Working in a museum gallery

Today is Christmas eve 2013 and became my first experience working the floor of the Places Gallery at our M Shed museum.

For ninety minutes I was covering lunch breaks and had control of the radio in the gallery. Ever since I started back in July I have been trying to find out more about each of the locations and staff roles. This served as my introduction to one of the most important roles in the service, helping the public with enquires and keeping everything safe. In my role, if the wifi falls over or a computer fails, the museum continues to tick over. If there are not enough visitor assistants to safely manage the museum, we close. Digital technology roles are critical, but no single point of failure should close the doors (unless the doors fail!).

I took the time to explore the gallery in greater detail and being a biker, my favourite object is the Douglas Motorcycle  which I discovered was founded and made in Bristol. I was asked a few questions; How old is the giant floor map of Bristol and where is slug number 8 hiding (had to radio for the answer). During my patrols of the gallery I made sure to listen to the conversations by the public and watched them interact with the objects and most importantly for me, the technology.

From my observations it was clear to see that the computer kiosks are popular for short periods of time and that they are too high for very small children. Questions I then asked myself were: How can we make the kiosks work for even our smallest audiences? are they only used briefly as their task was complete or do they give up? Do we have analytics for every device to measure usage? What replacement process would we be considering for both hardware and software?

We have a mixture of screens that automatically play video on a loop, audio telephones, touch screens, and button triggered media. Those keyboards are already dated, not so much in function but the world has moved on and everybody tries to touch the screen instead of using the keyboard these days. I kept thinking about what I might change if I had the opportunity to refine and improve what we offer.

What became very obvious and clear during my stint was that the technology solutions we employ shouldn’t be considered in isolation. The public aren’t using these touch-points at home, on a bus or at work. They are sitting or standing in a large multifunction environment. When designing for gallery uses we should consider this context. Many of the public I saw were in small groups and small single person computers are not very helpful to this context. I can only guess that most gallery technology is an after-thought, rushed or makes assumptions that are never tested. I hope to change this for Bristol Museums. Our team has the remit, the will and a lot of the expertise in this area to design compelling public user experiences. If we team up with the visitor assistance staff , curators and the public we should hopefully raise the bar.

Now back to my office I go!

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