Monday, March 28, 2011

QR Codes in Nova Scotia Museums - Part 4

I was reminded last week that the museum community is just that - a community.  We're small, and we all seem to know each other.  Whether we went through the same museum studies program, met at a workshop or conference, or were connected through the world wide web, we're a talkative bunch.  We help each other out  and share information so that no one has to reinvent the wheel and the general public gains a better appreciation of heritage. 
So this post goes out to the Western Development Museum in Saskatchewan where my former dig buddy and fellow Fleming alum Mark Anderson is the Conservation Technician.  They'll be using qr codes during their Pion-Era threshing festival in July.  So if you happen to be in Saskatoon in July and have never been to a threshing festival, or the WDM, it is definitely worth checking it out.

As with any pilot project, you learn a lot along the way.  So here are some of our challenges and lessons learned throughout the process.  I hope they're of some help to other museums during their qr code adventures.


1. Content. 
When working in groups it can sometimes be difficult for people to agree on content.  This was especially true with entirely volunteer-run museums with loose operational structures since no one was really in charge of making the final decision.

We also found that some people didn't realize the full potential of the qr codes until fairly late in the process.  With such a new technology and steep learning curve, it took awhile for some people to figure out how the codes would best serve their museum.

Telus 3G & Digital PCS coverage map

2. Technical Issues.
With a number of cell phone & internet providers, it is difficult to guarantee that every visitor will be able to use the qr codes.  The cell phone coverage offered by one company is very different from that offered by another.  Sticking to cell phone service also means your visitors could get surprised with a big phone bill, especially if they are tourists.  To resolve this issue we focused on using wireless internet so that accessing the codes is free.  This meant a lot of extra work configuring connections and dealing with security settings.  And in some rural areas, we still had reception issues due to the nature of the site - lots of trees and buildings that interfere with the signal, if the signal even reaches that far.

3. Reaching the intended audience. 
We did a certain amount of marketing for our pilot project, but we definitely could/should have done more.  Local newspapers & media seem more interested than province-wide media.  We also found that social media and other information sharing sites  caught and shared articles and mentions of the project. 

4. Troubleshooting on-site. 
We have found that some older models of blackberries and random other smartphones don't always want to launch the codes right away.  Since most museum staff/volunteers aren't cell phone or technical experts this can lead to a frustrated visitor and bad press.  We have a troubleshooting tip sheet for participating sites, but it is impossible to foresee every scenario for why the codes don't work.

Lessons Learned
1. Let the stories guide you. 
Rather than selecting artifacts first and trying to figure out what information to embed in a qr code, focus on what you already know.  This will give you time to dig deeper in other areas, and may spark interest in the public to share more information with you.

2. Be prepared. 
Make sure you have extra batteries and memory cards, and that your batteries are fully charged and your cards empty before you start to shoot video (or take photos).  Nothing is worse than a camera going dead right in the middle of something exciting.

3. Put yourself in the visitor's shoes. 
Don't take for granted that your visitors will be intrigued by the same thing that fascinates you.  Monitor the audience response (not just whether or not the qr codes are being used) regularly to make sure your content remains relevant and compelling.

4. Partner with other museums and organizations. 
Two heads are better than one, and 20 qr codes are better than 10.  If visitors know that a group of museums or sites are offering this "service", they will take longer exploring the museum, which can mean more of an economic spin-off for the community.

5. Back up all your files. 
Whether it's the raw video footage, unedited images, or the qr codes themselves, save everything.  You never know when a file will corrupt or be lost. 

This is the last post for the qr code series.  I hope people learned a little something from my ramblings.  As I mentioned previously, I'll be including usage stats in my monthly updates, so stay tuned to find out how museum visitors respond to this new offering over the coming months.


J Goreham-Penney said...

This is a great series of posts, Karin, thanks for sharing this info. I'm green with envy that we didn't get to participate in the project, but also inspired to try out some QR code stuff on my own (both at the museum, and for other projects/groups I'm involved with). I have friends and acquaintances that are librarians and they all love QR codes and have for a little while. It took your posts for me to really "get" them, though. I think that mobile technology is really becoming widespread and affordable right now (I'm finally jumping on the smartphone bandwagon) and it just makes so much sense for museums to use this tech to their benefit.

Karin said...

Thanks so much J! I'm glad to hear the series was of value.

J Goreham-Penney said...

Oh, I meant to ask- where did the QR Code project get press? You mention in one of these posts that you guys got some attention, I'd like to see.

Karin said...

Hi J,
Here are a few links to articles, which I've found on numerous sites, and the blog posts have been retweeted and shared all over the place. We were also interviewed for CBC television (French), but I don't have a link to that footage.