APPiness Comes to Those Who Wait

Through our pursuit of ultimate app-iness, we found some common themes:

First, (even though this seems a little silly to have to say) the app needs to WORK. Visitors have to be able to download it, access its content in a timely manner, and follow through on the advertised features.

Next, we need to know it’s available. It is not necessarily assumed yet that every museum has an app, so the institution needs to make sure they are getting the word out there. Along that same point, it is important that the advertising matches the content of the app. It was no problem that the National Mall app did not create anything new and flashy because it never claimed that it would. However, it was pretty frustrating that Natural History’s did not follow through on creating a Neanderthal image.

Finally, there needs to be a point to the app. Apps are trendy but not always substantive. When our mentors came to our seminar a few weeks ago, Elissa Frankle (Social Media Strategst at USHMM) made a point to say that the Holocaust Museum didn’t want an app for the sake of having an app. It needed to add to the museum experience and it was only after careful consideration and research that they created an app. And as we can see from Madeline’s overall 4 rating, it succeeds!

As a whole, it was definitely interesting to take a close look into these apps from a consumer perspective. While our rating rubric was not grounded in “authoritative” research, we based it on exactly what we, as informed and dedicated museum visitors, look for in an app. We might be slightly more biased than a typical tourist, but hopefully our comprehensive look into these five apps provides a good foundation for what kind of apps are already out there, and what features are truly standing out.

Keep pursuing!


The Pursuit of APPiness: National Zoo

   The National Zoo’s app is by far the most comprehensive museum app I’ve ever encountered. It has EVERYTHING I ever thought I wanted in a museum app, and several things I didn’t know I wanted until I saw them! There are far too many features for me to go through them all, but I’ll provide some of the highlights here. I highly encourage anyone interested in visiting the zoo – virtually or in-person – to download this amazing app!

The app is beautifully designed with large, easy-to-read text, colorful backgrounds, and intuitive navigation features. Since the majority of zoo exhibits are outdoors, internet speed does not tend to be an issue. Some of the app’s features, such as live-stream animal cams and “Zooify Yourself” (discussed later) could potentially use a lot of data and/or battery power, so I would encourage users (and parents of little users) to bear this in mind. The app did crash twice while I was using it, but it re-opened quickly and this didn’t pose too much of a problem for me.


The app includes all important zoo information, including daily schedules, parking information, public transportation information and an interactive zoo map. The “Today at the Zoo” section includes the schedule for feedings, viewings, and zookeeper chats, and links each event to its location on the map.

IMG_0569                 IMG_0572

The interactive zoo map and the tour routes are perhaps the most useful in-zoo features. The map itself leaves something to be desired (not all animals are pictured and none are named in the main view of the map), however it is very helpful in finding amenities such as food, restrooms, and gift shops. There are four tours provided with the app: a highlights tour, upper and lower zoo tours, and “new to the zoo.” Each tour has a short description with an approximate length- they range from 1-2.5 hours. The best feature on the tours menu in “Create a Tour,” in which visitors can view a list of all zoo animals and select those they’d like to see. The app then uses these inputs to create a customized tour for the visitor! I absolutely love this feature, as it can help each individual visitor get the most out of his or her visit. It’s also great for families to plan their route through the zoo in order to hit everyone’s favorite animals!


The app is also extremely useful for distance users as it has many features that do not require users to actually visit the zoo. It definitely takes advantage of all the hype over Bao Bao, the newest addition to their Panda family. Bao Bao has an entire menu to herself, with items such as press, photo gallery, and a live-stream of the extremely popular panda cam!

All animals at the zoo have their own page featuring a description of the species as well as information about conservation efforts. Many of these pages also include audio of animal sounds. Although these descriptions do not include a high level of detail, they are a good starting place for all levels of learners. However, I think the app could be improved by providing links to websites where users who want to know more about a particular kind of animal could find more detailed information. Perhaps the app could even point users in the direction of books sold in the zoo’s gift shops!

Perhaps my favorite feature of this app is “Zooify Yourself.” This feature is purely for fun and doesn’t include any educational content, but what I love about it is the personalized, memory-making activity it provides. With “Zooify Yourself,” users can take a photo of themselves using their device’s built-in camera and add features of different zoo animals over the photo (see my example below). Although the user isn’t necessarily learning anything about zoo animals or conservation from this feature, it really is quite fun and provides a unique virtual artifact for zoo local visitors and distance learners alike!IMG_0571

All in all, the National Zoo app is an excellent example of what museums can and, in my opinion, should be doing with mobile digital technology. This app runs the gamut of functions- it has everything from important planning and travel information to a silly, boredom-busting game to play on the way home, during a lunch break at the zoo, or at home!

Visiting a museum and not understanding anything around you

by Lior Diklshpan

As the child of a father who worked for an airline company, I was lucky to travel to many different countries around the world—we did not pay for our flights or our hotels (don’t hate the player, hate the game.) My mother always believed in learning by going to museums and much more. The problem was that I was never able to relate to the many amazing things I saw, since I could not understand most of it. I could not read the labels, I could not understand the tour guides, and as much as my parents try to translate everything, they could not really keep up. I was left only understanding half of the things I saw.


Some museums were perfect for a child like myself—children’s museums, or any exhibition where I was able to touch, walk around, explore, move things around, meet museum professionals who played games with me—and other kids—in short, everything that was different from just walking around.

I remember one case where my sister and I took part in a show about electricity. I was six years old and my sister was fourteen, and so both of us did not really have the skills to understand or speak English. I can honestly say I had no clue what the guy who brought us to the stage was saying, but nevertheless I understood everything related to static electricity. The museum professional did not give up on either my sister or me, and used every possible means to make sure we understood, including acting, moving us around physically, and repeating the different experiments.

That was fun, and someplace hidden in my parents’ house 10,000 miles away from here there is a picture of my sister and I with our hair up in the air (yes, once upon a time I had long hair on my head.)

Today when I can actually understand, read, and engage with the people around me, I find museums a great place to visit, learn, and spend time with friends (especially in the wintertime.) I think that language is a problem museums will always have, BUT, with upcoming technology I don’t think it will be long till we will walk around museums with our cell phones, which will translate everything for us on the move with different apps.

In conclusion, we see museums working to deepen relationships with recent immigrants, English Language learners and international visitors in several ways.

How is the museum community interacting with this group?

Museums are attempting to be accessible, by providing brochures in several languages. Several museums are providing exhibit labels in other languages. While the effectiveness of both brochures and multi-language labels deserve further evaluation and research, there are some language options presented to visitors.

While examples of advertised programming towards new immigrants and English Language Learners are scarce, the J. Paul Getty Museum has a school-based curriculum for both beginning and advanced ESL students. We feel that many existing programs can be adjusted for ELL/ESOL students with input from teachers and other professionals. As our local communities continue to grow, it might be in the museum’s best interest to look in this direction.

What is the most effective way to encourage growth and comfort in their new setting?


What can museums do to foster a sense of community for recent immigrants?

Based on our research, we feel that museums and cultural institutions need to acknowledge both the prior experience and heritage of the visitor. Museums should recognize the diversity of backgrounds in their visitor populations. So far, exhibits focusing on immigration or other cultures seem to be the most common effort by museum professionals.

In terms of museum education, establishing common ground and a sense of inclusion would be crucial in programming. By looking at community partnerships, museums could look into pairing up with adult literacy organizations and plan events. Museums can also work to incorporate new programming and materials into existing exhibits that deal with multiculturalism, immigration, and other related topics. Resources like CALTA21 and Australia’s Museum Victoria’s People Like Me initiative can provide a wealth of background knowledge that can be adapted to museums across the country! Museums can provide a safe space to promote understanding, foster a sense of community and encourage self-expression with this diverse audience.



Bridging the gap between content and language

by Elyse Warren

In a world that is becoming ever more globalized, museums are grappling with how to bridge the gap between language and accessibility of their content. Whether it be labels or brochures about the objects, museums as a general collective are trying to adapt their approach to producing content to better meet the needs of new immigrants and English language learners.

Based on this, the J Paul Getty Museum produced a study on the role and effectiveness of their brochures for Spanish speaking audiences in 2008. In their evaluation, they found that the audience took only 10,350 brochures in Spanish compared to that of 30,712 in English. The researchers discovered that the Spanish speaking audience preferred to utilize the labels of the objects for information rather than the brochure. Interviews conducted in this study revealed as well that the Spanish speaking audiences would like to see the museum embrace the use of bilingual content throughout the exhibits in addition to the brochures. In response, the museum adopted a new policy on second-language didactics that would allow for the translation of the most integral details on labels and would note which languages need to be incorporated for each individual exhibit.

The study reveals the need for not only translations of content in one format, but in multiple forms and individualized for the audiences of each exhibit. The Bilingual Exhibits Research Initiative sponsored by the NSF Pathways project also sheds light on the need to increase accessibility for ESL and new immigrants. This specific project looked at accessibility for Latinos in science museums. In their evaluation, they found that museums that had bilingual content on labels or brochures for Spanish speaking audiences did not know how they interacted with the material or how to measure the effectiveness of their outcomes.

Both studies reveal the challenge that museums face in adapting their content and measuring the effectiveness of it for new immigrants or ESL audiences. The investment of time and money needs to be dedicated by museums to conduct more of these evaluations and see what solutions are best to implement. In doing so, museums can create a better space of inclusion and accessibility for these audiences to learn and enjoy the content.

Risk vs. Reward: Community Engagement

Community Engagement can be exciting, challenging and rewarding.  It can also be a “hassle,”  another entire job on top of your current one, and the rewards don’t always equal the work one has put in.  Why do we as museums and educators continue to initiate these programs with all of the negative aspects that are attached to them?  Why do we work so hard to sustain them regardless of the negative aspects?  Can we see quantitative results?  In the following blog post we will take each community activity or group mentioned in our previous blog posts and talk about why the effort is worth it.

STEM programs for women/girls, (esp. the under priviledged/marginalized):

This is not an endeavor that can be taken on by one institution.  Collaboration is the key between museums and schools and between other museums.  While nearly 63 million visits are made to science centers and museums(not to mention zoos, aquariums and planetariums) every year, continuation of teacher professional development needs to be stressed and supported(US News and World Report By Ioannis MiaoulisDec. 7, 2011).   Teachers in under-represented areas are taking advantage of resources outside the classroom for their students, as they recognize their classroom resources are insufficient.  The partnership is in place is working.  44% of the schools using informal science institution programs come from underserved communities.

In addition, informal science programs because of space and resources can serve many students at one time, and are generally are under-enrolled.  53% of programs could handle more students, with only 24% having to turn people away.  So this means the students are there, the programs are there and continual advocacy, possible financial support, or other logistic support is needed to make the connections.  (

Looking into the future, support for working mom scientists is key.  According to the article, “Moms and Scientists” by Molly Michelson at the California Academy of Science seven women won the MacArthur Genius award in STEM fields in 2013.  For one single mother who also happens to be a scientist, she used part of the $625,000 to pay the bills.  Even though the money is unrestricted, this caused ripples in the scientific community.  This idea of “scientist first, mom second” is pervasive according to the scientists who are moms that were interviewed.  They blame it on the male dominance of the field.  They also mentioned a drop in productivity especially in research time, fieldwork, and paper writing.  The women agree though, that flexibility in the workplace is important, and acknowledgement of the difficulty in the form of legislation is what will create a better work environment.  At the time of the article, a new bill passed by the San Francisco board of supervisors giving employees the right to ask for a more flexible schedule if they are taking care of a family member.

We as museum educators need to promote lifelong learning now that STEM programs are flourishing.  We also need to support programs and legislation that reinforce positive change throughout the community that are not just centered around the institutions or schools.  As seen with the passing of the bill, while more women would be affected, we all benefit from healthier lives and more creative scientific thought.

Teens take selfies at a California Academy of Science event.

Junior Historians:

While the Junior Historians might not have a lot of empirical data but they are learning skills and making friendships that will last. The creatorof this program was a teen volunteer herself and it shows that these experience can help spark life-long interest in museums. One of the junior historians also talked about her experience and what skills she had learned being a part of this program. She talked about the researching work she was doing like being a detective. She also expressed a love of lifelong learning, when talking about glowing tones about learning something new every time she does research. The full stories behind these can be found at and


Installing the Dining Room label. They also added the sandwiches on the table. Photo by Drew Timmons.   


Philadelphia Public History Truck:

Why would compiling oral community histories be worth it? Why would sharing ownership and authority be worth it? Why would creating and sustaining partnerships be worth it? Why would acknowledging authority and empowering neighbors be worth it? Hope you all got a sense of snarky retort in those rhetorical questions! Grants awards, public responses, and intentionality and purpose tell us why projects such as the Philadelphia Public History Truck are worth it.

I started the above list with Grants, because there are those that demand quantitative data over qualitative. Grants being awarded show both the success and (literally) the worth of a project as deemed by some (all too often arbitrary) powerful institution. Public responses show worth where it matters when talking about community engagement. Quotes from those involved and media reactions/attention often reveal a worth that can’t be measured (unless you are exceptionally gifted at creating evaluative, qualitative measures). Intentionality and purpose need no introduction to museum educators. These pervade our motivations and provide us with drive and grit while making sure we continuously see the worth in going through all of these efforts.

PPHT provides us with such rich examples of “why the effort is worth it.” I’m positive in hoping and saying that those in charge of this mobile community engagement based museum operation rarely if ever question themselves on “why their effort is worth it.” And you know what? That’s a good sign that they’re doing the right thing.

Bernard takes notes while local resident, Edward, shares why he chose to bring a book of old Kensington photographs to the block party.

Latimer House:

Franklin Vagnone and Deborah Ryan, the creators of the museum phenomena of the “Anarchist’s Guide to the Historic House Museum”, began thinking about radical new approaches to historic house museums in the late 2000s and early 2010s in response to a decline in attendance rates nationwide. Vagnone and Ryan realized that in order to stay relevant, educators and interpreters at historic houses needed to “let go” of the traditional model, abandon the “Rembrandt Rule” which dictates that every museum object is priceless and irreplaceable, and start thinking of historic houses as homes rather than houses. At the Latimer House in Queens, projects such as “What Brightens Your Day” uses lofty, universal ideas that anyone can connect to to build bridges between the site and the community, instead of focusing on a history that the neighborhood feels now ownership or connection to.

Most museums either have non-profit status, receive federal funding because they are part of local, state or national governments, or receive large federal grants. Therefore, most museums are accountable to the taxpayers, and have an obligation to provide programs that are attuned to public interest. The Latimer House is a city-owned property, meaning that the trust is overall, accountable to the taxpayers of New York City. The administrators of the site have an ethical obligation to “meet the audience where they are” and to use the resources that get put into historic sites for the public good by integrating the public into the planning and implementation of programs.

The Latimer House is intended to be a “laboratory” for innovative ideas in historic house management. Vagnone and Ryan are under contract to publish a book next year, which will release the studies of their findings. Meanwhile, they continue to offer new programs. What they are doing is so important because it’s helping foster a sense of ownership among the Flushing community, as they realize their own connections with Benjamin Latimer, a prominent resident of the past. The educators working at these sites have created programs that ensure that people have entry points to a community resource, which is valuable work.


Lewis Latimer invented a new method of making carbon filaments


Yolocalli has exemplified how a large, national museum, the National Museum of Mexican Art, can have a substantive impact in their local community. The National Museum of Mexican Art chooses to focus their community outreach efforts on young people in their Chicago neighborhood, believing that by inviting teens to participate in the arts, they can also reach the teens’ families, friends, and larger communities.

A major component of Yollocalli’s programming involves mural-making in public spaces all around Chicago. This takes the Museum right out into communities, which may not already be attending the Museum. This helps the Museum gain positive exposure.

Yollocalli is also uniquely situated as a complete youth arts development organization, which is embedded within the National Museum of Mexican Art. By being exclusively dedicated to this goal, Yollocalli can sincerely pursue it without necessarily being bogged down by other goings on and concerns of the Museum, while still being able to take advantage of the Museum’s unique resources.


“With All of Our Might”  The Little Village Boys and Girls Club

The enjoyment, innovations, and improvements to communities have demonstrated that the reward is far greater than the risk.  We hope to see our proposed projects in action some day!

Online Museum Exhibitions

What is an online exhibition?


A loose definition of an online exhibition would be: a collection of objects presented using an online platform. If you were to type “online exhibitions” into Google here is a selection of what you might be looking at when you click on the site

Tombstone information and pictures set into general categories, but not necessarily in exhibitions.

A designed exhibition presented online

Games for kids using museum objects- The British Museum: Museum Explorer

An online version of a book of objects

Objects related to a radio show

A museum exhibition that has been transferred as exactly as possible to an online platform.

The method of online exhibitions I was most interested where the museums that made a choice and arranged objects in an order rather than referring to their online catalog as an online exhibition.

Who is the Audience?

 The audience for online museum exhibitions  is anyone who stumbles onto the site. The only limitation is that most online exhibitions that I found were text heavy. The Audience for the British Museum website is anyone of the 6 million visitors to the museum, but may also include, researchers, students, and teachers from around the world.


kids exhibition

Images of the nine objects explored in the children section.


I chose to look at the children’s section of the British museum website. The museum decided to take the most iconic objects in the museum and turn it into an online exhibition to give children more information. First of all, I like that they did limit themselves to just nine objects, which took incredible discipline on their part given the number of amazing objects in their collection. This is also, a good counter to the sites who have all of the objects on the website but not much information or categorization.

Lewis Chessmen rooks

First page of the section of the Lewis Chessmen


I also took a closer look at one of the objects they placed in the exhibition to see how it was displayed. When looking at the Lewis Chessman display there where a few things I noticed at first glance. When I first looked at the page I though there was a little bit too much going on, but the information is well organized. There is a good size picture in the middle of the screen withe an arrow indicating more images. Below the image is a short description that one could read while still having one eye on the object. When I started analyzing the page I found that it is layered, so it can be used my many different audiences. There is the tombstone information, but also more detail that older children or adults could read that explains the History of the objects. It reminded me of the How Things Fly exhibition at Natural History with the layers of information. This website also has links for additional information if it is desired.

The greatest strength of this design for an online exhibition is there ability to explain small details that would not be visible if looking at he objects int he museum itself, not least because as a highlight it is hard to get a good look at the objects to start with. The museum also took this opportunity to make full use of the fact that they have more than one set of chessmen, so they made comparisons that would be harder to show in the museum when trying to display the collection of chessmen as a whole.

Lewis chessmen 1

Chess rooks from the collection


The last detail that I wanted to draw attention to, was the fat that the descriptions don’t talk down to the reader. They are clearly written so  kids can understand them easily , but they are not overly simplistic. I also took a look at the Lewis Chessmen in the non-kids section of the website and found, honestly that the information in this “kid” section was more interesting and informative than in other descriptions of the object.

I thought this was a great example of using the strengths platform, rather than having images and the same informations that one might get from the in museum explanations.


Links to Other Examples

Creating and Protecting the Patchwork Identity of the United States: Museums and Immigration


That single word can inspire long rants about jobs, taxes, drugs, illegal activity, etc. Historically, immigration has been a hot topic in the United States as different ethnicities and cultures arrived in the country. From the Irish being shunned to current battles over illegal immigration, each group has struggled to find a place and become part of the American identity.

Museums, historic sites, and National/State Parks have quickly become places of refuge for immigrants to the United States and their supporters. Many museums have taken it upon themselves to protect the cultural roots of immigrants and celebrate the diversity and traditions that immigrants brought and continue to share with the American Identity.

Recently, the Smithsonian American Art Museum created a special exhibit highlighting the culture of Latino Americans. The pieces depict the unique architecture of the ancient people of Central America, the colors and patterns used in textiles, and paintings and photographs that capture the dual identities of these artists. Even though three out of the five artists featured were born in the United States and not immigrants, they felt the need to represent their heritage and culture and show how it fits into their identity as a citizen of the United States. (

The International Coalition of Sites of Conscience created the Immigration and Civil Rights Network for museums and historic sites in 2008 to encourage the continued representation of immigration histories and contributions to America. They continue to advocate the necessity of recognizing the rights of immigrants as they come to this country and making sure they recognize their place within it.  The goal is to create opportunities “for safe, open dialogue on immigration accessible in every community.” (

Immigration is an important part of the American identity. Even those who can trace their ancestry back to the first settlers must acknowledge the fact that those people were immigrants to this country. Immigration has created a rich and diverse culture within the United States. Museums must continue to be advocates for preserving and celebrating those differences, which will allow recent immigrants and the descendants of immigrants to recognize their place and take pride in what they have to offer.