Jinfo BlogNo dinosaurs: The Field Museum's very modern take on digital media

Saturday, 28th January 2012

By Martin Belam

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An interview with Chicago's Field Museum CIO has revealed their interesting approach to web publishing, social media, and building apps to attract children to find out more about the exhibits. They've worked closely with the scientists to make the best use of the museum's information. How would your organisation approach such a project?


"How can you measure a museum’s effective presence?" – that is a question that CIO Joe Brennan has been trying to answer at The Field Museum. Chicago's natural history museum might be famous for housing one of the world's best known dinosaurs, but they are proving to be no dinosaurs themselves with new media. The museum has been re-evaluating their digital and social media strategy, and there is a fascinating interview with Brennan on Blooloop.com.

As well as a redesigned website, the team have vastly increased their social media output. Brennan is quoted as saying "We are a complicated organisation and we have important things to say in a serious but informal way", and they've hired someone specifically to take on the task.

For attractions like the Field Museum though, Colleen Dilenschneider cautions against an approach that just values raw follower numbers. She argues that you need to measure how engaged those users are – asking "Would you rather have 100,000 Facebook 'likes' from folks who never visit your museum or donate to your cause, or 10 Facebook 'likes' from folks who do?"

Another interesting point in Joe Brennan's interview was that The Field Museum has moved to using an open source publishing system. Last year a Gartner Survey found that 22% of organisations were "adopting open source software consistently in all departments of the company". 46% used it more heavily in specific departments.

They are also attempting to make gathering the information in the museum fun for kids – an iOS app, Specimania, is billed as "a Pokemon style game where players collect cards featuring 'unbelievable artefacts, animals, fossils, plants and more from the institution’s vast collections'". Scientists from the museum have been closely involved in the app's development, and Brennan sees them making a move into producing eBooks for children as well as adults.

This raises an important challenge for information professionals and researchers. If your organisation is planning to move onto new platforms like apps and eBooks, how much of a role are you playing in the formation of that strategy? Are these projects being proposed on the basis of a real understanding of the content and information that an organisation has at its disposal, or are they being designed based on a wish list of content and information that doesn't yet exist?

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