Tag: digital

Are Museums Missing Out on Social Media?

National Museum of the American Indian, Washington D.C., USA

At the American Association of Museum meetings last month, multiple sessions made clear the growing use and importance of social media in museums’ day-to-day functioning and outreach efforts.  Many institutions are investing considerable resources in their social and virtual media presences.  My recent visit to Smithsonian Institution venues in Washington D.C. affirmed this direction.  For example, at the National Museum of American History website, one can spend hours blogging, interacting, and virtually roaming through collections not on exhibit in real-time.  The same is true of the National Museum of the American Indian’s website.

The internationally based New Media Consortium website contains Horizon Project reports on emerging technologies. One report is a 2010 shortlist for Museums that provides a good overview of potential of social media in museums along with case studies.

Museums increasingly rely on social media and other digital resources to deliver on their mission of public outreach and education.  The web abounds with evaluation tools including simple Facebook insights, Google analytics, and many more to assess the demographics and experiences of those who use the social media resources.

But are museums successful in actually reaching their intended audiences with social media tools?  A survey published by Museum Next provides some interesting data on this question.  I was particularly intrigued when looking at the results broken down by user age.  The table below draws on data from the Museum Next website.

Social Media Use Relative to Museum

Here is some of what stands out to me.  The breakdown by age of those individuals who use social media is not surprising, only confirming conventional wisdom: Young folks use social media a lot but older people do to.  The percentage of individuals who are actually fans, subscribe to, or “like” social media pages declines dramatically with increased age.  But here is where things get interesting.  A solid 70% or greater of all age categories report visiting museums or galleries, but only a small percentage of those people are aware of museums that have social media pages and even fewer follow those pages.  If all those individuals who

  • subscribe/like social media in general and also attend museums
  • were aware of museum specific social media pages
  • and subscribed at the same rate to museum social media pages as they do other social media pages
  • then the followers of museum social media pages would instantly increase by 400%.

I am not a statistician (nor do I play one on TV) and I realize that my assertion relies on a couple of assumptions, but the clear sign is that museums do not presently maximize the potential of social media for individuals who both now follow social media and visit museums.

We have a lot of work to do in connecting social media using visitors who come through our museum doors with the social media and virtual presence in which we are currently investing our resources.

How do you promote your social media resources to your visitors?

Evaluating Social Media and Museums

Along with a reported 5000 other individuals, this week I am attending the Annual Meeting of the American Association of Museums in Houston Texas.  The impact of social media in Outreach efforts is evident by the number of sessions devoted to the topic.

If the first session I attended on Sunday is any indication, then the Annual Meeting will prove well worth the 10-hour drive from the flooded Mississippi Delta at Memphis to the furnace of hot winds blowing in southeast Texas.  The session was We have 10,000 followers . . . Now What?  Evaluating Social Media’s Impact.  I suspect this title resonates with many folks in Museum and other nonprofit institutions.  For many, the aggressive Facebook or Twitter campaigns were launched, likes and followers signed on, and then came the “so what do we do now?”  Web tutorials on building social media platforms abound but there is considerably less discussion on the hows and whys of sustaining the presence.  The AAM session provided some great insights in filling this void.

The presenters were Elizabeth Bolander from the Cleveland Museum of Art,  Sarah Elizabeth Banks from the National Museum of Natural Hisotry (NMNH) at the Smithonian, Jay Geneske from Echo Green, and Ryan French from the Walker Art Center.

The discussion opened by challenging institutions to define their goals in using social media.  Too often museums only conceptualize social media as a seemingly cheap form of marketing to drive visitation to a museum or event.  Sarah Elizabeth Banks provided an alternative approach from the Smithsonian.  Social media at the NMNH is also viewed as a tool for engaging the public directly in research and then disseminating the research results.  For example, when NMNH scientists in Africa needed immediate assistance to identify  fish species.  They announced the project on Facebook, uploaded the images of the fish to Flickr, and via email sent out a call for participation.  As well, the Smithsonian blog reported the project that was also featured on the Smithsonian website. Ultimately the fish identification was a “Facebook Story of the Week for the NMNH.  With support from the virtual community the NMNH scientists completed the identifications in record time.  Instead of viewing social media as a marketing tool to drive visitation, the fish identification project demonstrated how a research project can be assisted through social media.

The session speakers all agreed that social media must flow from the museum’s mission.  As such, institutions need to incorporate social media into the forefront of activities and not as an afterthought.

The Walker Art Center uses YouTube videos to take visitors behind the scenes in exhibit construction.  The speakers also pointed to the power of memory when posting photographs to Flickr of past events and visitors.  Both the Walker Art Center and the Smithsonian actively invite the public to upload their photographs to these projects.

Speakers noted the tremendous resource drain social media can have on a staff.  For example, the Walker Art Center runs 10 separate Facebook pages, blogs, YouTube channels, Twitter feeds and more.   Out of the 150 attending this AAM session only one individual’s job responsibilities were full-time in social media.  Most attendees performed social media tasks as an added assignment.  The speakers expressed considerable variation in how their institutions controlled social media output.  However, the need for radical trust was a theme in all the presentations.

At the C.H. Nash Museum at Chucalissa, over the past couple of years, we have thrown a lot of virtual spaghetti at the social media wall.  A good bit has stuck.  We, like many or most other institutions now must sit back and soberly assess the impact, and strategically plan our next steps.  My ultimate takeaway from the session is that social media is moving to the forefront of all that we do in Museums and Outreach.  We need to be fully engaged, intentional, and mission driven with this tool as we move forward.

How are you evaluating your social media experiences as you plan for the future?

FaceBook & Radical Trust

Mississippi River source, Lake Itasca, Minnesota

How do you respond to challenging posts on your Facebook (FB) page?  I had a couple of interesting discussions about this in the past week.  First, here is an exchange from our C.H. Nash Museum FB page on the current flooding of the Mississippi River in Memphis Tennessee where we are located:

FB Post:  Is Chucalissa going to flood?

Us: We certainly hope not! We are all keeping a very close eye on the surrounding areas and taking necessary precautions, just in case!

FB Post: what happened in 1937?

One day goes by and we do not respond . . .

FB Post: This too tough of a question?

Us:  We are still researching that question.

I get an email from the staff somewhat frantic feeling they must definitely respond to the question about the 1937 Flood. Instead, we post the following response:

Us:  We routinely receive flash flood warnings during heavy rains primarily from the areas leading up to the bluff on which Chucalissa is located. Don’t know about 1937 and a cursory Google search does not suggest a direct impact on this bluff top. Sounds like an interesting research question though. Have at it!

FB Post:  Oh well shows what I know – I thought Chuckalissa was in the flood plain as like a seasonal fishing camp – and that the other 2 villages located east of their were more permanent.

Here is my takeaway on this experience.  FB pages are meant as social media and that requires an engagement.  FB does not require us to have encyclopedic knowledge, but does require a dialogue.  “Fans” of our page who might have the required knowledge to answer the question.  Could that spark a bit of a research project on their part?  Turns out the person who posted the initial inquiry was in error about our actual location.  But my experience with FB is that the dialogue is key.

I had an interesting experience on the essential interactive nature of FB when we started our FB page a couple of years ago.  I once removed an individual’s post that I considered as somewhat inflammatory and controversial.  The individual then emailed me rather incensed about my action.  We had a brief backchannel discussion where we worked out the issue.  I regretted deleting the post, realizing I could have addressed the issue on-line.  Six months later the same person made a similar type of post.  We immediately responded online in a proactive and engaged way.  The individual has ceased such practices.  Ultimately, our experience shows that if there is accountability on both sides of the equation, the FB dialogue works.

Related, I was speaking to a friend from a large professional organization who lamented that all of their social media posts needed the Director’s approval.  Based solely on my experience at a small museum with a limited staff, to meaningfully take advantage of social media, I needed to give up the control.  Since doing so two years ago, I have cringed a couple of times at our staff posts, provided some corrective yet supportive and encouraging feedback to staff, but we continue to move forward in a good direction.  Importantly, I have learned a great deal about social media from my predominately 20-something staff.

There are many online resources that discuss these issues.  The Museums Social Media wiki has links to lots of social media policies, plans, and resources including those from the Smithsonian, Getty Museum, and National Public Radio.  From the Radical Trust website is a very cool article The Social Media Stage by Collin Douma that “is a practical guide for brand marketers who are just getting their feet wet in social media. With a focus on the community management realm, this paper is loaded with tools, best practices, response protocols, content filters, job descriptions, effort assessments, etc.”

Social media is messy.  Social media is not linear.  Social media is not a monologue.  But, social media is phenomenal tool for engagement, and outreach to a wide diversity of audiences.  And as our demographics below show, FB has certainly moved well beyond the original concept where you needed a college student ID to get in!

What is your experience with radical trust and FB?

Demographic of C.H. Nash Museum at Chucalissa FB page, May 2011

Social Media, Gaming & Engagement

A few weeks ago I attended the Society for Applied Anthropology meetings in Seattle.  I particularly enjoyed the session titled Exploring the Boundaries of Social Media.   One of the more interesting papers in the session was by Kelley Downey, Catherine Chmidling, Patricia Webster and Karol Ezell titled Applied Reciprocal Exchange in Farmville and ‘Ville Games: The Economics of “Good” Friends and Neighbors.  Karol Ezell presented the paper and discussed the Facebook (FB) applications in a way that I had never appreciated before.  Currently there are some 46 million registered monthly users of FarmVille.  I confess that I ‘hide’ FB friends who deal in FarmVille and are always looking for pink cows or whatever.  Karol put this game into a different perspective for me.  She explained how FarmVille can be used to teach anthropological concepts of balanced, negative, and moral reciprocity ala Malinowski’s discussion of the Trobriand Kula Ring.  That is how FarmVille operates.

Can the interactive model of FarmVille be used to explore trade and exchange in prehistory or other aspects of the archaeological material record?  There seems tremendous potential in this area.

The Alternative Reality Gaming Network provides a host of examples of how this direction could be taken in Archaeology and Museums.  Find the Future is an Alternative Reality Game of sorts that will be played at the New York Public Library later this month.  In an overnight session 500 individuals will conduct research and write a book on the subject using the resources available at the library, presumably via digital access.  The project was created by Jane McGonigal an evangelist for gaming as a tool for education and real world problem solving.  You can hang out at her website, read her new book, and spend a good bit of time getting enmeshed in the gaming for good info.

Here are the takeaways I get with from this discussion:

  • Whether FarmVille or Find the Future, an engaged and participatory experience is required for the game to work.  The process brings people together and in community.
  • The actual implementation of such games can be technologically straight forward.  I am not a computer programmer and although the technology of FarmVille is way over my head, I can conceptualize how to actually implement something like Find the Future.
  • This all comes down to a critical point – as Shirky notes in his book Cognitive Surplus, technology does not create the behavior, rather technology enables a better implementation of an existing behavior.  Therefore, as a starting point, can we conceptualize a FarmVille or Find the Future scenario within the tangible resources now in our museums?
  • I suspect that a critical point in so doing is to commit to a radical trust.  I tremendously value the experience I had some 15 years ago with the 5th grade school girl who was allowed to interpret the Poverty Point headless figurines on her own terms.  (I wonder if she remembers that experience as much as I do?).   If we don’t promote and validate engagement at this level, then all of the digital technology in the world will only produce the same old same old.

Oh and here is a bonus from the SfAA session – Karol Ezell reported the revealing comment of one of her students “I am not going to die alone.  I am going to be plugged in.”

How can our museums be truly plugged in?

Is This Facebook Stuff Still Really Worth It?

About one year ago I posted on relevancy of Facebook (FB) to Outreach work.  I discussed the utility of FB
and some of the analytic tools for assessing the demographics of page “likes” or hits.  In the past year the number of FB pages by archaeologists and museums jumped dramatically with a diversity of applications.  For example, archaeologist Rebecca Bria uses the FB group function as a primary means for organizing her student field crews heading to Peru this summer.  As well, her regular FB page for Hualcayan has more than doubled the number of “likes” in the past month alone.  Organization such as the Small Museum Association continue to use their FB page as a venue for dialogue among members.  The Society for American Archaeology routinely uses their FB page to provide information principally about government policy and organizational concerns.  Archaeological sites such as Cahokia use their FB page as a promotional tool for scheduled events.  At Chucalissa, we are attempting to use our Facebook page as a means of engagement not just by promoting events but through posting information about current projects at the Museum and the Midouth region that might be of interest to those who “like” our page.  For example, we routinely cross-promote with the Parkin Archaeological site located just 45 minutes away in Arkansas.

In the past year, a plethora of new publications addressed the general issue of how to get the most bang for the buck on Facebook.  Given the rapidly evolving technology, most of these “how to” type books are outdated after they are on the bookshelves for a few months.  However, several free online downloads are worth review to fine tune a Facebook strategy.  For example, the Virtue marketing group offers a downloadable The Anatomy of a Facebook Post that considers time of day, keywords and other technical aspects of posting.  Network for Good links to a large number of free downloads such as Is Your Nonprofit Facebook Page Worth It? that explores various forms of FB analytics

I remain a big fan of Beth Kanter and Alison Fine’s The Networked Nonprofit and Clay Shirky’s Here Come’s Everybody and his recently published Cognitive Surplus, less for their up-to-date technical information but more for their discussion of how to conceptualize and use social media such as FB.  A recent article in the New York Times hits the proverbial nail on the head for this point.  The article discusses how the use of social media in museums is not about the technology but about engaging with visitors, both virtual and in real-time.  As Shirky (2010:98) notes in Cognitive Surplus “Interpretations that focus on technology miss the point: technology enables those behaviors, but it doesn’t cause them . . . no one want e-mail for itself, any more than anyone wants electricity for itself; rather, we want the things electricity enables.”

So, all of this comes back to the question – Is this Facebook stuff still really worth it?

In considering this question, at the C.H. Nash Museum, we were somewhat surprised by our recent visitor survey that showed 2/3 of the respondents wanted more content from our museum available via the internet.  As 75% of the total survey respondents were recent visitors to the museum, we conclude that these are individuals who wish to have a mixed real-time and virtual experience of Chucalissa.  Seemingly in contradiction, we receive only a handful of likes and comments to our FB posts.  At the same time, I am consistently surprised by folks who will drop us an email or comment when they visit the museum how much they enjoy our Facebook page and our monthly e-newsletter.  Clearly, relying exclusively on the number of comments and likes for individual posts is not a valid measure of worth?

For both FB and our e-newsletter we never campaigned to increase our circulation.  However, we are certain that visitors we meet online and in real-time are made aware of these media tools to stay in touch and be in dialogue with us.  As a result, all of our subscribers to FB and the e-newsletter are true buy-ins.  As a result we see a consistent increase in likes/subscribers with very few unlikes/unsubscribes.  This trend seems to indicate that we are building a strong communication base.

This leads me back to another post from last summer on how we measure success.  From this perspective, if we take a long-term sustainable approach to our work, then the relative growth and indirect feedback we receive for our FB page is comparable to our steady increase in other measures such as museum visitors and volunteers – both indicators of value.

At the oral defense for my M.A. Thesis a bunch of years ago, one of my committee members, Barry Isaac asked “Why is reading your M.A. Thesis more important than eating a plate of worms?”  I ask myself the same question today relative to the time and energy spent on FB.  The FB stuff still seems worth it, even compared to eating a plate of worms.

How about your experience?

Cognitive Surplus & Community Outreach

Cognitive Surplus: Creativity and Generosity in a Connected Age by Clay Shirky is one of those books I categorize as simply being good to think about. The essence of the text explores the impact of social media on our ability to share information and create knowledge.  The case studies in the book are wide-ranging and extend from the boycott of U.S. beef imports into Korea in 2008 to the microvolunteering that I posted about a couple of months ago.  The relevance to public outreach in museums and archaeology is considerable.  Shirky writes:

The atomization of social life in the twentieth century left us so far removed from participatory culture that when it came back, we needed the phrase “participatory culture” to describe it (p. 19).

But Shirky provides one of those key ‘aha’ moments in understanding a true participatory approach in Outreach when he notes that:

TV is unbalanced – if I own a TV station, and you own a television, I can speak to you, but you can’t speak to me. . . . Participation is inherent in the phone, and it’s the same for the computer.  When you buy a machine that lets you consume digital content, you also buy a machine to produce it (p. 22).

With this in mind, I was listening to a series of presentations last week at the Society for Applied Anthropology meetings where the speakers described their outreach efforts in community cultural heritage projects by distributing videos through iTunes U and creating general information sources on web pages.  With Shirky in mind, I was struck how this approach is very linear and one-way and does not invite participation.  Information is put out for the consumer to take in, but not take part in.  Contrast the above dissemination strategy with publishing videos on Facebook where feedback is encouraged and the lifeblood of the media.  Alternatively, instead of posting video content to iTunes U consider the impact of posting outreach videos on YouTube with the considerably broader search and distributional capabilities.  Offhand, I don’t recall ever Googling for a term and being directed to an iTunes page.  Or, consider the difference in using a wiki page or blog for outreach efforts, again where interaction is the expected norm for the very creation of content in contrast to a uni-directional website.

In essence, we can use digital technology in the same way we use print technology – the professional disseminates to the lay person without a strong feedback loop.  However, we also can use digital media to effectively engage broad participation in outreach efforts.  Shirky makes comparable points in everything from restaurant reviews to medical information.  Here is where the discussion gets pretty interesting.  Shirky writes:

At every turn, skeptical observers have attacked the idea that pooling our cognitive surplus could work to create anything worthwhile, or suggested that if it does work, it is a kind of cheating, because sharing at a scale that competes with older institutions is somehow wrong.  Steve Ballmer of Microsoft denounced the shared production of software as communism.  Robert McHenry, a former editor in chief of Encyclopedia Britannica, likened Wikipedia to a public rest room.  Andrew Keen, author of the Cult of the Amateur, compared bloggers to monkeys.  These complaints, self-interested though they were, echo more broadly held beliefs.  Shared, unmanaged effort might be fine for picnics and bowling leagues, but serious work is done for money, by people who work in proper organizations, with managers directing their work (pp. 161-162).

Shirky provides pages of examples of how this thinking is just plain wrong and completely at odds with today’s reality on so many levels including the development of the Apache software that allows you to read this blog post.

Here is where some of this comes down for me.  I was out-of-town at a conference all last week.  I know that it is important for our Museum’s Facebook page to have regular posts. While on the road, I really don’t feel like doing posts from the hotel room.  Five other staff and students are administrators on the Museum Facebook account and can post updates, photos, and so forth.  I also know that when I am in town, their default is to default to me to post because I am the Director (read professional) at the Museum.  The staff can be quite intimidated about posting, fearing they will post something not quite right, or use none to real good grammar and reflect poorly on the Museum.  This condition exists despite my regular encouragement for them to post.  But last week they did post updates all week, and the updates were great, and actually got more “likes” than content I usually put up.  I am hopeful this process will continue (especially since they usually read this blog post).  But the student reluctance also is an indication to me of how ingrained the notion of lecture to and not being in dialogue with folks can be.

Shirky shows us that when folks are provided or take the opportunity to engage in using their combined cognitive surplus, outreach in institutions such as museums or in archaeology can move to the next level of engagement and sustainability.

Check out Shirky’s book.  If you already have, what are your thoughts on his discussion of cognitive surplus?

Museum Visitor Survey Says . . .

At the C.H. Nash Museum at Chucalissa we recently sent out a simple 10 question survey to subscribers of our monthly e-newsletter – about 1500 total.  Our immediate goal was to get our visitors thoughts about the general direction of the museum over the past few years.  We also wanted to design a simple survey that could be taken in less than 5 minutes but also gave the opportunity for folks to provide greater detail if they chose to do so.  We wanted a survey that covered the scope of information we needed for the coming period.  That is, we did not want to send out this survey, followed by another in two months, followed by another . . .  and we committed to report the results of the survey and our response back to the subscribers.

We note numerous caveats on interpreting such surveys, but we are assuming the results will represent at least a trend in our visitors thinking about the museum.  So, with that in mind, we composed the survey, submitted the draft to sparked.com for feedback (I have posted before about this fantastic micro-volunteering website.), got some great feedback, and then distributed the survey to our subscriber list.  The results have begun to roll in.   Thus far 50% of our respondents visited the Museum in the last six months and 75% within the past two years.  Therefore, we know that the response was by active visitors to our museum.  Some of the results were very predictable but others are surprising  Here are a couple:

To the statement “I visit the C.H. Nash Museum to experience . . .” we were not at all surprised by those who noted prehistoric Native American cultures and archaeology as the reason for their visit.  We were surprised by the 55% who visit to experience our natural environment.  This result supports the strong response to our bat house installation posting on our Facebook page.   Coincidentally our staff recently discussed the need to pay greater attention to the “natural environment” part of our mission statement.

To the statement “Besides visiting the Museum please note the activities in which you have an interest . . .”  a solid 64% wanted more information made available via the internet.  This result confirms that components of the virtual museum are increasingly desired by even those individuals visiting museums in real-time.  A very surprising 42% of respondents wanted volunteer opportunities they could do from their homes.  Of note an identical 42% of responses wanted more volunteer experiences at the Museum.  Given the comparable requests and our very successful on site volunteer program, we are clearly missing an opportunity to involve more folks from their homes.  The desire to volunteer from home certainly confirms the thrust behind sparked.com and points to a visitor need we are not now meeting at Chucalissa.  Obvious at home volunteer activities might include digital scanning and data entry.

Without reviewing all the survey questions here, and though we expect doubling our responses over the next couple of weeks, we can interpret the initial survey results as:

  • the visitors who responded are pleased with the direction we are taking at the museum.
  • we need to balance our program emphasis more, especially to incorporate the natural environment
  • visitors want a greater digital presence and at home volunteer experience.

So, when all is said and done, we expect that this simple ten question survey will confirm that the general path we are going down at the museum is consistent with our mission and is also supported by our visitors.  At the same time, the survey raises several key points that we have missed along the way.  A great return for a limited effort on our part.

What surprises have you found in visitor surveys?

Google Art and the Virtual Museum Game

It’s been a while since I have posted anything about virtual museums, so here goes with a couple of new offerings and a couple that have been around . . .

Google’s Art Project went online February 1.  The reviews have rolled in that address issues of gendertechnical aspects, accessibility, and those with limited enthusiasm for the concept.  ArtInfo links to a good range of that discussion.  Besides seeing works from institutions I will never likely visit, I am impressed that the Project allows me to examine paintings in considerably more detail than I would in the museums.  I am hard pressed to understand the difference between coffee table art books sold in museum book stores/gift shops and the online Google Art Project.  Both publications are repros that represent the image beyond the original form in the museum gallery.  The latter incorporates contemporary technology.  Neither replace the real visit.  I will never forget the time as a teenager rounding the corner at the Chicago Art Institute and seeing Van Gogh’s Bedroom at Arles face-to-face.  But my friends in Turkey who will likely never visit Chicago should be allowed something as close to that experience as possible.

The Hampson Virtual Museum has over 400 downloadable 3-D clips of ceramic vessels and stone tools from the late prehistoric Nodena phase sites of Northeast Arkansas, US.  This virtual offering is a truly impressive site with considerable contextual information on the materials present.  This feature is missing from the Google Art Project.  An important feature of the Hampson website is the ability to download the 3-D clips of this phenomenal artistry of the Native American cultures  for later research, educational, or other viewing purposes.  The virtual display of these vessels will certainly be grist for much discussion on the display of objects often considered the private and sacred cultural heritage of Native Americans.

As a kid growing up in Southwest Ohio, I recollect the occasional pilgrimage to the Wright Patterson Air Force Base in Dayton for an air show that culminated in a display from the Thunderbirds.  The visits also included a walk through hangars that functioned as museum exhibits.  Today,  The National Museum of the United States Air Force boasts a virtual presence of panoramic views of their modern facilities and a technology ala Google Street View to explore some groupings of aircraft.  The webpage has podcasts of guest lectures and museum audio tours for on-site visits.  Though less visually spectacular than either the Google Art or Hampson Projects, the site is a an impressive resource on aviation history and the USAF.

Perhaps one of the coolest ideas on virtual museums is to create your own.  Rebecca Black brought the Museum Box site to my attention during our Museum Practices class this past fall.  Here you can load your own images, text, video files, and links, in rotating cubes within a compartmentalized box layout.  I scrolled through some of the museum boxes created to date.  I found that lots of schools are using this site for class projects of varying quality and complexity.  For some museum box is clearly just an assignment to get done, like some perspectives on life in general, yet other students and users are clearly inspired to create very cool displays.  Check this one out for possible classroom projects.

And finally, the world would not be complete without the Museum of Online Museums – thanks to Nancy Cook for bringing this one to my attention.

The long and short is that the ability for museum representation in the virtual world is becoming increasingly real.  The above sites represent a range of offerings from the complex to the basic and from simple observation to the fully engaged.  The more Luddite reactions against the virtual presence are on the wane in the same way that adages about “if humans were meant to fly they would have been born with wings” withered away.  Now is the time to consider how this technology may help our institutions to carry out our missions of outreach and engagement.

Your thoughts?

Online Resources for Realtime Museums

Each fall I teach a course in Museum Practices as one of the core courses in the University of Memphis Museum Studies Graduate Certificate Program.  Each class period during the 15-week seminar covers some aspect of Museum Practices in everything from Personnel Management to Virtual Museums.  Over the past couple of years, I am increasingly mindful of the number and diversity of resources available online for the weekly topics.  As well, the number of topical areas in Museum Practices have increased dramatically.  Twenty years ago issues of digital technology and virtual museums were not considered.

This year, to cope with the sheer quantity of information available, students are providing three to five annotated references on the weekly topics.  My thinking is that at the very least, by the end of the course students will create a list of more than 500 references including websites, blogs, journal articles, books, and museums.  A bonus is that the class includes Art Historians, Egyptologists, Anthropologists, Historians and Fine Arts students.  This range of interests assures a diversity of perspectives.  I am very pleased with the results in the first month.  I will be certain to the link a compilation of the references to this blog at the end of the semester.  Here are a few of the resources students discovered to date that relate directly to Archaeology, Museums and Outreach:

Samantha Smith reported on  a link from the Smithsonian Institution that provides curriculum standards for all 50 of the United States.  This resource is invaluable for those developing Museum or Archaeology educational programs linked to curriculum standards in their states.  As well, for those developing a virtual program presence, they can be certain their products are suitable for a broad regional audience.

Tiffany Redman found a link at the Metropolitan Art Museum that contained downloadable resources such as Powerpoints, lesson plans, articles, and teaching packets on many of the permanent collections from Korean to Roman art.   Although intended to complement museum visits, the material is a great deal of stand alone teaching resource as well.  This type of information is representative of a growing trend of museums to place pre- and post-visit school group materials online.

One of the resources Becky McGee provided was from the Turkish archaeological site of Catal Hoyuk.  As with the MET link, the Catal Hoyuk webpage represents a growing trend in archaeological sites to provide up-to-date reporting on research, interpretations, and collections online.  The Turkish Ministry of Culture and Tourism is quite active in this arena.

Tameka Townes found that MuseumSpot is an excellent resource for online offerings from hundreds of museums throughout the world.  Again, the focus is on the information that the institutions provide online, whether in the form of podcasts, digital photos, or lesson plans.

Lauren Huber reported on the Global Museum.  Like MuseumSpot, the Global Museum has links to podcasts, publications, scholarly articles, social networking and much more.  You can sign up for email updates that are long, somewhat jumbled, but come out on a regular weekly or so basis.

Here are a few takeaways that I have from reviewing the students work thus far.  First, beyond museums that exist only in virtual space, there is growing trend for museums that exist in physical space to load substantive content online.  This trend goes beyond advertising for real-time visits, but arguably begins to approach building dual institutions.  Second, out of the 150 or so annotated references posted to date, I was familiar with only about 10% of them.  In some ways this is not surprising given that 3/4 of the class this semester are graduate students in art history, not my strength area at all.  But at the same time, I consider myself reasonably savvy about matters online.  This exercise showed me that at mainline resources, such as the Smithsonian that I have linked to often, there is a substantive amount of data in the various nooks and crannies of the online world that is only a click away.

Gordon Wiley, a major figure in New World Archaeology from the last century allegedly stated that with the increased specialization in archaeology, he was the last of the generalists.  I am struck that within the world of online museum resources, the same has become true, and within a considerably shorter period.  Once again I realize that we are not in Kansas anymore.

To Be Virtual Or To Be Real – Is That The Question?

Mall of America, Bloomington, Minnesota

As a follow-up to my last post, here is a continuum of links that consider one potential of virtual museums in archaeology:

  • Digging Digitally is a blog that discusses “Archaeology, data sharing, digitally enabled research and education” and is an “unofficial” outlet for the Society for American Archaeology Digital Data Interest Group.  The blog posts regularly with discussions on web alternatives to peer review, 3D modeling for digital presence, and a very cool recent discussion and video on prehistoric acoustics in Peru.  The blog reports the wide-ranging discussion of the movement toward online data in archaeological research.
  • In what is described by some as a WordPress for Museums, Omeka.net is in development with a “mission to make collections-based online publishing more accessible to small cultural heritage institutions, scholars, enthusiasts, educators, and students.”  Omeka is a project of the The Corporation for Digital Scholarship that enables free and open-source research and education software.  The power of a resource such as Omeka speaks directly to Rachael Barnwell’s comment on last week’s blog post about virtual museums.  She noted that the Bamburgh Research Project does not have a museum home but must rely on a virtual presence to disseminate information about ongoing excavations.  Her comment leads to considering whether establishing a formal public museum in Bamburgh is a positive and logical next step toward enhancing the public’s access to the cultural heritage discussion of the area.  Conventional wisdom might answer yes.  But would such a venture be a prudent use of resources?  Can a virtual presence supplemented by activities in the broader community space but outside a formal museum venue be the best next step?  Can resources such as Omeka.net allow for the broad dissemination of collections and cultural heritage information without a formal museum setting?
  • A recent report from the National Endowment for the Arts, notes that individuals introduced to an art form via digital media, whether gaming or the Internet, were three times more likely to follow-up with a real-time visit to a museum or other arts venue.  The finding seems intuitive and in line with the intended function of many virtual promotions of cultural heritage.  How does an organization such as the Bamburgh Research Project respond to the “three times” increase in the public’s desire for a real-time experience, if there is no museum to attend?

This is where a recent post, The Decision Before the Decision, from Seth Godin’s Blog might prove useful:

The Decision Before the Decision

This is the one that was made before you even showed up. This is the one that sets the agenda, determines the goal and establishes the frame.

The decision before the decision is the box.

When you think outside the box, what you’re actually doing is questioning the decision before the decision.

That decision is far more important and much more difficult to change than the decision you actually believe you’re about to make.

I suspect there are many “decisions before the decision” we need to question as we move forward in considering virtual and real-time museums and cultural heritage in the coming decade.

Your thoughts?

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