NYPL @ ITP Innovation Lab
Answer to the quiz in the last NYPL Digital post at the bottom of this one!
Digital content can seem immaterial. It streams to us from mysterious sources. We share it through clouds, even with ourselves. Are we immaterial too? This is part of its allure, but it's a myth. What good is Angry Birds without a touch-screen, or Spotify without headphones? Digital content needs technical interfaces. It needs storage facilities, delivery systems, and places for us to access it, whether those places are on your desk, in your pocket, on the facade of the Empire State Building, or in an exhibition at a museum or library.
On July 15 – 17, NYPL Digital Experience teamed up with NYPL exhibition planners to take part in the first ever ITP Innovation Lab. The Lab is a one-month summer program that gathers interdisciplinary thinkers from across the country and beyond to push the boundaries of what digital experiences can do in exhibition spaces. The program organizes its participants into four studios, each with its own focus and professional leaders from the field. The studios work on challenges presented by volunteering institutions, and each challenge is one, three, or ten days long. At the end of each, the studios present their products and ideas.
The challenge we outlined was related to a forthcoming media-rich NYPL exhibition and program that will permanently occupy the historic D. Samuel and Jeane H. Gottesman Exhibition Hall, and reach outward through digital and other extensions. In considering how the exhibition – currently in its earliest phases of planning – might remain fresh for years to come, we asked participants to design a digital interface that could somehow engage visitors in voting on new objects to be introduced into a physical display. We left them with a folder of lo-res assets – digital images of objects that might be displayed in the exhibition – and a link to the NYPL Digital Collections. We came back three days later.
The results were blasphemous. None of the studios had made voting booths – no ballots, chads, punch-outs, or digital versions thereof. In fact, nothing with “voting,” per se, at all. We were very pleased.
One studio, HiFi/LoFi, which focused on interactivity with social aspects, imagined a digital content waterfall (video here) that flowed into a stream across a multi-touch surface. Visitors’ choices from the stream, and the narrative connections between them, would then inform a new display of objects to replace a previous one in the gallery every six months. This studio made a fully immersive walk-in mock-up of their idea. Amazingly, they were not alone.
The Two or More studio, interested in digital-analog integration, also transformed a room, this one into an oversized treasure chest. Inside, two participants role-played as visitors exploring a mix of physical and digitized assets in intimate pullout drawers and hinged boxes, and sending them to a shared central touch table for others to see.
A third studio, On the Go , explored connections between mobile applications and physical environments. This studio envisioned the exhibition experience in three acts – before, during, and after – and made models of the touchpoints that might guide each one: a Tinder-style mobile app, a touch-wall that responds to the app with data visualizations, and a photo booth with exhibition content backdrops. For the app the studio produced a crude swipe-able mock-up on an iPad.
Meanwhile, the fourth studio, Small Fry, focused on experiences for young people, an audience NYPL hopes to reach with the exhibition and program. This studio conceptualized and modeled a number of interactives, including a hand-held guide led by a literary avatar of your choice, a multi-sensory semi-social object exploration, and a jukebox of historic tunes played through a shared Dance, Dance Revolution activity.
Digital exhibition experiences have come a long way since the 1996 NYPL Global Library exhibition “offered a guided tour of the World Wide Web, with hands-on access to 14 computer terminals.” You’ll now find these terminals in the Hall of Dinosaurs – three flights down, make a left. Museums and libraries today live in the era of the API-based Cooper-Hewitt, 3D-scanned Smithsonian, make-your-own AMNH, and Met as digital community. NYPL has nearly 850,000 assets in its digital collections at this time, all with open source metadata, and every day we add more. How to weave these into compelling, memorable exhibition experiences is increasingly becoming an important question. ITP Innovation Lab was a step in the right direction.
In the last NYPL Digital post, we challenged you to put the NYPL.org home pages in order from first to last. Think you got it right? Here is the correct sequence with dates below:
b - 1994, g - 1995, e - 1996, d - 1998, h - 1999, i - 2004, f - 2007, a - 2010, c - 2013