Paul Marty, Associate Professor, Florida State University

Paul Marty is currently an Associate Professor in the School of Library and Information Studies at the College of Communication and Information at Florida State University. He has researched and written extensively on museum informatics, website usability and how people use information. He was also the Director of Information Technology at the Spurlock Museum in Urbana Illinois. After a false start and technical gremlins the previous week, we were lucky to be able to reschedule our interview with Professor Marty.

The first question we tackled is how if at all his view point has changed since the rise of the mobile web. In Paul’s point of view the mobile web has only strengthened his argument. His original point in 2007 was the “Importance of museum setting up and ongoing relationship, where what the museum visitors does on the website prior to the visit encourages them to want to go visit the museum in person, and what happens in the museum itself encourages then to want to go back to the website itself afterwards.” Today, just a mere 4 years later, “Mobile devices are making this a lot easier to achieve and they are blurring the distinction between onsite and online.”

He also made an important point that people have been thinking about mobile computing in the museum for roughly fifteen years. Technology has only recently made mobile devices ubiquitous enough so that most people can take advantage of mobile computing within the museum.

It is also important to think about what mobile devices allow museums to do. They help museums reach out to their visitors, and they require that museums have to refocus their intent, “Shifting from looking at the visitor in the life of the museum to the museum in the life of the visitor.”
But as these devices become commonplace, what happens to the museum that cannot afford to offer the range of technological offerings the larger museums can? In Paul’s point of view it comes down to managing the rising expectations of the visitor. No museum can possibly offer it all, nor can they predict which platform is going to be popular long term. Paul mentioned SecondLife as an example of a once popular internet platform that is now waning. Paul’s reasoning is that in dealing with rising expectations of the visitor, the larger museums can afford the experimentation and trial and error, but it is imperative that they blaze the trail and share with smaller museums their results of the experiments, the ones who cannot afford to make a mistake with technology.

One of the most important take away from Paul is that “The core value of a museum is not the management of information technology, it is the creative use of the information technologies to accomplish the museum’s mission. “ Once again, we are urged to strategically plan around the idea of the mission of the museum. Without this kind of thinking the website or app is in danger of being ineffective. “We need to make sure that our apps and websites are so engaging that people want to use the app as an interface to our collection whether they are in the museum or not.” This point really hasn’t changed a great deal since Paul first proposed it in 2007. The technology has changed but the basic philosophy on what to deliver through that technology has not been altered by time or changing hardware.

Listen to the interview


  1. Cherie Whipple says:

    As Brian restated near the end of his post “The core value of a museum is not the management of information technology, it is the creative use of the information technologies to accomplish the museum’s mission,” I couldn’t agree more. I’ve worked with siloed institutions for years, and have always felt that IT is a support function…one of the truly cross-departmental units in a museum. They can’t (and probably shouldn’t) drive the bus, but they should service the bus and watch out to make sure that those inside have a comfortable ride.

    I also really appreciated Paul’s comments about the use of apps at a zoo and engaging kids and adults in new ways…which leads me to a favorite joke (if you’ve heard it before, just skip to the end…). How do you tell the difference between a regular zoo and a Cajun zoo? In a regular zoo, the apps are tell you all about the animal’s habitat and behavior, etc. In a Cajun zoo, the apps will all be for recipes….

  2. Ryan Dodge says:

    I think Paul is an excellent role model/mentor for any 21st century Information Professional. Willing to be open and to share his knowledge really comes out in the interview and as an emerging museum professional it is encouraging to see. Let alone his patience with the initial tech troubles and doing the interview again.

    Like Cherie I was also happy to hear Paul’s views on the management of information technology. So many institutions have internal management difficulties with their IT departments (mine included). It is fantastic to see an industry expert call for re-focusing on the visitor and content delivery through IT, not the other way around. I spent most of the interview cheering and nodding at Paul’s answers, but, that is just my opinion…

  3. Amber Glen says:

    I’m so glad that Paul was willing to reschedule; it was such an interesting talk!

    His discussion about using mobile devices and social media spaces was helpful from a small organization’s viewpoint. It is extremely difficult to manage the physical, website, Facebook, and Flickr spaces, that it’s a challenge to add anything else to the mix. As Paul said small and medium-size organizations don’t have the money or personnel to keep up and it’s useful for the larger museums to share their results and lessons from their virtual development experiences.

    I liked Brian’s question about museum mobile apps reaching more than the museum’s current audience. Paul is probably right that people are not going to buy an iPhone etc just to use museum apps, and people who do not know about the museum may not realize there is an app or will choose not to add the app to their mobile devices. Due to the amount of free entertainment apps out there, museums really do struggle to reach audiences that are more likely to play Angry Birds and other things that will pass the time quickly without making them think.

  4. Jared Chamberlin says:

    Paul really gave a great interview, I’m glad he was able to reschedule. I’m really glad he touched on the issue of deciding what technology to adopt. Small and medium sized institutions that don’t have technology budgets and have a much more limited staff need to be mindful of what technology and social media they utilize. Even larger institutions can’t satisfy every need, there is just too much. You have to pick and choose, and get to the heart of what the mission is of your organization. Technology needs to be used to fit the mission, not just to have technology.

    I would be interested to know if mobile apps are reaching people who aren’t the typical museum visitor. My gut says that if they are, it isn’t a very high number, but I think that is one area that should definitely be examined and considered with new apps. There is a target audience that can be reached with the apps that consists of people who may not be regular visitors to the museums, it may just take unique marketing approaches to get to them.

  5. Juliana Olsson says:

    So many things to like about this conversation with Paul Marty! I found myself nodding along when he proposed that museums’ reluctance to share content (or allow photos) has less to do with copyright and more to do with control and authority. Except in cases of artists who are still alive or have active estates, the works museums are most concerned about are in the public domain anyway, but they just want attribution.
    He also talked about how small museums (and universities) are being left out of the loop since they can’t afford to hop onboard all the platforms that visitors expect. I don’t really see a solution to this problem other than trusting volunteers to help out online, or having a cottage industry of contractors helping museums figure out how to get themselves online, cheaply.
    Finally, I’d like to point out that Paul isn’t necessarily right that people aren’t going to buy an iPhone for access to museum apps, because I know someone who fits that description: my dad. Museums can’t control whether visitors want to play Angry Birds while they’re in the museum, in the same way that they can’t control what visitors learn during their visit. Don’t bother targeting the people who would use Angry Birds in your museum, because they simply aren’t interested in what you do. Do target the people who could be interested in the content you (and only you!) can provide. It doesn’t even have to be a game, since those are ridiculously expensive, it just has to have engaging content presented in a way that doesn’t want to tear your hair out.

  6. Megan Byrnes says:

    Many thanks to you Brian, and to Paul for rescheduling and treating us to such an informative interview! Many of the points that Paul made strongly reinforced what we have been learning about all semester, such as the importance of evaluation. Often, museums and website creators design the site or app to reflect what they assume visitors want, and institutions, regardless of size, but particularly those will smaller staff and budgets, can’t really afford to create a site without extensive user testing. Even though this can be done more cheaply, as Dana and Paul have mentioned, there still needs to be a more systemic shift in internal museum culture to make time for evaluations and testing to maximize the accessibility of their content. As Paul said in a related context, what needs to happen is for strong leadership to model such a paradigm shift for the entire institution, and I’m ever hopeful that this will happen in my own museum.

    One of the other striking and unbelievably honest parts of the interview is when Paul talked about some of the drawbacks of Web 2.0 tech in making us too accessible, reducing our attention spans, and exhausting us by information overload. I completely agree and often wonder how this over stimulation impacts how people learn and how museums as educational institutions approach this. While offering no concrete panaceas, I think that Paul’s approach of trying to find a balance between social media ability to pull us in so many directions and harnessing such technology to help us accomplish tasks more efficiently is key. Moving forward, each of us as individuals and as institutions will have to determine this balance for ourselves and while keeping our visitors needs and expectations in mind.

  7. Averie Buitron says:

    There was so much great information to gather from this interview. I really enjoyed Marty’s enthusiasm and style in which he answered questions, using real examples and scenarios to make his answers really stand out.

    Interesting they started talking about mobile as I feel that’s all I’ve been researching lately. It was nice to get Martys perspective and advice regarding different aspects of the topic such as engagement and desktop vs mobile differences. In terms of any social technology, there are so many variables to think about as he mentioned and he made a good point that you have to get to the heart of what the mission of the organization is. I recently attended the Museum and Mobile Web Expo and one of the key points many presenters made was exactly was Marty mentioned; focus these technologies around the mission of the museum. What is the point of having a great app or website for a museum if it doesn’t advocate or represent the mission?

    Lastly, I love how at the end he mentioned it wasn’t necessarily the technology that was the problem, it’s the time that it takes to communicate. This is very true. It’s become almost a necessity to be a skilled multi-tasker and if you aren’t you can often be left behind. All in all, many great points!

  8. Emma Birgeo says:

    Firstly, thanks to Brian and Paul for rescheduling this interview!

    I thoroughly enjoyed the interview with Paul for two reasons: one, he touched upon a number of important points regarding information technology in museums and two, he was very honest and candid in his responses to our questions.

    In his interview, one point in particular that stuck with me was his comment about visitor’s expectations. His thoughts about expectations helped my own understanding and placed everything in perspective for me (whether it was being aware of the expectations from the viewpoint of museum professionals or understanding those of the visitors in terms of how they interact specifically with the museum’s collections). Recognition of expectations, by both the museum staff and visitors, is important within museums; however, Paul emphasized that what was of the utmost important was the connection (in terms of expectations) that the Museum makes towards its mission and goals. I agree with Marty on this point; every stakeholder associated with museums is going to have his or her own set of expectations and while the museum can’t meet everyone’s expectations (try as they might), if a museum’s practice is strongly aligned and tied to the mission, that is what counts.

    Throughout the interview, Paul was open and honest about his role as a museum professional as well as about information technology and its role in museums. Candid statements from Paul made the interview feel less formal and more like a conversation. I liked his candor when discussing his favorite rejection comment. Not many people would highlight their rejection comments from a grant proposal, but Paul did so to illustrate a specific learning experience and I appreciated it.

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