Shelley Bernstein Fostering Personal Connection to Place

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Shelley is the Chief of Technology at the Brooklyn Museum where she works to further the Museum's community-oriented mission through projects including free public wireless access, podcasts, cell phone audio tours, projects for mobile devices and putting the Brooklyn Museum collection online. She is the initiator and current administrator of the Museum's web initiatives on MySpace, Facebook, Flickr, YouTube and Twitter.

Ten years ago the museum got a new director who decided that the visitor experience to the museum needed to be improved and made more about community and the visitor experience. Working with a 120 year old building presents difficulties. Brooklyn's location also creates a barrier to entry given the river that people need to cross to get to it. At its most basic the mission of Bernstein's team isn't technological - it is simply to make the museum more comfortable, more accessible and simply easier to consume.

The museum has the youngest and most diverse clientele out of all museums in the US. They’ve done this by opening up – encouraging photography and even play within the museum and amongst the artworks, encouraging videos to be filmed within the museum, eliciting feedback from visitors and projecting that externally.

The museum's aim is to:

infuse content with life

People entering museums need help – accessing, understanding and drawing context from it. The museum has done this by encouraging blogs – as an example an annual dig that the museum works on in Egypt has a blog where people can virtually become part of the dig activities.

Bernstein contrasted NASA’s official Twitter stream with the Twitter streams of the actual NASA astronauts. The Booklyn museum want to build context through Twitter by telling people who is using their Twitter account, be\y being transparent, telling both the good news and the bad news and by posting interesting content. As an example they live Tweeted recently when they sent four mummies to a hospital for CT scans – people felt like they were being included.

Amplifying community voices – allowing visitors to become a central engaged part of the art works and the broader museum community.. How to integrate the visitor voice into an exhibition? They created a YouTube channel and allowed visitors to interact with the exhibition and elicited their responses.

The museum sent out staff with devices to talk about the places they frequent at lunchtime and other breaks. Aggregate this geo-located data on foursquare and then bring that back into the museum website thereby building an information source much deeper than the stuff within the art gallery itself. They even allowed visitor to gain a 4square badge by visiting the museum.

Crowdsourcing as a form of community involvement.They created meta data around art works by encouraging their community to create tags around particular works. Over time they then build up a really rich record of works with much more context for visitors. Gallery visitors using the Museum’s iPhone app can feed data back into the museum thereby building an even deeper context around artworks.

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