Can you hear me now?
The Science Museum in St. Paul has it. The Minneapolis Institute of Arts has it. And now, as of early August, the Runestone Museum in Alexandria has it.
An audio tour.
Using an online program called OnCell, the Runestone Museum offers exclusive audio descriptions of some of its exhibits, according to Jim Bergquist, Runestone Museum manager.
OnCell is an online system that stores recorded files that people create, and then it connects to a mobile device so that the recording is accessible, Bergquist said.
And the best part is that any museum visitor with a cell phone can access it.
HOW IT WORKS
Using the number provided on a laminated card near the exhibit, people can call the OnCell program, where they will be prompted to enter the number of the exhibit.
The OnCell cards at the exhibits also include a QR code, a machine-readable code consisting of random white and black squares, which can be scanned with a smartphone such as an Android or an iPhone.
After the number is dialed or the QR code is scanned, an audio recording giving a description and brief history will play.
For those who are interested, some of the exhibits will also offer in-depth descriptions.
"For example, there might be one about a piano, and then there might be an option to learn about how these pianos were tuned," Bergquist said.
Thirteen of the museum's exhibits, including the Kensington Runestone, the jingle dress, the Knute Nelson carriage and an early 1900s cash register, already have an audio feature, and more are in the works.
"There's no limit to the number of them that we can eventually produce," Bergquist said.
MAKING IT POSSIBLE
Leah Henning of Evansville, a summer employee at the Runestone Museum, was one of the main contributing volunteers in getting the project up and running.
Laura McCoy, a board member and volunteer; Ann Hermes, the artistic director of Lakes Area Theatre; and many more are also volunteers in the project.
To set up OnCell for an exhibit, the volunteers first research the background and history of that specific exhibit. From there, they write a description, which can vary in length, and then call OnCell to record the audio.
"We would listen to it, and if we think it sounds good, then we just have to enable it, and the OnCell software would generate one of the QR codes," Bergquist said. "We would then create a display by our exhibit."
The audio option allows visitors to spend more time with an exhibit, and they'll hopefully get more out of it by hearing the descriptions, Bergquist said.
"If I was going to read this much text about an artifact, my eye would have to be down here," he explained, pointing at a written description. "But if somebody was going to read it to me in an audio description, I can actually look at the artifact for that minute or so while I'm hearing this, and that's really what I want to do at a museum."
TAKING STEPS FORWARD
Currently, the museum is in the process of finding volunteers to translate the descriptions and record them i Norsk (in Norwegian), hopefully come fall.
"We get a lot of tour buses that are on their way up to the Norsk Høstfest in Minot," Bergquist said. "Younger Norwegians speak English beautifully. Some of the older retired ones did not have to learn it in school, and so they struggle."
Bergquist would also like to eventually use OnCell's video feature, as well as use the system to incorporate more kid-friendly activities.
"There might even be uses that I haven't thought of yet," he said.
The OnCell program has helped boost the offerings of the museum, as well as provide a more in-depth experience for visitors.
"It's multimedia, and I like that," Bergquist said. "In one way it can relieve the questions that we might get from people.
"From a grant writer's point of view, the funders, the people who provide money, like to see that museums are changing and keeping up with the times and keeping up with children, and the OnCell program does all of that," he added.
As it continues to expand audio options with the OnCell program, the museum is looking for any volunteers that would like to read and record some of the exhibit descriptions.
Many descriptions are ready to go, and the museum plans to keep expanding the offerings.
"I think that it's versatile, and I know that it appeals to younger people," Bergquist said. "So I would encourage people to come by to see our museum and see the OnCell feature."