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.