Tag Archives: Google

“I don‘t need an app to find a restroom”

It is hard for me to remember life before smart phones, let alone a time before cell phones. I bought my first smart phone in 2010 and in just four years, my Android has become indispensable. As the Pew Internet Project’s Mobile Technology Fact Sheet makes clear, mobile has taken over. Not only do 90% of Americans own a mobile phone, 44% of Americans sleep next to their phone every night to avoid missing texts, calls, or emails. Mobile phones are an intimate part of many American’s daily lives. And they are beginning to be the preferred way for Americans to access information. 34% of internet users primarily use their cell phones to access the web… a number that is growing every year!

Mobile websites and mobile applications are therefore an incredibly important way to reach a huge audience of Americans. But does mobile fit into the mission and purpose of cultural institutions such as museums?

The Smithsonian Institution Office of Policy and Analysis conducted a visitor study in 2010 to find out how their audience used and would like to use mobile devices in a museum. Many people used cell phones to find directions to the museum, access operating hours, and learn about what exhibitions were on display at the museum. A few people even googled names or titles from the gallery to learn more about the exhibitions. The interviews make it clear that people use mobile devices to get information on-the-go. However, I wonder if these are the types of questions that museums should be trying to answer. Can museums really compete with Google Maps at wayfinding, or with Yelp at providing local recommendations?  Perhaps there are better, lower-tech ways to provide directions or information to guests at a museum. My favorite quote from the visitor study was: “I don‘t need an app to find a restroom.”

Mobile media opens up a lot of exciting possibilities. But museums need to think carefully about the mobile experiences that they create and make sure that their mobile apps are encouraging people to learn, share, and engage…not just directing them to a restroom.

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Social Media Madness

If you had to pick the very best children’s book of all-time, your first choice might not be, The Scholastic Book of World Records, 2009.* As far as I know, the book has not made it to the top of any critic’s lists. But in at least one Wisconsin elementary school, this book reigns supreme. Last week, the students crowned this book as champion in their school library’s March Madness Book Bracket.

The school’s awesome and talented librarian organized the contest. Disclaimer: the librarian is my mother. But family connections aside, this campaign is a great example of social media at its best. March Madness style brackets are a popular way to organize social media campaigns. In this case, my mom had students vote on their sixteen favorite books through four head-to-head rounds. The students used Google+ and Destiny Quest to vote on each round and to share their own personal picks with their peers.

Book Madness Bracket

The elementary school’s most popular 16 books face off in a March Madness Book Bracket

The original field of contenders was determined by the audience; the Sweet Sixteen was composed of the most-frequently-checked-out books, seeded by popularity. Some of the results were surprising to my mom. She knew that Diary of a Wimpy Kid was a popular series, but would not have guessed that Rodrick Rules would turn out to be the #1 most-checked out book in the school. And I am guessing that Sardine in Outer Space might not make it into her personal top 5 list.

As Dana Allen-Greil and Matthew MacArthur note, social media can heighten a cultural institution’s impact through “true dialogue and mutual understanding with those whom they claim to serve.” This requires knowing your audience and actually trusting them with the power to create content. In this case, it required allowing students to be the experts on what makes a good book.

The March Madness Book Bracket was fun for all, but it was also a good way to learn. Students used computer skills, created pie charts to analyze the voting results, and got really excited about reading their favorite books.

March Madness Paper Bracket

A good social media campaign can incorporate “in real life” or IRL elements such as this paper bracket posted in the library.

The important lesson here? Social media is not just about spreading the word. Nor is it just about encouraging participation. Utilizing social media to its fullest potential requires collaborating with your audiences to fulfill your mission, whatever it may be, whether you are a teacher, curator, publisher, or historian.



*I am left with one pressing question: What makes The Scholastic Book of World Records, 2009 better than The Scholastic Book of World Records, 2010 or 2011 or 2012? I know who to ask!

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One Man’s “Offline Penumbra” is Another Man’s Treasure

Patrick Leary begins his article, “Googling the Victorians,” with a short vignette about a man and a painting.

Michael Gorman grew up with a portrait of a Victorian lady in his home. He knew a few details about her from family lore; she was his great-great-great-grandmother, she had died in 1910, and she was a poet. It was only when Gorman googled her name, Letitia Elizabeth Landon, that he discovered the extent of his ancestor’s fame. And it was only when he contacted Victorian scholars that they discovered the existence of Landon’s children. Her extramarital relationship remained a secret for 170 years.

I connected with the story because of my own family heirloom. My ancestors were dairy farmers in Wisconsin and Illinois–as far as I know, there are no famous poets in my family tree–but that does not mean that I treasure my only  photograph of my great-grandparents any less.

Lewis wedding Josie Dahl and John Lewis 1915

My Great-Grandparent’s Wedding Photograph–Caption Handwritten by my Grandpa Vern Lewis

Leary uses his vignette  as an entry-point to discuss how the internet has changed scholarly research. Texts are now searchable and interconnected; scholars can quickly Google obscure references that once took days or weeks of library research to comprehend.Leary argues that, “the universe of searchable nineteenth-century electronic print sources has begun to expand at a rapidly accelerating pace.” And he sees an inherent threat in that expansion.

“The time is near upon us when whatever is not online will simply cease to exist as far as anyone but specialists is concerned, a condition I have come to think of as the offline penumbra.”

Leary’s article was written in 2005, and it is possible that he overestimated the rapid expansion of online sources judging from a few of the sources that he mentions in the article.  The Library of Congress’s Nineteenth Century in Print project is no  longer being updated. The Oxford Dictionary of National Biography has expanded to 59,003 biographies, however, this database was inaccessible to me from my home computer. It is quite possible that online access to nineteenth century texts has actually decreased rather than increased since 2005. However, that does not negate Leary’s worry that offline content will be overlooked.

I kept expecting Leary to return to the story of the man and his portrait. However, while Leary stresses the use of the internet to facilitate connections, he fails to acknowledge that in this case, it was the “offline penumbra” that made the connection. Without a tangible link to the past, Micheal Gorman would never have googled his famous ancestor.

Leary argues that the  abundance of online content risks making “offline penumbra” irrelevant. However, his example confirms the continuing importance of the offline in a digital age.

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