Museum technology is responding to a growing digital consumer base and bringing the past to interactive life.

Static walk-through exhibitions and printed product descriptions are now being supported by smartphone technology, digital downloads and invitations to participate in museum activities.

Visitors are also seeking information on demand and personalised visits based on their preferences.

Many members of the younger generation are unable to comprehend a screen that does not react to touch or a venue without an app – it’s now becoming an expectation.

This digital trend has been confirmed with new research by Axiell, the leading provider of collections management software for archives, libraries and museums. Axiell stated that “websites, social media and smartphone usage are the key priorities for creating public value.”

“Digitising information is exactly what museums need to be doing to ensures that they can bring their collections to life,” said John Doolan, CEO of Archives, Libraries and Museums at Axiell. “For many of our customers, tying together objects from archives, libraries and museums ensures a completeness for educational and research purposes that is invaluable to society.”

According to survey data, more than half (54 per cent) of museums are actively investing in engagement strategies. Key priorities for audience engagement included:

  • Providing educational opportunitie, cited by 86 per cent of survey respondents
  • Making information on activities and programmes available online (65.7 per cent of respondents)
  • Enhancing the visitor experience via mobile services (50 per cent)
  • Reaching diverse audiences (61.4 per cent)
  • Making the museum accessible (64.2 per cent)
  • Creating quality cross-platform experiences (40 per cent)

Despite increased digitisation, museums are still worth a visit. The report pointed to “clear signs that the museum market is growing and engagement is on the rise, with 48.5% of museums seeing an increase in physical visits, 50% in website visits and 82.3% in activities on social media sites.”

Its no wonder that museums are working tirelessly to bridge the gap between the traditional physical museum to one that is digitally enhanced.

Here are three technology strategies employed by museums from around the world:

Museum navigation

Fewer people are picking up the hard copy venue and exhibition maps handed out upon museum entry and logging into their smartphones. Visitors are downloading an app or visiting the venue’s website (before a physical visit) to map out their own route based on their personal preferences.

This system also helps the museum see usage patterns if a login is required by the visitor. When that is the case, museums can receive real-time information on their visitors on-site. The Louvre captures visitor information (movements, popular exhibits and so on) via Bluetooth signals.

Digital Maps

Visitor information captured by the Louvre.

The Science Museum in South Kensington, London has a “plan your visit” page on the website where visitors can select and ‘add’ their exhibition preferences. A personalised plan outlining locations in the museum of selected exhibitions and an approximate duration time is displayed. The plan can then be can emailed directly to the prospective visitor.

Interactive games

In 2012, the Metropolitan Museum of Art teamed up with Green Door Labs and OnCell to develop a mobile application game called “Murder at the Met: An American Art Mystery.”

The game was designed to launch the reopening of their American Wing.

Visitors were encouraged to use their smartphones and tablets through the galleries of American paintings, sculpture, and decorative arts to solve a murder mystery that took place back in 1899.

In Canberra, the National Museum of Australia (NMA) has a children’s interactive installation known as KSpace.

Digital Museum

KSpace at the National Museum of Australia

Children are invited to participate in a 30-minute game that sees them use touch screens to build their own time-travelling robot to explore past locations of Australia, such as Victorian goldfields in 1854 or the Kimberley region in 1990.

The NMA conducted extensive research as detailed in their blog when they first tested the prototype in July 2014 with 18 children aged six to 12.

Interactive pens

At the Cooper Hewitt Smithsonian Design Museum in New York, visitors receive an interactive pen with their admission ticket.

The pen was created to inform visitors about design by “designing” according to the museum website. The pen allows visitors “collect” and “save” objects from around the galleries by pressing the end of the pen to any museum label.

They can they transfer their findings to interactive ultra high-definition screens on tables, explore them in detail and manipulate the designs by drawing with the pen.

“The Pen combines two main technologies,” the museum’s website reads. “Its interface with the interactive tables employs the sort of conductive materials common to touchscreen styli.

“Its interface with the object labels employs near-field communication technology. A sensor at the end of the pen reads the information on small NFC tags embedded in the object labels. This information is stored in the pen’s onboard memory and can be read at the interactive tables.”

Finally, each pen corresponds to a dedicated web address whereby visitors can have their collections waiting for them at home.

The future

Dubai offers a glimpse into what we might expect in the museums of tomorrow. The city’s Museum of the Future is set to open in 2017.

The museum is expected to feature innovation labs and exhibits for future inventions. The museum has also committed to six-monthly updates to keep “pace with exponentially growing technologies.”

The $136 million site, which will sit beside the Emirates Towers on Sheikh Zayed Road, also plans to have everything from robots to drones to holograms to 3D printers.

“The world is entering a new era of accelerated knowledge and great technological revolutions,” said His Highness Sheikh Mohammed bin Rashid.

“We aim to lead in that era, not to follow and lag behind.”

By: Angela Fedele