The Changing Face of Museums
When I was younger, a visit to a museum could be a dry and boring affair. Walking amongst glass cases of items you could look at but not touch, lots of text and no interaction. Today technology is changing the look and role of museums, with highly interactive exhibits creating a more engaging and entertaining environment, somewhere children (and us grown-ups!) would like to spend a day.
Today we have access to information at our fingertips. If we want to find information, we can have an answer in seconds often supplemented with images, video, and interpretation. Use of social media and online technology has reduced our attention span, a recent study by Microsoft Corporation found the increasing use of ‘instant’ technology means we struggle to stay focused to the point that the human attention span has shortened to just 8 seconds. In this environment, modern museums must carve a niche where they are considered a destination and can fulfill their role as educators in a rapidly changing environment. When you discover 90% of the world’s data has been created within the last two years, you start to understand how rapidly change is occurring.
The History of Museums
The very first museums were the private collections of wealthy individuals or institutions. Rare or curious objects and artifacts displayed in so-called ‘wonder rooms’ or ‘cabinets of curiosities’. The oldest recorded example is Ennigaldi-Nanna’s museum, dating from 530 BC and devoted to Mesopotamian antiquities.
The oldest public collections of art were the Capitoline Museums which were created in 1471 when Pope Sixtus IV donated a group of important ancient sculptures to the people of Rome. There was a growth of museums in Italy during the Renaissance, however, most of the major modern museums in the world opened during the 18th century. Museums were considered storehouses of knowledge and in an age before mass communication and the internet where the ability to see rare objects was the major draw.
The Museum Renaissance
Museums changed over the last generation. A recent report stated, “attitudes toward museums have become more favorable over the last generation as they shed their image of stuffiness and sterility and become more entertaining and interactive.” Museums are a major part of the economy, museums sustain more than 400,000 jobs and directly contribute $21 Billion to the US economy each year according to an AAM Financial Information Survey.
One of the major issues museums face is many people had only visited on school trips many years before, and assume nothing has changed. People feel museums are still boring and staid even though many have come up to date and are presenting a considerably more interactive experience.
Technology And The Modern Museum
Technology plays a major part in modern museums, with considerable use of multimedia, touch screens, and digital displays as well as cutting edge interactive technologies.
Interactive technology is a good way to turn the museum experience from a being passive into something truly engaging and educational, even for a younger audience who otherwise remain glued to their smartphones. As Sree Sreenivasan, the chief digital officer of the Metropolitan Museum of Art, in New York City states, “Our competition is Netflix and Candy Crush and not other museums“. The museum has fully embraced technology with a staff of 70 in the digital-media department, and 70 more managing technology throughout the museum.
The Metropolitan Museum looked for a number of opportunities for visitors to engage with the collections, allowing them to use their smartphones to access recorded guides and other information by scanning the artwork.
They are just one of many museums using technology to create a better experience for their visitors. The Brooklyn Museum is testing the use of ibeacons, small Bluetooth devices which interact with an app on a visitor’s phone. As they move through the galleries, they interact with museum experts and get additional information about the artwork they are viewing.
Interactive video is another tool being utilized to support education. In the UK, the Parliamentary Education center at the Houses of Parliament provides a 360-degree video screen system to engage with children, bringing the history of the building and the role of democracy to life.
The video system is used as an immersive ‘Discovery’ space, a sensory, interactive room that plunges students into an immersive environment via the use of 360° projection technology. The system takes students through a 15-minute virtual tour of Parliament, virtual recreations of the House of Commons and House of Lords chamber, a history of democracy, and recreations of historical events connected to each Chamber. The center is used for school visits and welcomes over 100,000 students per year, over double what they could accommodate within their previous environment.
Case Study – College Football Hall of Fame
College football is watched by over 200 million people annually and the teams have a massive following. One of the places on the bucket list of many fans is the College Football Hall of Fame in Atlanta, Georgia.
The hall of fame was created in 1951 by the National Football Foundation and had previously been based in Indiana. In 2009 the hall of fame moved to a new 100,000 square foot, $68 million dollar, facility in Atlanta.
Similar to many other sports museums it immortalizes and remembers the players and coaches from college football teams across the USA. However, when the hall of fame was moved they decided against a traditional style of museum filled with static displays and artifacts behind glass. They went for a considerably more interactive environment where visitors could get the feel of what it is like to be a college football star.
The hall of fame is packed with interactive elements like videos and games, places where you can take selfies wearing digitally superimposed face paint, and even a football field where you can take your best shot at kicking a field goal.
The experience starts with ‘The Quad’ where you walk through a tunnel hearing the sound of cleats walking beside and an ever increasing crowd noise as if you are about to step onto the field yourself. As you step out you are faced with a 40-foot wall of football helmets from each of the 768 college football teams.
Interactivity starts with the visitor registration process, visitors are asked for their local team as they enter and the corresponding helmet is illuminated on the wall.
This is just the first part of a fully personalized experience using a RFID chip embedded in the visitor’s ticket. Activities throughout their visit display their team’s colors and logos.
The interactivity does not end when the visitor leaves the museum. The registration data can be used to encourage return visits and send personalized updates about their favorite team. It was important to create a highly engaging visitor experience that would act as a competitive unique selling point against other attractions in the area.
Overall the College Football Hall of Fame is the most technologically advanced in the country, the National Football Federation took advantage of the move to completely rethink what their museum should be, and to ensure that it embraced the latest technology.
The technology partners Onepath worked in partnership with the hall of fame to design the project and manage this mammoth project. The building employs both wired and wireless networks with infrastructure which manages every part of operations from security and access control systems to the visitor interactions and audio visual systems.
The hall of fame is a good example of how museums need to evolve as interactive attractions, and that a partnership with technology is vital when it comes to planning any modern establishment. Greater visitor engagement and better data allow for a longer lasting relationship with museum guests, leading to more return visits.