Curio: the new app from the State Library of NSW

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Last week I was lucky enough to get a tour of the State Library of New South Wales new AMAZE gallery which was launched alongside their great new app Curio.  This app was developed in partnership with Art Processors the team behind the ‘O’ from MoNA in Hobart Tasmania.  Curio uses wifi and Bluetooth to connect to the many beacons that are positioned discreetly around the Library, this then enables Curio, a free iOS and Android app, to display the objects from the collection around you with a rich variety of media.  Not only do you get content within the exhibition space but also rich media and information throughout the Mitchell Library.  They are offering visitors who don’t have mobile phones the ability to borrow Google Nexus 7 tablets.  On the first day they had all their devices loaned out by members of the public browsing the content whilst in the galleries.  One difference here in comparison to the ‘O’ is that everyone can get the device given to them as they walk in, I believe there are times/days that the SLNSW can hand out devices otherwise its bring-your-own.Screen Shot 2013-04-19 at 11.00.58 AMIt didn’t take too long to download using the free wifi (always a good sign).  The design is good and the interface is really easy to navigate which I think is important as it is easy to overcomplicate things in tech.  The app will locate you in the gallery and show you the content that is nearby to your location. I started looking at the content at the entrance to the Mitchell Library which covered the Tasman Map, Portrait Bus of Arthur Fleischmann. the Mitchell Vestibule and Illuminated manuscripts.

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As I went deeper into the content of the map the features started to stand out, including the reminder to keep saving your tour.    You can choose different options to get the information associated with each object and these include:

  • Summary (the long significant statement)
  • Snippets ( these are very short statements and great if you don’t want the academic summary)
  • Stories ( I came across one that was written by well known journalist David Marr)
  • Close up (I was happy to see that you can zoom into the images which are great quality)
  • Media including videos  (happy to see my old Powerhouse intern featured here who went on to get a job in digital at SLNSW-that was a nice surprise)

There is no ‘Love’ or ‘Hate’ feature here but you do get to rate the content as you go: these choices include Provocative, Memorable, Surprising, Boring and Okay. One of the features I really like is ‘Poems’ and ‘Old News’.  It was lovely to stumble upon a poem that related to an image of Circular Quay that I had delved into.  Connecting the rich content together from within the Libraries collection is a great way to get access to content that you may not find yourself.  You can continue this experience at home after you have been in the galleries through saving your tour and also through the libraries website.  This is so important as there is so much rich content in this app that you need to experience it in multiple ways and at multiple times, which I think has been an important and well thought through feature of the Curio experience.

Different to the ‘O’ is that ‘Curio’ works even when you are not in the gallery.  You can have an experience via the map feature and choose to go through the content whenever you like.  This is smart as I have spent more time on Curio away from the gallery space, albeit I had limited time, but I think a lot of people would be inclined to continue the experience in their own time.

One feature that I have thought might be something that could have made the app more participatory is the inclusion of visitor stories that relate to the content.  An ‘Upload your story’ feature. They are doing extensive evaluation and tracking of how users are interacting with content in the gallery spaces and online so this will be an important piece of research for the sector if they can share the data.

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The State Library of NSW are doing some great things in digital and I congratulate them on making this app work so well.  I need to go back to the gallery and experience this app again to see what other content I can explore in the gallery space.

To finish in the words of Alex Byrne, NSW State Librarian & Chief Executive, 

the State Library of NSW partnered with Art Processors in our Digital Excellence Program to develop an interactive platform that will transform the way people experience the Library – which dates back to 1826 – and the extraordinary objects and little-known stories it holds.

 Curio with the AMAZE Gallery beautifully shows the 

depth and breadth of the State Library of NSW collection.

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Ask more questions: bring your audience into the decision-making

A recent conversation in our house started like this:

Why don’t you do an exhibition on dancing?

Ooh not a bad idea, must admit I have not thought of such broad themes like this before and start imagining how this exhibition might look and feel.  But what really gets me thinking, from this conversation, is how to bring audiences up into the beginning of the selection process around themes and narratives.  I see this as slightly different to crowd-sourcing content for exhibitions, which has been happening successfully by museums already. The Brooklyn Museum has used this model with several exhibitions such as Split Second: Indian Paintings-framed as on online experiment and the recently launched Go-a community-curated open studio project.

We put on exhibitions for our communities and yet there is rarely the opportunity to engage them in the initial decision-making using our collections with the traditional exhibition development model.  What do you want to see here?  Are we putting on exhibitions that you are really interested in?  These questions may be asked buried deep down in an evaluation questionnaire but are they upfront on our home pages?  Would doing this narrow the gap between curators museological interpretation and visitors experiences?

What if we had a simple tool on the home page of our websites that allowed our audiences to get involved in this process?

This is one that we prepared earlier (disclaimer: it is made by the teenager)

Be upfront about what themes you should be targeting.  They can obviously be steered towards collections, narratives and topics relevant to the organisation, but put it out there.  Be open and transparent about the decision-making.  Ask the question: What exhibition themes inspire you?

Ed Rodley is reflecting on the radically transparent museum in his series Making a museum from scratch and proposes:

that our museum be radically transparent, that we organize it around the notion that everything should be transparent unless it needs to be otherwise.

If we do this, then why not start at the beginning. Be transparent from end to end.

Audiences have a far greater choice nowadays to be entertained due to the vast amount of accessible content that exists in this networked environment.  Do our exhibition models need to change much like the newspaper model has needed too?

Audiences are getting used to sharing processes and getting access to content through social media and online tools.  Providing audiences with the opportunity to have meaningful and engaging ways to connect with museums, exhibitions and collections is becoming even more prevalent today.

If the exhibition model is too problematic to facilitate then the question could be relevant to the collection to engage an audience not familiar with it or not heading over to search.

What object would you like to see in our foyer this month?

Keep it on a smaller scale, sometimes the more scalable model can have impact. With the large proportion of collections not being on display or accessible to the public it is overdue that audiences be able to converse more deeply on their existence. Collections like menus:

What would you like?

Obviously then we have to think about and be agile enough to deliver the new model. As Mia Ridge points out on her post Museums and the audience comment paradox that it can be a big challenge to provide a quality experience when implementing ‘have your say’ interactives.

But worth taking some risks I say. We need the ‘What’s on’ in our sites but we should be adding the ‘What would you like us to put on’ too

Photo by Paula Bray  CC BY-NC 3.0