Sunday, September 14, 2008

Visitors as Curators

maria mortati, gyroscope inc, museumsIn an era where people can select the news they want to hear, they are making their own decisions about their experiences in museums and galleries. As we know, they can blog, comment, and even give each other context about what they experience. After all, it is their experience. The question for museums is how to help individuals make meaning out of these choices? How do you reach them? How do you validate their experience... and add to it? One answer is find out what people are saying. Give them ample opportunity to post what they think about your exhibits. For example, you could offer them the opportunity to respond with a multi-pronged approach, divided along favored types of input:
  • Tween/Teen set: you can offer a "text us at 555-1212", then post vetted comments online or in the museum
  • Bloggers: you could advertise the blog for the museum or exhibit in-house and invite them to comment. Provide them with a terminal on-site so they can record their experiences immediately. You can moderate their posts, if necessary.
  • Luddites: provide the greenest option of them all- a notebook (a real one, not a computer). Scan in their comments from time to time. Rip out the offensive ones or find a funny sticker to put over them.
Then link to other sources of information about the topic du jour for your visitors. Sites they may or may not normally associate with the subject. Provide backstories to your own research on the topics- such as, a historical museum may have an interesting story about how they acquired a certain object. Of course it's important to balance all this interconnectedness with the key topics that the exhibit is raising and not get off-track. After all, visitors are coming to your web site or museum because they want to learn something they didn't already now (if you're looking for some ways to think about this, there are a few models mentioned here). Finally, respond to what they are saying. Figure out what the recurring questions are, and find a way to make public the fact that you are listening and responding. If you have a very prolific or passionate visitor, invite them to guest blog or have an interview with them that you can post on-line and in-house. If you have questions about the investment of time, there's a good article at Museum 2.0 called "How much time does web 2.0 take?". This interconnectedness is here to stay, and it's good news for museums. It means you have more opportunities to extend the visit, and reach new audiences, which I'll write more about in future posts. Way back in 2005, Michael Haley Goldman of the Holocaust Memorial Museum and Kathryn Haley Goldman, Institute for Learning Innovation wrote a paper for Museums and the Web which predicted: " I see in the future more collaborative experiences, more real-time collaboration, but also [an] untapped market for curators to use the power of the Web to collect stories. – to solicit content from the users, of wanting to get broader range of experiences, to build collaborative virtual collections." The future is now. Is your institution ready? -- Suggested reading: Brooklyn Museum's "Click" Exhibit

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