Chapter 7. Multimedia in museums

(Andrea Kárpáti)

Table of Contents

7.1 Information and Communication Technology (ICT) in the exhibition
Research and development issues
Planning multimedia applications
Digital, handheld exhibition guides
Multimedia applications in exhibitions
Digital entrance tickets
7.2 Museums on the Internet
Digital publications of museums
Virtual museums
7.3 Museums on the Social Web
Museum blogs
Museum tweets
Museums on Facebook
QR and AR codes
Task 1:
Task 2:
Further reading

7.1 Information and Communication Technology (ICT) in the exhibition

“Time and again, new developments in technology reconfigure the relationship between man and machine, almost automatically ensuring that the technology concerned comes to play an increasingly mediating role in our day-to-day lives. Our personal impressions, experiences, activities and interpersonal contacts are mediated, not just technically but intellectually, by telephones, computers, television, cars and planes. According to Dutch philosopher Peter-Paul Verbeek, this complex interrelationship between man and technology is not a threat to our individual human freedom, but rather an opportunity to shape our freedom and human identity within that relationship. Ultimately, what is important is to steer the development of new technology, driven as it is on the one hand by the technological field itself (the engineers and inventors) and on the other by society (critical consumers).

These days, science museums and science centres are increasingly acting as knowledge brokers, promoting and facilitating enquiry-based learning and citizen science in the information society of today. We operate right at the cutting edge of these fields and are important intermediaries in the process of transformation. Together with our visitors, we seek to gauge the significance of new technologies, define our relationship to technology and shape our human identity. Technology is constantly changing and doing so at an ever-increasing pace; nevertheless, it will remain more than ever an inherent part of the human condition. (Okkersen, 2012, 1-2)

Home page with text only.

7.1. picture: Many useful documents for museum education – including multimedia applications – may be retrieved from the Resources section of the home page of GEM –  the Group for Education in Museums. (Page view from 26 June 2013.)

Computer applications are never going to replace real-world museum visits. On the contrary, a sudden encounter with the digitized collection of a museum in cyberspace may whet the appetite for a visit even among those Net generation members who are unlikely to consider such a trip. However, pedagogical methods museums employ must change and adapt to a new generation of visitors with new information-seeking and processing habits, as well as cultural preferences. Technology is following the path that practitioners in education initiated: they offer new methods and rich content to make effective use of inquiry-based activities. In museums, too, explainers, (or, to use more contemporary names for the job, “edutainers”, “infotainers”, “mediators”) and other kinds of personnel responsible for building bridges between different visitors and the museum collection will never be replaced by digital interfaces. The need for human mediation is increasing, even while a vast variety of technological devices become standard features of museum environments.

Some people speak about the “Disney-fication” of the museum, pointing at edutainment devices that entertain more than they educate. Others find that multimedia applications are a nuisance and do more harm than good. In any case, using information and communication technologies (ICT) in the museum environment is one of the most disputed and fortunately also most researched topics in museum education. Here is a list of some of the current research and development issues about the relationship of digital devices and visitors.

–        What sort of information should appear printed, and what should be made available through interactive multimedia kiosks integrated with exhibits?

–        How can people personalise their tour through tagging exhibits online?[21]

–        How can smartphones play a role in an exhibition tour, and what role does the explainer play when visitors decide to use their phone as a guide through an exhibit?

–        Can and should our digital footprint be used to profile our visit?

–        How can we use augmented reality or three-dimensional visualisation to bring objects to life?

–        How can we motivate our visitors to share their comments and criticisms of our offerings on social websites (Facebook, Twitter, Flickr, YouTube, Diigo, etc.)?

This chapter offers some ideas and successful examples on how we can use technology to complement rather than compete with human mediation in the museum.

 “Museum 3.0- what will the museum of the future be like?” is perhaps the richest portal on the internet that features museum multimedia related news.[22] It surveys new titles of literature, provides information about conferences, and described results of successful new ICT developments that may be of relevance for museum multimedia. It is also an active professional discussion site where developers may connect with more than 4000 members from more than 60 countries.

Home page with text.

7.2. picture: Museum 3.0 home page with major topics. On 26 June, 2013, the leading article informed us about one of the hottest issues of using ICT applications in museums: visitor research ethics.

Home page with the icons of menu items and text.

7.3. picture: Groups of Museum 3.0. Among the highlighted discussion communities there is a European Union initiative: europeana, which we will discuss below).

Research and development issues

Multimedia applications and installations with real objects should be harmonised to serve the purposes and not steal the show from the exhibition. The new communication culture of the 21st century may be characterised by the “Iconic Turn” – the increased use of images (“icons”) in everyday as well as scientific discourse. The abundance of visual signs and symbols are a result of an increased use of ICT devices that tend to rely on icons more and more with the appearance of the touch screen and mobile computing.

Pictures of flat screen multimedia tables and people using them.

7.4. picture: Multimedia flat screen tools  at the Museum of Communication in Berlin, Germany. The montage shows different forms of their use. Visitors benefit from films and photos downloaded by their peers standing at the same table. Some of these ad hoc groups even engage in a discussion about the content they have just opened.

Home page of astrological simulation software with menu options.

7.5. picture: A reliable site for interactive astrological information search: the Microsoft Worldwide Telescope. This application is frequently used at exhibitions and public observatories to complement visitor experience and provide dynamic, on-demand information about the stars. Visitors may browse a vast database and play simulations that imitate the movement of stellar constellations.

Large photographs projected on a wall and a leather jacket in an installation.

7.6. picture: Museum multimedia (photo stills and moving images) are used alongside real objects in the Museum of the Solidarity Movement in Gdansk, Poland.  2008. (Photo: Andrea Kárpáti)

Large film screen with images on the wall, a plaster Lenin sculpture in front.

7.7. picture: Museum multimedia (photo stills and moving images)  and copies of works of art used in an installation.  Museum of the Solidarity Movement, Gdansk, Poland.  2008. (Photo: Andrea Kárpáti)

In a dimly lit exhibition hall, museum visitors are looking at information panels.

7.8. picture: Computer-supported interactive information panels: the Alfred Nobel Museum, Oslo. The transparent Plexiglas board shows the names and biographical details of Nobel Prize winners and some photographs and contemporary newspaper articles about their achievements. (Photo: Andrea Kárpáti)

The largest project about digitization of museum collections is the Google Art Project.[23] In collaboration with about 90 of the world’s most acclaimed art museums (as of June 2013), this application enables people to view thousands of artworks online in great detail – in a way they will never be able to observe them in real life. Here are the functionalities of the software (as described by Google) that shares digitized artwork and supporting labels by curators as well as users’ commentaries.

–        Explore museums with Street View technology: virtually move around the museum’s galleries, selecting works of art that interest you navigate though interactive floor plans and learn more about the museum you are exploring.

–        Artwork View: discover featured artworks at high reapplication and use the custom viewer to zoom into paintings. Expanding the info panel allows you to read more about an artwork, find more works by that artist and watch related YouTube videos.

–        Create your own collection: this feature allows you to save specific views of any of the 1000+ artworks and build your own personalised collection. Comments can be added to each painting and the whole collection can then be shared with friends and family.

Google has agreed with partner museums that the number of galleries, artwork and information to be shared through the database is a decision that rests with the institutions. All content in the information panels was provided by the staff of participating museums. Visitors to the site may view them in the manner permitted by Google’s Terms of Service.[24] The images on the Art Project site are copyright protected because the high reapplication versions of artworks are owned by the institutions and are subject to copyright laws around the world.

Home page with small images of art works.

7.9. picture: One of the pages of the Google Art Project, showing the „My Gallery” site of the author of this chapter while browsing the National Museum of Korea collection. At this page, users may build their own sets of preferred art works. There are collections selected by experts, too, like the ones about „Historic Moments and „Cultural Figures”, shown on the left hand side of the picture.

Home page with small images of art works.

7.10. picture: „User Galleries” features collections that users of the site produced and shared.

Home page with small images of art works.

7.11. picture: The Google Art Project offers a „Compare” feature at the bottom of the pages. Selected works are featured side by side. Both can be enlarged to observe similarities and differences of brush strokes or texture, colour hues or the quality of lines. Participating museums often use this resource during their educational activities to point out the international significance of the works they hold.

Home page with small images of art works.

7.12. picture: The searchable, free and open to the public pictorial database of the British Museum features new images and texts each week. 

The museum visitors of our times are first and foremost interested in experiences. In previous chapters of our book, we have already discussed this consumer attitude of the museum visitor. Multimedia applications with „take home” and „download and adapt” features readily satisfy this demand.  Interactive, on-demand information consoles that are supported by a large database and a variety of labels for visitors with different educational backgrounds, previous experiences and interests, are likely to provide visitors with information on a level and in a format that matches their expectations better than any written museum guide or label ever could. Such applications support both the educational and the research dissemination function of the institution because it is up to visitors to decide how deeply they want to dig into the repository of knowledge provided.

Successful ICT applications in museums include hypermedia elements: they offer text, static and moving image, sound and any mixture of these. “The content of one medium is always another one.” – This remark of Marshall McLuhan about his contemporaries, the technologically minded “gadget lovers” on the eve of the information revolution, is relevant for ICT solutions in museums as well.(McLuhan, 1964, p. 52.) Hypermedia solutions are useful educational devices because they offer connections among pieces of information we might not have forged ourselves.

Home page with small images of art works.

7.13. picture: A bilingual (Hungarian and English), searchable database of Hungary’s leading collection, the Museum of Fine Arts, Budapest.

Planning multimedia applications

Good multimedia design starts with research and planning. In an exhibition budget, multimedia applications are among the most expensive items. Therefore, careful planning is of utmost importance. Steps of the planning and design process are listed below.

 Preliminary planning

–        Define which part of the exhibition requires a multimedia application. (Example: skeletons exhibited will be better understood if the reconstructed images of animals will be made available with data about their reconstruction.)

–        Identify the message to be transmitted and the content to convey this message. (Example: the synergy of zoology and archaeology with palaeontology provides more effective research methods for exploring the development of extinct species than any of these disciplines alone.)

–        Define the educational objectives and methods to be used in the design of the application! (Example: constructivist theory as an educational model is often selected because it relies on the previous experiences of the learner / visitor and invites individual exploration. In line with this model, interactive applications that go beyond information retrieval will be preferred.)

–        Organise the planning, design and programming team: involve ICT specialists, museum educators and explainers to support the curatorial group! (Example: a set of quizzes about dinosaurs is suggested to invite families to browse for information together in one of the exhibition halls. The content of the quiz is jointly defined by the group of developers to suit different age and knowledge levels, while still retaining scientific authenticity.)

–        Invite the marketing specialist to come up with a need specification for ICT solutions to market the exhibition! (Example: a freely downloadable edutainment product about the life of dinosaurs in the geographical area of the museum, including an advertisement about the exhibition and its accompanying events planned for the introductory page of the museum portal.)

–        The curator in charge of the exhibition makes final decisions about purchasing infrastructure and commissioning software development. (Example: touch screens and information consoles necessary for every hall are specified and a tender for bids for purchase is issued to obtain data for cost calculations.)

–        The director of the museum and the human resource manager oversee preliminary planning and assigns costs for infrastructure and software development. The workload of staff members and external specialists is calculated for the maintenance and support of the multimedia applications. (Example: The life span of a touch screen in a large museum with thousands of visitors a day is about two weeks. The software of an information consol should be refreshed at least once a month. Interactive applications may need a support person for visitor inquiries, and expensive equipment should be carefully guarded, possibly by extra security personnel.)

A wooden sculpture of a man, standing in front of an information panel in a museum.

7.14. picture: Irregular information panel_ the endocrinologist Vincent Goffin is personified here through a life size sculpture. The information console on his right offers a list of themes he can „speak” about: his childhood, his studies, his career as a scientist and his major inventions. A pushbutton activates the messages he recorded for the exhibition. Heureka Science Centre, Helsinki, 2011. (Photo: Andrea Kárpáti)

Technical planning

–        Specify hardware and software requirements! (Example: review of existing equipment and listing of new devices and supplementary parts for old ones needed.)

–        Develop installations that allow continuous access to multimedia applications in need of maintenance and repair during the exhibition! (Example: a stand that supports an information screen should be easy to open in order to access cables inside.)

–        Ensure adaptability and expandability of the ICT equipment! (Example: in case an interactive edutainment product is much more popular than others, more computers have to be installed to avoid queuing.)

–        Commission maintenance and support! (Example: specify which staff members – e. g. technicians, guards – will be responsible for the equipment of each hall. If necessary, contract external personnel.)

–        Decide about software development: are new applications necessary, or can previously utilised solutions be adapted and re-used? (Example: in a previous exhibition, a puzzle game was very popular with small children. The pictures used for the puzzle can easily be replaced by images from the new exhibition.)

–        Decide which multimedia solutions need constant support and safeguarding. (Example: a new application involving holograms is extremely expensive – a guard should be placed near it to oversee it constantly. A simulation environment may be difficult to use for smaller children – a volunteer should be stationed close to the application at weekends.)

–        Test if applications offered by IT specialists are user friendly! (Example: invite volunteers of different age groups to test the applications before they are accepted and installed in the exhibition.)

Living room with small numbers and text attached to pieces of furniture.

7.15. picture: A mixture of digital and real objects in an installation: a crime scene after the police has started working. At the Heureka Science Centre in Helsinki, Finland, this part of the exhibition about forensic science shows how evidence is collected. 2011. (Photo: Andrea Kárpáti)

Bullet, measuring device and labels with text and numbers.

7.16. picture: The bullet on the floor shows from where the murderer fired the deadly shot. The label instructs visitors to visit the (simulated) ballistic lab in the next installation to see how data are processed by the forensic experts of the police. Heureka Science Centre, Helsinki, 2011. (Photo: Andrea Kárpáti)

Multimedia content

–        Invite the museum educator/explainer team to define target groups and adapt the text of the information panels of the exhibition for multimedia applications that suit these groups. (Example: test the application through reading the text out loud and measuring the time required for this. Identify concepts that may need explanation and ask for an on-line lexicon application to be included i the software if necessary.)

–        Ask multimedia developers to review the content provided and require alterations that better suit the applications. (Example: curators are likely to overload the text with scientific data. Multimedia developers should have a final say in how much text and how many illustrations get on one info screen.)

–        Ask the marketing staff to supply new and exciting news about the exhibition to feed social media applications developed for the show! (Example: the Facebook page of the exhibition may take up longer pieces of news while Twitter needs short information about upcoming events.)

Information kiosk in a museum of natural history.

7.17. picture: A good example of the placement of touch screens: large gathering space with comfortable tables for the screens in the centre (Photo: Andrea Kárpáti)

Text panels and television screens on an exhibition wall.

7.18. picture: Multitasking is a natural way of information retrieval for the generation that grew up with the use of multimedia. Today in their thirties, the Net Generation and their children (called Generation X and Y) welcome information kiosks that enable them to see multiple screens and compare content in the way they normally do. The design of the panels, built in a wooden installation, is clear and the positioning of the top row of the screens makes them easy to view even for small children. (Photo: Andrea Kárpáti)


–        Estimate the costs of maintenance and support of the exhibition and see if they are manageable. If not: reduce the number and/or complexity of the applications! (Example: if you have no maintenance team constantly available, ask for more robust applications that require biweekly or monthly maintenance only!)

–        Define staff tasks about the maintenance and support of multimedia installed at the exhibition in exact detail. (Example: who is going to do the monthly refreshment of the software of the information kiosk in Hall 3?)

–        Assign supervision and evaluation tasks! (Example: who is in charge of the proper functioning and adaptation / alteration of all the media applications on Level 2?)

–        Ask the curatorial team to monitor visitor use statisticsand reports of the educational personnel to define if changes in the content of multimedia are necessary. (Example: about twenty visitors ask the guard each day about a description included in one of the interactive multimedia because they do not understand the scientific terms in the text. and therefore they cannot solve the quiz.)

–        Define who is in charge of servicing the equipment and assign costs for their disposal for immediate action if a computer breaks down. (Example: if a touch screen in a major exhibition area is blank for weeks, returning visitors will perceive it as lack of attention to their needs and complain.)

Exhibition in a metal container that resembles the interior of a spaceship.

7.19. picture: An exhibition area equipped with a variety of multimedia applications designed to suit the theme of the exhibition about the history of vehicles at the Museum of Natural History in Oslo, Norway. 2008. (Photo: Andrea Kárpáti)

A target board and a music conductor standing near it.

7.20. picture: An innovative application to show wave length and pitch. When you imitate the sound produced by the conductor, the pitch of your voice appears on the board for you to see if you could sing the tone correctly. 2012.  Haus der Natur, Salzburg (Photo: Andrea Kárpáti)

A target board and a music conductor standing near it.

7.21. picture: After you have imitated the sound, the screen shows your result. 2012. Haus der Natur, Salzburg (Photo: Andrea Kárpáti)

You will find web portals with information to support your planning process below. The images of the pages of the portals may also be used for the study of web page design that is functional, visually pleasing and reflects the corporate identity of the association, community or institution that they serve.

Large pictures in kiosks placed side by side. Children use information screens in each of them.

7.22. picture: Traditional and digital information panels in a small museum. The major attraction is the skeleton of a young dinosaur found in the area. All multimedia content focuses on it. 2009.  Burpee Museum, Rockford, Illinois. (Photo: Andrea Kárpáti)

Multimedia applications at an exhibition may support both active and passive knowledge acquisition. According to the active information processing model, text and images are provided for selection, testing and eventual download to a variety of digital equipment including smartphones, tablets and PC-s. If the resource supports passive dissemination only, the visitor is faced with a linear stream of information he or she may browse but not possess.

With the popularity of iPads increasing, the active mode is gaining importance. However, several forms of passive consumption of information have remained popular and authentic. Examples: film shows related to the topic of the exhibition, documentaries projected on the walls of exhibition halls, holograms that bring life to installations with period furniture or video screens placed near an object to show how it was used and indicate that it was a useful device not just an old piece of woodcarving.

On the Museum 3.0 home page described before, we can find appropriate applications for each purpose:

–        Heritage in Motion Prize, founded by the Europa Nostra Agency;

–        European Museum Academy Prize;

–         MUSE Museum Multimedia Prize , ;

–        Children’s Museum Prize.

Musical instruments in front of the door of a kiosk.

7.23. picture: After having seen handwritten notes of the great master and musical instruments used by him and his contemporaries, a music booth invites visitors to top the experience. “Feel Mozart!” exhibition – memorial exhibition at the Mozart House in Salzburg, Austria. 2012. (Photo: Andrea Kárpáti)

Large armchairs with red plush carpeting and earphones.

7.24. picture: Interior of the music kiosk. You can actually „Feel Mozart” in the niche provided at the memorial exhibition in the Mozart House in Salzburg, Austria. 2012. (Photo: Andrea Kárpáti)

Digital, handheld exhibition guides

Before listing traditional audio guide applications available in most museums since the 1970s, let us highlight an unusual, creative approach. Normally, a visitor picks up an audio guide and goes through the exhibition using it. However, this application is held by the human guide who uses his or her “colleague” to enrich the interpretive talk and answer the questions of visitors.

A new software K-Jing was borne out of Museolab. The name is a reference to D-Jing (a music mixing program) and V-Jing (a video mixer) where the K stands for knowledge (as in knowledge mixer). In practical terms, K-Jing is a client-server application, which uses the internet and portable tablet computers such as the iPad. Before using K-Jing with the public, explainers select media (pictures, videos) and organise them in different libraries. Once chosen media are available on the server, an explainer can use them as they choose while walking through an exhibition, talking to a group, or conversing with only one or two visitors. So far, it’s possible to integrate this multimedia enhancement with up to six different screens in an exhibition. We’ve tested K-Jing for months in our new exhibition about art, informatics and science. Our explainers’ feedback about K-Jing has been positive, even if some of them don't yet feel comfortable with an iPad in their hands while facing the public.”[25]

A hand holding an iPad in front of a museum showcase. The screen of the iPad shows the objects in the case, with explanations.

7.25. picture: An advertisement for a museum application designed for iPads.

Hands holding iPads in front of cars also projected on their screen with data.

7.26. picture: Testing of mobile visual guides at the Merzedes Benz Museum in Stuttgart, Germany. 8 May, 2010.

An audio guide can have many functions. As with the one described above, it can furnish explainers and visitors with new knowledge necessary for having a deeper understanding of an exhibition. It can satisfy simpler needs, too, such as helping us to find our way around or pronouncing the names of masters of works of art from distant lands. Its major benefit is flexibility: it can be stopped and restarted at the touch of a button, and information offered by the museum can be taken in or skipped at wish.

For museum staff, its most convenient feature is the ease of adaptation and modification. If it turns out that most visitors find it difficult or boring to listen to long explanations, recorded content can be easily adapted, even if it contains images as well as sound. Good examples of the use of audio guides in conjunction with other visitor support functions are: Boston, Museum of Fine Arts, digital museum guides and Interactive tours.

Visitor in front of a museum showcase with mobile phone in hand.

7.27. picture: Opponents of the use of smartphones emphasize that this gadget keeps friends and family members apart from each-other because it isolates the visitor from others while seeking information individually. Moreover, exciting information shown on the screen may distract attention from the works of art exhibited, drawing attention to virtual reality instead. (Photo: Andrea Kárpáti)

Most of the audio, video or multimedia guide applications are designed to serve visitors with a variety of educational backgrounds, experiences and needs. When the program is started, visitors can choose from several program options (“For experts”, “For tourists”, “For children”) and switch over if their first choice yields unsatisfactory explanations. Examples: a guide accessible online for free download helps tourists to find monuments and services all around Hungary (Guide at hand, developed by the Institute for Computer Science and Control of the Hungarian Academy of Sciences); and the audio guides for visitors with special needs by InSitu Solutions.

Here are some unusual features and functions handheld guides may have:

–        Location-specific content delivery: visitors are offered information according to their location in the gallery.

–        Visitor tracking: a sensor tracks visitors' locations in the galleries. This system may also alert staff if a device fails or the visitor otherwise appears to be in need of technical assistance.

–        Interactive survey and response: the system asks and records visitors' opinions about a work of art just viewed;

–        Creative play: visitors can use a digital drawing device or mix their own soundtracks from melodies offered by the video guide to accompany their viewing of a work of art;

–        Visitor paging: staff may send visitors alerts about things they are just looking at (or about to pass by in haste), or send out pre-programmed, timed alerts about the start of a video screening or guided tour.

–        Visitor email facility: visitors are able to email themselves information about objects they want to be able to access at home.

Digital guides are increasingly available as downloads for mobile phones. Pétursdóttir (2005) considers this device an excellent educational resource, as it stores downloaded information for later retrieval and reuse. At the annual Archive of Museum Informatics (ARCHIMUSE) conferences current applications and their use can be discussed, along with other issues about employing multimedia in museums.

Home page with text and images of people with special needs.

7.28. picture: At the Museum of Modern Art, New York special facilities are offered not only for people with visual or auditory impairments, but also for those with learning problems, wheelchair users in need of special devices to access some halls and senior citizens suffering from dementia or Alzheimer’s disease.

At the Museum of Modern Art (MOMA) in New York, the MOMA – Access Program offers:

–        “Tactile Tours” that the visually impaired and persons accompanying them can download. They provide a detailed explanation of sights during a tour specially designed for them, offering objects for touching;

–         “MoMA Audio”: guided tours on one handheld device for four different visitor groups;

–        Special guides that explain how to find services for individuals with different disabilities; wheelchairs for the elderly; large elevators to the upper floors; accessible toilets, etc.

–        Special signs at the exhibition for persons accompanying the visually impaired to stop and invite them to read the labels in Braille or in giant script;

–        Video conference facilities for loan: totally immobile, spastic patients may join gallery tours from their bed, using laptop computers with videoconference software installed. In this way, they can not only view the exhibition and hear the guide, but also hear other visitors’ reactions and ask questions.

Multimedia applications in exhibitions

Many museums produce a multimedia „teaser” – a virtual tour around their halls to invite users to consider a real world visit. These tours are valuable educational resources for teachers who use them during the preparation for an excursion a visit to the museum. Students volunteering to give an introduction to their peers about the exhibitions to be seen will find such virtual “sneak peeks” very exciting and share them with their classmates through social media.

Rounded walls of an exhibition hall with large reliefs.

7.29. picture: „Virtual Louvre”: virtual representation of a real space in the Louvre, Paris, France. Visitors may explore the space and the art works before actually entering the hall.

A museum exhibits objects of value and of interest – anything else to be seen in a display is only intended to support the appreciation of these unique (master)pieces. This axiom is no longer valid for museums of natural history and their high-tech little sisters, the science centres. Here, technological innovations and research results may not always be presented in actual reality – partly because their core constituents are invisible (cf. nanotechnology) and partly because the most important concepts cannot be understood without interaction. Therefore, simulations constitute an important part of museum multimedia. They fall between the real objects and information devices because they do much more than provide information: they invite you to experience a process and through this share the “eureka experience” of scientists and engineers.

An example: Stan, the “patient teacher”, a computerized Human Patient Simulator that is able to simulate a heart or asthma attack and many other real medical conditions. Stan can breathe, blink and even speak. He has a heartbeat and his blood pressure can be measured by standard devices. This medical training equipment is normally used in hospitals, nursing and medical training institutions, and enables safe practice of professional interventions for future doctors and nurses. At the exhibition You – The Experience at the Museum of Science and Industry in Chicago in 2009, he waited for visitors to play the role of a doctor examining a patient, diagnosing an illness through observation and hands-on trials of medical techniques.

Visitors and explainers around the dummy of a man lying on an operating table.

7.30. picture: Stan, the „patient teacher” provides information about his symptoms to visitors through a variety of multimedia technologies at „YOU – the Experience”, a temporary exhibition at the Museum of Science and Industry in Chicago in 2009. (Photo: Andrea Kárpáti)

Outlines of a hand with a radiating patch of light at the palm.

7.31. picture: Examining blood flowing through the veins – a multimedia experimentation site at „YOU – the Experience”, a temporary exhibition at the Museum of Science and Industry in Chicago in 2009. (Photo: Andrea Kárpáti)

Senior citizen sitting in the model of a car with a screen in front, projecting a road.

7.32. picture: This simulation helps us understand how we react to unusual driving circumstances on the road. 2010. Heureka Science Centre, Helsinki. (Photo: Andrea Kárpáti)

Senior citizen sitting in the model of a car with a screen in front, showing the results of his driving performance. A young boy is standing nearby.

7.33. picture: Grandfather and grandson are discussing the results of the driving performance of the grandfather. It is an „educational moment” that can be used for sharing information about safe behaviour as a pedestrian, too. 2010.  Heureka Science Centre, Helsinki. (Photo: Andrea Kárpáti)

Theatrical performances and film shows are standard features with both science and art exhibitions. Films are also projected in the halls as timed or continuous presentations. Cooke (2007) urges the use of educational and documentary films as supplements for tours because smartphones and iPads are able to project them in high quality. Anderson (2012), however, calls attention to the dangers of replacing authentic museum experiences with virtual substitutes.

Bishop (2007) encourages us to use 3D films and 4D displays that integrate film, live music and theatrical performance, involving animals if it is staged in a museum of natural history. These events make use of a wide variety of multimedia applications for stage props or sound and light effects – though very many museum experts doubt their applicability in a scholarly institution. In fact, the borderline separating entertainment from edutainment is quite narrow. Experiments with the integration of show business technology in exhibition design are risky, but certainly worth the effort.

At the Museum of Modern Art (MOMA) in New York, many artworks are featured in documentary films that can be seen in the “Explore” section of the museum’s portal. In the Multimedia section, interviews with curators, interesting background information about major works and exhibition previews are available.

Video film projection screen with the film running and an information consol in front of it with the date 1901-1910 and an old newspaper shown on it.

7.34. picture: When entering the Nobel Museum in Oslo, Norway, visitors are led by a line of multimedia information panels showing the life and work of Nobel Prize laureates towards the centre of the hall where a continuous projection of documentary films enhance the experience.

The major ingredient of a successful multimedia application is the image, not the text. An info kiosk cannot be considered yet another panel to disseminate long texts of information about the exhibition. The ideal text size is 200 lines per screen, and, if there is film projection, two lines of information about the film. All the phrases that are not commonly known must be explained through a link to an online lexicon integrated in the software. (The knowledge level to target is that of the junior secondary school graduate – an average 14-year-old should be able to understand every word there is to be found on exhibition diagrams and labels. This requirement, however, is in sharp contradiction with the desire of every curator – to impress experts.)

Poster representing a group of children, some of them with special needs.

7.35. picture: Home page for visitors with special needs at the portal of the British Museum.

Home page with a photograph of children in wheelchairs and their parents.

7.36. picture: The National Media Museum in Bradford, West Yorkshire, UK, has a well-designed and informative home page for visitors with special needs. (Accessed on 26 June 2013).

If we intend to include long text in our multimedia information device, there should be a „read aloud” option and earphones to benefit from it. The agreeable voice of an actor can make even the driest scientific facts more digestible.)[26] Both text and sound should be made accessible for the visually or auditory impaired through magnifying and voice level increasing options. All video films included in a multimedia should have captions, preferably in English as well as the majority language of the country.

Small pictograms that symbolise attractions to be seen in London.

7.37. picture: Widgit symbols Museum of Transport in London, UK. The wide variety of resources intended to make visiting the museum easier and more enjoyable for visitors with special needs can be downloaded from the museum website so that visitors and accompanying persons can prepare for the tour. (More information about the Widgit symbol system.)

According to evaluators of multimedia applications, personalised information is more useful and enjoyable than even the most exciting facts and figures without personal relevance. (Piacente, 2001) An example: in the local museum of a town in Illinois, USA, there is a multimedia screen complete with movement sensor that activates an information system once you enter the hall presenting the history of agriculture in the area. The system has a face: a life-size farmer boy, who appears on the wall and asks you if you are interested in a list of topics he can tell you about and invites you to indicate your choice on the pushbutton console attached to the wall near him. If you don’t feel like hearing him talk, you do nothing and after a minute he politely says goodbye, wishes you a pleasant visit and disappears from the wall. If you choose a topic, you can hear him explain in the cheerful dialect of the region, how corn, for example, was grown in the area. The life-size animation is an excellent example of the dissemination of personalised information and is, of course, very popular among visitors, as are some others summarised and presented below.

At the Mozart Museum in Salzburg family members of the great composer tell us about his life. In Springfield (Illinois, USA) at the Abraham Lincoln Presidential Library and Museum we can witness how the great man spent his days in his office and at home. An actor-narrator is surrounded by holographic images that help us experience decisive moments of the War of Independence and the anti-slavery movement.

Home page about Lincoln using his famous hat as a logo.

7.38. picture: An example of the use of a personal object symbolising a well-known public figure as a unifying feature for all the products and publications about an exhibition: the top hat of Lincoln at the Abraham Lincoln Presidential Library and Museum Springfield, Illinois, USA.

Life size wax figures of the Lincoln family in the visitor reception area of the museum.

7.39. picture: At the entrance, visitors are greeted by life size figures of the First Family. Proceeding further, all installations are personalised, using a wide variety of classic and contemporary means from dioramas to holograms and audio screens.  Abraham Lincoln Presidential Library and Museum, Springfield, Ill., USA. (Photo: Andrea Kárpáti, 2009.)

The president as hologram and an actor in the living room of Lincoln in his museum.

7.40. picture: Virtual presentations complement traditional theatre performances at the Abraham Lincoln Presidential Library and Museum, Springfield, Illinois, USA. (Photo: Andrea Kárpáti, 2009.)

Hologram figure and actor in a living room.

7.41. picture: An innovative use of holography – the actor and the hologram images interact in some of the scenes representing decisive phases in the president’s life. Abraham Lincoln Presidential Library and Museum, Springfield, Illinois, USA. (Photo: Andrea Kárpáti, 2009.)

–        Multimedia applications not only serve visitors, they also provide important feedback about visitor behaviour for the organisers of an exhibition and offer communication options during and after a visit. Some examples:

–        Information about images and documents visitors choose to send home are documented by the interactive information panels;

–        Emails are collected from those who want to benefit from the “send home” function. Thus, messaging to visitors about future exhibitions and events is possible;

–        Through quizzes and questionnaires, the knowledge and experiences visitors bring to the exhibition is monitored;

–        Portable digital guides are able to track and document (after prior notice) visitor routes through the display and provide data about places where they stop, the amount of time they spend in each part of the exhibition and the amount of information they are willing to listen to.

Large photograph of a colourful bird at the entrance of a museum corridor with further photos and television screens on the wall.

7.42. picture: At the entrance of a museum of natural history, beautiful examples of nature photography and documentary films encourage visits to the exhibitions. 2011. (Photo: Andrea Kárpáti)

Screens on top of each other play different films.

7.43. picture: The Musée de Design in Paris introduces its collections through documentaries about the most important works of art shown in the displays. 2010. (Photo: Andrea Kárpáti)

When developing a digital information kiosk or panel, the following rules should be observed:

–        Visitors should be able to find the information they are looking for quickly and without getting lost; the menu should be well structured, with return options to the main screen on each page;

–        The text should not be longer than 200 words per screen;

–        There should be at least one image (photograph, diagram, film clip or animation) on each page;

–        Most of the text should also be made available as audio to assist visitors with poor eyesight or reading ability;

–        For the same reason, furnish each page with a magnifying option;

–        A moving image (film or animation) is always more effective than a still image;

–        The basic text should be comprehensible for lower secondary school graduates (who have spent approximately eight years at school.) Additional information should be made available as an option through hyperlinks leading to more text, a lexicon or a museum database.

Shells and a screen showing a linear drawing of one of them.

7.44. picture: Information about objects may be effectively presented through an animation. The image shows the structure of one of the shells. 2007. (Photo: Andrea Kárpáti)

Linear drawing of the shell of a snail.

7.45. picture: The structure of a snail shell is shown through an animation. The result: a beautiful sight that also teaches a lot about the animal.  2007.(Photo: Andrea Kárpáti)

The two images above have an aesthetic appeal and draw attention to the possibility of using multimedia applications as exhibition objects, not just information devices. Examples of multimedia applications used as objects (of art) at exhibitions:

–        Touch screen table,  Museum for Communication, Berlin, Germany

–        Diaporama,[27] Heineken Museum, Amsterdam, The Netherlands

–        Microsoft Worldwide Telescope and Universe Simulation

Multimedia may be used as an edutainment device. Digital games, played alone, in pairs or groups, and much preferred by (mostly male) teenagers, may be furnished with content related to the exhibition and thus disseminate knowledge while entertaining young visitors.

A more intricate game needs a long playing time, therefore, many museums sell the DVD version of the games (or share them as a free service on their website) to ensure that players keep on learning about the theme of the display long after having left the exhibition.

Flat screen showing streets and traffic signs.

7.46. picture: Digital version of a board game at the Heureka Science Centre, Helsinki, Finland, 2010. (Photo: Andrea Kárpáti)

Young girl in front of a halo of neon beams. Another girl is facing her.

7.47. picture: Creation of a mobile digital artwork. The girl standing in front of her friend with halo-like neon rays around her is moving her hands to change the colour of the lights that are connected to a movement sensor and a computer.  „YOU – The Experience” exhibition, Museum of Science and Industry, Chicago, USA. 2009. (Photo: Andrea Kárpáti)

Digital entrance tickets

Bar codes printed on the entrance tickets of museums can be used as identification tags for data collection devices integrated in information kiosks and edutainment products. If a visitor scans the ticket at the reading device, his or her activities may be monitored (and used for improving the exhibition facilities) by the museum staff. Visitors using the “Send an email with picture!” facility (a very popular service) or a more generous offer by the museum to store several pictures and documents on a personal section of the museum’s server for a while, identify themselves through their ticket. With interactive game consoles and quizzes, the bar code helps visitors obtain a personal record of their achievement.

Information submitted and attached to the bar code is entirely voluntary – visitors are welcome to use a nickname and may deny submitting a valid email address. Still, if they trust their museum and want to stay in touch, they furnish the institution with valuable data about visitor interests, previous knowledge and activities at the exhibition. For visitors, identification has its benefits: they may accumulate a wealth of personally relevant information as an exhibition souvenir, obtain an assessment about their knowledge and skills and receive first-hand information about programmes and future events that are likely to interest them. Therefore, a digital entrance ticket helps them enter into deeper contact with the museum – a connection that has the potential to enrich their life.

[21] Tagging means attaching descriptive labels to a thing or concept. In most cases, these labels are provided by the software application that stores and presents the tags of its users.

[22] Other networks that provide a space for dialogue between developers: Museum Computer Network, Web Museum Network, ECSITE – European Network of Science Centres and Museums.

[23] This film shows how the Google Art Project works in museums: How was it made? Here is an overview about the use of the software application in museums.

[24] Visitor information, methods and terms of use of the Google Art project on YouTube.

[25] The application was developed by the staff of Centre de Culture Scientifique Technique et Industrielle, CCSTI, and piloted at their exhibition, “XYZT: Abstract Landscape

[26] The author of this chapter first experienced this at the Tut Show in San Francisco in the 1970s, when the beautiful baritone voice of Richard Burton whispered the story of Tutankhamen, the young pharaoh, and his magnificent burial treasures into her ears through an audio guide at the Museum of Art.

[27] The diaporama is a large, divided screen with multiple slide projections. The individual slide sequences are synchronised to contrast with, or complement each other and create an artistic effect. Music often accompanies such displays.