Thing 7: Online Exhibitions

Hosting a digital exhibition through your library, museum or archives department can present you with a huge opportunity to reach new audiences that may not visit your collections in person.

Not just a visual medium, you can also incorporate audio and audio-visual material into your exhibition to tell your story. There are many free online tools that you can use, and you don't need a lot of technical knowledge to create something simple and effective.

Unlike a digital library, an online exhibition allows you to choose a selection of material from one or more collections to create a narrative around a theme. This allows you to showcase items from larger collections and pique the interest of viewers who might not have come across the collection in its original context.


As with any project, the most important first step is to make a plan. Things to consider:

Your Story 

  • What is the narrative?  
  • How is it arranged? 
  • What are the different ways in which to display the material?

The Size of Your Exhibition

  • How much material do you have? 
  • Do you need to digitise material? 
  • Do you have enough (supported) digital storage?


  • Do you have the expertise to create an online exhibition? 
  • Do you have the support to maintain it? 
  • Do you have the resources (time, funding, staff…)? 
  • Are there potential collaborators to help (e.g. a researcher from a history society or a student computer scientist looking for a dissertation project)? 

Your Exhibition Material 

You will need digital content to create an online exhibition. This content may already be in a  digital format or require some digitisation of hard-copy material.

If you plan to digitise hard-copy material you should give some thought to your file format and quality, as you may want to reuse the items again in the future. The recommended approach is to capture good quality digital files, (in .wav and .TIFF file formats) which are then stored for preservation . From these high-resolution files you can then create low resolution and compressed surrogate files (e.g. mp3 and jpeg)  to use in your exhibition.

You may also like to use material from external sources to add to your story. As outlined in Thing 3 in this course, you should always check with the copyright holder as to the conditions of use. Many online sites have some statement around use of their material or contact information. For more information take a look at this creative commons wikimedia.


Once your content is online it is very difficult to protect from illegal re-use. There are a few measures that you can take to protect your content: 
  • Attach a copyright statement and user licence to the website (put it in the footer so that it shows on all pages) or beside each individual item (e.g. a caption under a photograph) to outline attribution and permissions for reuse. (See Thing 3)
  • Make your files low resolution to prevent re-use and direct individuals to contact you for permission to use them. 

For more information on Creative Commons attributions take a look at Thing 3 or the creative commons website.

Case study no. 2 The Dance Archive of Ireland

Selecting an Online Service

Like most online products, you do not need to have knowledge of coding languages or technical support to use an online hosting service. You can select a service that best suits your needs.

Self Hosting 

Self hosting means using the internal storage and servers of your institution to host your online exhibition. You will need IT support for the initial set up as well as ongoing support for backups and upgrades. The advantage to self hosting is that you have complete control over the site and your domain name can be an extension of your institutional URL, for example

Free hosting 

Use a free website provider to host your site. This brings the benefits of ongoing support and upgrades and backup. On the other hand, you usually cannot fully customise the domain name,  so you’re stuck with ‘’ or ‘’ as part of your exhibition URL. Also there may be advertisements, limits to storage and a lot of features/functionality that will not be available without upgrading to the ‘pro’ version.

Paid hosting

Some websites, Wordpress for example, allow you to upgrade to a paid version. This is normally done by annual subscription, with the benefits of ongoing support, upgrades and backup, usually with more features/functionality available, and most importantly you can select a domain name of your choice.

Image taken from Case Study no. 3

Exhibition Platforms

Blogging Platforms

Using a blog is very simple and convenient way of creating a web based exhibition, especially if you choose to use the free hosting option. You can achieve a clean professional result by selecting an appropriate theme and adding your institutional branding and colour templates if necessary. Using pages (not posts) can provide a website feel, however you have the benefit of a blog if you want to organise material chronologically or release new content by date (e.g. for a diary or newspaper exhibition). Even with the free versions there are many features available to create an attractive exhibition.

Exhibition software


A popular, open-source exhibition tool is Omeka but this is not available as a free hosted service like the blogs. You can use it by downloading it to your own servers or to a web hosting site. It is designed very much with exhibitions in mind so will offer many features to help you best display your material.

Google Arts and Culture 

There is also a free service from Google called ‘Google Arts and Culture’ which allows you to create free exhibitions and which are then available to view alongside exhibitions from other institutions around the world. It is open to non-profits, museums, cultural institutions and archives.  It is still in beta mode and joining is by invitation only. Access their FAQ page here.  Click here to request an invite. 

Example from Case Study no. 4. 


You can create an online exhibition using a website provider or your own institutional servers. Many web providers will also allow you to download a software package like WordPress or Omeka or may have a customised content management system that you can add your content to. There will be cost involved and, depending on your choice, you may need coding skills.

Plugins and Widgets

Plugins and widgets are coded features that you can install into your blog or website to give your exhibition certain features or functionality such as share buttons, contact forms and galleries. Some are designed to work with particular software (see the WordPress plugins) while others can be used on most web pages (e.g. embedding YouTube videos or Google Maps).

If there is something you want to add to your site, chances are a plugin has been invented to do it, however, your exhibition platform might not support it or require you to pay to install it. Knowing the costs and the available supports will help inform your decision on what service to use.

Other Considerations

If you are producing an exhibition on behalf of an organisation, make sure to find out the corporate branding rules, especially around use and position of logos, colour palettes and copyright and attribution statements.

Ideally your site will be responsive i.e. it will work as expected on mobile devices with different screen sizes as well as desktop formats.   Most web tools will automatically convert your content to a 'mobile view', this may omit elements that you don't want to lose. Try out your exhibition on different browsers and devices to ensure you are happy with the display.

Think about how you will publicise the exhibition and improve discoverability by search engine optimisation (e.g. using Google Search Console).

Tracking your site usage through social media and Google Analytics is also important and helpful when planning future exhibitions.

You might have to make compromises based on the resources you have available so play around with what you have because often there is a good-enough solution.

An example of Case study no. 5

Case Studies

Case study 1 : Exhibition on WordPress

It’s A Long Way To Tipperary (

The Special Collections & Archives Department of the Glucksman Library houses  an archive encompassing 350 years of family history of the Armstrongs of Moyaliffe Castle, County Tipperary. The collection contains some 50,000 items, including over 13,000 photographs, many of which were taken during the First World War by the son, Pat, as he fought in the British Army. With the centenary of WW1 in 2014, the Glucksman Library at UL decided to create an online exhibition following this family through the war years.

The exhibition comprised of a weekly post using diary entries, combined with letters and photographs from around the same time. The blog post was published in present day on the dates of the diary entries.  WordPress was the chosen platform as the blog function allowed weekly posts to be scheduled and archived in chronological order.

We used static pages for background information and context and the themes and plugins allowed us to add other features like a timeline and maps. As we hosted the site ourselves we could do a lot of customisation with code or plugins. It is a four year project, however, so we are responsible for updates and backups. Things go wrong along the way and we’ve had to compromise and make changes but that’s ok. It has been a huge, and enjoyable, learning experience.

Case Study 2: Exhibition on Blogger

Digitising the National Dance Archive of Ireland

Created using Blogger, this is a simple, multi-paged exhibition containing text and images. Here's a description of how it was made

Case Study 3: Exhibition on Blogger

Postcards with an Edge

Another Blogger based exhibition. This site uses external (free) features embedded in the pages to display material in novel ways. Here is a description of how it was created.

Case Study 4: Exhibition on WordPress

UL Oral History Project

This exhibition uses the free WordPress platform to create a simple, page based site with embedded audio files and links to external content. Here is a description of how it was created.

Case Study 5: Exhibition on WordPress

Judging Books 

This exhibition is on a free WordPress site and uses the portfolio feature available on some WordPress themes to display material in a responsive gallery. Here is a description of how it was created.

Your Task for Thing 7 is:

Take a paper based brochure or poster for a collection or service and recreate it in an online exhibition using a blog. Think about how best to arrange the site and what features would add value to (but not complicate) the story. Look at other exhibitions for inspiration and don’t be afraid to reimagine material in different contexts.

Further reading

Working with digital material:

It will help to have some knowledge of creating and managing your digital files.

Digital Repository Ireland, ‘Online Resources for Digitisation Projects’, available at

University of Limerick, ‘Digital Foundations’ available at

Creating Exhibitions:

A checklist of things to consider when creating an online exhibition. Athena Plus, ‘Things to consider before creating a digital exhibition’, available at

Thing 7 Online Exhibitions was written by Sinead Keogh. Sinéad has worked at the University of Limerick since 2006. Following roles in subject support and research support, she now works in the Technical and Digital Services Department. As the Digital Services librarian, she manages the UL Institutional Repository and, more recently, the digitisation unit and digital library. Through this work, creating and managing digital cultural heritage material, she became involved in online exhibitions. The most significant of these is the four year exhibition ‘It's a Long Way to Tipperary' (, the story of a family living through the First World War. She is particularly interested in personal digital archiving and, as an extension, how to share and present family histories told through texts, images and spoken word.


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