Using multimedia mobile contents in museums: the Museo Galileo’s experience

Jacopo Tonini, Italy

In 2010 the Museo Galileo of Florence reopened after large-scale, overall renovation of the exhibition area.
Great importance has been assigned to the use of multimedia: in addition to a full restyling of the extensive website, thirteen 40” fullHd monitors were installed in the eighteen rooms of the Museum, with 3D films of the scientific instruments in the collection and videos explaining the historical and cultural context in which the instruments were produced.

But the most challenging operation has been setting up a video-guide to provide multimedia mobile contents within the Museum. The video-guide has two specific features:
– rfid tag to locate the visitor and automatically show the most appropriate contents;
– possibility of selecting all of the objects on display.

The video-guides can be used either by choosing the curator’s selection of objects or choosing to explore the entire collection.

In the first case, when a visitor stands in front of a display case, the video-guide will show the objects selected by the curator in that case. When the visitor touches the image of one of the instruments, an audio description starts. It is essential to use only audio and not images or videos for the first description, so that the visitor can continue to observe the real instrument on display while listening.
Users can then explore in depth by choosing 3D animations of the instruments, or videos explaining the historical and cultural environment in which they were designed and used. In addition, he/she can choose to read the biographies of persons related to the instruments, or explanations of concepts that are hard to understand.

To explore the entire collection, the visitor stands in front of the display case and enters the ID numbers of the instruments on a virtual numpad on the screen. This gives access to a text describing the instruments, or a link to videos or textual descriptions, as in the previous case.

About 3% of visitors choose to rent the video-guide, which costs €5. As far as we know, this is in line with the percentage of people who rent traditional audio-guides in other museums.
Since adopting the video-guide, we have collected information through questionnaires, by talking with staff members involved with visitors, and by observing people using the device. On this bases, we can now formulate some evaluations and decisions for the future.
Strong points:
– people like very much to have audio and video interpreting our collection;
– the design of the navigation interface is simple enough. No help button is needed;
– the content is appreciated.

Weak points:
– the devices rapidly become obsolete;
– maintaining the hardware is expensive (batteries to be replaced, damage due to use, etc.).

On the basis of these results, we have decided for the future to allow visitors to use their personal mobile devices instead of renting video-guides. We are now working to set up of a wireless network inside the Museum and to create a simple app that can be used to browse our contents on smartphones and tablets.

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