Part 1: Finding a Medium-Sized Video-Making Model for your Museum By Erin Blasco

Here is part 1 of a guest blog post from Erin Blasco, Public Programs Coordinator, Smithsonian National Postal Museum.

Finding a Medium-Sized Video-Making Model for your Museum

You’ve probably heard somebody at your museum or historic site say, “We need to do more with video.” As the public programs coordinator at a medium-sized museum with a “do it yourself” culture, I decided to make videos of museum programs without a formal studio or the highest-end equipment. My target was something better than a webcam or handheld video but not nearly as slick as a formal studio. I figured I’d “just Google it” to find a medium-sized video-making model that worked for me. Google failed me. Here’s my experience in identifying my goals of “doing more with video,” selecting the best way to make videos that meet my goals, and what I’ve learned so far. I hope this helps when it’s your turn to go Googling.

My view from behind the camera (recording) and laptop (webcasting) during a curator's sound check

Why do you want to “do more with video?”

Before hitting up the local electronics store, identify your goals.  Sure, people like to watch videos online and in galleries, but what do you want your videos to achieve? Decide in advance or keep your receipts for any equipment you buy.

I had two reasons for filming Postal Museum programs.  First, people beyond my lecture hall were interested in accessing programming who couldn’t. Geography, schedule, and disability were barriers. Facebook fans would ask if we could send the curator to give the same lecture in their town. E-newsletter subscribers would request a transcript. When a local tweeted that she wished she was at our workshop but had slept in, I knew that the option to engage with museum content while wearing pajamas was a good thing—giving the audience control of when, where, and how they learn. Video is just one way of meeting this need so when you get requests for access to programming, follow up to ask their preferred medium.

The second reason I turned to video was to recycle program content. Lectures I coordinate are the result of hard work and research, yet this high-quality content was vanishing when the audience left the lecture hall. I needed tools to capture, re-purpose, and re-use this content. Recording lectures would allow me to post them online and even replicate some of the social behavior that takes place on-site through social media. By posting a YouTube video or sharing a video clip on Facebook, off-site viewers could also engage in conversation about museum content.

I the end, I wanted video to do the following things for Postal Museum programming: increase access to programs, allow programs to be recyclable, and allow programs to be a social experience online. Video can also increase engagement, promote the museum, present content in a non-text format to people with different learning styles, establish a program archive, and many other things. Whether your goals are to create promotional videos or allow kids to use video cameras to explore the museum, identifying goals will help you make wise decisions.

What’s the best type of video-making to meet your goal?

A few minutes into my Google search, I got a headache from the plethora of options for making video. To save you from that same headache, check out the chart below. Take all the factors into account but, most of all, think about your audience and how you want to engage them.

In addition to these four options, you can also get creative with Skype to use video to communicate with audiences or call in the local TV journalism class to take on an extra credit project. If you’re planning to make a video of one special program, call in the contractors. If you foresee making multiple videos, weigh the cost of contractors vs. investing in the equipment and training.

Take your current and future space into account, as well. I envisioned lectures taking place in our “swing space” of a lecture hall with an audience in attendance. The “Discovery Center” room is home to conferences, symposia, workshops, and herds of 3rd graders and there’s no space for a permanent studio installment—anything I bought would need to fit into a closet when not in use. A year after purchasing the equipment, museum expansion has transformed the Discovery Center into a construction zone and I’m glad that my equipment is mobile enough to set up in galleries and other temporary spaces. When I needed to transition from a lecture hall model to a curator-in-front-of-an-artifact model, my goals stayed the same and so did my equipment.

Once you’ve determined which model works for you, befriend a tech guy/gal at a sister institution, local college, video store, etc. Marc Bretzfelder of the Smithsonian’s Office of the Chief Information Officer lent his expertise and enthusiasm to my project and I couldn’t have done it without him. With his help, I determined that webcasting and “tape, edit, post” worked best for the Postal Museum.

After a year of webcasting and posting videos on YouTube, we’ve had lots of views and a fair number of comments, though I admit that I’ve had less time to exploit the social side of video as I’m learning some basic lessons about audio, lighting, and increasing quality levels. Tomorrow, I’ll share my “lessons learned” from the year and some top tips.

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