Notes from introductory call with McCord Museum (April 28, 2009)

We spoke with Nicole (Director of Collections and Museum Management), and Hugues (Webmaster, Database Administrator)
Organization Resources
- Budget is ~$5 million/year
- Staff of ~40 + education staff
Technology in General
- They have an interest in using RFIDs and mobile devices (PDAs and iPods mentioned)
- At present, haven't used much technology in the physical exhibition space
    - But, they have a well-developed website full of cool, interactive media (including tagging of artifacts, ability for visitors to leave traces of themselves on the site, etc.)
    - One of their goals for Engage: form bridges between the material on their website and the physical site (i.e., bringing materials and tools from their website into the physical space)
    - The website is very important to them
    - One interesting technology they have in the physical space is a kiosk with 9 artifacts digitized in 3D. Allows visitors to access objects without touching it.
        - Made in partnership with (or funded by?) CHIN
Permanent Exhibit
- Permanent exhibit: Simply Montreal
- 8,000 square feet dedicated to it
- They'd love to add some technological features to it
- Currently using "old technology" video clips (from videodiscs, if I heard correctly!)
- They don't want to redo the entire exhibit, just add/remove/change a few objects from time to time (e.g., change the wedding dress on display every year), and add some new features
- Fine tuning, not overhauling; evolves over time
- The permanent exhibit's been up for 10 years now, and they want to refresh it to sure it's keeping current (esp. wrt technology)
- Two step refresh planned:
    - First step for next May or April, second for summer 2011
    - Depending on what's available, FE might affect their goals for the refresh
- Are thinking of RFID for the following:
    - Project where people could use resources online to prepare the visit and them come to the museum (esp. school visitors)
    - Tag artifacts and create a subset of visit to back home and see their artifacts on their home computer
    - Extend, not recreate the physical exhibit
    - Allow users to create their own experience
- Created "My McCord" website feature about 2 years ago to give users a place on the website to begin that (creating their own personal collection of artifacts)
- After physical visit, they can bring home their collection of artifacts and interact with them online
- Thinking about how making material available on iPods and iPhone to read more info while they're tagging them... might connect the physical and web...
- Hugues: technically would like to use a common infrastructure for both RFID tagging and PDA interaction; hoping to support both within the project and develop web services so both would be using common data
- How far along is the McCord with RFID technology?
    - Reviewing the literature and looking at post projects -- other museums have documented extensively their experiences there
    - Looked at other technologies too -- PDAs and cell phones; reviewing RFID and PDA and cell phone projects
- What sorts of exhibitions is the McCord working on now?
    - Continual work on permanent exhibit
        - In the next 18-24 months, want to integrate those specialties to make sure we can go on with supporting more dynamically beyond the web and right now only can work with website.
- How long does it take to develop an exhibit? ~4 years, or less if not starting from scratch
- Total exhibition space available: ~18,000 sq. ft. over three floors
    - 1st floor: temporary exhibit (in next 5 years, will turn this space into semi-permanent 3-5 year exhibits)
    - 2nd floor: main exhibit
    - 3rd floor: smaller gallery for prints and small artifacts
- Out on McGill street, outside photo exhibit
- 2 spaces of 4,000 sq. ft., permanent exhibit of 8,000 sq. ft.
Content Databases
- Where does content come from?
    - Uses TMS collections management system, mostly for conservation purposes
    - Separate database needed for artifacts and content on website (different context, different information than for conservation)
    - Also, TMS doesn't support multilingual content (one of McCord's constraints is that all content has to be bilingually available)
    - Website for public distribution
    - Web database has the content from TMS, and adds to it (French translation)
The Website
- Have had their website for 10 years now
- The most important thing is the database; build things based on that
- They don't have a "brochure" kind of website
- They look for ways for visitors to contribute to the website, to create their own world
- 2 years ago, they created "My McCord"
    - Gives ability for visitors to create their own collection
    - Create their own web tour
    - Upload their own images
    - Comment
    - Tag
    - Etc.
- In a sense, content on the website is really the visitors
- In the future, want to create communities of interest (a la Flickr, Facebook)
- Constantly looking to keep relevant on what they can offer to the community
- Created 4 or 5 virtual exhibits
- 30 online games
- Web work toward curriculums across canada, well-used in quebec but not in other provinces
- Started using Flickr and YouTube; trying to create more connections between those and other communities
- Started getting involved with "web 2.0" 2 years ago, and implemented basic functionality right away
- Figuring out ways to extend on it and integrate how they're collecting on it
- Game "tag" for labeling images
    - Met Luis von Ann at CHI, worked on tagging/labeling game
    - Interesting because depending on the interface, people were more willing to contribute
    - When individuals had to register and log in and tag artifacts individually, they got 500 tags in a year (formal tagging)
    - When they offered the tagging game, and didn't need to register, they got 235K tags over 6-12 months (informal tagging)
- No way for visitors inside the museum to access the website
- Thinking about having a kiosk with website access
- Don't want people to revisit the exhibit on the website
    - Want them to work with what they've learned in the exhibit, extend the experience and use it for their own purposes
    - Found that teachers weren't using the specific stuff, but were using the templates for their own purposes
    - Visitors prefer using the tools on the website (have their own control, make their own path/trail, create their own experience around the artifacts/content), as opposed using the content/experience that was specifically offered
    - Don't want to necessarily replicate what's in the physical exhibit onto the website
- There is creativity here--curious and open