Undeniably the onset of the COVID-19 pandemic necessitated a hard pivot for all museums to (re)invest in creating a digital representation of their collection online.
We’ve seen an increase in granting agencies expanding funding into digital spaces, an increase in museums acquiring or switching to new Collections Management Systems (CMS), and CMS platforms evolving their offerings with advances made in collection display and usability. What remained to be seen at the beginning of 2022 was the longevity of this increase in digital investment by museums.
Museum Digital Investment Leads to More Meaningful Guest Experiences
In the Morning Consult article “Why Museums Weathered the Pandemic Better Than Most — and Where They’re Headed Next”, Bevin Savage-Yamazaki (senior associate and culture and museums practice leader at Gensler, a global design and architecture firm) observes that these digital interventions are here for the long-term, even in a post-pandemic era. The intentional blending of the physical museum-going experience with enriching digital content results in more information available for consumption, more meaningful guest experiences with the collections, and a more impactful interpretative outcome. Savage-Yamazaki shares the following example:
We’re seeing a more ambient digital experience happening, with people bringing their phones and downloading the app when they arrive on site and having this opportunity for deeper interpretation into the collections or the exhibition they’re visiting.
Savage-Yamazaki specifically identifies the museum engagement app as one such tool that capitalizes on the hybridization of the physical and digital collection. Indeed, the museum engagement app is a tool uniquely poised to incorporate the museum physical and digital collection to create dynamic visitor experiences.
What’s Needed for a Museum Engagement App?
There are several companies that can provide a museum engagement application. No matter which one your museum selects it will need the following elements to successfully launch a museum engagement app:
Information: This includes information about the museum, museum events and exhibits, and the collection. Most of this content is already created and readily available for incorporation into the app. Information on your collection can be informed directly by the data within your Collections Management System (CMS). In fact, one thing to look for when shopping for a museum engagement app is whether or not it can pair seamlessly with your CMS.
Include Information on:
- The museum and how to visit
- How to navigate the museum and exhibitions
- Current and upcoming exhibitions
- Current and upcoming special events
- Data on individual objects
Assets: In this case assets are the digital files of museum objects, recorded audio-visual material, articles, and other items that provide illustrative depth to the information presented. This can include digital surrogates of the collection, oral history interviews, recorded tours and lectures, demonstration videos, etc.
- Digital surrogates of the collection
- Audio-visual recordings of interviews, tours, and other supplementary material
- Events, tours, lectures, exhibits
When you place the information together with the asset(s) you create content.
Or: Information + Assets = Content
Tools: In addition to the museum engagement app platform you select, you may also need equipment that helps to support the ongoing creation and management of the digital assets. This can include scanning equipment, media migration tools, supporting software, a Digital Asset Management System (DAMS), etc. The benefit of the app is that museums no longer need to supply devices to visitors, but the downside is that it will require visitors to have access to and use their own smart devices and that can limit access to only those who can afford those devices.
The Engagement App as a Tool:
- Requires museum-goers have a smart phone and individual listening devices
- The museum doesn’t need to supply special tech nor clean and maintenance it
- It leverages existing museum infrastructure and assets
The language Savage-Yamazaki and our peers are using suggests a melding or hybridization of both physical and digital. Instead of being two separate areas of museum work, they’re increasingly being viewed as intertwined. This is a promising adjustment as it infers that the digital work is just as important as (and should be prioritized similarly to) physical collection work. The investment into both digital and physical programming is one that will continue to open up museum collections to a broader audience and offer innovative experiences for our audiences. The museum engagement app is a tool that’s available to us now and that doesn’t require the heavy investment in new tools or content generation. The app can serve as a great entry into this new hybridization of our work and how we present the museum experience, and I can’t wait to see where we go from here.
Rachael Cristine Woody
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