UK Museums in the Pandemic

A composite mostly black and white image of a museum, a dot map of the UK, Covid vriuses, and a blue heartbeat line running from right to left

Awarded £190,000 by the UKRI-AHRC Rapid Recovery Scheme, research began in January 2021 and continued until September 2022. 

The COVID-19 pandemic led to the temporary closure of all museums in the UK, closing buildings and suspending all on-site activities. Museum agencies had to manage these impacts with little up-to-date data.  

The Museums in the Pandemic project investigated whether ‘big data techniques’ could help us better understand changes in the UK museum sector. We used web analytics, natural language processing, and sentiment analysis to capture data from museum websites and social media accounts and then analysed that data according to museum characteristics: size, subject matter, governance, and location. In particular, we wanted to know if museums were closing and if those closed museums had anything in common, and whether museums were turning to the digital as a means of continuing their regular services.   

We found that museums did not close in the numbers expected; on the contrary, closures were reduced from those seen in previous years and few were clearly related to the pandemic. However, many museums remained closed after the lockdowns ended, and patterns of reopening were unevenly distributed across the sector. We also found considerable variation in which museums engaged with social media: while some posted more content than previously, the majority became less active online.