Museum Selfies

Emily Oswald, Museum selfies: Participatory genius or sign of our self-centered times?, Public History Commons, 19 March 2014

South Australian Maritime Museum gets into the spirit. Source: SA Maritime Museum on Facebook.

I learned about Museum Selfie Day on Facebook just a couple of days before the event. I made a mental note and visited the Harvard Museum of Natural History on January 22. The results were silly and less skillful than I’d anticipated. Good selfies take practice, it turns out. But the twenty minutes I spent with the orangutans and hummingbirds and whale skeletons got me thinking about why museum selfies are so fun and what museums could do to make better use of them.

By way of background, Museum Selfie Day is the work of Mar Dixon and her CultureThemes collaborators. The group picks and publicizes a Twitter hashtag each month and encourages museum professionals and aficionados from around the world to contribute. Past projects have included AskACurator, #WhyILoveMuseums, and, my personal favorite, the playful #MusMovember.

#MuseumSelfie was the theme for January 2014. On Wednesday, January 22, more than 10,000 people participated on Twitter. The British press got in on the fun with photo galleries in the Guardian, the Telegraph, and the BBC websites. Conversations about museum photo policies and museum selfie protests erupted. Jay-Z got involved. It was huge, and the folks at CultureThemes have every intention of hosting a MuseumSelfie Day each January.

Now, reader, I can sense your skepticism. Can (social) media buzz really translate into meaningful visitor engagement? Can selfies be a useful participatory strategy and not just a sign of our (literally) self-centered times? My own participation in Museum Selfie Day has convinced me that selfies in museums merit our consideration for at least three reasons.
First, museum selfies are as much about action as they are about artifacts. By asking museum visitors to take a selfie, we invite them to interact with collections in unusual ways. My favorite selfie from my visit to Harvard’s Natural History Museum was the one above, where a pair of antlers emerges from my own head.

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Feel free to send CAMD your 2015 Museum Selfies!  Meanwhile see Museum Selfies from around the world here.

How Museum Visitors Use Photography, Museums ect magazine, 15 January 2015

Museums are increasingly using visitor photography in innovative and effective ways.

Billions of photographs are produced each year in museums throughout the world, with the number steadily rising year by year. While museum visitors accumulate personal photographs from museum visits, the kind of photographs they produce, how, and for what reasons, has been little explored.

Social networks and photo-sharing mean that photography now plays a significant role in defining people and places. As a result, museums are increasingly using visitor photography in innovative and effective ways: to engage and involve, to reach new audiences, and to facilitate learning.

Museums and Visitor Photography will be both a practical source of information and inspiration, and a valuable source of new research information.

Read more here about the papers and case studies forming part of the book.