As Millennials and Gen Z become increasingly important groups within the overall population, it’s necessary for museums to adapt and change their practices and programs in order to accommodate the wants and needs of these new generations of museum-goers. Museums should try to incorporate technology into their visitor experiences, both within exhibits and the museum as a whole, in order to excite, engage, and connect visitors. Museums should work to discover what technology should be used and how it should be used to best fit their respective educational goals and mission.
Why Use Digital Media and Technology?
Use of technology allows a museum to create an immersive experience that facilitates deeper understanding and the development of meaningful connections to a historical narrative. Immersive experiences can connect museum-goers and knowledge-seekers both regionally and globally. Use of digital panoramas and augmented reality technology (which superimposes 3D virtual objects in a physical space through the use of a variety of different electronic devices), similar to what the Getty Museum in Los Angeles, California, and the North Carolina Museum of Natural Science in Raleigh, North Carolina, have done, can aid a museum in more completely reaching its educational goals. The museum visit can also more effectively become a emotionally memorable experience through multifaceted connections to the digitally-enhanced historical narrative, not simply a visually memorable experience.
The digitization of museum collections can benefit both the museum and the general public. A cataloged digital collection database not only can support a museum’s future multimedia digital projects and connect the public to the museum, especially in terms of scholars and students, but it also furthers the mission of disseminating knowledge and preserving cultural heritage. Accessible digitized collections allow a museum to make full use of its entire collection in order to meet its educational and cultural goals.
When incorporating technology into the museum experience, a museum should:
- Understand that it IS POSSIBLE for small museums to afford to integrate technology into the museum experience and succeed at doing so. This blog post by WAMC Northeast Public Radio, called “Local Museums Embracing Technology”, provides two examples of regional museums effectively enhancing the participatory visitor experience through various forms of technology. Use of digital technology in exhibits and educational programs does not have to be elaborate; any way a museum can facilitate visitor immersion and participation is beneficial to the visitor experience, even if the most a museum can do is provide several iPads or a mobile app.
- Adopt technology that is flexible. Technology changes rapidly, so choose digital platforms that can be updated and maintain their usability. The last thing you want is for your digitized collection to no longer be accessible due to an inflexible platform that cannot change as devices and software change. Refer to the book “Digital Heritage and Culture : Strategy and Implementation” by Herminia Din and Steven Wu for more information about digital platforms and digitization of collections.
- Ensure that it is not using technology for technology’s sake. Make sure the technology being used suits a specific purpose and that it actually enhances visitors’ immersion and engagement within the museum space or online.
The American Association of Museums has maintained a web page related to small museums and technology. This web page contains a wealth of links to resources regarding creation of web pages, blogs, podcasts, service providers, digital rights and imaging, and general information that may be helpful to nonprofit organizations and museums wanting to utilize digital media and technology.
The Open Education Database provides free, open source tools that can be used for managing digital collections and creating digital exhibits.
Using online resources and crowdfunding, museums can acquire the funds necessary to create exhibits and programs requiring digital technology via the power of the general public. The Western Museum Association has written an article called “Eight Questions to Consider Before Launching Your Museum’s Crowdfunding Campaign” which offers a list of questions to be considered when attempting to crowdfund a particular project.
This article by Digitaltrends.com provides additional examples of museums that have embraced the incorporation of technology into all facets of the educational experience within the museum space.
Omeka, a project of the Roy Rosenzweig Center for History and New Media, offers flexible and cost-effective web publishing and digital asset management tools.
CurateScape is another web and mobile publishing tool directed toward small and mid-sized museums due to its affordability and flexibility. If you choose their full service option, CurateScape takes care of the creation, maintenance, and branding of your website and mobile apps.
The previously mentioned book, Digital Heritage and Culture : Strategy and Implementation, should be consulted for additional information about the use of digital technology as a tool for preserving cultural heritage and educating the public both online and within the physical walls of a museum. The book also contains a variety of unique case studies of museums employing digital technology to enhance the educational effectiveness of exhibits and spaces.