User onboarding for galleries, libraries, archives and museums

User onboarding isn’t something that’s talked about in cultural sector much but it’s an important part of how people experience galleries, libraries, archives and museums. We always recommend organisations regularly review their onboarding User Experience (UX), both online and offline because this is how you first introduce users to your services. And it’s also how you can ensure your users come back again – returning users are vital to healthy, sustainable ongoing services.

First, to clarify, onboarding is also a term used by Human Resources for ‘organisational socialisation’ – the practice of inducting new employees into an organisation. But onboarding is not just for employees – it’s also an important part of guiding new users through their first experiences of a product or service. This is user onboarding. And this is the kind that we’re talking about here.

User onboarding is your chance to tell new users all the amazing things that your organisation can do for them. It’s a welcome and an introduction to your services. And there are lots of tools out there that can help you develop a great onboarding experience for your users.

Why user onboarding matters

The onboarding experience makes a huge difference in how our new users relate to our organisation. It’s their first experience of the organisation and its services. We want to make sure they’re aware of the benefits of being a member, what’s available to them now and the next steps they can take. Ultimately, we want to give them plenty of reasons to keep coming back.

In a world where library anxiety is a thing (and the equivalents for museums, galleries and archives certainly exist too), ensuring our members can confidently engage with our services is a big deal. Cultural heritage institutions such as libraries, museums, galleries and archives can be intimidating places – our first interactions with users should aim to make them feel welcome and set them at ease.

Think about when you first register for a mobile app or online network. If you’re left with an empty profile or a blank slate to start with, there’s not a whole lot of motivation to come back again. It can also be confusing to know what to do first. That’s why web apps like Slack and Canva have such great in-app onboarding to help new users find their way and take their first steps.

Always let your users know what you can do for them.

At the moment, the process of joining the library or museum involves completing a form and being given a membership card. But this process doesn’t directly lead to recommended resources or events — so even though you’re now a member, you still haven’t taken your first steps as a user. This is where user onboarding can provide a real and direct benefit.

User onboarding isn’t just a one-off event when someone first visits your organisation either. It can also be applied to events and online service interactions. Consider a new programme you’ve just launched, like an after-school STEM event? What is the process for welcoming new users, orientating theme to the schedule and ensuring they know how to keep informed about future events?

Let’s look at some common approaches to onboarding users and how these can be used by GLAM organisations.

Onboarding for GLAM organisations

A better signup process

How often do you review the joining process for your organisation? The joining process for a membership organisation should be straightforward, with as few barriers as possible. This may involve completing a registration form (either in person or online) and you may then give a user a welcome booklet or leaflet. You may then direct them to induction sessions or tours of your space.

When it comes to the registration form itself, we can be a bit restricted by wider organisational requirements and vendor software. Despite this, there are still a few things you can do to improve the experience such as:

  • Designing an easy to use online form (One thing per page is a good place to start).
  • Removing unnecessary barriers such as superfluous ID requirements – only ask for what you really need.
  • Ask users what they want – this can be their particular interests or their course or faculty. You should ask just enough information to ensure that they are being directed to the right services for them but not enough to add an additional barrier to use.

Make new members feel welcome

Because it’s nice to be nice. When someone first becomes a member of your organisation, you should welcome them and let them know what their new membership gives them. A common way to do this is with an automated workflow on email, social media or via your website.

Email is a sticky format that has a higher level of engagement than social media. A welcome email is a clear way of ensuring new users what their new membership entitles them to but an autoresponder is even better. Autoresponders (also called Drip campaigns) are a series of emails delivered in a sequence at predetermined intervals.

(While it’s possible to set up autoresponders on different social media channels, such as Twitter, these are less flexible and tend to get less traction).

An email autoresponder for new members can be a great way of introducing your users to the different products and services you offer and the benefits of their new membership. In libraries, these can be immediate book or journal recommendations or information about upcoming workshops and events. In museums and galleries, you can provide priority access to an upcoming exhibition, preview events or other welcome offers. You can also highlight other useful information such as opening hours (including lates and out of hours access), transport links and education opportunities.

Different email tools handle this differently and the terminology can vary but the majority of email and newsletter software should provide some support for automation and, preferably, let you trigger your emails to send in response to particular actions taken by the users to improve engagement. Mailchimp only has limited support for autoresponders on their free plan – one automation only. We prefer Mailerlite but there are plenty of alternatives out there.

Website or app tours

What happens when someone completes an online registration form on your website? Are they immediately directed to the next steps to take or are they simply redirected to the homepage?

This is a great opportunity to guide users to start using your online services right away. You can include a tooltip tour or introductory video on your website to show users the main features or where the information is. This is a common pattern to direct a newly registered user to the key features and help them take their first steps using the site. This can mean demonstrating an initial search or directing them to new resources or upcoming events.

Tools like Intro.js and Hopscotch are useful tools to implement this kind of feature but it’s important to develop good content for your tour tooltips and keep these from being disruptive to the user’s own exploration of your site. Don’t hijack the user experience – you always give your user the option to navigate out of the tour or to restart it at a later time.

Self-paced induction and orientation pathways

Some libraries, like academic and medical libraries, may provide orientation or induction events for new members at the start of a new year or semester. But what about those who only interact with the service online? And not everyone is available at the right times for scheduled events – how do we induct members in more flexible, interactive ways?

Most museums and galleries offer a ‘Plan your visit’ page on their website which can include a digital map or link to audio guides but you have to go looking for them and they’re not always particularly customisable or navigable.

These maps are becoming more interactive in interesting ways. For example, the Natural History Museum’s map lets you navigate through different parts of the collection. Here, for example, are the locations of dinosaur exhibits.

Museum tour apps are becoming more popular as a way for new visitors to navigate collections and they also provide ready access to other important information about the organisation as well. But requiring users to download an app for their visit is an uphill battle, so progressive web apps (PWAs), which users can save to their home screen and even use offline, are a better way to go.

The University of Brighton wrote a text-based induction game that you can check out at

Coventry University Library developed and shared a [Book Runner – a library induction game developed using RPG Maker MV](

It doesn’t have to be a one-off interactive experience either. Proximity and mobile technologies can help provide more contextual information to our users to access when the time is right for them. We can also signpost audio or screen-based check-in points through the venue to enable users to participate in self-paced tours or inductions. Tablet kiosks can be great for this.


When we welcome users, a generic welcome can mean that we’re not engaging people in the right way. Library users who don’t have young children don’t (necessarily) need to be notified of upcoming storytime sessions. Science students don’t necessarily need to know about the upcoming induction sessions for the Humanities libraries. Visitors to the cities may like to know about big upcoming exhibitions but aren’t necessarily the right audience for last-minute popup event announcements. Like always, we want to get the right information to the right people at the right time.

We need to ensure that users are all thrown into the same bucket to the detriment of their experience with our services. Customer Relationship Management (CRM) platforms are a good way of keeping our information up to date (and some email platforms offer some basic CRM functionality) but it hopefully goes without saying that we need to store user information securely and in-line with our their wishes.

As part of the Wellcome Trust’s Bigger, Bolder, Braver campaign celebrating the redeveloped space, users were offered a choice of Wellcome collection trails – self-guided trails through the collection that you could select based on your mood. This let each visitor customise their experience of the museum collection.

If you have a series of welcome emails for new members, you can customise these based on the interests or specialisms of the user. Again, most email platforms should support this sort of branching feature.

Onboarding matters

There are lots of different ways you can go about helping your new users take their first steps as members of your service. Reviewing the current process for new membership and looking at ways you can reduce friction is a great first step. Personalisation and automation together can have a big impact on your user experience, helping introduce users to your services and ensuring they become valuable, long-term members of your organisation.