Mobile devices and cultural institutions

By Marcell Walton

Susan Poulton, Chief Digital Officer at The Franklin Institute, presented “Mobile Devices and Cultural Institutions,” at this year’s MobileMe&You conference. Poulton discussed the variety of ways The Franklin Institute, located in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania, uses digital media to to curate content in the museum and beyond.  


Poulton emphasized the need for museums to evolve alongside digital technology.

 “Audiences are going to start expecting more from a museum, they are going to want interactivity, and where do you find that? On a phone,” Poulton said.

She offered insights as to what this “interactivity” may look like in the future. Examples included virtual and augmented reality, GEO-fencing, NFC tags and more -- all of which are already implemented at The Franklin Institute or actively being discussed.

Poulton also mentioned some of the challenges museums must face in order to move forward into the digital space -- most notably a hesitance to change. The thought that a phone is too distracting or that no one downloads museums’ apps on their phone are notions that may soon be dispelled. Poulton contends that digital media is instead a tool that should be leveraged to enhance the experience of museum patrons and employees alike.

Things like membership, discounts, maps and bathroom directions can all be stored on a phone app, but why not dive further? Imagine yourself at your favorite exhibition; now imagine if you had the ability to step into that world with the power of virtual reality. The Franklin Institute is acting on that thought as it recently implemented virtual reality karts, a portable VR station that is placed near a physical exhibit to supplement the display piece in one way or another. This approach to using mobile in place-based destinations (specific digital interaction features in a designated space) may help explain why The Franklin Institute is the ninth most liked museum on Facebook.

The Franklin Institute’s recent accomplishments in the digital space include the launch of a new mobile app, creation of a virtual and augmented infrastructure and video content that features information on employees.

Consider checking out The Franklin Institute’s AR Terracotta feature here if you’d like to see some of their work in action.