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.


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