2. Third-generation museums—Baconian/Scotian

Third generation museums will offer a five-dimensional experience to the museum's users. All printed, projected or electronic media are essentially two-dimensional. A museum exhibit adds a third dimension in that it can be walked around and in some cases the exhibits actually handled or examined. It has more reality, therefore. The fourth dimension is added by interactivity where the response and behaviour of the exhibit, artefact or information is partly driven by the visitor and depends on his or her input.

But a fifth dimension can be added: third generation museums will be places where everything that is known is knowable and which will use the very latest presentational, multimedia and IT techniques. The technology now exists to present real-time computer-generated graphics, even over the Internet. There is no reason why an interactive exhibition on, say, Babylon at Heureka could not be enjoyed in real time by visitors to Papalote in Mexico.

Sadly, many museums have confused electronic storage of catalogue information and documentation of collections with presentation, and science centres have mistaken "getting ourselves on the Internet" with becoming truly interactive rather than merely 'inter-passive'. In almost all cases, the visitor still has to go to a certain place to get the experience and at that place cannot get any experience other than that offered locally.

Science centres, where members of the public can familiarise themselves (note the active nature of this) with the concepts and artefacts of our culture, are the platform on which third generation museums will no doubt be constructed. Characterised by an open, popularist approach, interactive techniques and the encouragement of learning by direct experience, their philosophy is that "learning flows from situations which foster active participation in handling, observing and asking questions" about objects and phenomena.


Sheila Grinell, previously Co-Director of the Exploratorium and Associate Director of the New York Hall of Science.