An open museum behind closed doors

Digital technologies and social media for different audiences

The Pavia University History Museum has a long and rich history of connecting with its visitors. Welcoming them and offering them an involving experience – by guiding them through the museum rooms to the discovery of hidden stories, ancient instruments and people whose breakthroughs benefited all humanity – is a source of constant inspiration for new activities and events for publics of all ages and professions. New technologies are often experimented and employed in this process; the museum is also active on the web, with an updated website and curated profiles on social media.

A dialogue window

With the outbreak of the Covid-19 pandemic, the intention to keep a constant and informal dialogue open with the public has given renewed strength to the museum’s online efforts and has provided the basis for the creation of new communication strategies. The social media programming is designed to reach new publics, as well as to offer content to the various audiences who already habitually interact with the museum.

A weekly calendar

On Facebook, illustrations depicting the protagonists of the “small Monday fairy tales” mark, for the younger generations, the beginning of the week – no longer marked by the start of class lessons – and aim to inspire and encourage them in their daily lives.

The Wednesday and Friday posts are dedicated to the adult public who, in regular times, would constitute the “single” visitors of the museum; the museum stories are discovered through both archival and recent videos, while the posts on the medical doctors, who worked and studied at the University of Pavia, invite to discover the tireless activity of scientists who have dedicated themselves to the advancement of medical science.

Lastly, Saturday is #markerday, in which a more tech-wise public is offered the unprecedented possibility of autonomously discovering the individual objects exhibited in the museum directly from home. The markers of the augmented reality app, available for free at the museum, are posted on Facebook, and the experience becomes a sort of targeted and personalized virtual visit. It is sufficient to open the app Pavia University History Museum (available on Android and iOS stores) and point the camera of the smart device towards the marker to be able to navigate between videos, three-dimensional contents, images and detailed explanations.

The museum’s Instagram account provides engaging content for an audience of young adults and University students: the memes and challenges on Monday lighten up the scientific topics (there are new challenges in preparation to entertain and involve young people), while on Wednesdays the museum offers in-depth insights on its items; lastly, Friday is always #museodì, where the staff members offer, via video post and IGTV, a short story about the museum, its instruments and characters.

A lot of interaction opportunities

The Instagram Stories also feature fairy tales, games, updates on the latest news from the University of Pavia, as well as contents offered by the followers themselves.

Playlists are available on the History Museum Youtube account, allowing the viewer to watch short physics and medicine stories, video books (ancient pages browsed on video), shots of the anatomical waxes on display at the museum and promotional videos and storytelling products by students of the CIM University course. The museum is happy to share the contributions (video storytelling, insta stories, Instagram filters) of students and visitors and is considering strategies to increasingly encourage sharing.

The public who does not interact through social networks will be able to browse the contents offered on the Museum’s website in the specific page #raccontamuseo, a hashtag-title that identifies the contents posted online and which was designed in agreement with other museums in the Atheneum Museum System.

An unlimited and expanded audience

The intense activity on social media has brought a first, important result: contact with associations, groups of students and visitors, even from very afar, who have shown interest in personalized guided tours through the Museum rooms. Objects and details are filmed and the videos edited ad hoc, according to the interests expressed by the group during a pre-visit organizational meeting; the videos are then broadcast during a Zoom meeting and live commented by the museum staff. This method, which has only recently been tested, allows a high level of interactivity with the virtual visitor, who can at any time ask questions and ask to spend more time on an image, investigating topics of particular interest.

This “small Monday fairy tale” depicts Cecilia Payne; the post talks of her discovery on the composition of stars and of her difficulties as a woman in academic

A second result is the use of images and concepts from Monday’s fairy tales to create longer and more articulated fairy tales that are used by kinder garden teachers during remote contacts with the children. The teachers had previously participated in the annual co-creative projects involving Museum and schools. A deeper reflection on the positive and negative effects of this period will only be possible at a later time. However, it should be noted that this period of suspension of the usual activities has led to the implementation of strategies that can be used in the future to keep in touch with visitors who cannot visit the museum in person, and to enrich all the museum’s activities, both visits and workshops and the co-creative projects that annually involve many local schools.

Ester Maria Bernardi

Ester Maria Bernardi

She works on communication, graphics and content management of the museum AR app at the Pavia University History Museum (research scholarship from the Physics Department). She holds a Master’s degree in Professional Multimedia Communication from the University of Pavia. Her final dissertation dealt with digital tools, the more recent focusing on advancements in VR and AR technologies.

Lidia Falomo Bernarduzzi

Lidia Falomo Bernarduzzi

Adjunct Professor at the Physics Department of the University of Pavia; she is also Director of the Pavia University History Museum and of the Physics Museum, and is in charge of the educational systems of the University Museum System. She currently holds three courses at the University of Pavia: Scientific Communication Technologies, Digital and Multimedia Communication and Teaching Tools and Methods. She has been involved in researching the role of science history and digital technologies in both formal and informal science education.