Test, test, repeat
I imagine many organizations in Ottawa are thinking that it would be nice if the first of July was just a little farther off—like September, maybe. Sure, we too could benefit from more time before our opening, but the stress of a looming deadline just makes you stronger, right? The Museum is, for all intents and purposes, complete. The last few stragglers among our artifacts are ready for installation and the interactives and digital labels are bulking up with the final software and data in them, so it’s all there, functional and looking fantastic.
For a couple of weeks, now, technicians have been pulling levers, cranking wheels and swiping and tapping every touch panel in the Museum and will continue do so until the doors officially open. All that is well and good, but what about getting a sense of how people who know nothing about the Museum would respond to the interactives and understand the content? How might we do that before they arrive so we can make those little tweaks and adjustments that help to create that “it just works” feeling?
At the end of May we invited students from local schools to come into the Museum and, ready or not, take it for a spin around the block. Twenty teenagers participated, bringing with them a broad range of learning styles and curiosity (or not) in the Bank and economics. They were at the younger end of our primary target audience (15–25) and a predictably difficult demographic to attract to this kind of subject. At the very least, we could rely on their frankness.
Although most of the hands-on aspects of the Museum were designed for just this sort of audience, it was still amazing to watch how naturally the kids manipulated the touch panels. They seemed to instinctively know when to swipe and tap, whereas duffers like me often had to pause and think it through. It was most interesting, though, to see what captured their attention. We have one unit that is a full-on video game which of course made a hit. But a surprising number of kids found the plumbing-themed interactive that helps to introduce the Bank’s role in maintaining the safe and efficient operation of the key elements of the financial system very absorbing—and quite a few really got caught up in the foreign currency area of the artifact display cases.
The radio frequency ID bracelets were also very popular. This wearable technology carries visitors’ language preferences as well as their aliases and the little cartoon avatars they build before entering the gallery. For the interactives, visitors just have to tap their bracelets on a bright circle to have the unit operate in their chosen (official) language and for many of the stations, visitors’ avatars and aliases will also pop up. Our guests really liked this aspect and wanted to see their little characters showing up wherever they logged in with a bracelet—even in videos alongside the Governor. Something we didn’t see coming: the students didn’t like saying goodbye to their avatars. They wanted some means of taking them home: more food for thought.
Likes and dislikes were explored more deeply at an afternoon de-briefing in the “IdeaSpace,” the Bank’s highly flexible, and very comfortable, meeting and brainstorming centre. Enlarged floorplans of the Museum were tacked on the walls and the students were asked to place sticky notes on features they really liked or those they didn’t, as well as where they encountered problems.
All sorts of comments popped up about seating, lighting and sound levels, placements of signage and computer performance. These were the sort of practical things one expects to discover before opening day. What was gratifying was the interest the kids had in learning more about the topics that had been “gamified.” Where they were asked to play a game or adjust levers and wheels, they often wanted more background information on the subject or wanted the interactive’s metaphor more deeply explained. (Interest had been piqued!) Also, for a generation that is more at home with a smartphone than a book, it was interesting to see that they still wanted and expected to see traditional, printed labels beside the artifacts.
This was a very valuable experience for us and we will be doing more such testing sessions in the future. Many of the suggestions we can act upon immediately; some will have to wait for a while—like the one in which students recommended that the inflation control interactive have four levels: beginner, intermediate, expert and insane. We’ll speak to our technology team about that one after opening day.
Among other events preceding our opening day was our participation in Doors Open Ottawa 2017. Relax, our doors were not actually open on 4 June; Canada Day is still our opening day. However, we took the opportunity to provide people with a virtual look at the Museum.
The Bank invited the public into its spectacular 12-story atrium, the “Knowledge” information centre and the beautiful 1938 entrance hall with its mulicoloured marble finishes and art deco details. The tour included a stop at the Museum’s kiosk where visitors were given a little introductory chat about the Museum in addition to being shown a video. The video consisted mostly of conceptual images, but they are accurate ones and very good for raising expectations and piquing curiosity. In all, more than 750 people participated in the Bank’s Doors Open event and the Museum got some great news coverage (sorry, English only). On Canada Day, instead of doors open, it will be open doors—nothing virtual about it. Come check us out.
During the planning stages stamping the word ‘final’ on any given aspect of a travelling exhibition can seem less of a directive and more of an overly optimistic suggestion.
This month’s selections highlight various areas of Collection development. These include what are called financial instruments: items such as stocks, bonds shares and other articles that represent a contract to deliver money in some manner.
In early February, a small group from the Bank’s Communications Department booked a brief tour of the main floor and first basement at the Wellington Street head office. It’s still in the demolition phase of the renovation.
Notgeld, German for emergency money, first appeared at the beginning of World War One and was issued until 1924. Through these notes we can see the entire story of Germany’s experience with out-of-control inflation between the wars.
Before the Museum closed, and the Collection moved to Gatineau, the curators regularly hosted a show and tell session for staff to see new acquisitions. With the help of the Museum’s new blog, that tradition will continue; only now, you too will be able to see and learn about some of the brilliant new stars in the Collection. Get out your sunglasses!
If we had a nickel for every time people asked questions like that, we’d have… Well, I suppose we have roughly that number of nickels already; we have a long history as a currency museum after all. When the museum was open, somebody would ask a similar question several times a week.
After four months in our new digs the Collections Team is starting to settle in. But even though most of the boxes have been unpacked there is still a lot of work to do. In 2014 we will be collaborating with the Exhibitions Team on travelling exhibits and coming up with ideas for the new museum space.
Recently, from October 3 to 5th, collections staff were at the Toronto Coin Expo, held at the Toronto Reference Library on Yonge Street. The show boasts informative lectures, a large auction of coins, tokens and paper money as well as a showroom, called a bourse, where dealers greet clients and buy and sell material.
In one of my favourite cinematic moments, the 11 year-old chess prodigy, Josh Waitzkin, imagines sweeping the pieces off a chess board in order to help him think more clearly about an important game of chess. It is a championship game and he is on the brink of winning it all.
For the first time since they went into their cases in 1980, over 2000 coins, notes, beads and shells are coming back out. The Museum’s curatorial staff are busily pulling panels from cases, placing coins into specially prepared drawers and sliding notes into acid-free Mylar envelopes.
The doors were barely closed following Big Top Farewell event before Chief Curator Paul Berry and his team began emptying display cases that had been sealed shut since 1980. The biggest task involved removing more than 2500 bank notes from the room we knew as Gallery 8.
Another convention of the Royal Canadian Numismatic Association (RCNA) wrapped up in July. This year the convention was held in Winnipeg, Manitoba. It was the first time in over thirty years that the RCNA Convention made a stop there.
Before the museum closed for renovations on 2 July, technicians began to remove the heavier artifacts in late May. First to go was the strong box. Built of ¼” thick welded steel plates, this trunk was used by the Bank of Upper Canada in Toronto between 1821 and 1866.
Most of us know the first part of Alexander Graham Bell’s take on opportunity: “When one door closes, another one opens…” What we often don’t recall is the second half of that quote, where he says: “…but we so often look so long and regretfully upon the closed door, that we do not see the ones which open for us.”
The Staff of the Currency Museum was saddened to learn of the passing of artist Alex Colville who died on 16 July at his home in Wolfville, Nova Scotia. He was 92. One of Canada’s most celebrated painters, Colville is not as well-known as a sculptor but if you look carefully through your pocket change you might just find an example of his work.