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How Small Museums Can Use Technology: Tips for New Media

As we emerge from the second year of the pandemic, it is clear that an audience exists for digital content created and provided by museums and galleries. We’ve seen a whole host of initiatives, from stepped-up social media content, through to increased digitisation and entire virtual exhibitions and galleries. Studies are also suggesting that this audience interest will outlast the current lockdown moment, and that organisations would benefit from continuing with enhanced digital strategies in the years to come. The other side to this coin, however, is that many museums currently find themselves to be massively overstretched, operating on a skeleton team with many employees furloughed or redeployed, often needing to focus predominantly on survival. In short: the external circumstances might be ideal for audiences to respond to and embrace new technologies, but the internal circumstances are significantly less than ideal, with smaller museums likely to be the most stretched.

So how do we respond to this moment, and begin to experiment with new digital and XR technologies?

The first thing to say is that there is no “one-size-fits-all” strategy out there that will work for all museums and galleries. The incredible vitality of the museum and heritage sectors comes from the massive variety of collections and experiences currently being shared, so there is no guaranteed path which will work for every organisation. No one will know your site and audiences better than you do, so take advantage of the expertise and knowledge within your organisation, across all levels of operation. It might be that incorporating a new digital strand or strategy within your work is the best way to reach out to a new or existing audience, and to reframe how you think about your existing assets. Getting involved in new technologies doesn’t just have to mean taking a huge institutional and financial step to immediately digitise every collection item and gallery to the highest possible level. It can mean using your existing social media platforms to begin thinking about sharing your content in a new way, and monitoring how your audience responds to each post to help develop your understanding of their needs, tolerances and preferences.

Of course, these suggestions don’t do anything to ameliorate the fact that many organisations are currently working with reduced teams, and on reduced hours, often in a remote or venue-distanced way. There’s a stated reluctance to undertake new or ambitious projects at this time, and understandably so. We have, however, seen clearly that audiences whose financial, physical or personal circumstances might have prevented them from making an in-person visit have responded strongly to shared digital museum content over the last twelve months. This interest and engagement could and should be fostered as we emerge from lockdown. There is a real opportunity to embed a continued digital strategy into the ways you reach your audiences, which will provide new methods of engagement and will build on the new audiences you may have reached digitally during the past locked-down year. Small ventures into social media immersion, into limited digitisation of a small strand of your collection, can be assessed and analysed after the fact, and easily scaled up where appropriate, channelling your new learning into projects that expand as and when you need them to.

Conclusion

So how do we respond to this moment, and begin to experiment with new digital and XR technologies? 

  • We respond by starting small, analysing performance and reiterating. 
  • By taking advantage of already-digitised collections and breathing new life into them with social or video content.

There is no “one-size-fits-all” strategy out there that will work for all museums and galleries. We now know that visitors respond strongly to shared digital museum content, what might be the best solution for your institution?

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