British Museum blog

Searching the British Museum collection

Badges in the British Museum collection

Matthew Cock, Head of web, British Museum

When the British Museum first opened in 1759, free admission was granted to all ‘studious and curious persons’. In 2007 we took that idea a step further with the launch of our collection online. A gradual process has seen this facility grow since then from about 300,000 objects available to over two million.

Badges in the British Museum collection

Badges in the British Museum collection

We know from looking at visitor statistics that many thousands of people use the collection online, accounting for about a third of our web traffic – around 15.5 million page views a year. As well as building on this amazing resource by releasing a semantic web endpoint and creating online research catalogues that tap into it, we’re working to improve and update the search itself to make it easier to use.

Through surveys and talking to regular users inside and outside the Museum – and of course, using it ourselves – we are very aware that the current search could be improved. So a team of staff from the web, programming and collection documentation teams, together with Museum curators, have been working on improvements to the interface.

This process has coincided with a re-design of the whole website that incorporates several strands – wider pages, larger images and bigger text for example. We’re currently half way through the process of updating the collection search, and have made available a Beta release to give you the opportunity to try it out alongside the old version, and let us know what you think.

You can let us know whether you approve of the changes (or not!) and if there are any bugs in what we have done. We’d like your feedback so we can make adjustments to improve it before we finalise it.

But, it’s important to note that the release at this stage only shows about half of the overall work we’re undertaking. So far we’ve updated the search results page, with larger thumbnails and a revised design; the object record page, with a revised design and – again – larger images, and we’ve added an image gallery for when an object has more than one image.

These pages are currently only available from a straightforward keyword (“free text”) search, and there are no sorting options for the results at the moment. Work is currently ongoing to develop the interface on the “advanced search” facility and to add the sorting options that users can currently apply to their results.

We’d like your feedback as comments to this post, so that you can see what others have commented already – and we can feed back if useful on comments and questions for the whole user community to see.

The beta release of the new Collection online is available here:

The current version that it will replace is available here:

If you’d like to email any comments, you can send them to with COL BETA in your subject line.

If you would like to leave a comment click on the title

Filed under: At the Museum, Collection, Research

5 Responses - Comments are closed.

  1. Putalia says:

    Amazing! Congratulations for the initiative!


  2. Rosina Buckland says:

    All very exciting! On the results page, the larger thumbnails and arrangement in horizontal rows are a big improvement. In the object record, I really appreciate having the image gallery (especially useful for handscrolls and Japanese illustrated books).

    The Advanced Search is already very powerful, so I look forward to seeing the improvements to that. The provenance search seems to have disappeared at present, but on that it would greatly help for the results to be displayed as in the normal search (i.e. with thumbnails), and not in a list.

    Keep up the good work!


  3. Ryan Wallace says:

    The new interface looks very clean. Nice work.

    Are there plans to include links to images in the semantic endpoint? I’m hoping to use it to integrate items from your collection into the Reciprocal Research Network (


  4. Rosina Buckland says:

    Is it possible to have an ‘AND NOT’ option? This would be useful for narrowing down results.


Enter your email address to follow this blog and receive notifications of new posts by email.

Join 14,946 other followers


Follow @britishmuseum on Twitter

British Museum on Instagram

You can now discover thousands of British Museum objects in partnership with @googleartproject at We’ve asked staff members to highlight their favourites and explain what makes them special. Chris Spring, Curator of Africa Collections, describes why he finds the ‘Throne of weapons’ so powerful. ‘This war memorial celebrates the ordinary people of Mozambique, many of them unarmed, who stood up to a culture of violence. It represents both a human tragedy and a human triumph. The Throne's essential humanity is suggested right away by its anthropomorphic qualities - it has arms, legs, a back and most importantly a face - actually two faces. My first reaction was that these faces are crying in pain, though they could also be seen as smiling faces finally freed from conflict. These anthropomorphic qualities also link it immediately to the arts of Africa, in which non-figurative objects such as chairs, stools, weapons, pots etc are seen as - and described as - human beings. The Throne has toured the world, taking its message of peace to schools, churches, shopping centres and even prisons – and of course, to museums and galleries.’ #MuseumOfTheWorld We’re celebrating our partnership with @googleartproject, and have asked curators to tell us about their favourite objects. Hugo Chapman, Keeper of Prints and Drawings, explains why he chose this chalk drawing by Michelangelo. ‘One of the things I love about drawings is the way they sometimes allow a glimpse into the private, behind the scenes world of an artist, one unseen in finished works in paint or stone. An example of that is a red chalk drawing by Michelangelo of grotesque heads in red chalk that reveal that the Florentine Renaissance artist had a lively, if caustic, sense of humour. The three heads were probably drawn to amuse but at the same instruct his pupils, as the three studies show how slight changes can radically alter the reading of an image with the character and mood of each figure (paranoid anxiety; vacuous joy; and depressive gloom) signalled by the position and erectness of their donkey-like ears.  I wish my ears were as expressive.’ Discover many more incredible works of art in the Google Cultural Institute at

#Michelangelo #art To celebrate our partnership with @googleartproject, we’ve asked members of British Museum staff to highlight their favourite objects and explain what makes them special. Jill Cook, Deputy Keeper of Britain, Europe & Prehistory, chose this stone chopping tool from an early human campsite in Olduvai Gorge, Tanzania. ‘Holding this 2 million year old African tool in my hand I am reminded that whatever differences exist between people now, we are united by our common origin in Africa. The discovery of this piece by Louis Leakey in 1931 began to change our understanding of what makes us human. It illustrates the beginning of a transition from an ancestral ape that walked upright on two legs within the confines of a limited ecological niche to humans with more complex brains capable of changing and eventually dominating the world around us by making tools and weapons. This chopping tool is one of the seeds from which all human cultures and societies have grown.’ Discover the stories of thousands of objects in the Google Cultural Institute at

#MuseumOfTheWorld In Victorian England many people were fascinated by their past, and the ancient tribal leader Caratacus (also spelt Caractacus) was adopted as a symbol of national pride and independence. Like Boudica, Caratacus resisted the Roman invasion of Britain. Although he was eventually defeated, he earned a reputation as a noble and worthy foe. The Victorian sculptor J H Foley portrays him here standing triumphant, the embodiment of courageous English spirit. See this incredible #Movember moustache in our #Celts exhibition, until 31 January 2016.
J H Foley (1818–1874), Caractacus. Marble, 1856–1859. On loan from Guildhall Art Gallery/Mansion House, City of London. Some more #Movember inspiration! Here’s the Museum’s security team from 1902 photographed on the front steps. They include officers from the Metropolitan Police, and the London Fire Brigade (identified by their flat caps). We’re celebrating #Movember with Museum moustaches great and small. Here’s a #Movember fact: Peter the Great of Russia introduced a beard tax in 1698 and this token was given as proof of payment!

Get every new post delivered to your Inbox.

Join 14,946 other followers

%d bloggers like this: