Museums and the Web 2017

Today’s guest blog post is written by Allison Klein, Senior Platform Specialist, Patron Technology. 

Last month I headed to Cleveland, OH to attend the Museums and the Web (MW) conference. MW 2017 was the 20th conference held by the Museums and the Web group, and it brought together a wide variety of museum professionals and the companies that support them from all over the world. As a self-proclaimed museum nerd, I felt lucky to be there among them!

Here are some of the highlights —

Over the course of three days of MW sessions, I got to hear from technologists from across the museum sector about their most exciting projects and initiatives. Inclusivity and accessibility were among the recurring themes that resounded through all the presentations that I attended.

The opening plenary started with conference chair Sina Bahran boldly stating that in 2017, inclusivity and accessibility should never be thought of as the “phase 2” part of a project — whether technical or creative/programmatic — they have to be phase 1 objectives. It was so interesting to hear how organizations and the tech companies that support them were applying these themes in so many different ways.

Several of the sessions I attended highlighted how museums can embrace technology so that they can have a more personal relationship with their visitors. Whether that means using a CRM system to bust the data silos that exist between departments, or developing a wayfinding app that gives people directions around the museum using the kind of language a real person would (“Take a left at the giant bug”), the topic came up again and again.

Other presentations focused on how museums can embrace the technology that visitors already use on a daily basis and use those platforms to let their visitors create content. The La Brea Tar Pits & Museum, for example,  has had a lot of success with this. They launched a YouTube campaign that went viral and used that to drum up interest for what’s become a popular Instagram contest. The museum then uses the visitor-generated content in targeted Facebook ads to reach out to new audiences.

I was also particularly impressed by the way museums are using technology to enhance their collections and break down some of the perceived walls between the institution and the public.

The Lower East Side Tenement Museum here in NYC developed an online gallery called “Your Story, Our Story that empowers citizen curators to upload pictures of their own family artifacts and tell their stories. The San Diego Air and Space Museum is offering telepresence robot-led tours to groups of children that can’t attend a field trip in person.

All of the good and exciting work that I got to learn about at MW17 spoke more broadly to the idea that museums can really thrive if they embrace change and perhaps take on some bold new ideas. As hard as that can be for organizations of any type, museums and other cultural institutions are competing for the precious free time of their potential visitors, and they have a responsibility to bring as many voices to the table as possible in order to stand out among a noisy crowd of alternatives.

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