Archive for February, 2017

Looking to the past, seeing the future: MCN 1968

This #MCN50 post brought to you by Charles Zange


A year after its founding, MCN hosted its first major conference: “A Conference on Computers and their Potential Applications in Museums.” The Metropolitan Museum of Art hosted the event, which was supported by a grant from IBM. Over three days in April, participants came together to discuss the future of technology and in so doing laid a foundation for decades of collaboration.

The attendee list was small. A total of 27 speakers signed up, most from New York but a few others joined from Oklahoma, California, Illinois, Massachusetts, and Toronto. Registration took place on Monday from 11:00-12:00. Sessions began that afternoon one at a time and continued through Wednesday. The Junior Museum Snack Bar was reserved for participants to take lunch. The conference concluded with dinner at the Met’s main restaurant.

Compared purely with the scope and scale of #MCN2016 in New Orleans, #MCN1968 was a minor affair: no parallel session tracks, no grand ballrooms, and no complimentary breakfast. The schedule was printed on plain paper with neither advertisement nor graphic. The san-serif font is black and white. Yet even at its small dimensions, #MCN1968 laid the foundation for many common elements of today’s conferences.

For example:

– “Demonstrations and Films of Computer Hardware and Applications.” Tuesday, 2:00-5:00PM – This precursor to the Exhibitor Hall provided a space for IBM to install and demonstrate technology for museum application. (The stars of the show were “Displays of visual equipment for microfilm and microfiche.)”

– “Documentary Applications.” Monday 1:30-5:00PM – Presenters were considering the best ways to create, organize, and analyze computerized records of collections systems – an ongoing need in collections management.

– “New Approaches in Museum Education.” Wednesday, 3:00-5:00PM – Attendees in this session responded to a presentation on “The Future of the Museum as a Learning Environment,” approaching a question that continues to face educators today.

The no-frills #MCN1968 experience calls back to the essence of the gathering itself: even from the beginning, MCN has always been an experimental mix of thought leaders and technology. It will be exciting to see where this energy can lead this year at #MCN50!

Below is the full schedule from #MCN1968. What was your first MCN conference? Let us know in the comments.



MCN 2016 Sessions – The Future of Museum Technology

The Future of Museum Technology
Friday, November 4, 2016 2:00 PM – 3:00 PM
Session Leader : Chad Weinard, Independent Technologist + Strategist, Independent
Co-Presenter : Jason Alderman, Experience Designer, Cloud Chamber / Balboa Park Online Collaborative


What technology will we need in order to realize the human-centered museum? The shift in conversation toward global issues, community engagement and broad organizational strategies gives the impression that “technology” is a solved problem. It’s not. Our technology (especially in small and midsize museums) can’t support our current organizations, much less the museums we envision for the future. And many times, in migrating museums to newer technology, we’re embracing technologies that are common among other museums, but already considered legacy within industry—technologies that are handicapped from the get-go. Collections management, DAMS, CRM, membership, ticketing, web publishing, social and email management, internal communications and collaboration…most museums’ systems architecture is the product of short-term, ad-hoc planning and organizational dysfunction. Our current systems often reinforce organizational silos and hinder collaboration, transparency, sharing, innovation. What would it look like to create systems architectures that promote—even require—organizational tranformation? We’ll investigate this question in a series of interviews and collaborative whiteboard sessions with leaders and practitioners from across the sector, then organize and share the results in this forum. In doing so, we’ll look at trends in industry to question our current practices. Slack vs. email? Cloud vs local storage? WordPress vs Drupal? Build or buy? Commercial or open-source? In-house or contracted? Specific decisions affect the organization. We’ll take a candid look at the digital infrastructure needed to support the collections, experiences, engagement and education programs we envision. In many organizations, museum technologists now take on the role of change agent, organizational strategist, community engager, staff trainer, in-gallery experience designer, and others. Systems architecture is well within our purview. It’s time we embraced it.





MCN 2016 Sessions – Low Tech, High Touch: How to Use the Tools in Guests’ Pockets to Create Engaging Experiences

Dustin Growick from Museum Hack at MCN 2016

Low Tech, High Touch: How to Use the Tools in Guests’ Pockets to Create Engaging Experiences

Thursday, November 3, 2016 9:45 AM – 10:15 AM
Session Leader : Dustin Growick, Audience Development Outreach Manager + Team Lead for Science, Museum Hack

Despite a techie word in our name, Museum Hack is known for being “low tech, high touch” – emphasizing social experience first and foremost over a digitally-based experience. However, modern museum visitors come armed with tech, and we can’t deny that they want to use it in our spaces. Selfies, Tweets, Instagram, informal research: the tech in our guests’ pockets are powerful tools to meet a museum’s engagement goals, without resorting to a fancy app or a data-heavy audio guide. We have developed a formula to create fast, lightweight and easy activities that gets guests to use their own technology to actively engage with the collection, each other, and the museum at large with a sensibility that is “reverently irreverent” and fulfills the goals of museum interpretation staff. Join us to sample some of our favorite activities, pick up a few tips on activity development and learn how to fulfill some of your engagement goals simply by using the tools in your pocket.




Leveraging Volunteers and Crowdsourcing for Digitization

This post is in partnership with Axiell, our MCN 2016 Market Trends sponsor and originally appeared here


This infographic identifies the current and future strategies of museums and archives using volunteers and crowdsourcing to support their digitisation plans.

Over 100 Museums and Archives from around the world took part in research conducted by MCN and Axiell

See how your institution compares to others when using volunteers and crowdsourcing for digitization. 30% of respondents have less than 10% of their collections digitized; 80% agree that volunteers represent a significant opportunity to support their digitization efforts; but over 85% believe the time investment required to leverage volunteers is a challenge.

Download the Full Infographic Here

Get Your Free Detailed Report

This survey was run as part of research for a free detailed report: Digitising Collections: Getting Ahead With Volunteers & Crowdsourcing.

This report explores the current digitisation strategies of today’s collections management organisations, drawing on the views of more than 100 professionals working in museums, archives, galleries and other collections institutions.

In particular, we focus on how readily they are integrating volunteers into their approach and moving to crowdsourcing to increase their rate of digitisation. Examples from more than 10 institutions world-wide provide insight into how these strategies are working in practice.

The report is due to be published by the end of March.


MCN 2016 Sessions – Professional Forum: Making Digital and Data Literacy More Inclusive


Professional Forum: Making Digital and Data Literacy More Inclusive
Friday, November 4, 2016 3:00 PM – 4:00 PM

Session Leader : Elizabeth Bollwerk, Archaeological Analyst, DAACS/Thomas Jefferson Foundation
Co-Presenter : Lesley Langa, CEO, NovaKultura Consulting, NovaKultura Consulting
Co-Presenter : loreto alonzi, Senior Data Scientist, University of Virginia
Co-Presenter : Eric Johnson, Head, Innovative Media for Virginia Commonwealth University Libraries, Innovative Media for Virginia Commonwealth University Libraries
Co-Presenter : Robert Connolly, Director/Associate Professor, University of Memphis (retiring in September)
Session Leader : Carolyn Royston, Director of Digital, Isabella Stewart Gardner Museum

Digital applications and data are a critical component of how museums and cultural heritage institutions define their goals, relate to and understand their visitors, and evaluate the success of both digital and analog projects. While museums are allocating resources and creating analyst roles within their institutions, a number of museums technologists have advocated that digital and data need to be integrated into all aspects of museums and cultural heritage institutions. However, those same advocates acknowledge that a crucial part of this process is creating opportunities for more museum professionals to receive digital and data literacy training. This session brings together six panelists who work or have lead digital and data literacy education projects in cultural heritage institutions, libraries, and museums. The presenters will share case studies on their projects that teach students and professionals digital and data literacy skills. The purpose of this session is to bring together individuals from both inside and outside the museum sector who can offer concrete examples of how formal and informal educational initiatives can increase engagement and awareness of the importance of digital and data analysis skills. These presentations emphasize that creating a more inclusive environment around digital and data, i.e. making it accessible, relatable, and interesting, is a key component to literacy education. Attendees will leave with a solid understanding of two or three principles they can use to make engagement programs human-centered, successful, and equally importantly, an understanding of the challenges inherent in such initiatives.




Snowstorms, Strategy and Making Membership Great (Again).

2017 board retreat

Nik Honeysett, Carolyn Royston, Elizabeth Bollwerk, Laura Mann, Bert Degenhart Drenth, Eric Longo, Suse Anderson, Julie Aldridge, Deborah Howes

For the second year in a row, a small group of MCN board members–Carolyn Royston (President), Suse Anderson (VP/Pdt Elect), Bert Degenhart Drenth (Treasurer), Laura Mann (Strategic Partnerships chair), Elizabeth Bollwerk (Professional Development chair), Deborah Howes, and Nik Honeysett–joined me at the Newark Airport Hilton on a recent weekend for a strategic retreat. Holding a retreat in February in the Northeast can be a bit of gamble; we were just lucky to have it right in the middle of two snow storms. MCN luck.

These annual mini strategic retreats provide MCN’s leadership an opportunity to come together to focus on a specific strategic area of the organization, as we continue to deliver on our current Strategic Plan. Last year, we focussed on rethinking our approach to strategic partnerships, and our sponsorship offer in particular. This year, we wanted to think about designing a more viable business model for MCN, and specifically focus on membership as driver for long-term sustainability. To guide us through these questions, we invited Julie Aldridge to facilitate the weekend. Formerly Executive Director of the Arts Marketing Association (AMA), a UK-based membership organization, which she led for almost 12 years, Julie is now a consultant specializing in business planning, marketing, membership strategy, leadership, and organizational development.

Reflecting on what MCN means to you

Based on Simon Sinek’s Start With Why approach, Julie immediately challenged us to think through MCN’s alignment of its vision (why we exist) with its delivery model (what it does to deliver on its vision), and then reflect on the impact MCN has on its members, the museums or other cultural organizations they work for, and the museum sector in general. We quickly realized that we had a lot of work to do to align what MCN means to you, our members, with the impact it could have on museums and the sector at large.

Julie then walked us through the findings from the 2017 MCN Community Survey, conducted in January, which saw 203 total responses, including 97 from current members (thank you for your thoughtful comments!). While none of the findings were really surprising to us, they reinforced how you (current and lapsed members, and not yet members) perceive MCN: 50 years since its founding, an undisputed source of inspiration, professional connections, and learning.

Here are a few responses from, you, our community about what MCN is to you that really resonated with us and we wanted to share:

“A ‘go to’ group of professionals who are on the cutting edge of the role of digital technology and resources in museums and who have supported the advancement of the entire museum field.”

“A bunch of hardworking good-hearted nerds who love their work, and they want to change the world but they’re too busy talking about museums.”

“I heard someone comment that at other conferences they feel like they are part of a professional organization, but that with MCN they feel like they are part of a community.”

“Most valuable museum community.”

“An organization that anyone working in technology in the museum sector should be a member of.”

You also voiced the need for more formalized skill training, availability of online resources, and leadership building opportunities such as mentoring. We will be working on projects geared towards meeting those needs in the upcoming year.

With this in mind, and using Strategyzer’s Business Model Canvas–a strategic tool that allows organizations to describe, design, challenge, invent and pivot a business model–we quickly moved to exploring a range of possible business models for MCN to achieve that alignment of purpose and impact. At the heart of these discussions was a focus on membership, and what it means for MCN to be a member organization now, and into the future. Although it became apparent that MCN has significant opportunities to continue to evolve in order to better meet the needs of our community, there simply was not enough time for us to “pin down” a specific direction without the collective input from the rest of the board, which we will seek in the weeks ahead to further our thinking around the myriad of ideas we generated over the weekend.

2017 board retreat

2017 board retreat

Things to watch out for, and what that means for you as a member of MCN

Retreats are always too short but they also work in iterative ways, bubbling up ideas along the way but also cementing others that we all keep coming back to. Clearly, we need to do more work and continue to experiment with canvassing possible business models for MCN. In the meantime, we are planning on rolling out a series of changes throughout 2017 and beyond, that will make your MCN membership even more compelling and rewarding.  

All business but no play? Not really, we are MCN’ers after all!

After a furiously intensive first day, we headed downtown Newark for dinner at Fornos of Spain, and because a picture is worth a thousand words, I’ll let you enjoy it. Let’s just say, we had a great time.

2017 board retreat dinner

2017 board retreat dinner

So stay tuned as we announce some changes to your MCN membership in the months ahead, and make sure to keep abreast of the many #mcn50 activities throughout 2017. If you can’t wait until MCN2017 to get together with other MCN’ers, check out our Throw MCN a Birthday Party kit.

You are MCN, and the sense of community and connection that unites you to MCN remains undisputedly strong and vibrant. For the leadership, this means we need to make sure that MCN stays relevant not only to your everyday work, throughout your career, but also to the institutions you work for, the museum sector as a whole, as well as future generations of museum professionals. Thank you and happy birthday MCN!


Eric Longo
Executive Director, MCN


MCN 2016 Sessions – Human-Centered Community Engagement in a Digital World: Lessons from the United States Holocaust Memorial Museums History Unfolded Project

Human-Centered Community Engagement in a Digital World: Lessons from the United States Holocaust Memorial Museum’s History Unfolded Project

Friday, November 4, 2016 9:00 AM – 9:15 AM
Session Leader : Eric Schmalz, Citizen History Community Manager, United States Holocaust Memorial Museum

Crowdsourcing and citizen history projects are becoming increasingly popular. A growing number of museums and cultural organizations aim to engage communities at the regional or national level through such ventures. While large-scale involvement is often an attractive goal, significant questions remain: can museums undertake extensive community engagement without sacrificing the benefits of meaningful, human-centered connections? Are such efforts worth it? And if so, what are the digital and non-digital strategies needed to scale-up this work? The United States Holocaust Memorial Museum has been exploring answers to these questions through its first full-fledged citizen history project, History Unfolded: US Newspapers and the Holocaust. Students and lifelong learners across the country research local newspaper collections and submit relevant articles to the project’s website. The goals are to reach 20% of high school students and 20% of libraries across the country in a meaningful way. Since the project’s launch in November, more than 1000 citizen historians have joined, submitting over 2,000 articles. Secondary and college students in schools nationwide have contributed hundreds of stories, including from Jewish, African-American, and foreign language newspapers. Dedicated lifelong learners have extensively researched online and print collections, helping to inform the Museum as it prepares a new exhibition opening in spring 2018. In this case study, participants will learn how the hiring of a full-time community manager has played a critical role in the project’s success. The Museum’s team will discuss how to conduct large-scale community outreach through tailored emails, blogs incorporating multimedia, and public video chats. Project leaders will examine what motivates community members to join and stay involved by sharing feedback from the community itself. The challenges and limitations of keeping the work human-centered will be addressed, as well as practical ways other institutions can plan to undertake large-scale participatory projects in the future.




Welcome our new conference co-chair, Rob Weisberg!

Post by Program co-chair, Trish Oxford


Jennifer Foley and I are excited to announce that Rob Weisberg will be our newest Program Co-Chair for #MCN2017! This year, in addition to developing the conference theme, call for proposals, program structure, and creative events, the Program Committee will also ensure that MCN’s 50th anniversary gets recognized and celebrated in Pittsburgh during MCN2017 itself. Our Co-Chairs will explore how MCN has impacted our community over the past 50 years and how we will carry on this spirit of innovation into the future! Rob comes to the team with a wealth of ideas, energy, and enthusiasm.  Please join me in welcoming him to the team! If you haven’t yet been in touch, but are interested in helping shape the future of the annual conference, we’d love to hear from you. All ideas are welcome. Please write to [email protected]

Meet Rob, MCN2017 Program Co-Chair

Robert Weisberg headshotRob is Senior Project Manager in the Publications and Editorial Department at The Metropolitan Museum of Art. His experience before The Met was in journalism and publishing production, so he appreciates the many paths people take before ending up in the museum field. Rob worked on hundreds of Met printed exhibition and collection catalogues until the past few years when he helped reboot the museum’s label program, as well as participated in several print-digital hybrid projects. He’s always tried to mediate and translate between different museum and workplace cultures and styles; he considers discrediting false dichotomies in the museum field — visitor-focused or collection-focused, print or digital, slow or fast, creative or organized, agile or deliberative — to be his calling. He blogs about museums and organizational culture at Rob has been a temporary New Yorker for 25 years and lives in New York City with his real-New-Yorker wife.


MCN 2016 Sessions – Making 3,000 collections accessible through Art UK

Making 3,000 collections accessible through Art UK
Friday, November 4, 2016 9:00 AM – 9:15 AM
Session Leader : Cristiano Bianchi

Launched on the 24th February 2016, Art UK is the new online home for art from every public collection in the United Kingdom. Art UK has worked in partnership with over 3,000 public collections to showcase the art the UK owns. All in all it represents a massive collaboration between UK public institutions that own art. The website features over 210,000 paintings by over 38,000 artists. These artworks are in more than 3,000 museums, universities, town halls, hospitals and other public buildings across the United Kingdom. Most of this art is not on public view. Such offering will expand in the coming years as collections will be able to upload new artworks independently. Art UK is the result of a large-scale, privately funded, digitisation campaign, conducted across the whole country by the Public Catalogue Foundation, over the last 10 years. The project initially focused on photographing, cataloguing and publishing every oil painting that the public owns, many of which have never been seen before. This presentation will cover how Art UK and Keepthinking worked together on the website and made all of this possible in less than one year.




MCN 2016 Sessions – National Museum Website Visitor Motivation Survey: Findings and Applications

National Museum Website Visitor Motivation Survey: Findings and Applications

Thursday, November 3, 2016 1:30 PM – 2:30 PM

Session Leader: Martin Spellerberg, Developer, Spellerberg Associates
Speaker: Alli Burness, Experience Designer, ThinkPlace
Speaker: Susan Edwards, Associate Director, Digital Content, The Hammer Museum
Speaker: Jacques Haba, Digital Media Manager, Nasher Sculpture Center
Speaker: Jonathan Munar, Director of Digital Media and Strategy
Speaker: Tricia Robson, Assistant Director of Web and Digital Production
Speaker: Sarah Wambold, Clyfford Still Museum
Speaker: Jessica Warchall, Communications Manager, The Andy Warhol Museum

In 2015-16, cultural organizations across the United States, joined by partners in Canada and Australia, banded together to better understand museum website visitor motivation. This was not just a research study, but a community of museums looking to better understand their online audiences. The survey comprised a single question about what motivated users in going to the website that day. Focussing on identity-related motivations (rather than demographics or behaviors), the survey responses aligned with museum researcher John Falk’s Predictive Model for Museum Visitation—Explorer, Facilitator, Professional/Hobbyist, Recharger, and Seeker. Led by Sarah Wambold, Director of Digital Media at the Clyfford Still Museum, and Marty Spellerberg, of Spellerberg Associates, the project culls more than 16 weeks of data across 23 different museum websites. This is the first survey to utilize Falk’s framework online, the first focused primarily on small- and medium-sized organizations, and the first in the US to view the data in aggregate. The study provided representatives from participating museums the opportunity to discuss their findings, highlighting patterns that emerged across the various institutions. In order to facilitate those exchanges, professionals from each institution have met online using Slack, asking questions and sharing knowledge. In this forum we will bring this dialogue to life and the voices of MCN attendees into the conversation.



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