Mobile Interpretation in Museums

Posted: January 13, 2012 - 11:17 , by ROM
Programs and Events, Research, Technology, ROM Mobile | Comments () | Comment

Learn about the latest research and discoveries happening at the ROM and mark your calendars for the 33rd annual ROM Research Colloquium coming up on February 3, 2012.

Ryan Dodge is the Acquisitions Technician in the Library as well an active member of the ROM’s Social Media team. Here, he tells us a little bit more about his upcoming colloquium presentation, Mobile Interpretation in Museums.

Archival image of the Museumobile truck

The original mobile museum, courtesy of the ROM Archives.

What are you going to talk about at the colloquium this year?
Throughout my Master’s of Museum Studies program I have focused on the use of mobile devices in museums and how these new, continually connected devices have changed the way people work, play, explore, and interact with other people, information, and their surrounding environment. I will give a very brief overview of the over 60 year history of mobile interpretation in museums and talk about how quickly mobile interpretation changes today. To demonstrate this continual change I will discuss two mobile projects that I have worked on since January 2010. The first project, which eventually became the ROM’s first iPhone app, was researched between March and June, 2010. The second, ROM Centennial focused project was completed almost a year and a half later, in December 2011. While the mobile aspect of the two projects are fundamental, there are striking differences that emphasize the ever-changing environment of mobile technology and mobile device users. In my opinion, the contrast of these two projects are excellent examples of what I call mobile app 1.0 and mobile app 2.0.

How did you first become interested in this topic?
In 2006 I started at the ROM as the Audio Guide Representative and my journey with museums and mobile began. Two years later in 2008, while working in the Visitor Relations Department I received my first smart phone and immediately recognized the incredible advantages of visiting museums with this tool. Originally, I focused on the way-finding potential but then I expanded to collections interpretation and the overall visitor experience. I realized that more and more people would be bringing their own technology with them and they would expect to use their devices inside our walls as they do outside. In January 2010 I began the Museum Studies program at Johns Hopkins University and the first project I completed was a strategic and content plan for the ROM iPhone application. From this first project and my background working with mobile devices in museums I decided to focus on this area of museum work throughout my studies.

What part of your research do you enjoy the most?
I love how fast the mobile world moves, how connected it is, and how there is something new and exciting almost everyday. I have always been interested in the way humans interact with information and how, really since the invention of the printing press, we have had increasingly easier access to information, if we choose. With the rise of the internet and now the mobile web, people can access information in the blink of an eye where ever they are. We as museum professionals can now focus on delivering collections based content to our visitors instead of worrying about providing the hardware as well. Mobile opens up a whole host of opportunities to create a dialogue with our visitors and between our visitors, so not only can we augment the visitor experience while they are physically in the building but we can also provide spaces for conversation, contemplation and interaction when ever people want and where ever they are. We work in an incredible institution with multi-disciplinary experts and researchers all over the globe, I think mobile has the potential to allow the ROM and its experts to deliver their research and ideas in a more efficient way. Finally, I love the challenge that mobile provides, the challenge to keep pace with other institutions, the challenge to do something new and exciting, and the challenge to be an industry leader in communicating our research and collections.

Do you have a favorite artifact or specimen?
Wow, this is probably the most difficult question I’ve answered all year! I would have to go with the Canot de maître in the First People’s Gallery because of its significance to Canadian history. It is amazing to me that these ancient modes of transportation were instrumental in penetrating the interior of Canada and aided in the exploration of this vast country. And, well, because I am a history nerd first, and a museum mobile nerd second! ;)


The ROM Research Colloquium is annual event that throws the spotlight on ROM researchers with a full day of consecutive 15-minute presentations by ROM experts on their recent discoveries. The program is free and open to the public (Museum admission not included). Ryan’s presentation starts at 3:45pm on February 3rd in the Signy & Cléophée Eaton Theatre.