How to Incorporate Archival Material into Your Museum’s Audio Guide

Close up of the Panorama of the City of New York, an exhibition at the Queens Museum that shows a model version of the city.
The Panorama of the City of New York at the Queens Museum.
Black and white poster from the 1964–65 World’s Fair advertising the helicopter tour style ride around the Panorama exhibit.
Poster for the helicopter tour.
Close up of the Panorama exhibit in the dark at the Queens Museum, with areas of the city glowing in the dark.
The Panorama in the dark.
Fairgoers at the 1964–65 World’s Fair, sitting and eating Belgian waffles with whipped cream and strawberries.
Fairgoers at the 1964–65 World’s Fair.
  1. Work with what you’ve got: “The first step is taking stock of your assets. You have to work with what’s available to you and be opportunistic. If you don’t have a budget, there’s already so many people on your staff with different levels of expertise on a given exhibit. You can interview curators, security guards, tour guides, or superfans. There’s ways to get this content and diversify it without spending a lot of money. For me, I was also able to build on a lot of work I’d already done. I had previously given talks on the World’s Fair collection, and I’ve given tours about the Panorama multiple times.”
  2. Know your audience: “The Queens Museum has done a lot of research, including surveys and focus groups, on our audiences to figure out what attracted them to our collections. Get to know an exhibit and why people come to visit it and what they want to know about it to really inform how your program should be.”
  3. Dive right in: “Start outlining, writing scripts, and experimenting. Then, you can start recording, sound editing, pairing the audio with images, and publishing the material. It’s ok if you haven’t done something like this before. I’ve never used audio editing before, and I’ve never recorded my voice before, but there’s so much you can do with an iPhone these days. When editing, also keep in mind that you’re not writing a wall label or an essay, so you really have to think about what your brain can listen to and retain. It has to be conversational, accessible, and paced well. Overall, when the pandemic hit, we didn’t have much digital content, and I saw this as an opportunity to start experimenting. So, whenever you have a pilot, it’s good to just do something and go from there.”

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