Lights, Touchscreen, Action: Technology in Museums

In the modern world of technological advances happening everywhere, museums are no exception.  Several hundred museums have made substantial enhancements.  The question, “Why do museums need to have technology? Don’t they just show off old stuff?”  While it’s true that many historical artifacts are cared for in traditional methodology, museums must go to great lengths to intrigue modern visitors.  With that need to attract visitors, comes a natural affinity for modern technology, and even revamping technologies that have been used for generations.

Let us examine some areas of museum technology that are not widely discussed:  Lighting and Curation



It’s the first thing you notice about a museum, how it’s lit.  Is it vibrant, inviting and makes you want to experience more?  Or is it dull, dark, and have you begging to get back on the big yellow school bus and escape?

Lighting can alter the entire look and feel of a museum and its exhibits.  It can be an ally and an enemy.  Not all lighting is created equal, as not all light bulbs are created equal.  Some have lighting that can harm exhibits, and some have lighting that creates a new look and enhances the entire museum space.  The worst thing that can happen to a museum is for the curator to take down a piece of work so it can be worked on for light damage.  Before we get to the curators, let’s take a look at some good examples of museum lighting that more than likely have visitors flooding the gates:

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Curators are the most underrated, but most important people that work at museums around the world.  The work of a curator is an artform in itself as there are so many pieces to be accounted for, and a never-ending amount of techniques one must know in order to properly maintain any individual piece.  Ultimately, without even a half-decent curator, any museums archives and artifacts will degrade to the point of no return

curatorialOne of the largest curatorial efforts of the twentieth century involved the Sistine Chapel in the Vatican City!  It is too difficult to explain all the different aspects of the restoration, please enjoy this wiki page, and these videos (Sistine Chapel part 1, Sistine Chapel part two).

The previous article and video shed light on the breadth of curation and it’s many tools.  Curators and site managers have been modernizing recently, with more science to research paint, wood, stone, etc.  This is especially helpful with historic site restorations.  In Lynchburg, VA a thorough, multi-procedure paint analysis and reproduction exercise was conducted at the Historic Sandusky house.

Now that we’ve discussed and shed light on some of the back of the house elements of museum technology, let’s discuss the new age of modern museology!

As one can guess, we live in an era with a smartphone in every pocket, more CGI that we know what to do with, and enough engineers and educators looking to spice things up just a little bit!  Check out the video below to see where the field is going!

An even more in-depth discussion is seen here in this TEDx talk:


What these two videos mean for the museum you visited as a child?  More likely than not, it will soon have some form of a technological overhaul!  You might not see it on the surface, but it will soon be there.

Many museums are also making the effort to integrate with the mobile technology we carry with us 24/7/365!  The V&A museum commissioned a report to discover the use of mobile technology by their visitors.  The results were astounding in 2013 (70% of visitors used smartphones) and would be an even higher percentage in 2017.

Several esteemed, internationally recognized museums have mobile apps or some form of mobile app store presence:

  • The Metropolitan Museum of Art (New York, NY, USA)
  • The Natural History Museum (Kensington, London, UK)
  • 9/11 Museum Audio Guide: September 11 Memorial (New York, NY, USA)
  • BMW Museum (München, Germany)
  • The San Diego Museum of Art (San Diego, CA, USA)
  • Alfa Romeo Museum (Arese MI, Italy)
  • Oklahoma City National Memorial & Museum (Oklahoma City, OK, US)

The Smithsonian Institute has a mobile app that will give you a virtual guide to all of its museum locations, theirs is more of a mobile version of their website!

As the visitorship changes at museums around the world, as they are adapting to the modern age, so must the museums change!  Several are reimagining their exhibits in ways that defy the senses and engage the mind!  As seen in this piece, museums aren’t just for housing the old, they are for experiencing the new!

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