Mobile Insights

Bridget Callahan records audio tour stop for Romaine Brooks's Una, Lady Troubridge.

The concept of mobile content in museums has been around for a long time. The first museum audio tour was in 1952! Over the last decade or so, advances in mobile technology have allowed museums to offer multimedia content on a variety of handheld devices. In 2004, we implemented a successful pilot multimedia PDA tour at our Renwick Gallery. On the free devices, visitors could watch videos, listen to audio clips, send messages, sketch, and play games relating to the objects. More recently, museums have been experimenting with MP3 players, cell phones, smart phones, and GPS-enabled devices. Technology has become such an integral part of our lives that many museum visitors expect to be able to access content on a variety of platforms the minute they walk in the door.

With this in mind, the American Art Museum has been examining and evaluating exactly what we and, more importantly, our visitors want from mobile content. Should it be multimedia, or will dynamic content draw visitors' attention away from the art? Is it about the latest trendy technology or should we focus on producing cross-platform content? Do visitors want to rent a special device or would they prefer to access the content on their own phone or MP3 player? What kind of content are they looking for, if any?

In October, the Luce Foundation Center will launch an audio pilot in the hopes of answering some of these questions. We decided that the pilot would be solely audio, at least initially, because the Center already has ten interactive computer kiosks that display multimedia content about the objects. Over 150 audio "stops" will be available and visitors can access these on their own cell phones or by borrowing a free device from the museum. The pilot will include what I see as more traditional audio tour content, but will also present some experimental content, including "staff insights" from members of the Luce Center team—Bridget, Tierney, and me. These insights will focus on our favorite objects and areas in the Center, and we hope they'll will convey some of the enthusiasm that we feel for the collection and the space. The stops we record in house will not be of the same production quality as the traditional stops, for which we hired a writer and a producer, so we will be interested to find out which type of content people prefer or (we hope) that they like the mix of both!

As with all of the Luce Foundation Center projects, this pilot will continually evolve. If you have any ideas for what kind of mobile content you would like to find in the museum, leave a comment here or stop by the Center and let us know!