Report of The Blue Ribbon Commission on the National Museum of American HistorySmithsonian Institution - National Museum of American History


(Appendix F: Transforming the National Museum of American History, Behring Center)

6. Advanced Information Technology

Advanced information technology is an important tool for transforming the National Museum of American History into a premier 21st-century institution.

Information technology is central to providing multiple ways for individual visitors to personalize their interactions with exhibitions. This will expand the boundaries of their relationship to the Museum and make their visits more interesting and valuable. Through the use of information technology, we will:

  • Help visitors begin their connection to the Museum before they come and extend it after they leave.
  • Make exhibitions more enticing, exciting, intriguing, surprising, and satisfying. Exhibitions for the new century must feel like living and changing environments that respond to visitors as they explore and interact with them. In the future, the interactive technology itself will become increasingly invisible as it creates a wider range of sensory experiences.
  • Enhance the ways that visitors experience the unique objects that are the core of the Museum's collections. In the future, this will include not only adding video or computer screens to exhibitions, but also animating the exhibitions themselves with computer-controlled theater that involves lighting, sound, and special effects.

    web site screen shot

    Page from the HistoryWired website, which features over 450 NMAH objects

  • Provide access to objects, information, and other Museum assets that are not on public display, both for visitors who come to the Museum and those who visit Museum sites on the World Wide Web.
  • Provide special ways to make Museum exhibitions and other assets more valuable to teachers and students at all levels of study. A special area of focus is providing resources to students for research projects or for programs such as National History Day and Science Fair. Increasingly, students turn to the World Wide Web, not local libraries, for research materials to meet their needs, and NMAH assets should be readily available to them.
  • Provide better access to exhibitions for foreign-language visitors or visitors with various forms of disability.

    photo of exhibit kiosk

    Kiosk developed especially for the exhibition The Disability Rights Movement containing all the information from the exhibition in alternative formats

  • Provide personalized information on Museum products and services that may be of special interest.

To accomplish these goals, the Museum is:

  • Expanding our broadband computer network to all the public spaces in the Museum. Attaching all exhibition computers and audiovisual equipment to the same network not only dramatically increases the creative ways we can employ them, but also provides a more effective way of monitoring their operation. An expanded network will be the essential foundation for our improved use of information technology in future exhibitions.
  • Exploring ways to link our emerging public network with our offerings on the Internet. For example, in the future we hope visitors will be able to "tour" exhibitions using remotely controlled video cameras. We are also interested in encouraging visitors to link pre- and post-visit experiences on our website with actual Museum visits.

    web site screen shot

    The popular Star-Spangled Banner website includes conservation updates.

  • Exploring what devices to link to our broadband network, as well as how to link them. We want standardized touch screens that can be used as multimedia interactive labels. An extension of this idea is using touch screens to activate changes in an exhibition setting: lights, sound effects, actions. We will be exploring wireless as well as wired network connections, and remote sensors that will trigger exhibition actions.
  • Exploring the use of handheld computer displays to help personalize visitor experiences, especially the newer devices that have audio and video capability. Such devices have the potential to extend personalized experiences to every visitor who walks through a gallery.

Our Museum is an information-rich environment. Advanced information technology has the power to make exploring that environment an unforgettable experience -- one that dazzles, inspires, fascinates, and entertains as it educates.

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