On a recent trip to Melbourne, I had the opportunity to visit one of the most dynamic museums in the world. The Melbourne Museum was established in 1854 but there is nothing dusty or “like your grandma’s attic” about the place.

I would like to highlight one aspect of the museum’s displays that bespeaks of this forward-looking approach. It is their animal display.

The traditional approach and one that has lasted for over a century is to display taxidermy animals is display animals in their native habit. Lions are seen lounging on the savannah. Penguins are stumbling on frozen walkways. And in many ways this approach works.

But what if the goal of the museum is to display the whole of the animal kingdom? It would be difficult to recreate hundreds of types of environments. And it would be inaccurate to show animals that are natural enemies sitting side by side.

So what did the Melbourne Museum do?

They brought together two elements: simplicity in display and copious amounts of animals filling every corner of the display.

The simplicity of the display makes the visitor focus on the animal. And the large groupings allow for meaningful comparisons to similar species. The museum has also installed a complex IT component that provides adequate information about each of the animals.

What was my main takeaway?

Clustered does not mean disorganized. Context of the environment does not take away from the object itself.

How can we create meaningful environments where the artifacts are front and center and the visitor is not lost in the mass?

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January 8, 2014 · 12:42 pm

Museums and the Web Asia 2013

I was pleased to learn that my paper on how flickr can be used to build new communication in a museum setting was accepted by the review committee of Museum and the Web Asia 2013.

Link to paper: flickr: a social media building block

Here are the key dates for the conference:

Monday, December 9, 2013 On-site registration begins;
Pre-conference Workshops
Tuesday, December 10, 2013 MWA2013 conference begins;
Registration desk opens at 8:00 am;
Exhibitors’ Reception (@ conference hotel).
Wednesday, December 11, 2013 MWA2013 conference continues;
Conference Evening Reception at Hong Kong Martime
Museum Pier 8.
Thursday, December 12, 2013 MWA2013 conference continues;
Closing Plenary;
MWA2013 Ends.

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Eyes and ears are everywhere

Digital has changed the world in many ways. For one – digital has allowed for almost endless amounts of documentation. One no longer has to worry about how many pictures are left on the roll or how much film is left in the recorder.

One of the consequences is that almost all events are now recorded. That may be a little scary. But in this case, I was pleasantly surprised to discover that a speech I gave last year at the NODEM conference was captured.

This short speech is about the strategy I took to build a mobile web site for the Hong Kong Maritime Museum.


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Different Missions, Common Goals

Prior to coming to Hong Kong I worked for eight years at the Institute of Museum and Library Service. This combined agency often struggles because the goals of libraries and museum are similar but in the end there two separate types of institutions.

The museum people come from a perspective that “librarians love books but then we discover that what they really love is order.” Librarians believe that “museum people love old stuff but eventually they discover that it the presentation of that stuff that really drives us.”

With this conceit: museum people are from Mars and Librarians are from Pluto approach I collaborated with two librarians to write a paper for the IFLA conference in Singapore this year.

We are focusing on local history and talking about how these approaches can strengthen an organization that has both.
Thank you to Partick Lo and Kitty But, my librarian friends and colleagues.

Different Missions, Common Goals

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Outside the glass case - objects come alive

Outside the glass case – objects come alive

That magic feeling

My first job working in the museum field was as a guide. I was still in high school and I had the opportunity to volunteer at a local museum giving people tours. I can still remember the magical feeling that comes about when you help people to make a connection to something tangible, to something from their own experience.

I haven’t had a lot of opportunities to do this type of hands-on work in recent years. My role has mainly been behind-the-scenes helping to create environments and opportunities for visitors to enjoy.

Native American speaker

Recently – a group of young children visited the Hong Kong Maritime Museum. They are learning about local history and applying what they know to learn in order to write better in English. The course instructor desired that the students could speak with a native English speaker at the museum. I was told. “I was close enough.” (After all I am a native American speaker)

Some pretty sharp kids interviewed me about my job. I decided it was a good opportunity to pull out one of the museum’s artifacts and let them see it close up. The object I chose was a photo album, circa 1908.

Getting that old feeling back

I was reminded how powerful that the tangible object is. The album fascinated the children. Many of them had never seen one before. And the concept that a person who was on vacation would create this to preserve their memories was bizarre.

I then showed them how I take an object like this and transform it into a digital medium. Although I had a large screen projector, the children still kept going back to the real object.

Once again – I am reminded of how powerful the real is. No matter special the digital experience can be it must be rooted in something tangible.

Digital copy of the photo album

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Liquid history


I am so excited about Cathay Pacific’s new issue of Discovery Magazine. It features an article, Liquid history that focus on the new Hong Kong Maritime Museum at Central Ferry Pier 8.

Both the Director and myself are quoted.


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Tell me about your feelings …

Most Unforgettable Museum Experience

I was recently involved in conducting an evaluation wrap-up with a bunch of students. These students had been responsible for talking with visitors about their experience at a museum exhibition.  It was my job to speak to each of the students to discover if there were any insights learned from their time working with the public.

The following is a transcript of conversation:

Me: So how did you find the experience of conducting the interviews with museum guests?

Student: I found it a little confusing.

Me: Can you elaborate?

Student: I did not understand the questions. The visitors are here to learn about history.

Me: Yes – and why did that confuse you?

Student: Because the questions of the survey did not ask people what they learned. It asked people about how they were feeling.

Me: Can you remember your first time you went to a museum?

Student: Yes- it was the Hong Kong Space Museum. I was just little. The planetarium was so wonderful. Every one of my friends from school were impressed, we had never seen anything like that before.

Me: What was the show about?

Student: I don’t remember.

Me: But how did you feel?

Student: Wonderful!


AAM display

I think that in part, I was so keen to pick up on this student’s points is that I had just seen a display at the Annual Conference of AAM. In a very simple setup – conference participants were asked to describe the “Most Unforgettable Museum Experience in Six Words.”

As I created my six-word experience – it struck me that it was perhaps this profound moment as a child that led me to be a life-long museum goer.

Is there anything else higher we can strive for?


To this day – I cannot remember what those suits of armor looked like but I never forget how excited I was to see them.

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