The Palatinate Museum for Natural History and NFC

19. March 2019

An already impressive exhibition can always be improved on. As is shown by the Palatinate Museum of Natural History in Bad Dürkheim. Director Dr. Frank Wieland explains the digital strategy in an interview.

alles scheisse

How can an existing exhibition be made more accessible through digital media? This question was asked at the Palatinate Museum of Natural History in Bad Dürkheim.

The current special exhibition in its "analogue" form already offers many beautiful elements.

First of all the promising title "Alles Scheiße" (All Shit) and the accompanying exhibition poster, which shows a rhinoceros in the savannah from its best side. An appealing exhibition design, exciting and informative texts on a variety of objects, hands-on stations and opportunities to participate. So far, however, the texts have only been printed on documentation boards and only in German. The Palatinate Museum wants to make sure that in future its exhibitions are accessible to everyone and has decided to take the first steps in this direction. In this interview, we spoke with Dr. Frank Wieland, Director of the Palatinate Museum of Natural History, about the reasons why they decided to use our NFC-based media guide and how it was implemented.

Why did you decide to use a mobile media guide? What goals do you want to achieve and who are your target groups?

Frank Wieland: The Palatinate Museum of Natural History in Bad Dürkheim presents the nature of the Palatinate to the people. In a very diverse natural science education program, we showe the many interconnections in nature. The scientific collections of the Verein für Naturforschung und Landespflege POLLICHIA e. V. form the basis for both the scientific work as well as the permanent and special exhibitions.
It is important for us to be able to make it possible for everyone to experience what we show here at the Museum of Natural History. The topic is complex and not always easy to implement. In the course of improving accessibility, we have looked for a way to reach several different target groups. One possibility for this is a media guide, with which, for example, different foreign languages, simplified language, easy-to-read writing and in-depth levels such as additional image and video material can be presented. One of our primary target groups for the system are people with impaired vision. By means of the very easy-to-use tablets, they are able to significantly enlarge the exhibition font in our special exhibition and display it either in light font on a dark background or vice versa. In addition, it was important for us to reach English-speaking guests.

Why did you decide on an NFC-based media guide? What advantages do you see in this technology?

Frank Wieland: We had different systems shown and explained to us. In our opinion, the rooms for our special exhibitions are too small to ensure that a beacon-based system would have the accuracy required for a display case by display case resolution. We also wanted to be independent of WLAN, as the museum is not (yet) really equipped. NFC technology was the optimal solution for us. We like the fact that older people in particular are able to activate the texts on the tablet and then sit down in peace to read them in the exhibition. The highly precise resolution is also interesting for us - if we wanted, we could attach a separate NFC chip to each individual object.

The financing of such a project is often not easy. How could you convince your sponsors?

Frank Wieland: The museum is supported by a special-purpose association that votes on the planned applications for funding from the annual budget. Acquisition and maintenance of such a system is expensive and of course it was first investigated whether the installation makes sense and will actually be used. Last year, the Palatinate Museum hosted a large joint event organised by the Rhineland-Palatinate Museum Association, Lebenshilfe Bad Dürkheim and the museum. At this meeting under the umbrella of the project "Museum - easy for everyone" of the Museum Association and Lebenshilfe Rheinland-Pfalz, 59 people with complex disabilities and a high need for support were given access to the contents of the Natural History Museum. There was an introductory event on this date, at which the chairman of the district council, Mr. Wieder, and the state commissioner for people with disabilities from the Ministry of Social Affairs, Labour, Health and Demography of the state of Rhineland-Palatinate, Mr. Rösch, also spoke words of greeting. This day showed very clearly what is possible with respect to the participation of disabled people in cultural life and how important it is to increase accessibility.
The project was approved by the Zweckverband because the Mediaguide can be used in so many different ways. The installation of the system was kindly sponsored by the Ministry of Science, Further Education and Culture of the State of Rhineland-Palatinate with the support of the Museum Association of Rhineland-Palatinate as well as by the Foundation of the District of Bad Dürkheim for Culture, Social Affairs, Environment, Education, Teaching and Training.

How do you see future prospects? What are your plans with the Mediaguide in the near future?

Frank Wieland: Well, in the two years where we will be running the system, we have to look at how the system is accepted by the people. Especially with older people, we have to see that we reduce their shyness about technology a little. However, I have personally had very positive feedback from foreign guests as well as from people with poor eyesight. One guest who tested the system in my presence was very pleased with it. In its simple functions, the tablet is very similar to a device that the gentleman himself uses at home. So there was a certain kind of familiarity with the Mediaguide.
The museum would like to extend the system to the entire permanent exhibition as part of its course of action in increasing accessibility. The possibilities are endless and it would be fantastic if we could add further levels of in-depth knowledge in addition to other foreign languages and simplified language and perhaps one day even install sign language in the form of videos. But those are dreams and ideas for the future. First of all, we'll see how museum visitors accept the system. Then the museum's sponsor will decide whether and how the project can be continued.
The media guide is currently being used for our special exhibition "Alles Scheiße", which can be seen until 23 June. It deals with ecology, economy and the medicine behind "what comes out behind". It deals, for example, with elephant paper, fertilization, communication among animals, plants and fungi that depend on excrement, and information that we can extract from excrement millions of years old. It will of course also be used in the upcoming special exhibitions.
Starting August 25th, there will be a large live animal exhibition about spiders and their relatives shown in the Palatinate Museum.

Thank you very much for the interview!

Visit the exhibitions at the Pfalzmuseum für Naturkunde and test the NFC Mediaguide by tuomi.
Further information at the website of the museum.

Photos: Pfalzmuseum für Naturkunde, Bad Dürkheim

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