A Museum without Walls?

By April 30, 2020Blog

At the foundation of every museum is a collection. Different types of museums are distinguished based on what it is they collect and preserve: art museums collect and preserve art, whereas natural history museums collect and preserve natural specimens. The Los Altos History Museum is a history museum, which means we collect things related to the history of our area.

Until recently, this collecting activity meant museums required large facilities with rows and rows of shelves holding artifacts. Think of the ending scene of Raiders of the Lost Ark. Not surprisingly, people began to wonder how practical it was to store these things away, never to see the light of day again, and also how useful.

The Museum without Walls movement is essentially about liberating our collections from the confines of a shelf, box or vault. And the reason to do so is to ensure collections connect with people. Thankfully, technology makes it possible to both keep objects safely stored away AND accessible to curious students, researchers, and residents at the same time.

Los Altos History Museum currently has over 16,000 records in our database, which includes more than 4,000 artifacts and art works, hundreds of feet of written material like newspapers and maps, and almost 8,000 photographs.

In March of 2019, the Museum’s Board passed a new strategic plan, and one of the goals of that plan is to make more of the collection available online. That is no simple task! It means we need to photograph every object, scan every newspaper or paper memorabilia, and add search terms and descriptive labels to every record. That way, when a person accesses our collection online, they can see an image of the item, read a comprehensive description of it, and find other objects like it in the collection.

Over time, our Museum without Walls will include information about historically important features that cannot practically be brought into the Museum, such as listings of historic homes, parks, streets, buildings, and businesses. Together, this robust database will create a much more comprehensive understanding of the history of our area.

This project will take many hours—measured in months and years—to complete. But it will also create a true resource that will allow all of the residents of the Los Altos area to explore the fun facts and stories that have made our community the amazing place it is.

We are starting on this ambitious project now, and we invite you to lend a hand!


Contributed by Elisabeth Ward, Executive Director