On Friday we finally finished up our pilot project of using QR Codes to enhance interpretation in museums. Looking back it has been a long journey - over a year since we first started talking about how such a project would work. It occurred to me that I had never really delved into this project, so here's some background and a basic comments on the project.
Over the past four years, community museums in Nova Scotia have participated in artifact research projects in order to enhance their knowledge of their collections. Digital images of artifacts were taken, and the “enriched” records were uploaded to Artefacts Canada. In addition to the research conducted on each specific item, a broader approach was taken in the compilation of a Nova Scotia Manufacturer’s Database. Holding over 7300 entries related to artisans and manufacturing companies in the province, this information is not currently available to the general public, and is not being used by museums. It is now time to incorporate this enriched information into the museums’ on-site interpretation.
At the Association of Nova Scotia Museum’s (ANSM) 2010 Spring Conference members requested assistance with interpretation, especially in looking at ways to make things more interactive through the use of technology. This was identified as one of their top three priorities for ANSM. To deliver on this request, ANSM embarked on a project to build on the CHIN-funded research work conducted over the past four years, and enhance the current interpretive offerings at participating museums.
ANSM worked with 12 museums from across the province to re-purpose existing content and develop new content to be posted online and shared on-site with QR codes. These sites are spread out around the province, located in both rural and urban areas. They represent the diverse nature of Nova Scotia’s heritage, including a specialized military museum, a sports hall of fame, an Acadian cultural centre, and Canada’s newest national museum. Operating structures range from various community museum models to the provincial and federal governments. By working with such a diverse group of sites, it was hoped that all museums, regardless of site or resource constraints, would be able to see how such a project could be implemented in their own organization.
One of the first tasks for Alexandra and Josh was to identify other museums that had used QR codes or other mobile technologies. We wanted to know what worked, what didn't, and what they would change if they could do it all over again. We may not have found any Canadian examples but we learned a lot from these sites, including the Cleveland Art Museum (Cleveland, Ohio), the Louisiana State Museum (Baton Rouge, Louisiana), the MIT Museum (Cambridge, Massachusetts), the Mattress Factory (Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania), and especially the Powerhouse Museum (Sydney, Australia). Throughout the course of the project, we began to see qr codes everywhere...we couldn't escape them. They were in magazines and newspapers, tv ads, random junk mail, the list goes on and on. Since Canada has been so much slower to adopt their use than other countries, we are taking this as a good sign.
Many of our biggest hurdles were caused by the structure of the project rather than any difficulties arising from QR codes and web content. Many of the sites we worked with were located many hours away from our office in Halifax, and the amount of time we were able to spend on-site was very limited. This meant that getting content from sites was often challenging. The distance was also sometimes an issue with communications, making discussions about content types and possibilities difficult. In a situation where content for QR codes were being developed in-house, this would not be an issue.
Here it should again be stressed that the key to the success of a project such as this is the content. The novelty of QR codes can only go so far, and if what they link to does not enhance a visitor’s museum experience they will not be viable over the long-term.
Another issue we faced was the lack of standards for mobile content. There is a dizzying range of phones which can access QR technology, each with different display abilities; some, such as iPhones, display Internet content almost the same as a regular web browser, while others are very limited in their abilities. We received a large amount of conflicting advice and much time was lost trying to find the best way to deliver content, before ultimately deciding to rely on larger sites, like YouTube, which have already done the leg work of making content mobile-friendly.
That's all for now, but over the course of the week I'll post other info related to content, usage stats, etc.