StoryCorps Interview: Mid-Continent Public Library

Each year, select museums and libraries with outstanding records of community service receive the Institute of Museum and Library Services’ National Medal for Museum and Library Service, the nation’s highest honor for museums and libraries. IMLS signed a cooperative agreement with StoryCorps, a national nonprofit organization dedicated to recording, preserving, and sharing the stories of Americans from all backgrounds and beliefs. Beginning with the 2009 awardees, StoryCorps began collecting personal stories demonstrating the ongoing impact of these award-winning institutions.

2014 National Medal Winner Mid-Continent Public Library

Photo of Jessica Ford and Connie Jones

Jessica Ford and Connie Jones

“Even though in my family there was this emphasis on reading and this love of reading, my mother didn’t finish high school…”  

At Mid-Continent Public Library, Connie Jones (R) talks to colleague Jessica Ford, a former student at the Kansas City Elementary School where Connie was the librarian. Connie tells Jessica the story of her own educational and professional journey that started at her childhood library, and describes how, as a librarian today, she gets kids of all ages excited about reading.

Listen to their story here:


Download Transcript

Posted in Afterschool/Out-of-School, Early Learning, Education Support, Lifelong learning/ Intergenerational, National Medal for Museum and Library Service, StoryCorps, Workforce Development/Job Assistance | Leave a comment

Remembering Lincoln: Personal Stories about the Lincoln Assassination

By David McKenzie
Digital Projects Manager
Ford’s Theatre

One hundred and fifty years ago this week, the renowned actor John Wilkes Booth assassinated President Abraham Lincoln as the president watched the comedy Our American Cousin at Ford’s Theatre in Washington, D.C.

The assassination, the resulting manhunt, and the journey of Lincoln’s funeral train are well-known stories. Less well known are the stories of the assassination’s impact on individuals around the country and the world.

To engage present-day Americans with the stories of people who lived through the event, Ford’s Theatre launched Remembering Lincoln on March 18, with support from an IMLS Museums for America grant.  The digital collection includes primary source materials from historical societies, museums, archives, and libraries. It also includes interpretive content and teaching modules to inspire use of these resources in the classroom.

Photograph of the Phoenix Steam Fire Engine No. # in 1885.

Phoenix Steam Fire Engine No. 3 as it appeared in Detroit’s procession to honor Lincoln, April 25, 1865. Detroit Historical Society.

The digital project took 18 months to complete. We worked with a digital strategist, project advisors, and institutional partners to help define our audience. The audience evaluation process helped us define the parameters and functions for Remembering Lincoln.

Working through steps of the audience evaluation process was time consuming, but it enabled us to make data-driven decisions. Here are the steps and some of what we learned along the way:

  1. Our original plan was to have an evaluator, Conny Graft, on board immediately, and only later work with a digital strategist. But when we kicked off the project, we decided to bring a digital strategist, Gwydion Suilebhan, in from the get-go. This helped to get everyone thinking about the end product from the beginning, and we’d strongly recommend it.
  2. During a two-day planning meeting with project advisors and the institutional partners, the group defined four target audiences: students, teachers, enthusiasts, and scholars. This is not to say that the site would be “off-limits” for other audiences, but even these broad categories helped focus thinking.
  3. At the planning meeting, our digital strategist ran an exercise in which the group created personality profiles for each audience type and defined outcomes for each audience.

    Drawing and word map of a teacher.

    The “persona” for a teacher during the planning meeting. Keeping a hypothetical person, rather than group abstraction, in mind helped with conceiving user needs

  4. The evaluator worked with us to create logic models for each audience group. A logic model [PDF link] is a means of working backward from a set of carefully determined outcomes to plan the steps needed to accomplish them.
  5. We tested those outcomes by holding focus groups of teachers and enthusiasts and sending out surveys to scholars, teachers, and enthusiasts.
  6. In a four-hour session, the digital strategist worked with all of us to translate the data from the focus groups and surveys into a Product Definition Document. This document also included our own knowledge of institutional, interpretive, and pedagogical goals. The document consists of user stories that define functions for a piece of software or a website. For example, “As a teacher/scholar, I want to browse the collection by subject so that I can discover new resources to engage my students.”
  7. These user stories proved essential to the web development process. We included the Product Definition Document in our Request for Proposals as, essentially, a prioritized checklist of functions that prospective web developers could use in formulating their bids.
  8. The Product Definition Document made it easier to decide what Content Management System (CMS) the site should use. Working with our web developer, Interactive Mechanics, we agreed that Drupal would prove the most robust for fulfilling the objectives of the project because it can be more easily customized than other systems.
  9. The Product Definition Document also helped us prioritize the functions we would build and what tradeoffs would be involved to keep the project within the limited budget.

Overall, the customized system has seemed to work well so far. We’ll find out soon just how well when we do another round of evaluation. But we were able to proceed confidently toward launch because of what we learned through this process.

You can read more about our process of planning the project in a series of blog posts written during the last 18 months.

Handwritten diary entry.

Diary of Sarah Gooll Putnam, age 13 or 14, in which she drew her reaction upon hearing news of the Lincoln assassination. Massachusetts Historical Society.

Does your institution have an item showing how someone in your community responded to the Lincoln assassination? Let us know, and we’ll contact you about including it in the Remembering Lincoln collection!

To assist other institutions interested in launching similar initiatives, we’ve made the code from the project available in a GitHub repository. 

David McKenzie is Digital Projects Manager in the Education Department at Ford’s Theatre. He is also a part-time History Ph.D. student at George Mason University, studying 19th-century U.S. and Latin American history, as well as digital history. Before coming to Ford’s in October 2013, he worked at the Jewish Historical Society of Greater Washington, The Design Minds, Inc. and the Alamo.

Posted in 21st Century Skills, Collections Care/Preservation, Cultural Heritage/Sustainability, Education Support, Information Infrastructure/Systems/Workflows, Learning Tools and Interactives (Information/Media literacy), Museums for America | Leave a comment

Embarking on a Yogic Adventure at The Magic House

By The Magic House, St. Louis Children’s Museum

In January 2015, preschoolers and their grown-ups grabbed colorful yoga mats and circled up at The Magic House, St. Louis Children’s Museum for the inaugural session of The Art of Yoga. A seven-week series, this creative movement class was inspired by the book You Are A Lion!: And Other Fun Yoga Poses by Taeeun Yoo. It combined child-friendly yoga activities with corresponding art programming to offer yoga practitioners of all levels, both young and adult, the opportunity to connect to their bodies, engage in physical exercise, and enjoy special bonding time. As an active Let’s Move! museum, The Magic House aligned its newest class with the work of the Let’s Move! Museums and Gardens initiative to get kids moving.

child and grandparent warming their hands in a yoga class

Participants are warming their hands to bring energy to their eyes to see the postures and their friends around them, ears to listen to their breath and hearts to appreciate the people around them. Photo courtesy of The Magic House, St. Louis Children’s Museum

If you’ve ever taken a yoga class attended by adults, you might associate the practice with meditative quiet, building, and holding complex poses for minutes at a time, and the entire class moving in sync. Yet, if you’ve ever taught a yoga class attended by preschoolers, you know this doesn’t translate. In fact, it’s best to shed all preconceived notions of “yoga” in exchange for enjoying a vibrant class spent exploring the playful, celebratory (and sometimes noisy!) world of connecting our minds and our bodies.

Our activities were based in engaging families with the basic tenets of a modern yoga practice with kid-friendly application: keep breathing, listen to your body, get moving, and have fun!  We use our breath to float feathers in the air; stretched our arms into airplane wings and flew around the room en route to the jungle; and recreated the shapes, movements, and sounds of familiar animal friends.  The class didn’t always resemble a traditional zen-ready “yoga class,” but the heart and intention of the practice radiated through at every moment!

Children practicing the yoga bridge pose

Young yogis are in bridge posture as their elephant friends walk over their bridge. Photo courtesy of The Magic House, St. Louis Children’s Museum

After the yoga practice, the class paraded down to the museum’s Art Studio, where art educators led a unique program inspired by one of the animals the kids met on their yogic journey. From colorful butterflies to lion masks to slithering snakes, each student concluded the series with a safari’s worth of projects to take home and remember what they practiced.

A child participating in arts and crafts

Brayden creates butterfly wings after his yoga session. Photo courtesy of The Magic House, St. Louis Children’s Museum

The class was offered as part of “Fit for All Kids,” a two-year project supported by an IMLS Museums for America Grant to enable the Museum to become a more prominent family health resource in the St. Louis community. This was just one of the many initiatives that the Museum has implemented as a part of this grant.

As the museum prepares for its second session of The Art of Yoga, we look forward to welcoming 60 new big and little yogis into the all-ages art of yoga.

Posted in Early Learning, Health, Let's Move! Museums & Gardens, Lifelong learning/ Intergenerational, Museums for America | Leave a comment

Museum, Library Investments in Digital are Paying Off

By Sarah Lutman
Lutman & Associates

During 2014, I spent time with museums, libraries, symphony orchestras, ballet companies, and other legacy cultural institutions to learn about their investments in digital media and to understand the impact these investments are having on programming, audience engagement, operational efficiency, and revenue sources.

Visitor using an iPad in an art gallery,

Visitor engages with interpretive content on an iPad in The Essential Robert Indiana. Image courtesy of the Indianapolis Museum of Art.

The result is a report and web gallery titled “Like, Link, Share: How cultural institutions are embracing digital technology.” The Wyncote Foundation-sponsored research project details five key themes from across the organizations visited and studied. The web gallery provides information, work samples, and links to 40 leading organizations and their media work. Notably, many institutions are finding significantly larger audiences via media than for their physical productions, performances, and exhibitions, and are experimenting with new revenue models enabled by their digital reach.

Here are the report’s five key themes—or “takeaways”—drawn from findings common to the organizations studied:

Strategy: Know the Game Plan: Leading organizations are aligning digital strategy with overall organizational strategy. They have clear intentions about their media and technology investments and the metrics that will demonstrate their progress. Strategies for organizations will differ; one size does not fit all.

Build Capabilities Not Projects: Organizations realize that they are building long-term capabilities, not short-term “cool projects.” While the majority of funding is awarded on a project basis, a much longer-term organizational view is needed so that projects can be sequenced for structured trials and learning.

Shake Up the Org Chart: Job responsibilities and organizational charts are in flux as organizations prioritize serving the digital audience. The immediacy required for social media and for sharing work in progress with the curious audience is a challenge for organizations whose experts are highly trained and schooled, and who are accustomed to painstaking curation of their final products.

Audiences First: Digital audiences search for information and programming using tools that result in non-linear, on-demand content, while most cultural institutions carefully script a linear in-person experience. Learning to put the habits and interests of digital audiences first within the digital environment is challenging the ways organizations think about presenting programming.

Toward New Business Models: Organizations are actively experimenting with new business models that will bring new revenue to support digital “channels.” Common investigations include loyalty programs based around membership and subscription to digital content, syndication of content to third parties, fees-for-service for online educational projects, and crowd funding.

A woman in a museum using an iPad

Visitors can learn more about the bird specimens in The Field Museum’s Ronald and Christina Gidwitz Hall of Birds using iPad technology. Videos, photographs, maps, and interactive activities geared toward young children are loaded onto iPads located throughout the exhibition.
© The Field Museum

Across the arts disciplines, museums and libraries are in some ways further along the path to digital innovation and engagement than their performing arts peers. The nature of museum and library collections means that content can be more easily catalogued and shared digitally than it can be in the performing arts, where, even when video or audio documentation exists, union contracts often prohibit the same ease in public sharing of these assets. On the other hand, performing arts institutions are pursuing highly creative and innovative audience engagement strategies that are helping build ticket-buying and online audiences through social media, and giving patrons creative opportunities to connect behind the scenes.

IMLS staff helped identify the museums and libraries that are making significant digital investments and achieving noteworthy results. Their recommendations, along with those from other grantmakers, journalists, peers, and thought leaders, helped shape our group of leading institutions. IMLS has been a key supporter of many of the organizations profiled, providing important support for media in an environment where fewer grantmakers are interested than might be expected (or hoped for). Also key to our discovery process was the 2013 report that museum and library staff should peruse. Growth in Foundation Funding for Media in the United States also includes a companion website with an interactive map of top funders and recipients.

A girl uses an app to translate exhibit sign.

Using mobile technology and QR codes, visitors to the Exploratorium are able to translate select exhibit labels into multiple languages. Gayle Laird, (c) Exploratorium,

The next step in our research is to seek out and listen to responses to our research from field-wide practitioners, and to attend and present at meetings and conferences to amplify our findings. We’ll be at the AAM Annual Meeting in Atlanta, in a session about R&D in the cultural sector, and will be participating in other national arts and grantmaking meetings this year. Please read the report and share your thoughts. And thank you!


Posted in 21st Century Skills, Education Support, Information Infrastructure/Systems/Workflows, Learning Tools and Interactives (Information/Media literacy) | Leave a comment