Amassing Encyclopedic Knowledge

ASK is a tool that allows any museum visitor using the Museum's app to have the opportunity to be in direct and immediate contact with Museum staff (the ASK team) knowledgeable about the Museum and its collection. More specifically, the app connects visitors with people who have specialized information. Information and understanding about individual works on display—not only these objects as individual works, but these objects in context with history and culture, within the context of the Museum's collections, and their current installation. Furthermore, the app connects our visitors with people who have specialized knowledge about museum visitors, and the multiple ways in which they experience works of art. I delineate here the type of information that the ASK team will have because it is this type of information that makes this app more than just a “human Google.”  Anyone can Google a question, and look up information—what ASK is allowing our visitor to do is to connect with a person who has a nuanced understanding of the works of art, AND an understanding of the different ways in which people interact with art.

As part of training, our Audience Engagement team is walking through the galleries with each collection curator. Here they are getting a tour through American Art with Terry Carbone.
As part of training, our Audience Engagement team is walking through the galleries with each collection curator. Here they are getting a tour through American Art with Terry Carbone.

With all of this in mind, how do these six individual humans engage museum visitors with 5,000 years of art? How can the team prepare to be at-the-ready to answer questions and engage in dialogue thoughtfully about any object in the collection at any given moment? It is a daunting task indeed!

To best address this challenge, we have decided that each individual team member will have a "major" and "minor" collection area of focus, and of course, each will have an understanding the many different ways in which museum goers engage with art.

Nancy Rosoff, Andrew W. Mellon Curator of the Arts of the Americas, works with the team to take a closer look at our Life-Death Figure.
Nancy Rosoff, Andrew W. Mellon Curator of the Arts of the Americas, works with the team to take a closer look at our Life-Death Figure.

To begin our work together we've started learning about the full collection in tandem with experimenting with the app. Although everyone will have two collection areas on which they are focusing, it is important that everyone has a broad understanding and familiarity with the full collection so that we can make connections across collection areas (and if we're overloaded with a high volume of inquiries, we'll be prepared to respond to some queries that are outside our focus areas). Over the course of training and our soft launch the full team will meet with all of the curators, write one comprehensive wiki for each collection area, write 7-9 object wikis in their respective "major" collection areas of focus, and practice manning ASK's dashboard as much as possible.