Horizon Report: Museums & Mobile

The Horizon Report on Museums, from the New Media Consortium, identifies a number of emerging and present technologies that promise to reshape, and are reshaping the landscape of museums. This is important reading at a Center for PUBLIC History and DIGITAL Humanities. It is provocative and insightful, and also gratifying that our work is following in some of these directions. Here is an initial reporting, as I read it for the first time.

The obvious trend is that “”Rich” media — images, videos, audio, augmented reality, and animations — are becoming increasingly valuable assets in digital interpretation.” Duh… But, the report argues the import of these objects in encouraging a “deeper” understanding, rather than being mere illustration. Not only are such materials more than afterthoughts but they are critical to the exhibitions themselves. The report also notes that digitization is important, as are social networks, both of which are obvious. A bit more buried is an emphasis on open content, and that visitors are expecting this content to be open, which challenges how we use our collections and interpret them. On this latter part, the Horizon Report argues that “More important to today’s audiences is advice on how to find, interpret, and make their own connections with collections and ideas.”

As I read, I am also struck by the challenges identified. First, Horizon argues that too few museums have developed “comprehensive digital strategies,” and strategies that emphasize learning and interpretation as well as technology. In our experience, we see this all the time, museums and organizations whose digital forays are project based, without a series of long-term goals, especially vis-a-vis how the collections might and will be and should be used.  Second, the Horizon Report argues that training and staff development have to be at the core of the implementation of new technologies–especially as it regards re-training. This is precisely where our Center can fit the equation. But, also, as part of this, we need to understand how all audiences–whether local, regional, or national–demand digital resources.  We need to plan those technologies into every aspect of the museum visit, and into staff training.

Finally, a key element of the planning, project implementation endeavor is workflow of content production. The report notes that “advances in workflow and content production techniques in business and industry are largely absent from similar forms of content creation in museums. Museum workflows are too often illsuited to modern content production techniques in which content is created simultaneously for multiple delivery modes. Websites, videos, podcasts, social networks, and blogs should all pull from a content management system that allows any “story,” critique, or analysis to be ported to any medium. Failure to align workflows with this model adds costs and limits publishing options for museums that are already operating under financial constraints.”

Here is where we at the Center have really worked effectively. Our workflow, using open-source, and especially our ability to re-use materials from previous projects–to build an interpretive collection, to curate the city, has really allowed us to work effectively with relatively modest resources. I cannot emphasize this observation enough. And, of course, it emphasizes the import of planning…

Ok, my comments are too practical by far. But, this is a fascinating documenting, suggesting the extraordinary ways that technology will continue to remake all of our work.

Mark Tebeau is a co-founder of the Center for Public History + Digital Humanities at Cleveland State University and currently serves as a Professor of History at Arizona State University.