The Charleston Museum was the first museum in the U.S., opening in 1824. Since the 19th Century, museums have advanced in archival, storage and exhibition techniques. Yet the experience many museums offer to visitors is still severely outdated, especially in an age of ever-expanding digital technology.
How Visitors Experience Museums
The museum experience is extremely important to visitors. When visitors walk away from a museum, that experience will shape their opinion of every other museum. If a visitor leaves a museum feeling uninspired and “bored” by the experience, he or she is unlikely to want to visit another museum anytime soon.
In a world of digital technology, our society is now used to a guided journey of storytelling. Gone are the days when we feel compelled to suffer through an arduous experience in the names of art or history. Thirty-seven percent of art museum visitors don’t even consider their visit as a “cultural experience” according to Artsy.
The Problem with Museums
As travel is becoming less expensive and more accessible, museums are experiencing overcrowding–especially in front of certain works of art. Just try to visit the “Mona Lisa” in the Louvre in Paris.
When you’re fighting with a crowd of over 100 people to get a glimpse of the art, you’re not experiencing the art in real life at all. In fact, you have a better chance of getting a photo of the “Mona Lisa” on your smartphone than you do getting up close and personal with it.
The other problem with museums is that there are thousands of them all over the world. It’s virtually impossible to visit all these institutions.
Travel may be cheaper and more accessible for most visitors, but that hasn’t been the case for all potential visitors. Troubles such as economic hardship can prevent some from visiting at all. Mobility can, at the very least, make accessing certain exhibits difficult–or for some, impossible.
The Importance of Online Presence
Museums, archeologists and other heritage professionals can improve their online presence to make their information more accessible to those who cannot visit. They can also use technology and social media to enhance their exhibits, making history come to life and helping to engage visitors on a more meaningful level.
Art museums, such as the Louvre, the Smithsonian and the Metropolitan Museum of Art have created online galleries for those who cannot visit exhibits in person. Scholastic offers an interactive virtual field trip of Ellis Island. Not only does the virtual field trip offer a similar experience to a visit to Ellis Island, but the information on Scholastic’s site is delivered much more palatably than it is in the museum.
Visitors could spend an entire day at Ellis Island and walk away unable to remember half of the information because the museum is so overwhelming.
The Digital Era: Technological Advances in Museum Studies
Digital technologies have not only changed how visitors experience history, but they have also changed the way historians, archeologists and museum professionals conduct research.
Archeologists can now use digital imaging software to create a clear picture of what animals and entire towns may have looked like hundreds–or even thousands–of years ago. Optical technology can offer professionals more accurate dating than carbon dating. X-rays have been allowing archaeologists to see below the earth’s surface for nearly a decade, saving time, money and resources.
The implementation of technology-aided exhibits, online user experience, and digital research techniques is taking over the museum and archaeology industries at a rapid rate. How has technology recently enhanced your institution or your museum experiences?