03/19/2014 05:00 EDT | Updated 05/19/2014 05:59 EDT

ROM's 100th birthday plans focus on access, interactivity

To mark its 100th birthday, the Royal Ontario Museum in Toronto is welcoming visitors inside with a fresh slate of programs and plans to increase interactivity.  

The museum, which was officially opened at 3 p.m. on March 19, 1914, also announced a new fundraising goal of $15 million in hopes of warming up its striking entrance and adding new gallery space.

ROM CEO Janet Carding launched the Love the ROM campaign on Wednesday — exactly 100 years since the museum first opened its doors — at a late-morning event marking the centenary of the venerable museum.

"We hear again and again from families that have migrated to Canada that when they came to the ROM, that's where they began to learn about the country they live in," Carding told CBC News.

"The ROM is a great base and I want people to really feel like it is the people's museum."

It's been nearly seven years since the museum opened the Michael Lee-Chin Crystal, its controversial addition and revamped entrance, following the expensive Renaissance ROM expansion campaign that launched in early 2001.

The brainchild of star architect Daniel Libeskind, the ultra contemporary extension juts out over a tony section of Toronto's Bloor Street and stands in sharp contrast to the much more traditional feel of the existing structure. It continues to spark debate in the city.

Plans to develop that northern face into a more inviting entryway include refreshing the lobby area and redeveloping the outdoor space into a gallery that spans the museum's front side before wrapping southward along the east. This new "outdoor gallery" will include biodiversity gardens, performance space and public gathering areas.

A massive, 10,000-square-foot natural history gallery that will focus on the origins of our species and early life — including rare fossils discovered by ROM scientists — is also planned for the museum's second floor.

Increased interactivity and new initiatives encouraging more connections with ROM patrons are also in works, including:

- Plans to digitize its vast collections to increase public access.

- Smartphone apps and museum vault/basement tours to give people a closer peek at the ROM's rare artifacts.

- Exhibits that incorporate visitors' content, including the evolving online exploration of the facility's first 100 years dubbed ROM ReCollects: A History of the ROM.

"The kind of things that we're looking at here at the museum [include] how do we take these incredible collections, how — for each new generation — do we bring them to life, tell the stories, use the expertise of our curators to really create something special that becomes a memory?" Carding said.

"There's nothing like seeing the real thing and I'm a firm believer that when you have the chance to stand in front of a 1000-year-old mummified cat, that gives you a profound emotional response. I'm really aware that if you've grown up with a smartphone that actually one of the ways that you connect to the world is through your phone. [The new Scopify museum app] can give extra info, talk about new discoveries, different perspective on something you thought you knew, and of course you can still look at the real thing."

As part of the 100th birthday celebrations, the CN Tower will be lit in purple — the colour of the ROM logo — on Wednesday evening.