Sarah Lumbard, Digital Curator, United States Holocaust Memorial Museum

Sarah Lumbard is the Digital Curator at the United States Holocaust Memorial Museum (USHMM) and has been in her position for about a year. She leads the digital vision, strategy, and operations for the museum. Prior to joining the USHMM, Sarah worked at NPR for nearly five years leading the news giant in content strategy. While at NPR, she implemented “Serendipity Day” to encourage staff to take time to explore areas of their work for which they may not otherwise have time. I spoke to Sarah to get her thoughts on museums and their roles in the digital world. These are some of her key points:

Digital is a team sport
Sarah uses the analogies of soccer or playing in a chamber orchestra to show that it takes many people, all playing different parts, to develop a digital experience. “People are playing together and bringing their talents – different people lead at different times, and it’s all about interpreting your subject matter and understanding where you stand with that.” She sees her role as digital curator to envision the digital experience, and to lead the voices and attitudes toward digital.

Museums are competing for people’s time
In comparing her roles at a news organization and at a museum, Sarah explains that the common thread is storytelling. Museums need to focus on their storytelling and content because, like many businesses, museums are competing for people’s time: “Every single minute someone spends with you is a gift and it should be treated like that.”

The greatest strength of a museum is its mission and its focus
In contrast, Sarah feels that the weaknesses of museum websites lie in that too many try to replicate the brick and mortar experience online. She explains that, “Our digital presence must be treated with the same love and care as our curated exhibits.” Sarah also warns that we should not use the web as a “dumping ground” for the things that don’t quite fit anywhere else.

Know what problems you are trying to solve
With new digital tools appearing everyday, museums need to experiment with what makes the most sense for the project. Sarah says that museums must consider “what problems are you trying to solve, what the solutions look like and how will you know when you’ve solved it” and don’t be tempted to build beyond solving that problem because it’s impossible to make everyone happy.

Happier teams make better experiences
While meeting audience needs should be a museum’s priority, museum staff should not get lost in the mix. Sarah discusses “Serendipity Day,” which she implemented at NPR and hopes to implement something similar at the USHMM. Sarah described success to her boss at NPR as “Staff satisfaction, happiness, joy – all internal metrics; we’re doing this for us.” These are things she wants to build into the process at the USHMM.

Finally, Sarah leaves us with this parting thought: Be bold, the audiences we serve deserve it.


  1. Natalie Marsh says:

    Thanks for a great inteview, Michelle and Sarah!

    What I found interesting from your conversation is Sarah’s experience at a news organization and bringing this to a museum context. Particularly her experience at NPR and the skills that were critical in that field, i.e., being quick, nimble, and relevant. There is a lot that museums can learn from this philosophy of timely, fast creation of content versus the permanent, lengthy exhibition. I also enjoyed her comparison between news organizations and museums in that they are both about telling stories to specific audiences and how each tailors content and uses digital tools to connect this content to those audiences. So much museums can learn from other fields!

  2. Ryan Meyer says:

    Sarah, Michelle,
    Thanks so much for your contribution to this project, there was so much out of the box thinking that was presented by Sarah during this interview, it was such a fresh approach to a lot of museum challenges. I think my favorite thought was that museums are not special, they deal with people just like hotels and everything else, and when a visitor gives us their time we need to treat it as a gift, because we cannot give it back. I also really liked what Sarah said about museums and their websites are like the book compared to the movie, specifically that we should not try to recreate the museum on the web, I had never really thought of it that way and has given me some food for thought about how my website should look and feel. Just today I made the comment while discussing a future exhibit that any additional content that we feel is too much we can put on the Facebook page or the website, but as Sarah said the web is not a dumping ground, so I need to rethink that thought if the story is not good enough for the gallery exhibit, should it be good enough for the website or digital presence?

  3. Patrick Cutter says:

    “Museums are competing for your time.” This is something that is perfectly explained by someone with a background in media. Museums, generally thought of purely educational institutions, are forms of entertainment as well. They are destinations, and their content is just as relevant as current events. And their content is usually something people do not know, and need a medium to present that information to their audiences outside of the institutions. Digital curation, and everything Sarah Lumbard is doing are providing that medium, broadcasting the missions and cultivating interest in whatever subject museums are covering.

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