Archive for February, 2017

MCN 2016 Sessions – User Experience Design Considerations for Multi-Museum Online Collaborations

User Experience Design Considerations for Multi-Museum Online Collaborations

Friday, November 4, 2016 3:30 PM – 4:00 PM
Session Leader: Duane Degler, Principal, Design for Context
Co-Presenter: Lesley Humphreys, Senior User Experience Designer, Design for Context

We increasingly engage in projects where we are asked to accommodate multiple collections, sites, and institutions into the planning, data modeling, and overall user experience. And we see a trend where grant funders actively encourage collaborations, so these kinds of digital projects may become common. It is important to think beyond the typical patterns of grouping sets of objects into institution-specific views, or presenting a mash-up as if it is just one big collection. As we think about collaborations involving online collections, we have identified human-centered user experience considerations and requirements to share with the community. It is common to see very carefully curated content such as catalogs for touring exhibitions. But open data and APIs create the opportunity to create less formally crafted applications. Designs must consider the degree of freedom that users can enjoy. What new pathways between objects become possible? Who creates – or discovers – them? How do users understand themes when they move among different museums’ works? Is vocabulary used in similar ways, or is there a “meta” descriptive language needed? Can different objects and media interact together, not just be experienced sequentially? And at what points does “where” matter – how do we give a sense of location for the physical works, without them feeling separated from each other? Our projects often focus on linked data as the underlying model, which can create new types of relationships between institutions’ data. An important aspect of multi-museum collaborations is supporting staff as they prepare and review their information. Applications must provide insights into the scope of information, the degree of alignment between data sets from different institutions (dead-ends or conflicts that affect user navigation), and ways of identifying changes across the whole. These capabilities help all collaborators support not only resulting applications, but also each other.






#MCN50 Voices: Andrea Ledesma & Diana Folsom

Post by Andrea Ledesma


This year MCN celebrates its 50th anniversary. From birthday parties to archive dives, and of course to the annual conference, there’s no shortage of opportunities to honor this landmark year.

Today, we’re kicking off #MCN50 Voices. Just as MCN has established a network of established and emerging professionals, #MCN50 Voices brings members together, old and new, near and far. Diana Folsom and I are excited to kick off the series with a conversation of our own.



Diana is the Director of Digital Collections at the Thomas Gilcrease Institute of American History and Art at the University of Tulsa. Previously, she worked at the Los Angeles County Museum of Art (LACMA) for 20+ years, where she helped orchestrate the Getty Online Scholarly Catalog Initiative among other projects. Currently, I’m a graduate student in the public humanities at Brown University. Through coursework focused on public history, museum technology, and collective memory, I explore how technology reinvents the ways in which narratives are formed and interpreted within museums and cultural institutions. Currently, I work as an instructional technology fellow on campus, as well as intern for the Digital Public Library of America in Boston. Here are some highlights from our conversation.


Getting from there to here takes commitment, grit, and a bit of chance.

Diana and I share a love for cultural heritage. While I study history, memory, and narrative, Diana has a background in art, music, dance, and education. What she calls “all the practical things.” Learning about her professional experiences was interesting, if not inspiring for an emerging professional like myself. Diana’s story, however, also showcased the value of the unexpected. After graduation, she worked a number of jobs in technology – educational software, computer manufacturing, and marketing – but her path to the museum started with a serendipitous bus ride in New York. She found herself sitting next to Jim Schlotter, then LACMA’s CIO. He was – and still is – a “charismatic, outgoing fellow.” Fast forward through a long-distance friendship based on shared projects and LACMA’s growing digital infrastructure, Diana eventually found herself working at the museum.


Find ways to have fun, IRL.

Star Flower – Birthplace of Stars

Earth treading Star

Andrea’s roasted winter salad, light on dressing and heavy on an Instagram filter

For as many hours as Diana and I spend with screens and servers, we both like to disconnect. Diana is a practicing artist. She explained:

“I have to say working with technology and day to day business applications, I just didn’t want to do anything with computers in my own art. I may work with ideas a bit through sketching and manipulating images, but beyond that I just like the physicality of painting and mixed media.”

When not at my desk or in the library, you  find me in the kitchen. I cook and eat, and read about other people cooking and eating. Fun fact: if not in museums, I’d be a chef. I worked at Williams-Sonoma all through high school and could probably still sell someone on a copper-core pan if I tried hard enough. This hobby is not nearly as well documented as Diana’s – unless you’re counting all the gratuitous shots of my #homecooking on Instagram. So, here’s a bit of Diana’s art. Her paintings rely on “materials of special meaning, selecting soils from places of family, cultural or historical significance or personal memory.”


Professional decisions can lead to personal discoveries.

Curious about Diana’s work at the Gilcrease, I asked what inspired her to move from California to Oklahoma. She explained that it was as much a professional decision as it was personal. When Diana flew out to Oklahoma for her first interview at the Gilcrease, she took her mom. The Gilcrease’s initiative to digitize its 400,000+ objects presented the perfect opportunity for her and her husband to “do something kind of radical,” but, her ties to Oklahoma run deeper than the museum. Tucked away in the museum archives, Diana has found pieces of her family history. Her great-great grandfather David Folsom, for example, was a Choctaw District Chief with close ties to another relative, Peter Perkins Pitchlynn, who was Principal Choctaw Chief through the Civil War. Some of David Folsom’s correspondence is archived among the Pitchlynn papers. Some of these materials have been digitized. You can take a peek into Diana’s story with one of the letters, featured below. Here, David Folsom writes to his brother-in-law Peter, and writes in the post-script:

“Advise – you know John Ross was hated by many – trying to do his people good, or at least defending their wrights.[sic] So you have many enemies all ready about and you will be on your gard. The men are fraid [sic] to speak against you before me. But I know enough to tell you of these things.”

Letter from David Folsom to brother-in-law Peter Pitchlynn 1841, p1

Letter from David Folsom to brother-in-law Peter Pitchlynn 1841, p2-3

Letter from David Folsom to brother-in-law Peter Pitchlynn 1841, p4


Don’t underestimate the buddy system.

Advice to those looking to establish and/or grow their career through these next 50 years: connect with a mentor. Diana found a mentor later in her career after volunteering with MCN, and she described the experience as nothing short of life changing. “Stephanie Stebich has been a fantastic mentor!,” Diana emphasized, “She started our conversation with, ‘We’re going to find a board of directors for your life’…and she made sure I found it.” I consider Paul Sparrow, now Director of the FDR Library, a mentor of my own. We first connected during my internship at the Newseum, when he was then Senior VP of Broadcasting, and he continues to be generous with his insight and resources. Diana also mentors students of her own at the University of Tulsa, teaching courses on museum informatics and collections. “It’s a wonderful opportunity to share what I’ve learned, and to build the strengths in the [university].”


Now at Brown, Andrea finds herself with a new cohort of colleagues and mentors. Here she is (right) with a few at their exhibit opening last year


We ❤️️ MCN.

I joined MCN last year. Diana’s been a member since the ‘90s, serving on the board from 2011 to 2013. For all that time, Diana and I shared the same warm thoughts about MCN. Reflecting on her first MCN conference, Diana explained:“It was like a whole new world opened up. It put things in context.” For me attending last year’s conference was like happening on a community of my own, of others who spoke the same language and worked in the same niche. I was fortunate to have attended the conference as an MCN Scholar, affording me the opportunity to not only connect with members but also share my own work. MCN, though, is about work and play. These connections happened at panels, over dinner, on Bourbon Street, and of course, with karaoke. I met future colleagues and made fast friends. What I’ve learned from MCN thus far has also proven invaluable as I’ve been charting my own path from graduate student to museum professional. This is perhaps one of the secrets to MCN’s enduring success. Diana describes it as a “generosity of ideas…[and] ways of learning.” It runs through the MCN community, inspiring members to create and innovate together.


Talk the talk.

Looking beyond 2017, Diana encourages us to think about communication and education. “It’s still a challenge to communicate what we do,” she noted, “to express the complexities in a simple, clear way to upper management and to continue to fund our efforts at a strong level. That’s a challenge for me. Learning how to communicate up, as well as down, which is really important to learn.” By that she means, learning how translate both the value and labor associated with our work across departments in one’s institution. So, to that end Diana says: “get involved.” Speaking for yourself, your work, and your institution takes practice, find opportunities to work with your peers. “The more involved they got, the more they got back.”


Stay tuned for more voices from #MCN50 over the coming months. If you’re interested in getting involved with any of the celebrations, let us know here.


MCN 2016 Session – Blending the Tangible and Digital to Craft New Co-Designed Interactions for Museums

Blending the tangible and digital to craft new co-designed interactions for museums

Thursday, November 3, 2016 1:30 PM – 2:30 PM
Session Leader: Nicholas Dulake, Mr, Sheffield Hallam University

The technology that underpins the Internet of Things, offers ways to embed interactivity within the exhibition: microprocessors, sensors, and actuators can be concealed within reactive spaces and smart objects that seamlessly blend with their surroundings. This offers a new perspectives on how to deliver digital curated content in the context of a museum visit through, for example, smart artefacts. Through a series of museum case studies we will discuss how smart artefacts can bridge the gap between the physical and the digital: Can this integration give the visitor an enriched experience and higher level of object association? And to what level do these smart objects act as transitional objects for the curated content? Our observations / evaluations show that the act of holding an object empowers the visitor and engages them to a deeper level. The curator’s role in the multidisciplinary team is then that of a storyteller that blends the content and interpretation with aspects of the visitor’s interactive experience. The knowledge gained through several case studies was instrumental to the creation of a toolkit that aims at bringing the potential and power of the internet of things on the exhibition floor. By using the cloud-based toolkit, cultural heritage and museum professionals can embed digital content into smart objects and spaces with just a few clicks. This opens up possibilities for exhibition creation using design thinking and fast prototyping. Museums can then explore a wide range of possible visitors’ experiences in an experimental environment to assess whether ‘it works!’ or not. Starting from the case studies the presentation will discuss the journey for idea to implantation.




MCN 2016 Sessions – ‘We Are Going to Need a Bigger Boat’ Building Collaboration at the Philadelphia Museum of Art


We Are Going to Need a Bigger Boat’ Building Collaboration at the Philadelphia Museum of Art.
Friday, November 4, 2016 2:00 PM – 3:00 PM
Session Leader: William Weinstein, John H. McFadden and Lisa D. Kabnick Director of Information and Interpreti, Philadelphia Museum of Art
Co-Presenter: Christopher Atkins, The Agnes and Jack Mulroney Associate Curator of European Painting and Scul, Philadelphia Museum of Art
Co-Presenter: Joshhua Helmer, Assistant Director for Interpretation, Philadelphia Museum of Art
Co-Presenter: Ariel Schwartz, Kathy and Ted Fernberger Associate Director for Interactive Technology at t, Philadelphia Museum of Art
Co-Presenter: Jessica Milby, Assistant Director for Collection Information, Philadelphia Museum of Art

Many organizations are implementing strategic plans that rely on the increased use of digital tools in all aspects of their institution’s work. While each organization approaches this challenge differently, it is becoming clear that success depends on a fundamental change in how we work across our institutions. The reality is that doing this type of work requires learning how to truly collaborate/trust one another. How do you change institutional culture to embrace collaboration? How do you organize work around teams? How do you make sure everyone understands the bigger goals and works towards them? How do you get people to respect each other’s expertise? This panel will outline the methods that the Philadelphia Museum of Art is using to address these questions. Collaboration has become a key element in defining strategically aligned interpretative strategies, prioritizing projects, organizing content creation, establishing project teams and communicating with staff. It is hard work (and there are lots of sharks in the water) but we have found that the results are transformational . The panel will present several short case studies on how the museum plans, and manages cross-departmental digital interactive/interpretive projects. Bill Weinstein and Josh Helmer will present how digital thinking is being encouraged throughout the institution, Ariel Schwartz and Chris Atkins will discuss the Content Presentation and Interpretive Group (CPIG) a cross department group focusing curatorial staff on the challenges of creation interpretive content, Jessica Milby will discuss the Collections Information Committee Working Group which is responsible for aligning cataloging standards on interpretive goals. Attendees will get an overview of how collaboration works (and doesn’t) in a large organization and come away with strategies for change regardless of institution size.





MCN 2016 Sessions – Working with Digital Humanities Students in Museums: Why We Should, How We Can

Slide from Working with Digital Humanities Students, MCN2016 session


Working with Digital Humanities Students in Museums: Why We Should, How We Can
Friday, November 4, 2016 2:00 PM – 3:00 PM
Session Leader: Philip Leers, Project Manager, Digital Initiatives, Hammer Museum
Co-Presenter: Max Evjen, Exhibitions Technology Specialist, Michigan State University Museum
Speaker: Brinker Ferguson, PhD candidate, University of California Santa Cruz
Speaker: Alex Gonzalez, Public Programs Fellow, The Studio Museum in Harlem/The Museum of Modern Art
Speaker: Kristen Mapes, Digital Humanities Coordinator, Michigan State University
The emergence of Digital Humanities programs in colleges and universities has had the fortuitous side effect of producing students with skills that museums desperately need. Digital Humanities students are fluent in digital interpretation, accustomed to using empirical data to illustrate theoretical arguments, and trained to think critically about our institutions. They have a lot to offer museums, and museums have a lot to offer them in turn. This panel will explore the possibilities of forging partnerships between Museums and Digital Humanities programs, and the conditions necessary for making those partnerships meaningful, sustainable, and mutually beneficial. For example, the Hammer Museum designed and taught a course through the UCLA Digital Humanities Department, wherein students developed digital resources about their campus sculpture garden. In another example, the Michigan State University Museum has employed a Digital Humanities student as an influential voice in designing their digital strategy. This panel will include representatives from these museums and Digital Humanities programs and others to discuss in detail how joint projects came about, how relationships between partners were managed, and how collaborations might continue in the future. Attendees will come away with practicable recommendations for starting such partnerships in their own institutions, and a sense of how transformative those partnerships can be for both student and museum. Learning Outcomes: Awareness of how museums are working within the Digital Humanities. Benefits to museums working with DH students: -Inclusivity: inviting outside voices into your institution. -Outreach: connecting directly with members of a vital student audience. -Mentorship: introducing bright young people to the experience of working in a museum. Benefits to DH students working with museums: -Experience: applying their studies to a real-world project. -Access: to the museum’s staff, infrastructure, collections. -Exposure: via the museum’s platforms. Potential opportunities for partnering with DH programs. Practical steps for creating successful collaborations with DH programs.



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