Criticism for new-look Web site

  • 2002-05-09
  • Edgars Kariks
What is arguably the best museum in the Baltic states recently launched a new-look Web site to provide even more information about Latvia under the occupying totalitarian regimes from 1940 to 1991.

It's essential as a reminder to the world of the wrongdoing committed by foreign powers. It also remembers those who perished, who suffered, and who fled the terror of the occupying regimes.

The Web site, run by the Museum of the Occupation of Latvia - - contains a notice to the effect that a full version of the site will be online soon. Some observations and comments are in order, in the hope that there may be time to incorporate a few features before it becomes cluttered and less easy to control.

The opening page is visually impressive, with well-spaced changing images from exhibits and the emotionally striking Occupation Museum logo design.

It is, however, somewhat disappointing to see that the name of the organization appears prominently in English language with the shortened Latvian version in a subservient position. Surely this most important fact should be turned upside down to indicate that this is a Latvian museum.

Further down on this first page of contact between site and site visitor is the option of opening the main contents page in either Latvian or English. It seems somehow appropriate that while this new Web site is still in its developmental stages, the full information that will follow should also be made available in Russian and German, reflecting not only that these were the languages of the occupying forces, but also that in the museum itself the display texts and explanations are already actually provided in Latvian, English, German and Russian.

This may seem a minor point, but better to resolve this issue earlier while texts are being assembled and loaded rather than later when there will be masses of texts and it will be a financial burden on the museum to have to load in translations so that the 40,000-plus annual visitors can keep track of developments in their own or a common language.

The link to the "exhibits" page is somewhat bare of information about what is currently available. Two meager paragraphs are not really enough to entice one to look further. There could be some internal links to specific documents and photos of the various parts of the present display, which in fact covers many periods and perspectives of the occupation years.

The "programs" link is also somewhat spartan, but I do hope that each of the six headings will soon be clickable and will provide specific promotional material about upcoming teacher workshops, special activities for various age groups, and information about the traveling exhibition "Latvia returns to Europe."

There should also be information about the research program's activities, resultant publications and availability. The present headings and one-sentence descriptions about the archives and collections, the video program, and the computerized database need to be developed.

The "visitors" link is again sparse. Presumably this means that the page designers are planning to put in photographs and comments about the many important, high-ranking and influential international visitors who have had the privilege to visit and be guided through this truly great museum.

Moving on to the "future" link, mention is made of the fact that Riga City Council has decreed that the Occupation Museum building (which was formerly the Museum of the Red Riflemen) is to be razed, but not until the museum has been provided with a suitable alternative space.

Immediately next to this statement is an enticing photo of architect Gunars Birkerts' vision for an extension of the present building. It would be proactive of the Occu-pation Museum management to develop this idea and involve Web page visitors in an interactive feedback dialog to keep this issue and its resolution clearly in the public eye (Riga City Council has this on its site at /chat/comments). The Internet has no national boundaries, and philanthropists all over the planet are always looking for important causes and projects to support.

The next heading on the same page identifies current sources of funding as being chiefly from Latvians living abroad, including major support from the World Federation of Free Latvians, the American Latvian Association, and the Latvian Relief Organization Daugavas Vanagi. Visitors to the Occupation Museum site would surely be pleased to follow a link to these related sites.

The museum does indeed need continued support and bank account details are listed - but not with any incentive or clear invitation for the visitor to instantly want to write a check or make a bank transfer.

It would be appropriate to put in an e-mail link to the director of the Occupation Museum Foundation, or a telephone number so that it would be possible to call direct and be persuaded that a donation, however small or large, will be put to good use and possibly even be tax deductible. And where is the invitation for corporate sponsorship?

The site as it now exists has been cleaned up from the hodgepodge of a Web page that existed before, and this lean skeleton is a perfect foundation to build on.

In this era of audio and visual downloads, the designers have unlimited room to be creative, to educate, to inform and to persuade visitors to visit the actual museum.

A site "search" mechanism would not be a difficult feature to build in, and it would be a good idea to register the Occupation Museum site with major search engines such as Lycos, Alta Vista, Excite, Webcrawler and Yahoo.

I look forward to revisiting the site very soon and to be invited to become an active friend, supporter, and contributor to this most important project.

Edgars Kariks is an Australian-born composer, conductor and flautist.