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Chapter 7. User Experience: Museums on the Web > Museums in the United States

Museums in the United States

Museums are big business in the United States and throughout the world. Hundreds of millions of people visit them each year [Yee 2001], spending millions of dollars to see blockbuster exhibits or stroll through the permanent collections. Tourists to Europe often choose their itinerary based on a desire to visit a particular museum [Goldstein 2000]. The United States International Travel Industry reports that 20 percent of the nearly 50 million people from other countries who visited the United States in 1999 visited museums and art galleries during their stay [U.S. Department of Commerce 2000]. In the state of Pennsylvania alone, over 14 million people were reported as visiting 242 of the nation’s museums in 1997 [Shockey 2000]—probably a fraction of the actual count, since another 700 museums were not included in the survey. In this chapter, we visit the Web sites of cultural and scientific museums from around the world. Our explorations particularly focus on the most visited museum in the United States—the Smithsonian Institution in Washington, DC— and on the second-most visited, the Metropolitan Museum of Art in New York City.

Museums and Accessibility, Offline

Meeting accessibility requirements has been a major challenge for many of the world’s museums. Many of these museums are housed in buildings constructed decades or even centuries before anyone even dreamed of the ADA, the DDA, or other legislation aimed at ensuring physical access to buildings for people with disabilities. Renovation projects usually trigger legislative requirements that these older buildings must be retrofitted with wheelchair ramps and other accessibility features that were not part of the original design. This can be difficult under the best of circumstances, but it is especially tricky in the case of historic buildings, including historic houses, that form the majority of the 8,000 or so museums in the United States because the “historic” designation carries with it stringent requirements aimed at preserving the historic characteristics that make these buildings museums in the first place. [1] Of course museums in Europe face similar challenges when it comes to making centuries-old museum buildings accessible by contemporary standards.

[1] For further information, see the American Association of Museums’ Technical Information Service Resource List at http://www.aam-us.org/infocenter/index.htm and the United States Access Board at http://www.access-board.gov.


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