10%. Yep, that's the percentage of regular museum-goers that enjoy using their phones to access more information while visiting museums.
OK, OK. You are right. Different segments of regular museum-goers feel differently about this. Such as parents of teens and tweens, who are most likely to say they enjoy this. Well, 13% of them did.
And young adults without children? A whopping 12% said they enjoyed using their smartphones at museums in this way.
The thing is, people don't come to museums to use their phones. They don't want to take time (and memory) to download your app. And they are choosing to spend time in a museum very deliberately. To see and do what you are offering, and to spend time with those they care about. For many, pulling out a phone likely detracts from those goals. (After all, when phones do come out, how many people go down the rabbit hole of messages, etc., and then stop paying attention to the museum experience in the first place? More than we would like, I suspect.)
Now, this doesn't mean you shouldn't do fantastic things with these computers we all carry around. If you have a great idea that truly supports the story you are trying to tell, deepens the experience, and works best using an app or smartphone, then do it. Whether for use in the museum itself or, perhaps, helping take the museum outside of your four walls. After all, it isn't as if the other 90% hate the idea of using phones in museums … most are probably ambivalent and may try it out if it looks compelling.
But there is no evidence that anyone is making a decision about visiting a museum or not based on this factor. None at all. And if anyone says that you need to do it to attract broader audiences, they are wrong. Indeed, doing it for the sake of doing it actually increases the odds that it will be a distraction, or a lower-quality add-on, and probably turn off audiences.
Besides, anyone can design a great app. Who else provides the kinds of experiences museums provide?
A note about fielding research. I hold dear the idea that research for the field, about the field, should be shared with the field. But that only works when museums work together to make it possible. Since individual museums are needed to field this work, the survey also benefits participating museums on an individual level by providing benchmark data on visitation rates, motivations, attitudes and preferences, and demographic questions … all of which can then be tracked over time in the future. Participating museums are also allowed to add 1 - 2 custom questions specific to their needs.
Which means if you value this research, want more of it in the coming years, and want to track your own museum's progress over time, please support this work by enrolling your museum in the 2018 Annual Survey of Museum Goers. The fee for 2018 is only $1,000 per museum.
The questions for this survey have been inspired by ongoing conversations within the museum field (who does/does not go to museums, why they do/do not visit, and what that means for communities) and ongoing research in the fields of education and psychology around lifelong learning and intrinsic motivation.