Reflecting back on Museums and the Web 2019

Usually I try to write up my conference experience a few days after the conference, but this year I returned to a heavy workload and teething newborn.

But now, I’m finding myself returning to my notes with a different perspective- not the fresh off the conference high where I feel like I can move digital mountains, but rather a more realistic view determining what I can actual implement with the limited resources and time I have available. I’ve also had a few ideas from the conference that I’ve already been using to shift our strategies and change up our engagement.

Instead of sharing my takeaways, I want to share the things that have still stuck with me a few months later, and the things I still want to pursue.

Wellcome Collection’s approach to online writing

  • Jennifer Trent Staves and Alice White, Wellcome Collection
  • Description: Wellcome Collection share their writing strategy, which is mirrored off traditional journalism where they only have specific types of articles: essays, pictures interviews, book excerpts, serials and comics. The goal wasn’t just to share their collection, it was to focus on stories that are important and relate to brand whether it relates to specific collection objects or not.
  • Their Outcomes: They found that this type of strategy was increasingly popular with their audience and users enjoyed the specific formats. They also focused on telling clear stories, paid authors and editors to do their work, asked for article proposals, and updated their old content to fit the new style.
  • My Thoughts: I’ve been increasingly thinking about how we can take a strategy like this because I think it’s brilliant. While we haven’t moved towards this yet, I am bringing up the idea and have started moving our content towards a few different types, rather than being completely open.

Isabella Stewart Gardener Museum’s Human Centered Design

  • Michelle Grohe, Isabella Stewart Gardner Museum, and Laura Mann, Frankly, Green + Webb
  • Description: The museum used visitor journey mapping to inform their engagement, as well as organizational, strategies. In trying to improve the visitor experience, they gave visitor services and guards a key role in collecting information and changing visitor processes.
  • Their Outcomes: Using information collected from visitor journey mapping and from staff, they were able to create a more useful mobile guide. My favorite task and outcome was that guards had notebooks to write down visitor questions, which were then used to create a better mobile guide. They also made front of house staff more aware of what was being offered in the museum so they could offer more to guests.
  • My Thoughts: What I loved about this presentation is that it was all about improving the staff experience to improve the visitor experience. As the speakers noted: “How we treat each other impacts the visitor experience”.

Easter Eggs in Exhibitions

  • Seb Chan, ACMI
  • Description: Australian Centre for the Moving Image’s Wonderland Experience had an Easter Egg hidden in the exhibition that could be discovered by following a series of directions. The goal was to reward the most curious visitors. Guests had to mail a letter to the museum with the solution to a riddle, and then they’d receive a key that opened a door within the exhibition.
  • Their Outcomes: They only had a small number of guests discover the Easter Egg and actually come back to the museum, but those who did were really into the experience.
  • My Thoughts: I keep coming back to this idea of Easter Eggs in exhibitions as a fun way to get guests to look closely. Looking ahead, I hope this is something we can incorporate into our design.

Attracting Diverse Applicants for Museum Jobs

  • Jennifer M. Williams, Public Programs Manager, New Orleans Museum of Art
  • Description: This Diversity Panel had three speakers that shared their own stories of how they started in the museum field, and what they were doing now to help increase diversity in museums. One of the audience members asked: “What advice can you give to hiring managers so they can attract diverse applicants?” Williams responded: “Reach out to diverse pool of applicants- be intentional, post in a wide variety of locations not just traditional job sites”
  • My Thoughts: This is the panel that has stuck with me the most, and the one I have tried to take action on. I’ve begun sharing job descriptions on Facebook in hopes that will help expand our pool of applicants. I’ve noticed a high number of applicants coming through that channel- and those applying through Facebook do seem to be a fairly diverse group of individuals.

Hands-On, Interactive Storytelling about P.T. Barnum

  • David London, Performer
  • Description: As part of the conference, we had the option of attending a participatory performance about PT Barnum. It is a traveling show that goes to schools and other museums. David London shares the story of PT Barnum in a fun and interactive way, using both real objects and facsimiles. It was a fantastic take on the life of Barnum, and it was interspersed with activities, objects, and magic (London is also a magician).
  • My Thoughts: I’d love to think about how to do a version of this for our museum. The mix of exciting storytelling, audience participation, humor, use of objects, openness to difficult subjects and the use of music and visuals to engage made it a thrilling experience that would be interesting to use for other subjects.

My Favorite Quotes

  •  “How we treat each other impacts the visitor experience” — Michelle Grohe, Isabella Stewart Gardner Museum
  • “Everyone, not just senior staff, should be able to articulate goal and mission of each project.” — Seema Rao (@seemarao on Twitter)
  • “Experience happens. If you don’t plan it then it happens badly.” –Seb Chan, ACMI
  • “Our digital channels don’t promote our museum and library, they ARE our museums and library” –Jennifer Trent Staves and Alice White, Wellcome Collection
  • “Why does immersive experience matter? Create clear distinction between the outside world and inside the exhibition. Make the museum a magic circle where visitors can attain super powers.” –Max Evjen, Michigan State University

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