As our nation commemorates the bicentennial of the War of 1812, the sesquicentennial of the Civil War, and the 50th anniversary of the Civil Rights movement, “The Power of Story” seems a timely theme for this year’s American Alliance of Museums Annual Conference, held in Baltimore, Maryland last week. I’ve returned from the “Greatest City in America” refreshed, reenergized, full of crab cakes and ready to strategize. Truth be told, I’m also pretty tired (and am thankful for the long holiday weekend). #AAM2013 challenged me to do more, inspired me to continue to think outside the box, and connected me with professionals from around the world through Twitter (no surprise there), impromptu lunches and late night drinks.
As you can imagine, with “The Power of Story” as a theme, this year’s conference was filled with sessions ranging from “Gamification in Museums” to “Contemporary Stories: A Path for Successful Sensemaking and Placemaking in Museums.” While there were dozens of sessions I would have liked to attend, the nature of concurrent sessions meant that I was only able to see a fraction of what was available. The sessions I did attend, though, were inspiring, and I have a few key takeaways:
- Share Your Data
- Share Your Collections (Digital Publications)
- Embrace Social Media (Visitors Share)
Share Your Data
I attended unconference session, “An Introduction to OpenGLAM: Open Content, GlamWiki, Linked Open Data & More,” with Georgina Goodlander (@bathlander) and Rachel Wright. It was quick, informative, and exactly the kick in the pants I needed to strategize how to begin a conversation with my coworkers about Wikipedia editing. Part of the issue for me has been knowing where to start; but, after listening to Georgina and speaking with Rachel briefly after the session, I have begun to develop a game plan (which will become its own blog post in the coming weeks, I’m sure). The gist of this session: our data isn’t serving the public if we keep it under lock and key (or password). Making information available doesn’t equate to giving everything away for free. Instead, linking data to other similar data sources can and will increase traffic to the original data source (in this case, the museum), offering increased opportunities for awareness AND access. To learn more about OpenGLAM, click here.
Share Your Collections (Digital Publications)
I was lucky to get a seat in “Print and Digital Media: The Museum’s 21st Century Storytellers.” The room was packed; attendees lined the walls and sat on the floor to hear from Kara Kirk, Elizabeth Neely (@lili_czarina), and Greg Albers (@holartbooks). The presentation was well done AND honest. The main thrust of the session was that digital can take print publications to a whole new level: the flexibility for additional text and built in interactives can enhance your story. What can museums do to get started? Build capacity (digital infrastructure needs to be a priority) and a culture for a collaborative effort (it takes a village to make a digital catalog). Digital publishing isn’t “easy” and it may take several “failed” and/or “not as successful” attempts to find a model that works for you, your institution, and the audiences you serve. A few key tips: have technologists at the table when brainstorming publications (whether print or digital), remember to think about sustainability, don’t lose sight of your audience, and, last but not least, embrace the inevitable chaos (take risks – digital isn’t going away). Another important tip: build failure into your success model. Make it part of the conversation. If you don’t fail, you’re not experimenting enough (this can be applied to any aspect of museum work, but I find it especially helpful here). I was plenty inspired by this presentation – as were my peers. For more information on digital publishing, check out “Moving Museum Catalogs Online” by the Getty Foundation.
Embrace Social Media (Visitors Share)
The last session I attended was “Bridging the Online and Physical Museum Experience with Social Media.” Sarah Banks (@SBanks20), Elissa Frankle (@museums365), Victoria Portway (@sluggernova) and Chad Weinard (@caw_) are my people. This session spoke my language and if you’ve ever read Museum Minute before you know I was already drunk on the kool-aid way before I walked into that room last Wednesday.
All of that being said, Chad made a critical point that I want to share with you here: “Every day is a social media event for visitors at your museum.” If you’re confused by the statement, please read it again. Chad’s point is that every museum visit is a special experience for that visitor (or group of visitors) and different objects, programs, images and stories will speak to every person differently. By embracing the social media our visitors create from their museum experiences, we embrace our audiences, we embrace their interpretations of our stories, and we embrace their support. We also accept that sometimes visitors get upset, don’t like what they see, and want other people to know about it. These things are happening organically, all around us, whether we want them to or not. Recognizing this, embracing it and harnessing the power that it holds is our most effective way of promoting what we do and engaging with some of the most active members of our audience. Basically, encourage and engage in conversations with your social media audiences before, during, and after their visits/experiences.
After this conference, per usual, I have ideas swimming around in my head that I have promised my co-workers I will try not to implement until “next week.” Ha! Look for posts in the coming weeks on creating a national brand for history museums/orgs, social media measurement/impact, and new digital ventures as I process all of my #AAM2013 notes.
Did you attend AAM? Were you following #AAM2013 on twitter? What are your takeaways? What did you find most inspiration/helpful/challenging? Where do we go from here?