Thursday, April 30, 2009

Almost-Live Blogging: Places and Stories

You've probably heard a lot about community engagement through the Internet. I know I myself talk about it all. the. time. But I saw a fantastic example of exactly that today at the Places and Stories session here at AAM.

PhilaPlace is a new initiative by the Historical Society of Pennsylvania that is being designed by Night Kitchen. Although PhilaPlace is not yet up and running, HSP has already begun working with the community prior to launch. PhilaPlace involves "co-constructed narratives" and "connecting stories to places across time." The website will include:
-- Interpretive information
-- MP3 player tours
-- Primary source documents
-- Audio and video clips
-- Photos
-- Layered maps (using Google maps as the base but then adding layers to see neighborhoods back in time)
-- Digital models (to show change over time consisting of static maps based on census information)
-- K-12 lessons
-- Visitor contributed stories

Corresponding collaborative programming will include:
-- Public events (history fairs)
-- Workshops
-- Trolley tours (the whole program actually began this way)
-- Exhibits

The goal of PhilaPlace is to use "reciprocal technology" and participatory technology to bring grassroots involvement to the digital realm. To this end, there will be a MyPhila--users will be able to save their favorite stories, create stories, make their own tours and upload those tours to Google maps. Filters can also be used to view the places. You can filter according to neighborhood, tour, or topic. It is also the hope that the map layers will become populated by visitor interaction.

Challenges faced by PhilaPlace:
-- How to integrate multiple stories for the same place?

Technologies to be used:
-- CollectiveAccess
-- Google Maps
-- Google API

-- Pew Center for Arts and Heritage
-- Connelly Foundation
-- (many more)

For more on this session, please see my post here.

Places and Stories That Matter: Digital Experiments and Community Involvement
Minda Borun, Director of Research and Evaluation, Franklin Institute
Joan Saverino, Assistant Director for Education, Historical Society of Pennsylvania
Matthew Fisher, President, Night Kitchen
Marci Reaven, Managing Director, City Lore

Almost-Live Blogging: Museum Technology and Trends

Museum Technology and Trends on the Horizon

For those of you not already familiar with the Horizon Museum Report, part of the New Media Consortium's Horizon Project and co-edited by Leonard Steinbach and Susan Chun, go check it out now!

In a nutshell, the Report looks at six technologies that are likely to be adopted by museums in the near future (1 year or less), mid-range future (2-3 years) or longer-term future (4-5 years) as well as six trends to be aware of and six challenges to adopting these new technologies or participating in these trends. Each of the six lists was compiled by vote.

Technologies on the Horizon:
Current-1 year
Collection Systems: Yes, automated collections management systems have been in place for a long time, but they continue to grow and develop in capabilities and sophistication. Continue to watch for more to come from them! Also, as Susan Chun mentioned, they are the hardest to implement and often the most expensive.

Mobile Devices: Check out the Boston MFA's mobile scavenger hunt: The Quest!

2-3 years
Gelocation: Google Earth + Collections = Mapping Initiatives

Alternative Interaction Devices: DigiWall in Sweden; new interactives on the floor at the California Academy of Sciences

4-5 years
Open Content: This is mostly projected as being so far out because it is often a major policy issue--museums are still very afraid of the loss of control that comes with opening up content--not to mention the intellectual property issues involved.

Multi-Language Capabilities: Though Robert Lancefield pointed out that thanks to Unicode that capability is really already here. And Susan mentioned that this can also be achieved through crowd-sourcing.

Technologies that did not make the list, mostly because they are just considered a "given" at this point:
-- User-generated content
-- Tagging
-- Mashups
-- Syndicated content
-- Digitally-native collection objects
-- Webware
-- Cloud computing (too far-out there for museums still) Robert thought it was a mistake to leave this one off the list. He argued that due to the scalability of cloud computing, even small museums can take advantage of aggregated capacity. Cited IMA and the Jewish Women's Archive as places successfully engaged in cloud computing.

Trends to Watch:
-- Tech-savvy audiences will demand more and richer online content from museums.
-- Open content is inevitable.
-- Increased and improved collections digitization.
-- Technology plans integrated into overall museum strategic plans (the Getty recently changed their mission to include Internet initiatives).
-- Addressing to what extent online engagement complements or enhances physical presence.
-- Increase in use of participatory tools.

Critical Challenges: (Most of these related to infrastructure and policy.)
-- Adequate staffing/adequately trained staff
-- Budgeting for technology
-- Dedicating staff and funding to technology
-- Balancing core mission technology leading edge technologies/experimentation
-- Overcoming fears, esp. regarding open content
-- Copyright, intellectual property laws and other legal obstacles to open content.

And Nik Honeysett added one more challenge, that he states is the biggest one: dissemination. Almost everyone in the room had a fairly advanced knowledge of the subject matter being discussed--everyone already had more than a cursory understanding of web 2.0 technologies. In fact, several of us were trying to live-blog (except that there was no free wifi) and one person was twittering. So essentially, Nik said he was "preaching to the choir." And he was. He urged those of us in the audience to go out and share information about the importance of these technologies with others, but left us with this question: "If we could reach them [all those who aren't already on board with new technologies] all, what would the message be and would anyone listen?"

Eventually, everyone will have to listen or else be left behind by their constituents. And so, in the meantime, I say to all of "them," go check out the Horizon Report!

For a more specific look at one aspect of this report, see my blog over at WestMuse!

Museum Technologies and Trends on the Horizon: A Critical Review

-- Leonard Stenibach, Principal, Cultural Technology Strategies
-- Susan Chun, Founder and Project Lead, Steve.Museum
-- Rob Lancefield, Manager of Museum Information Services/Registrar of Collections, Davison Art Center, Wesleyan University; President, MCN
-- Nik Honeysett, Head of Administration, J. Paul Getty Museum; Chair, SPC Council of AAM; Chair, Media and Technology SPC, AAM

Almost-Live Blogging at AAM

Well, here I am at AAM. My intent was to live-blog the sessions I attend, but sadly, there is no free wifi in the session rooms! So I will be posting somewhat after the sessions... I am also tweeting about the conference. You can follow me: @museum_flavor and you can follow everyone tweeting about the conference by following #aam09. I will also be posting less personal thoughts on the sessions (and possibly more in depth) over at WestMuse, the new WMA blog. There is also the official AAM conference blog. So for all those who can't actually be here in beautiful Philly, there are lots of ways to play along at home!

Monday, April 6, 2009

Sending Good Thoughts to the Field

Oh man, I have been here. A leak in the collections--particularly if there are organic collections that can really suffer and get moldy or destroyed by the water--is never any fun. Good luck, guys.

Visitorship vs Revenue

...And on the other hand, this article reminds me that an increase in visitorship does not necessarily translate into an increase in dollars. So what's a museum to do? Welcome staycationers with open arms, knowing that it won't result in more money now but hoping that it will lead to future memberships and donations? C'mon marketers, development and membership officers--on your toes? How are we going to take this boon of visitors and turn it into ongoing support for our museums?

Increase Admissions by Decreasing Admission?

I'm going to take this as an one more point in favor of my argument that museums (and zoos) should *not* be raising admission prices right now--that they should be keeping them affordable (and preferably on par with or even less than the cost of a movie). The Como Zoo is seeing increased attendance because people can't afford to go away on vacation, so they are taking "staycations." Also, because the Zoo accepts donations rather than charging an admission fee, people who are unemployed can afford to visit and take a break from their troubles.

Paying Attention to Collections Care

For years now I have been saying that what reality TV needs is a show about conservation emergencies. Like Conservation 911 or something like that. No one else has ever been all that enthusiastic about my idea--not even conservators and fellow collections staff. That's okay, though, because I feel like conservation and collections care are getting their due at least a little bit though thanks to this article in the NY Times about the conservation needs and struggles throughout the museum world. Thanks, New York Times!

Google and Museums

Pete over at New Curator posts a really good question: why isn't there a Just think what could happen if Google applied their mad organizational skills to collections content management or their mapping capabilities to museum floorplans? you could chart your course throughout a museum and highlight all the objects you want to see along the way all thanks to Google! Neat ideas.

Give Proper Props to the Newark Museum!

What a back-handed compliment: to be called a "best kept secret." That's almost like accusing something of a crappy marketing plan. Really--it's saying that this best kept secret is something really totally awesome, and yet no one knows about it. Now, some great things no one wants to share because they want to keep whatever the great thing is to themselves--like the location of a gold mine. But people usually want to share great experiences that they have a museums. Don't they?

So despite the fact that the Newark Museum is a ground-breaking leader in the museum field and is celebrating its 100th birthday (wow!), I feel a little sorry for it that in the opening sentence of this article, it is referred to as a "best kept secret." All the other compliments and praise the author heaps on the museum feel a little empty after that ambiguous phrase.

Sorry, Newark. But don't worry, the museum profession knows how awesome you are!

Saturday, April 4, 2009

Great Charles Schwab Quote!

"Museums are a crucial part of a healthy and vibrant community...They connect us to the past while illuminating the future and are centers of creativity and incubators of innovation—among the most valuable commodities we have as a nation."

-- Charles Schwab, chairman of the Board of Trustees of SFMOMA as quoted in Art Daily regarding the planned SFMOMA expansion.
Can I get an Amen?

Summary of the Economic Impact on Museums

Briefly, another good synopsis of the current effects of the economic downturn on US museums from the Winnipeg Sun. It chronicles the Getty, Met, Art Institute, DIA, Las Vegas Art Museum, National Academy Museum and School of Fine Arts, Rose Art Museum at Brandeis, and so on and so forth.

The article also talks about despite the financial crisis, how visitorship is up for many museums and programming is still going strong.

Thoughts on Communication

Several interesting blog posts and news articles have me thinking about the changing nature of communication and how we view it. First off, from the Chronicle of Philanthropy we learn that a) the average age of a Facebook user is rapidly rising, and as it does so, its value for fundraisers will increase because b) social networking sites are increasingly being used for personal communications over regular ol' e-mail.

Next we have an article and a blog post that quite succinctly answer the question: Is anybody really listening out there? The answer is a resounding, "Yes."

From Donor Power Blog we see exactly how word of mouth (and he uses a great term from the Church of the Customer, Wominomics) can help or hinder us.

And from ABC Entertainment News--that's right, folks, Entertainment News, we see how Demi Moore's twitter feed may have saved a woman's life. This is not the first time that Twitter has been used in a real-time effort to spread information to appropriate parties, but it certainly is a great example of just how mainstream it has become as a platform for quick and effective communication.

Lessons learned? Use Facebook. Use Twitter. Be good to your constituents and listen to what they are saying about you. And be assured, people are listening to you.

Disappointed with Disney

Sigh. I love Disneyland. For me, it truly is at least one of the happiest places on Earth. And I love museums. And like John Frost at The Disney Blog, I really, really wanted to like the new Walt Disney Family Museum, but without having even visited (it doesn't open until October), I already have my doubts.

These doubts stem largely from the motivations behind the museum--Disney's daughter, Diane Disney Miller, wanted to found the museum as a response to unflattering biographies about her father. What's more, rather than founding the museum near where he lived and worked and founded his empire in Southern California, instead she chose the controversial site of the former military base cum National Park (and home to LucasFilms' Letterman Digital Arts Center) the Presidio in San Francisco--apparently because it is close to where she lives.

Add to this the fact that the Walt Disney Company owns Walt Disney's name and image and that Mrs. Miller has had to buy or borrow most of the artwork in the museum and I begin to wonder why this museum really needs to exist, now that the Disney archives have become much more open about lending out materials to museums. What truly makes this museum special? What story does it tell that the "A Walk in Walt's Footsteps" tour at Disneyland doesn't tell? I think instead of planning a trip to this museum, I'll just save up my pennies for another visit to the Magic Kingdom.

New York's "Birth Certificate"

Growing up in New York City, of course I learned about how my home town had originally been purchased for 24 bucks worth of beads. But it never before occurred to me that there might exist an actual bill of sale, or at least a written accounting of this transaction. But apparently there is! And it's currently on display along with other historical documents and paintings of the birth of New York (then New Amsterdam), at the Rijksmuseum in Amsterdam!

But fear not, New Yorkers, when the exhibit at the Rijksmuseum closes, it will travel to the South Street Seaport where you should go check it out!

Western Museums Association

WMA has burst into life in the cyber world! With a linkedin group, Facebook group, Facebook fan page and now a blog!

Yes, I am one of the authors of the blog. I also happen to be on the Board.

Also, it's time for pre-early-bird registration for the annual conference, this year to be held in sunny San Diego. This year promises to be a recession-friendly conference. The Program Committee has taken great pains to re-envision the conference in order to maximize the benefits and minimize the costs of attendance. Plus, if you register now during the pre-early-bird time period, you receive an extra discount!

So sign up today for the WMA conference and take advantage of the Resource Clinics on grant writing, resume review or for new directors; visit the Tech Lab; and attend sessions on free, shared technology for your museum or a workshop on Design 101 at the Maritime Museum and USS Midway!

Wednesday, April 1, 2009

Wanna Talk Transparency?

So much is said over and over about how non-profits need to be enterprising, unafraid to fail, embracing of their communities and transparent. And every time I see a new blog post from the Brooklyn Museum, I think, "Well, these guys are really *doing* it!" right now they are blogging in detail about the lessons learned from their experience with Wikipedia Loves Art, which was not an unmitigated success. But their honesty--their transparency--in discussing what worked and what didn't and how it could have been improved can be seen as a valuable resource to us all.

I'd love to hear about more museums that are taking that risk--trying out new programs and strategies and then reporting back on their efforts to the whole world. So tell me, what is your museum up to these days?

Quick Follow-up to Yesterday's Post

Yesterday I blogged about whether or not e-philanthropy worked. The answer was a conditional yes, but that it is getting off the ground slowly. Jason Dick at A Small Change confirms this with his post Online Fundraising is Hard. But he agrees that it really is just a matter of time. Just a little patience, that's all we need. Oh, and some tenacity mixed in there, too.