Archive for March, 2017

“Other” Category Unpacked: #MCN2017 Call for Proposals

A group of MCN conference attendees meet on the floor at MCN 2016

Some of the best things in #musetech start in a floor meeting at MCN conferences


As a candid and welcoming community, MCN has always championed innovative sessions that are willing to take risks. Last year through the “Other” Category in the Call for Proposals, the program co-chairs created the option for attendees to “propose something else” to present in New Orleans. We actively sought out, encouraged and cultivated potential session ideas that did not fit the traditional 15-minute case study, 30-minute talk, or 60-minute multi-speaker panel formats. The resulting sessions were some of the highlights from #MCN2016 in New Orleans.

We hosted a number of “Unconferences” such as Rob Weisberg’s “‘Views My Own’ Museblog Unconference” and Greg Albers and Annelisa Stephan’s “Making the Workplace You Want.” The Unconference format is a loose and informal discussion usually focusing on a particular topic, sometimes over lunch.

Another kind of alternative session is the Teach-In. Last year in New Orleans, Nikhil Trivedi organized a “Github” offshoot meeting for people interested in the basics workings of Github. Teach-Ins, much like unconferences, are informal discussions focused on knowledge or skill-sharing.

We also hosted sessions with game formats like Trish Oxford’s Power of Vulnerability in Museums session, in which a panel of 5 individuals answered probing questions about museum work culture that were chosen at random for 60 minutes.

We have hosted live podcast session’s like Chad Weinard and Jason Alderman’s The Future of Museum Technology that “took a breakneck look at the problems in dealing with legacy systems, the failings of collection management systems, the infrastructure of process, and the importance of collaboration.”

Many sessions were held under Chatham House Rule, which specifies that participants are free to use the information received, but neither the identity nor the affiliation of the speaker(s), nor that of any other participant, may be revealed on social media channels or other broadcasts. These sessions became a safe place, in which participants were not recorded and could speak freely.

These few examples have in common informality, interactivity, and group exploration of topics that warrant discussion and dialogue. Other ideas might include:

  • A series of grouped short ignite talks, similar to the popular opening-night event
  • Round tables with more interaction than a typical multi-speaker panel
  • Group affinity discussions
  • Hackathons and prototyping

However, this doesn’t preclude you from adding audience participation and interactivity to more typical presentation formats. Many kinds of longer presentations—such as hackathons and prototyping—with interactivity and learning opportunities can be proposed as a pre-conference workshop. And the 60-minute panel timeframe affords much potential for audience interaction and elements of workshopping. No matter which type of format you propose, think of ways to keep the audience involved!

This year, we are also interested in sessions/activities that will enrich the program and conference experience including but not limited to open yoga sessions, running groups, museum pillow talk, drum circles, and silent discos. Please consider space limitations/requirements, extra equipment and costs when proposing these sessions.

In the end all great “Other” sessions begin with an idea or concept a group wants to explore, no matter how mundane or taboo it may seem. The MCN co-chairs are more than willing to talk through your proposal ideas and help devise the best session format to explore.

#MCN2017’s Call for Proposals opens April 1st!  

Don’t hesitate to reach out to [email protected] with your questions, comments, and ideas.


MCN 2016 Sessions – NMC Horizon Report 2016 Museum Edition

NMC Horizon Report 2016 Museum Edition Trends infographic

NMC Horizon Report > 2016 Museum Edition

Friday, November 4, 2016 9:30 AM – 10:00 AM
Co-Presenter : Alex Freeman, Senior Director, Membership and Special Projects, New Media Consortium
Session Leader : Nik Honeysett, Director and CEO, BPOC

The NMC’s Horizon Report, created with input from many MCN members, has helped museums and universities set priorities for technology planning, research, and practice since 2010 ( The 2016 edition, due to be released in May 2016, contains several topics making their debut, such as information visualization and virtual reality. Panelists will introduce topics from the 2016 report, and have a moderated discussion about how museums can anticipate and react to these coming changes.




MCN 2016 Sessions – Focus on the Audience: Social Media Managers Talk Participatory Campaigns

Getty Inspired homepage screen shot

Focus on the Audience: Social Media Managers Talk Participatory Campaigns

Session Leader : Meagan Estep, Social Media Manager, National Gallery of Art
Co-Presenter : Russell Dornan, Web Editor, Wellcome Collection
Co-Presenter : Arielle Sherman, Assistant Manager, Digital Communications, Hammer Museum
Co-Presenter : Sarah Waldorf, Media Producer, The J. Paul Getty Trust
Co-Presenter : Amy Fox, Web and Social Media Content Manager, Smithsonian American Art Museum
Friday, November 4, 2016 2:00 PM – 3:00 PM

Compelling, interactive social media messaging is on the rise: we know, as practitioners and professionals, that “engagement” is more than simply hitting the high numbers. Now that we’ve mastered the art of crafting a creative message in 140 characters, how can we do more to connect with our online visitors in an authentic and meaningful way? Most institutions have just one (or a few) staff dedicated to social media work and little to no resources. Getting buy-in can be a challenging road, and many social media projects don’t have the management, budget, and support they require for success. And yet, we posit that a strong social media strategy includes a deep focus on a museum’s audience. To bridge the gap between onsite and online, we must speak our visitors’ language and collaborate on their terms. In this panel discussion, five social media managers from a variety of institutions will come together to explore what it really means to foster human connections with their online audiences. We’ll examine the ins and outs of beginning a participatory campaign—perhaps it’s a desire to know more about your online visitors, an interest in community involvement, a need to grow a local or distant audience, or your director saying “make this go viral”—and consider factors that contribute to a campaign’s success or flop. Through case studies and discussion, participants in this panel will explore whether or not to pursue an interactive strategy.




Cooking up the MCN 2017 Theme with 50+ Chefs in the Kitchen

Photo of the Heinz History Center


After days of virtual sharing, commiserating, wordsmithing, and voting, the MCN 2017 theme has arrived!


MCN 2017: Looking Back, Thinking Forward, Taking Action


Every year, MCN explores topics of relevance to museum practitioners working with, or affected by, digital media and technology. In 2017, MCN will focus on how museums can use technology to innovate and emphasize transparency, individual action, and institutional bravery. We are interested in cases where a creating an open museum culture encourages bold action to confront challenges in our field, our communities, and our society, including issues of diversity and inclusion.  

Submissions on any topic from people at all levels of the institution and all parts of the field are welcome, and we especially encourage proposals that present new ideas to leverage technologies which help museums evolve, create institutional partnerships outside the sector, and use lessons from the past to act for the future.

The forty-four members of the program committee represent various areas of expertise in institutions of different sizes and types, from locations in the United States, Canada, Australia, and the United Kingdom. They spent two hectic weeks on Basecamp compiling their individual perspectives of what is relevant, meaningful, and critical to the future of the sector. That 2017 is the 50th anniversary of the Museum Computer Network as an organization gave the discussion special resonance, especially in light of political and social turmoil around the world and its impact on the museum field.

To start the discussion, committees members were presented with a few open ended statements to consider:

  • “What MCN50 means to me is …”
  • “What interests me in the field is …”
  • “What work outside of the museum sector is informing your work and would help other museum practitioners with their work?”

The group mused on how the view of technology in the museum had changed over the past 50 years, from a thing apart from museum practice—though a view all-too-often still present in our institutions—to something intertwined with the everyday work of museum professionals. What will technology mean to us, and our visitors and remote audiences in another 50 years?

Libraries (which are now represented in the MCN community), game design, theater design, and the growing organizational culture field all were cited as influencing the way the committee members viewed their own museum work. And many members were naturally interested in how technology can impact visitor experience, contribute to a sense of playfulness and joy for visitors and staff alike, and build equity and dismantle oppressive structures that museums are often a part of.

After a week of sharing, dozens of points and threads of discussion were distilled into several large ideas:

  • Bringing actionable steps back to our museums
  • Inclusiveness and advocacy        
  • Museum technology and solving problems         
  • Innovation, Change, and Progress           
  • Being Brave and Bold    
  • Welcoming   
  • Openness and transparency

Another round of discussion ensued, including a cameo appearance from the haiku exercise from last year’s committee. Committee members wrestled with wording around a commitment to action and bravery—were these matters for individual attendees? For their institutions? For society?

The committee then voted on 65 variations of the potential theme in a semifinal round, leading to a final vote on six possibilities. The vote was close, reflecting the many concerns that committee members have in viewing the role of technology in the museum field.

Ultimately, the honor went to “MCN 2017: Looking Back, Thinking Forward, Taking Action.” (To take a page from the Oscars, we won’t call the other finalists losers, and all reflected an interest in openness, action, and bravery.)

As the program committee moves on to discuss keynote speakers and other conference questions—not to mention preparing for the joyous onslaught of proposals later this spring!—the spirit of this nearly-50-person conversation will continue to enliven the preparation for MCN 2017 in Pittsburgh. The co-chairs can’t thank the committee members enough!

As you consider what type of presentations to propose, keep in mind the “other” category. While most presentations will fit into 15-minute case study, 30-minute talk, or 60-minute multi-speaker panel formats, we are open to ideas. Some that we have held, or considered in the past, for you to propose:

  • “Unconferences”: more informal discussions usually focusing on a particular topic, sometimes over lunch. Last year we had an unconference on “views-my-own” bloggers in the museum field.
  • A series of grouped short ignite talks, similar to the popular opening-night event.
  • Round tables, but consider how this differs from simply a multi-speaker panel.
  • Remember that many kinds of longer formats such as hackathons and prototyping can be proposed as a workshop, provided there is opportunity for interactivity and learning.
  • In fact, a 60-minute time frame affords many opportunities for interactivity, workshopping, etc., with the audience. Think of ways to keep the audience involved!
  • Group or affinity discussions

We can’t wait to see proposals from across the field and from staff at all levels of their institutions. Attending MCN is great, but participating in a presentation is a great way to have a voice in the many discussions so important to museums today.


Your friendly co-chairs,

Trish Oxford

Jennifer Foley

Rob Weisberg  



Support AAM’s Speak Up for Museums campaign

Like many of our peer organizations, we, at MCN (Museum Computer Network), were alarmed today to see the dramatic scale of the proposed cuts to federal funding of America’s arts and cultural organizations. While MCN isn’t formally an advocacy agency, our members represent a wide range of information professionals from hundreds of cultural sector institutions in the United States, and around the world. We are therefore joining our colleagues at AAM, the NEA, NEH, and IMLS in registering our dismay in the proposed changes, which will significantly impact cultural life in the USA. As Philip Kennicott and Peggy McGlone of the Washington Post note: “Federal dollars are used to leverage state, local and private funding that supports a complex network of arts organizations, educational entities, museums, libraries and public broadcasting affiliates.” In other words, each federal dollar cut from arts funding will eliminate more dollars from organizational budgets: many institutions across this nation will not survive this loss of support, and the communities they serve will be severely and irreversibly impacted.

We encourage all of our members, and our broader community, to join the American Alliance of Museum’s Speak Up for Museums campaign, and demonstrate your support for these vital arts and cultural organizations.


Board of Directors, MCN


For reference, other community organizations’ statements below:






MCN 2016 Sessions – How to write an MCN proposal

Post it notes with MCN 2016 session proposals written on them.

How to Write an MCN Proposal

Friday, November 4, 2016 9:30 AM – 10:00 AM

Join the MCN Program Co-Chairs to find out how the conference program comes together.

Speaker : Suse Cairns, Assistant Professor, George Washington University
Speaker : Jennifer Foley, Director of Education and Community Engagement, Albright-Knox Art Gallery
Speaker : Trish Oxford, Principal Technologist, Trish Oxford Media




MCN 50 – Today is Tomorrow

By Marla Misunas, MCN50 Co-Chair, Collections Information Manager, SFMOMA


The Museum Computer Network (MCN) got its start in 1967 when local New York museum directors met at the Whitney Museum of American Art in the Spring of 1967, to explore ways of using technology newly developed by computer scientists such as Jack Heller at New York University.

Meetings were funded by the Old Dominion Foundation and the New York State Council on the Arts. MCN offices were set up at the Museum of Modern Art’s annex on West 53 rd Street, with Everett Ellin as its first Executive Director.

The network expanded quickly over the next year, with distinguished Washington D.C. museums joining the original New York 15. By the time the 1968 meeting was organized, eight more institutions had joined the consortium, including museums further west such as the Detroit Institute of Arts, the Art Institute of Chicago, the San Francisco Museum of Modern Art, and the Los Angeles County Museum of Art. We are continuing to track down details on early MCN history, so stay tuned for further posts!

Looking back 50 years later, the cultural landscape of the country and of the role of technology in our culture has changed dramatically—but much may still feel familiar. In the spring of 1967 the science fiction show Star Trek was approaching the end of its very first season.

Promotional photo of the cast of Star Trek


I was a kid in suburban Illinois in 1967. When the streetlights came on, it was time to break up your game of tag and go home. That wasn’t difficult on Thursday nights, because everyone I knew was skedaddling home to watch Star Trek. Star Trek and my other favorite show, That Girl, had premiered on the same night the previous September. That year, my AM radio played hits like Aretha Franklin’s Respect, the Beatles’ Penny Lane, and the Rolling Stones’ Ruby Tuesday. My older brother’s FM radio played cuts from Jimi Hendrix’s Are You Experienced, and the Beatles’ Sgt. Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band.

Lee Friedlander, Jazz & Portfolio [Aretha Franklin]

Grown-ups with beards and long hair wearing funny clothes and waving flowers started appearing all over the news. Exotic far-off lands (for me) like New York and San Francisco had hippie gatherings called “Human Be-Ins,” music festivals like Monterey Pop, and huge marches protesting the war in Viet Nam.

Monterey International Pop Festival


1967 was a time of change all over the country. The civil rights movement was in the news—Martin Luther King, Jr. and Bobby Kennedy were still going strong, Carl B. Stokes was the first African American mayor of a major city (Cleveland).Tragically, race riots were part of this period as well. Citizens rioted in Washington, D.C., Detroit, Minneapolis, Florida, New Jersey,

Buffalo, Los Angeles, and elsewhere. Unrest at my hometown high school, where my dad taught, caused the city fathers to send police officers and dogs to patrol the corridors.

Getty Images



At least the USA was winning the space race—or so it seemed. The Mariner 5 space probe flew past Venus. Venus! It was like Star Trek might be coming true. Another space probe landed on the moon. The government continued to move forward, in stiff competition with the Soviet space program.

Against this backdrop of tremendous unrest and tremendous hope, computer scientists like New York University’s Jack Heller began to develop automation tools for NYU’s library, the International Repertory of Music Literature, and the Dag Hammarskjöld Library of the United Nations.

The tools would no doubt seem rudimentary to us today, but can you imagine what it must’ve been like: instead of flipping through results in a massive card catalog, you could see that same data going into a computer the size of your house? Maybe Star Trek really was coming true!

Courtesy of the IBM Corporate Archive

News of the day in 1967 doesn’t seem so different than what we are dealing with today. We (almost) have driverless cars, but turmoil and warfare still seem to be the way of the world. In museums, we are still grappling with remaining relevant, engaging younger audiences, and incorporating “space age” technology into our daily work.

What do you think about how far we have come—or not—since 1967? Share your thoughts with us in the comments below!


MCN 2016 Sessions – Not Just For Kids: Playful Experience for all Visitors

Not Just For Kids: Playful Experience for all Visitors

Friday, November 4, 2016 2:00 PM – 3:00 PM
Session Leader : Blaire Moskowitz, Marketing Manager, Antenna International
Co-Presenter : Christine Murray, Senior Content Designer, Antenna International
Co-Presenter : Erica Gangsei, Head of Interpretive Media, SFMOMA
Co-Presenter : Kellian Adams, Mastermind, Greendoor Labs
Co-Presenter : Scott Eberle, Vice President for Play Studies and Editor of The American Journal of Play, The Strong National Museum of Play

It’s a misconception that play is just for kids. As seen with adult preschools in Brooklyn, “The Beach” ball pit at the National Building Museum, and the “Adult coloring book” category on Amazon, we know the general public is looking for places to have fun and not be measurably productive at all times. How can museums capitalize on this somewhat-taboo trend of adult spontaneity and experience? “Talking about adult play is kind of taboo in our culture,” says Lynn Barnett-Morris, University of Illinois expert on the effects of play on personality. “We think it’s a waste of time or that we could be more productive doing other things — all sorts of dumb stuff.” In our unique place of “edutainment”, museums can be an agent of change to show that adult play is a way to learn new skills, remember information, and make connections, all while capturing the imagination. So how do we encourage enjoyable and playful learning in both a museum that the public views as very serious and in a culture that thinks play is only for children? How can we free visitors from the falsely perceived pressure of forced learning in a museum? Can we provide enough freedom that adult visitors are engaged in activities that encourage personal expressiveness and in turn create positive and happy memories? This panel will address how museums can address play in adult learning. We will discuss how playful environments are created and how they can be extended to outside of the museum, drawing upon the panelists experiences designing playful exhibitions and digital interpretation. Panelists will draw upon the work of Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi and the meaning of “flow” in relation to museums, and discuss how games can be incorporated into digital media.




MCN 2016 Sessions – The Digital Preservation of Babylon and VR Archives of At-Risk Heritage Sites

The digital preservation of Babylon and VR archives of at-risk heritage sites


3D photogrammetry model of a Hatrene priest. Credit: “luciamontalban” on Sketchfab.

Session Leader : Brinker Ferguson, PhD candidate, University of California Santa Cruz
Wednesday, November 2, 2016 1:45 PM – 2:15 PM


In the winter of 2009, a team of heritage professionals documented the site of Babylon using a variety of technologies in digital capture including laser scanning, photogrammetry, structured light and aerial lidar. Since that time, Babylon and its surrounding world heritage sites have come under particularly grave threat from civil war in Syria, the Iraq war, and the campaigns of fundamentalist groups such as ISIS. Currently, there is a growing sentiment within heritage organizations that while it may not be possible to physically save all at-risk sites, it might at least be possible to produce digital records for posterity, to forestall all knowledge loss and to allow future scholars and conservators to study and possible “visit” these sites, if only virtually. But such initiatives raise many ethical questions. Who is doing the documentation? What sites are deemed most at risk and most important to digitally preserve? To whom does this information belong? What tools are being used to document, and what types of data capture, imaging, and archiving do they privilege? How is this data visualized and published? And who has access to the archive of information? The Babylon project will serve as a productive locus from which to unpack issues of politics, ownership, heritage, power, and representation. In addition, this presentation will explore two different 3-D virtual reality projects that used the Babylon data. I plan to examine if they privilege particular types of imaging and knowledge sharing or if these projects might be seen as a potential model for future heritage site archives.




MCN 2016 Sessions – Examining the EDGE (Exhibit Design for GIrls Engagement) Data



Examining the EDGE (Exhibit Design for GIrls Engagement) Data

Thursday, November 3, 2016 10:15 AM – 10:45 AM
Session Leader : Miriam Langer, Professor of Media Arts, NMHU
Co-Presenter : Toni Dancstep, Senior Researcher, Exploratorium
The Exploratorium lead an NSF study to observe 1000 girls ages 8-13 engaging in hands-on science exhibits. This extensive research was a response to the NSF statement that parents “explain science to boys at 3x the level explained to girls”. By collecting and analyzing data over 2 years, the EDGE (Exhibit Design for Girls Engagement) group distilled ten key design attributes that lead to better engagement by girls. As part of the initial dissemination team, I’ll discuss the EDGE findings and how we might extrapolate from hands-on exhibit engagement to digital environments.



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