The Digital Faces of the ISM and the GASF

21 Feb

In this day and age, no museum exhibition can be successful without some sort of digital interactive as part of the experience.  Technology-savvy visitors expect it every time they walk in the door, and with every successive visit they expect the interactives to get bigger and better and cooler.  Yet museums large and small often struggle to supply what their visitors demand.  Technology is expensive, and many museums do not have room in their budgets for it.

The Indiana State Museum (ISM), as a state-funded museum, has adapted fairly well in terms of on-site use of digital technology.  Every core gallery has at least two or three small interactive touch screen stationss where visitors can watch videos, tap through a series of informative slides, or answer questions based on information presented in the exhibit.  The design and placement of these interactives, however, suggests that they were added after the fact, years after the exhibits were originally created; but luckily for new and returning visitors, the core galleries are undergoing major remodeling, during which the digital aspects of the exhibits will likely be upgraded and properly integrated into the whole.

The ISM’s online presence, though, leaves something to be desired.  Although the website looks great at a glace, it lacks much depth.  The pages for current exhibits offer only a few pictures and a short blurb about the subject matter, without any real attempt to persuade the digital visitor to become a physical visitor.  Aside from a link to an external site hosting the digitized archive of the Lincoln Financial Foundation Collection, none of the ISM’s objects appear to be accessible from the website in any way—a clear demonstration of the museum’s priorities.  Its major focus is providing needed information like prices and program dates and times to people who have already decided to visit the museum in person.

On the other end of the spectrum is the Great American Songbook Foundation (GASF) in Carmel.  As is made obvious by its website, the GASF is located inside the Center for the Performing Arts, and shares the CPA’s website even though it is a separate entity.  The GASF’s physical display space is incredibly small—not much more than twenty feet by thirty feet—and only contains one exhibit at a time.  It has a single digital interactive, a large touchscreen on which music related to the exhibit and the Great American Songbook in general can be explored and played.  However, visitors often find the interactive to be incredibly engaging, and some will stand and listen to music for much longer than it took them to look through the rest of the exhibit.

More notably, the GASF has gone to considerable efforts to catalog and publish finding aids for the contents of its archive.  Unlike the ISM, the GASF clearly welcomes potential researchers, and even just Songbook enthusiasts, to explore the materials in its collections, and clearly states what can and cannot be done with them.  Its online presence is less sophisticated than the ISM’s, but infinitely more informative and interactive in regards to its digital environment.  While the ISM’s focus is on the on-site visitor, the GASF has a much greater focus on the needs of digital visitors.




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