Mobile Guide Review- Historic New England’s Eustis Estate
This mobile guide review comes from Max Metz, who is in his second year in the Masters of Museum Education program and is the Manager and Anne Larner Educator at the Durant-Kenrick House and Grounds of Historic Newton. To see more of Max’s contributions to the blog, click here.
The Eustis Estate Museum, owned and operated by Historic New England (HNE), is in Milton, Massachusetts – roughly 15 miles south of downtown Boston. With its most recent acquisition and creation of its first permanent gallery space, HNE also created a full-scale mobile guide that mirrors in-gallery media to enhance its interpretation and create greater access to content across devices and geography.
As you begin your museum experience in the visitor’s center near the parking lot, the museum attendant orients you to the screens that you will find throughout the museum and how to access the same content on your own device if you prefer. This opens the guide to many different audiences and various levels of knowledge about technology, historic homes, and museums in general. However, the guide is aimed at an adult audience with interest in historic homes and the history of developing America.
As you transition to the historic home, in each room you will find a large touchscreen panel that serves as the interpretation to the space. The screen is automatically queued up to the interpretation for that room however the interpretation for the entire estate is also within the device to explore if one wants to. In other rooms that contain historic furniture that can be sat in, there smaller tablet-sized touchscreens that continue the interpretive journey. The large screens that will be used when standing or in a wheelchair, tethered small screens to be used while resting or taking in the space while seated, or the guide on your own device creates wide accessibility and flexibility in times of high visitor volume in the house.
The guide itself was very successful in orienting the visitor to the room and where that room exists in the house, connecting the stories of people who lived in or worked at the estate to the objects and rooms within the home and property, providing detailed photos and context regarding the objects within the space that may be too far away from the stanchions to see in full detail, and bringing everything together with supporting documentation in the form of photos of historic archival letters, family photos, sound recordings, and other memorabilia. If the visitor wants to dig deeper he can, if not the initial interoperation serves to enlighten the visitor and enrich the experience within the room.
One of the greatest attributes of the application was that it can be taken home with you, or used before your visit. HNE developed the mobile guide as a website that looks like a downloadable application, however it requires no special technology brought by the user. All one has to do is go to eustis.estatewithin a browser and you are on the mobile guide. If there is a question after the trip or if more exploration is wanted after leaving, the educational journey doesn’t stop. By using the web-based application, if there is additional content uncovered by the staff, or if a typo is discovered, or if by studying the user data staff decide to provide more tools to learn about a specific topic it can be added seamlessly without continual updating of devices. This adaptable, sharp, and user-focused guide is very successful in providing a visitor-centered experience with information curated in learning paths for the visitor’s learning pleasure.
Furthermore, the guide, in the way in which it is installed in the galleries/rooms, provides an unencumbered view of the space and avoids the historic house pitfall of polka dot labels all around the room. It truly enhances the collection and the viewing/learning experience of the visitor. It seems like a fresh approach to historic homes and a good use of technology that is not wed to any proprietary coding or vender. By using the guide, the visitor is easily able to understand who lived in the house, what their role was in that family, how they used the estate, and their connection to local history. Although the content seemed to be developed for adults, children can easily access the intuitive screens and interact with well-written interpretation or explore media on the devices.
In the future, if the site is marketed to school groups or becomes popular with younger audiences, it would be remarkable if another site like the eustis.estate site was developed for the younger audience. Imagine if a fourth-grade group was scheduled and the museum could switch all the interpretation to a specific program with content aimed at academic standards for that age, with just a touch of a button. Then, when the museum opened for general visitors, switch back to the general interpretation. I could see this same technique happening for private events, Clue style mystery parties, etc. to help bring added income to the property and continue to serve its mission through education. Lastly, HNE does plan on creating additional content to help explore its vast grounds, however at my last visit it was not yet available.
All in all, this was splendidly successful implementation of a mobile guide that is both stationary and mobile in and around the museum. I saw visitors successfully navigating the site and engaged in discussion with each other using the interpretation as a starting point to dive into the history and stories of the property and objects. I look forward to seeing HNE use this same model at it over 30 other properties.