Reflecting on the Technology in Museums Symposium

In early December, around 60 delegates gathered in Ottawa from across the country to learn and discuss the role of technology in museums at the fourth in a series of topic-driven symposia offered by the CMA. The context was comprehensive, ranging from programming, to planning, from digitization to disability access. What resulted was a group of professionals who left with information to help bring their museum’s digital connection to the next level. Here, are a few highlights.

The symposium began with clear example of technology in action, with an icebreaker event hosted at the Bank of Canada Museum. Often having to illustrate complex and abstract concepts involving banking and the economy, the museum uses technologically driven storytelling.

In her opening welcome, CMA Executive Director Dr. Vanda Vitali spoke about the relationship between us and technology, “In this relation between biosphere and bitsphere, you need to be careful not to forget about people.” This point was also emphasized by Peter Pavement in his opening remarks, referencing the use of technology in museum environments dating back to the gramophone in 1908.

Presenter Shawn Graham delivered Imposter! Or, Digital Humanities & the Museum, humorously describing a series of scenarios where a person may see themselves as an imposter and feel out of place. He concluded with a word of advice: museums need to make it safe for visitors to fail, gloriously.

A favourite among attendees was Kim Kilpatrick, a professional storyteller and a disability awareness and access technology trainer. She offered a selection of her personal experiences in museums and explored techniques that successfully addressed her needs and enabled her to have enjoyable museum experiences. What she advised, above all, is that museums attempt to find a balance in offering accommodations since what works for one person may not work for all and that an opt-out, rather than opt-in, strategy be deployed where accommodations are concerned.

The use of technologies and their impact on planning was another interesting subject discussed at the Symposium. Jennifer Wild Czajkowski and Shayam Oberoi from the Royal Ontario Museum offered a case study, Can Data Analytics Improve Your Museum?, advocating for the role of data collection and analysis in museum planning.

Digitization of artefacts was another important and well-represented topic at the Symposium. Diane Zorich, Director of the Smithsonian’s Digitization Program Office, gave a comprehensive presentation on how the Smithsonian is approaching the digitization of its extensive collection. Employing industrial scaling techniques, like the assembly line, enabled the Smithsonian to rapidly digitize millions of objects within a few short years.

A post-conference workshop also gave participants an overview of key considerations for museum collection 3D scanning and printing.