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A New Age for Small Museums

October 23, 2013

world has changed drastically in recent years. Today?s younger generation (aka digital
natives) have never lived in a world without high-speed internet, smartphones, tablets
or social media. Even most adults who do remember the time before technology changed
the world cannot now imagine life without it. And these changes have, for
better or worse, completely altered the ways we communicate, learn and interact
with the world.

As a
non-digital native myself, I remember the rise of cell phones and the fall of
the pay phone. I remember transitions from typewriters to computers with
eight-inch floppy disks, and from there to flash drives and now cloud computing.
I remember the wonder of having information at my fingertips using the early Internet. I remember when the only way I could chat with friends was to sit in
one spot tethered to a curly cord, but now I can talk wherever I want. I can check
in on long-lost friends on Facebook. I can read reviews of restaurants and
destinations right before I walk in the door. I don?t have to watch the news I
can just read my Twitter feed. In other words, even though I am not a digital
native, my world has been transformed.

So what
does all this mean for small museums? Museums still have a vital function in
this information age. They hold the the primary sources and the keys to our
past. And they can, and should, play a central role in creating a sense of
community. But museums must also live in the present, embracing and adapting to
changes as they come. We cannot do things the same as we did fifty years ago
and expect to create an impact.

is no one size fits all? answer to keeping museums relevant, but there are
some key points that all museums should consider:

  • Embrace social
    media and new technology not as a replacement to one-on-one interaction, but
    as another tool to enhance engagement and learning opportunities.

  • Think about your
    role in your community and what audiences want and think about how different
    generations learn, interact and access information.

  • Utilize your
    assets despite technology, nothing beats seeing the original items in a
    museum?s collection, provided the story is compelling.

of my best personal experiences with museums have been when I have felt a sense
of connection, whether through reading a story on social media or seeing
something amazing in the collection. Museums have the potential to remind us of
who we are and where we came from, and foster a sense of identity and unity
that will carry us forward. As long as we stay relevant, the future is bright!

are some great resources to tap into:


Jeannette Rooney is the coordinator for Local History Services at IHS. She travels the state with her LHS team members to assist local history organizations. Why? Because history rocks (and we get to make lots of ice cream stops)!

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