Unobtrusive Observations: Evaluating Beyond Chicken Soup

Posted on August 29th, 2016 by

For the past month, we have begun doing evaluations of our Beyond Chicken Soup: Jews and Medicine in America exhibit. We have been tracking, or completing “unobtrusive observations” of visitors, where data is collected about what attracts and holds the attention of our guests in the exhibition. We have also been completing short interviews where we ask visitors questions about their experience after leaving the exhibit. We hope to conduct between 70-100 evaluations before the exhibit closes in mid-January and have already completed about 25, due in large part to the work of our fabulous summer interns and volunteers.

"Its All Greek to Me" interactive.

“Its All Greek to Me” interactive.

I received a sneak peek at the data we have collected. I learned that the average stay was 30 minutes. The audience type was a mix between seniors, adults and young adults and many seemed to deeply engage with the exhibit content. When visitors were asked to sum up one “take away” message from the exhibit, one mentioned the long historical contribution of Jews to the progression of medical knowledge and practice. While some listed discrimination and stereotyping of Jewish doctors as a prominent theme, others remarked how so many Jewish immigrants were able to succeed, despite all the obstacles, in medicine. Still others were struck by eugenics or how modern medicine has come a long way since the early 1900s.

The Doctor's Office

The Doctor’s Office

Visitors seemed to enjoy the doctor’s office and the old medical instruments. They also enjoyed learning about local Baltimore history, including the spotlight on Sinai Hospital, and seeing the 15th century medical books collected by Harry Friedenwald and on loan to the JMM from the National Museum of Israel. Almost all visitors exclaim “eww!” when they read in our Pharmacy window that a dead mouse was once considered medicine for the treatment of diabetes.

Check out all those post-it notes!

Check out all those post-it notes!

Visitors have also been continuing to add post-it notes to the comment board. One visitor commented that the exhibit is amazing for kinesthetic learners because of all the interactive parts. We got another slightly humorous comment from a Dr. Berman who explored the exhibit and got slightly panicked each time the “paging Dr. Berman” sound clip went off in the hospital section.

GrahamA blog post by Graham Humphrey, Visitor Services Coordinator. To read more posts by Graham click HERE.

Posted in jewish museum of maryland




Visitor Reflections at JMM

Posted on June 22nd, 2016 by

I thought I’d take some time to share some of the visitor feedback we’ve received at the Museum whether on post-it notes in the Beyond Chicken Soup: Jews and Medicine in America exhibit, comment books in the Voices of Lombard Street exhibit or expressed to me at the front desk.

The comment board

The comment board

At the end of the “Beyond Chicken Soup: Jews and Medicine in America” exhibit, visitors have the opportunity to share their thoughts and feedback by leaving post-it notes on a board. Here is a selection of some of the comments we’ve received:

“I love the structure and the interactive exhibits!”

“Exhibit called my attention to things about which I’d previously been unaware”

“Varied, informative, entertaining – Wow!!”

“Very informative exhibit that invites visitors to explore the Jewish medical experience and to also see themselves within the context of its evolving history. Thanks!”

“So fun! I feel like I have gone back in time!”

I suspect that the person who wrote the last comment may have been referring to features such as the recreation of a corner drugstore.

I suspect that the person who wrote the last comment may have been referring to features such as the recreation of a corner drugstore.

We also had a few comments from graduates from the Sinai Hospital School of Nursing saying that they had a wonderful experience and that the exhibit brought back many memories.

As I was walking through the Voices of Lombard Street exhibit, I noticed that our visitors had completely filled out the comment book at the end of the exhibit. It was a pleasure reading through it the book and hearing about visitor’s connections to our neighborhood. One visitor thanked us for reviving memories of his youth. Several others remarked how the exhibit reminded them of how their immigrant grandparents grew up.

Another described coming down to Lombard Street with her father to get corned beef while also playing with the chickens in the wooden cages.

Another described coming down to Lombard Street with her father to get corned beef while also playing with the chickens in the wooden cages.

In addition to written feedback, I sometimes get people coming up to the front desk telling me stories of their connections to Jewish Baltimore or of their connection to our collections. A few days ago, I heard from a rabbi who went on the Lloyd Street Synagogue tour that his great grandfather, was the melamed, or teacher of the synagogue from the Bavarian village of Gaukoenigshoffen, where one of our Torah scrolls came from.

The scroll he was referring to was our Kleeman Torah which was rescued by Louis Kleeman during Kristallnacht in 1938 and then smuggled out of Germany in 1940.

The scroll he was referring to was our Kleeman Torah which was rescued by Louis Kleeman during Kristallnacht in 1938 and then smuggled out of Germany in 1940.

This story had a tragic end because on March 24, 1942, the 40 year old Jewish community of Gaukoenigshoffen disappeared when the remaining 37 Jews were deported to Theresienstadt concentration camp.

Despite the sometimes sad stories I hear, one of my favorite parts of my job is hearing how our exhibits and collections touch visitors and often reconnect them to a part of their past that they thought they had lost. I hope you will all continue to leave your feedback!

GrahamA blog post by Graham Humphrey, Visitor Services Coordinator. To read more posts by Graham click HERE.

Posted in jewish museum of maryland




A Comment Wall to Remember

Posted on January 20th, 2016 by

For many museum professionals, the exhibit comment book is a mixed blessing. We set them out optimistically, hoping for substantive, reflective remarks from our visitors … but all too often, those remarks are voiced or thought, but not written down.  In the case of a particularly empty book we’ll welcome “nice exhibit”, “I liked it”, or even a disheartening “your layout was terrible” (well, at least they were paying attention!), but that’s hardly what we’re looking for.

Sometimes we get lucky.  The “Voices of Lombard Street” book often receives written responses, and the movie posters in last summer’s “Cinema Judaica” prompted some great comments from kids and adults.  But that success pales in comparison to my new favorite thing, the comment wall from our just-closed “Paul Simon: Words and Music” exhibit.

Top: the comment wall in late October, 2015. Bottom: the same wall on January 15th, 2016. So many comments!

Top: the comment wall in late October, 2015. Bottom: the same wall on January 15th, 2016. So many comments!

I can claim a little credit – since some of the albums used to construct the ‘wall’ belong to my parents  [read more on that here] – but I have to give props to Rachel, who suggested the idea of letting visitors put their notes right onto framed albums.  A genius plan: easy to install, and sticky-note comment walls or boards are a little more interactive and entertaining than the traditional book. I had moderate hopes, expecting a moderate number of comments.

Happily, through some magical combination of factors, the wall o’ albums was a roaring success. Over the course of three months, we had over 300 sticky notes left for us; far from having an empty wall, we had to periodically remove comments just to make room. (One visitor even complained that they couldn’t see the album covers anymore.)  And these weren’t just “great exhibit!” comments, though of course those are gratifying to receive. These were deeply personal reactions to the exhibit experience – so personal that many of them were addressed directly to Paul Simon himself.  Here are a few:

“You explain your creative process very well – most artists can’t. That makes you even greater. Thanks!”

“I like the song ‘Mrs. Robinson’ you are amazingly good at writing songs.” (from a 13 year old visitor)

“Sometimes you were the key to my soul’s survival”

“Okay Paul – why say you were from Kew Gardens when you grew up in Kew Gardens Hills??”

“This exhibition makes me miss all those that I used to enjoy the music with. Thanks for the beautiful sounds Paul”

Favorite songs and albums were called out, along with the memories they evoke of important times, places and people in our visitors’ lives. Some comments were humorous; others were poignant. One required multiple pieces of paper, and another started a debate with later commenters drawing arrows to indicate their responses. Based on the evidence, I must conclude that the “Graceland” tour did in fact offer the Best Concert Ever, and that Simon’s music (and this exhibit) are an excellent way to bond with one’s parents… while the parents are busy remembering their own youth. Some examples:

“My first album [was ‘Bridge Over Troubled Water’], along with ‘Free to Be You and Me.’ Thanks, Mom and Dad!”

“I sang songs from this album [‘Parsley Sage Rosemary and Thyme’] in my junior high variety show”

“I close my eyes (because that’s the way I always listened to Paul or Paul & Art) and I’m still in my twenties. Sigh…”

“I walked through snowstorm to get 45 [of ‘Sounds of Silence’]”

“I’m 23 – not alive in the 60s/70s. But S&G were one of the first musicians I listened to. So glad I could see this! and with my dad, who played this music when I was a child.”

“This song [‘Bridge Over Troubled Water’] got me through lots of tough times as a teenager. It was like a life line to me!”

“Paul Simon – major reason I wanted to learn acoustic guitar. (Why did I think ‘Bookends’ wouldn’t be hard?)”

“Ok – greatest concert – Graceland @ Merriweather Post – dancing in the aisles”

I had a lot of favorite notes, but this one left on the last day spoke to me in particular, since it mentions the artifacts. Perhaps the writer is a new recruit to the museum field?

“This was really interesting…in a good way! I liked learning about Paul Simon and seeing his keepsakes was great!”

“This was really interesting…in a good way! I liked learning about Paul Simon and seeing his keepsakes was great!”

Altogether, the stories and notes left by the stream of visitors proved to be a vital and engaging part of the exhibition.  I often went into the gallery to find people studying the comment wall as thoroughly as they did any other text or artifact.

Visitors in action!

Visitors in action!

I’ll try to keep my expectations realistic for our next exhibits, but we’re a little bit spoiled now thanks to these great insights into our audience’s experience.  Help us out by making sure (whatever museum you’re in) to leave a response.  After all, you might not appreciate it if museum staff resort to creeping up behind you with pencils poised, ready to jot down overheard thoughts and questions.  So keep on writing those comments!

Sometimes simple says it best.

Sometimes simple says it best.

JoannaA blog post by Collections Manager Joanna Church. To read more posts by Joanna click HERE.

Posted in jewish museum of maryland




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