This is an extended version of an article that appeared in the May/June 2013 issue of Dimensions magazine.
Science center and museum professionals from around the world share their experiences using technology—including smartphones, barcodes, and radio-frequency identification (RFID) tags—to personalize the visitor experience.
The National Museum of Mathematics (MoMath) opened in New York City in December 2012. From the beginning, founder Glen Whitney had a strong vision of bringing math to the masses in a new way, but critical to that vision was the ability to tailor the experience for individuals in ways that would be meaningful to each person. And that meant customization—at many levels.
Static signage found in most museums was set aside, replaced with “smart” electronic kiosks. Using RFID tags, exhibits “recognize” visitors, displaying information in their language and at their desired level and depth of mathematical content. The first stop at a kiosk allows data entry; from that point on, visitors are addressed in a way that makes sense to them.
The electronic signage has additional benefits. Content managers have the ability to modify signage on the spot, incorporating great ideas from visitors or even correcting errors. What better way to customize a visitor experience than for a visitor to see his or her feedback incorporated immediately into the fabric of the museum?
The concept is in its infancy, and there are still kinks to be worked out. RFID antennae need to be exposed or repositioned for some exhibits, and visitors need to be oriented to a new way of interacting with information. But after two months of experience, MoMath remains committed and energized.
Cindy Lawrence, associate director and chief of operations
National Museum of Mathematics, New York City