the breath-taking Russell Library when I first joined Maynooth University (MU) in January 2022. It was therefore a wonderful opportunity for me to develop my skills and knowledge of virtual tours by making the first one for MU and St Patrick’s Pontifical University (SPPU) of the Russell Library.
In the last 3 years virtual spaces have been at the forefront of development for most public venues, from museums, libraries and state buildings to hotels, recreation centres and residential properties. Virtual tours of exhibitions were already a developing phenomenon by the time the pandemic hit and so institutions who had systems in place were able to remain active and virtually open to the public.
Culture Night and the first virtual tour
While attendance numbers of in-person events improved significantly throughout 2022, hybrid events remained the most popular, allowing those who were unable or unwilling to travel to still feel part of the event. And so, Culture Night and the Russell Library’s exhibition, “Home and Husbandry” provided the first chance to test out our equipment and platform.
Please view the tour here: https://app.cloudpano.com/tours/5rZjnmORm
With this initial tour I established a welcome area starting on the ground floor where I described the Conservation lab and the King George III statue and provided a general introduction to the Russell Library and St Patrick’s Pontifical University. Moving into the exhibition proper I used a blend of text information stops and directional bubbles. The limits of the platform meant we had to choose between text and image for each object; or text and a link to the collection for each object and so we went with the latter for this tour.
Testing the Style – the second virtual tour
I approached the next virtual tour with a developed sense of style and process. We decided that images and text would be better for the collection as the exhibition cabinets and the type of camera do not lend themselves to viewing the objects clearly online. Learning much from the previous tour it became clear that experiencing the virtual space, and viewing the objects clearly, are the most important features of a virtual exhibition. So, for the next exhibition; ‘The Second Reformation and Catholic–Protestant Relations in Pre-Famine Ireland: Bicentennial Perspectives,’ I changed several features. This time I began the tour directly in the Russell Library reading room, facing the bust of James Warren Doyle. Each object in the cases were photographed by Special Collections and Archives staff and I was able to add these images to the software to display them alongside the text labels. This display allows the audience a close and detailed image of the object alongside a full description of the item.
You can view this tour here.
Virtual Christmas Advent Experience
With the Christmas season fast approaching, I was involved in another project, the MU Library advent calendar. For several years staff had worked on making an interactive advent calendar but difficulties in software and hosting meant the project had never been completed. I proposed the idea of using our virtual tour equipment and platform. I suggested using the information points as “advent windows” in a 3D virtual space as an alternative form of calendar.
You can explore the experience here: https://app.cloudpano.com/tours/Sw_VcP402
The experience consists of multiple information spots around one point in the room. The viewer needs to turn, using their mouse or finger (depending on your device) to view the entire virtual space and find the correct day.
Behind each number is an image and text connected with the specific theme. For 2022 we decided to focus on the beautiful collections of St Patrick’s Pontifical University. With almost 800 views to date, the advent experience has proved a great success and a very proud moment of inspiration.
What is Next?
Looking to the future, exploring the collections through virtual reality is a method that will continue to grow and develop. We plan to create virtual tours of all exhibitions in the Russell library allowing anyone from anywhere in the world to experience these events. All tours and experiences will then be kept in perpetuity on our website to continue to aid research and development. I have ideas and goals for other virtual experiences to promote engagement with our collections, so stay tuned to the MU Library Treasures Blog and our social media channels to see what we have in store!