Technology and Small Museums

On Monday, at the American Association of Museums (AAM) conference, I’ll be taking part in a panel discussion entitled, “Can and Should Small Museums Be Technological Leaders?” We’ll primarily be talking about Web-based technology and I will be drawing on some of the results of a survey we’re conducting for Open Exhibits, a proposal for the National Science Foundation.

In filtering the responses we’ve received thus far, there are some interesting findings with respect to computer-based exhibits at small vs. large museums.I filtered 90 responses by operating budget. Those with an annual operating budget of less than one million US dollars I’m considering small (29 responses), while large are those with a budget of more than a million (61 responses).There are some interesting preliminary findings with respect to the number of computer-based interactive exhibits produced at these museums and their overall capacity to develop them.

There is a dramatic difference in the number of computer-based interactive exhibits that small and large museums produce. More than half of small museums (56%) produce no electronic exhibits at all, while only 14% of respondents from large museums reported that their institutions produced no electronic exhibits. Interestingly, 20% of small museums produce computer-based exhibits in-house, a slightly larger percentage than large museums (18%). Most large museums (56%) use a combination of in-house and outside resources to develop computer-based exhibits, but only 18% of small museums use that combination of resources.

There were also some significant differences in small and large museums’ capacities to develop computer-based interactive exhibits. Most small museums rated their ability to produce computer-based interactive exhibits at either “no ability” (30%) or just one notch up the scale (30%). No representatives from small museums responded with a 6 or 7 (“very capable”). Those representing large museums, however, had more varied responses which were spread across our seven-point likert scale from “no ability” to “very capable.”

If you haven’t yet done so, please take the survey. We’re going to keep it open through May. It is open to museums, science centers, and other informal education venues of any size. We’ll share the complete results with you once the survey closes at the end of next month. If you’re headed to AAM, perhaps I will see you in Denver. You may also want to check out the complete AAM 2008 Media and Technology Committee Sponsored Program Schedule. Update: May 16, 2008 – The survey was closed on May 10, 2008.

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