I’m now at the the Finnish Museums Association meeting, Collections: storing and using of the metadata, and have been thinking lots about museums and collections. In the process have re-visited some pretty interesting historical works that have caused me to wonder whether we have learned anything from the past about catering better for visitors in relation to objects and collections, especially in the physical space?
In my wanderings around the literature, especially related to Benjamin Gilman (one of my all-time #museumeval heroes!), I came across his rather wonderful, yet slightly kooky, invention – the ‘sciascope’ via Steve Lubar, Brown University. His piece, Looking through the Skiascope: Benjamin Gilman and the Invention of the Modern Museum Gallery, is a fascinating glimpse into Gilman’s ideas and how they relate to modern art museums. In it he states:
Gilman believed that museums should be about direct engagement with the art, about paying attention properly. That brings us back to the skiascope, a device that would provide the means for that proper engagement, for seeing correctly. His background in experimental psychology, with its wide use of instruments, would have made him comfortable with this kind of apparatus. His appreciation of the role of the teacher in shaping the student’s attention transferred easily to the role of the curator shaping the visitor’s attention. His philosophical belief in the importance of the viewer would make a device, such as the skiascope, a reasonable approach to solving a museum problem. It made perfect sense for Gilman to invent a device to force museum visitors to look in a ‘correct’ way as an approach to solve the problem of viewing art in the museum.
This got me thinking about the question in relation to collections: will technology save us?, and some of the work researchers have been conducting around digital experiences in physical sites. Lindsey Green, of Frankly Green and Webb made the point at the latest #MCN2017 conference (and I’m paraphrasing a tweet here) that ‘layering on more tech, especially apps and audio guides, adding more to cognitive overload and not helping’.
Re-looking at a body of research at the ANMM I proposed a classification of visitor called the worried visitor especially when it came to tech in the museum, for example:
- … what if I drop or damage [the museum’s device]?
- What if I forget to give it back?
- What if it’s Android and I’m an Apple user?
- I don’t want to waste five minutes downloading something that I don’t know we’d like, especially when I’m with the kids
- What if my tablet falls in the water?
- Is there free Wi-Fi?
Yet, we still persist. I noticed, again at #MCN2017, that sessions on AR / VR were standing room only, so if we are to go down that tech path (and personally I think it’s exciting) how are we going to address those worried visitors and provide a seamless onsite tech experience? Something more to think about…
And, don’t you think the sciascope looks a lot like a certain modern headset?!