From Game Design to Scheduling: JMM Interning is More than Meets the Eye

Posted on July 11th, 2018 by

Blog post by JMM intern Justine “Ellie” Smith. To read more posts from JMM interns, past and present, click here.

Over the course of the last five weeks I have gained valuable knowledge about the inner workings of programming and education at the JMM. Before coming to the JMM I had no idea about how much planning it took for museums to host events and create successful educational opportunities. So much goes into putting on a program and the small details really make a difference.

For the opening of Inescapable: The Life and Legacy of Harry Houdini, we transformed the lobby space into a cocktail area. We set up a buffet and bar as well as seating areas. Each of these areas was then decorated to fit with the magic theme. We built houses of cards that adorned the tables and crated flower arrangements with magic wands that we placed throughout the space. To add to the ambiance of the space we hung the concept art for the exhibit on some of the walls. To give the space some more visual intrigue we created a mobile with playing cards and suspended it above the buffet area. These small details really made the night special.

For the Magic of Jonestown Festival we worked to create interactive magic themed crafts that children could create at the JMM table. After some experimenting we figured out how to make magic wands with smoothie straws, construction paper, and electrical tape and how to make magicians hats out of paper. The kids who came to the table really seemed to enjoy the crafts and it was something special for them to take home.

Before starting this summer, I thought programming was just speakers and book signing but it is so much more than that. It is all about creating experiences that connect people with the museum and offer them something different. I have been working on programming for Stitching History from the Holocaust which will open in the spring and it is a lot more challenging than I expected. The process of finding the best fit for our events is challenging but completely worth it. After seeing how popular the Houdini programs have been I cannot wait to finalize the program ideas for the spring and I can only hope they will be as popular.

The education department here at the JMM works very hard to connect to schools, camps, and other groups. We are not only working to education children but also their teachers. We host the Summer Teachers Institute which focuses on Holocaust education. This year we are focusing our attention on primary sources in the classroom. Teachers learn valuable skills which they can take back to their classes which creates a higher standard of Holocaust education. We are in the preparation stage for this event currently. We are creating schedules and emailing confirmations to those who have signed up.

Closer to the event we will have a lot of other preparation to do such as folders and gathering materials to share with the teachers. The Summer Teachers Institute was one of the main reasons I wanted to work at the JMM. Holocaust education is extremely important but is often ignored or glossed over in the school system. By providing teachers with resources and lesson plan ideas we can makes sure this important topic is discussed in classrooms.

The education department also hosts school and camp groups. We have educational activities to do with the kids. The first school group that came in was here to learn about the Holocaust and to hear from a survivor. We did an activity using pictures from our collection and asked the kids to explain what they thought was happening in the picture. The kids loved interacting with the primary sources and were able to be creative when coming up with their answers.

For Houdini we created the vanishing elephant game. Kids are put into group and each child is given a question (which are based on the Houdini exhibit). The kids then come back together and the answers reveal a code. They then have to break the code and reveal a secret message.

Our first camp group did an excellent job but it was clear that if we had younger kids this was not going to work. So we got to work on creating a version of the game for younger children. We changed some of the questions and eliminated the code breaker books. This new version allows for us to host a larger range of age groups. Seeing kids go through the exhibits and ask questions is what makes it all worthwhile. Knowing that we are providing a memorable and educational experience to these groups of kids is extremely rewarding.

I never thought that crafting, game design, and program creation would be part of my summer at the JMM but I am grateful that it is. Through this internship I am getting to see everything that goes into the program and education departments. It may be challenging some days but it is necessary. We are providing unique experiences for all patrons, the youngest to the oldest, and that is what a museum is all about. We are connecting to people on a deeper level through our programs and educational opportunities. These connections create lasting impressions and memories that will last a lifetime.

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Unfolding Narratives – Scrapbooks and Their Interactive Stories

Posted on July 9th, 2018 by

Blog post by JMM intern Ash Turner. To read more posts from JMM interns, past and present, click here.

As I wrote a couple of blog posts ago, I’ve been mostly going through the collection’s scrapbooks, page by page, and registering them into the museum’s informational database. I had never learned about someone’s story simply through going through a scrapbook before. Sure, I’ve been shown scrapbooks when sitting down with family or friends, but never have I delved into someone’s own history and story simply by flipping through their hand-picked pages of memories.

Since I’m also an artist who enjoys making interactive stories, I wanted to talk today about the potential that scrapbooks have to create engaging narratives and interactive experiences. My personal reflections on the items, or objects (such as photos, letters, etc), placed in different scrapbooks hopefully can also be expanded and applied to creating educational material and telling history in a way different from textbooks.

So, without further ado, here are some elements that I’ve found in scrapbooks that are helpful to consider when creating any sort of story, whether it be educational or personal, a scrapbook or a piece of art.

Everyday Items – Revealing Untold Histories

Often in scrapbooks, small and forgotten everyday items are left in-between the pages of carefully placed photos and articles. I’ve found that many times these everyday items hold the most memorable facts. There’s a sense of time and place in these small items, because details that seem normal at the time may seem out of place decades later. These generational changes may not be something we were ever taught in history or social studies classes, although these small details still give a sense of what a time period was like.

These items or details are usually unintentionally included. Some types of significant, day-to-day details include:

1. Something placed in for a different reason, that includes additional interesting information.

For example, the most fun and interesting advertisements I’ve found are usually on the back of newspaper clippings and articles that someone intentionally placed in.

Clipping from “The Baltimore American” newspaper that includes a 1913 advertisement for corsets. Found in Jacob Epstein’s scrapbook, a gift from Richard Lansburgh, 1989.131.006.

2. A pattern that emerges through the addition of normal cultural and social items or details.

For example, through reading countless news clippings and invitations, I’ve realized that once a woman was married in the U.S. (at least up until the 1960s or so), it meant the disappearance of her name in every public sense. Only her husband’s name preceded by “Mrs.” would be used in any public context (e.g. Mrs. Jacob Franken), including in invitations, letters, and even newspaper articles that celebrated a woman’s achievements. To me, this illustrated the cultural norm of the time, and showed how women were recognized (or more so, the lack of their recognition as individuals).

These leftover items might not be what were meant to be kept, but their design and information is what becomes so intriguing in a different place and time.

Choice of Items – Showing Personality and Creating Mood

The items that people choose to place inside a scrapbook, or what they choose as keepsakes, tells a lot about what they feel is meaningful enough to remember. Some people feel facts and documentation are more meaningful, and others feel more sentimental items are important for them to keep. Items placed in a scrapbook hint at the personality of the creator, as well as shape the mood of the book itself.

Some common types of items I came across in scrapbooks include:

1. Reports and documents

Many times I found these to be common in a scrapbook of an organization or association. These items may reveal the creator’s care for history, actions taken, and accomplishments. They tend to create an authoritative and serious mood or personality for the book, especially because they tend to be very organized.

2. Newspaper articles

I commonly found these in scrapbooks that heavily focused on someone’s achievements or historic milestones. These items sometimes reveal people as caring highly about themselves, and caring about their achievements. They tend to create an eventful and formal mood for the book, and when they are used heavily throughout, they can create a sort of proud or self-important tone as well.

3. Personal Memorabilia

Some personal items I’ve come across in scrapbooks include bows from the corsages given at dances, love letters, or stickers from college fraternities. I commonly found these items in scrapbooks of individuals, or of those young or growing up. These items may reveal that a person cherishes feelings or the enjoyment of life, and can show a person’s interests. These items usually create a sentimental or heartfelt mood for the book.

A pink corsage with a ribbon, fake leaves, and wire butterfly from a school dance. Attached on a scrapbook page below burgundy “Junior Prom” tickets. Gift from Eleanor Yuspa, 2015.008.007

4. Tickets and Event Flyers

I commonly found these types of items in travel scrapbooks, or scrapbooks that focused on social engagements. These items reveal a care of seeing the world and being involved in culture and the arts. They many times include interesting graphics or illustrations, and so they create an excited and boisterous mood. However, depending on if the events or their locations are unusual, sometimes the mood created is mysterious and intriguing.

Various illustrated flyers and tickets for dance performances in Paris from 1936, attached to a dark green scrapbook page from Isaac Hecht’s family trip to Europe. Gift from Eleanor Yuspa, 2015.008.005.

Interactivity in Items – Unfolding Narrative

Scrapbooks hold the most value because of their interactivity. How someone chooses to move around and read the pages of a scrapbook is up to them—they can skip certain parts, go searching for a certain section, or only pay attention to the pictures while ignoring the text. Many scrapbooks have the added interaction of being able to touch objects that are included, and the different feelings of each surface become an engaging tactile experience.

Within scrapbooks, I’ve found that interactivity can be achieved through:

1. Interactive Objects

I’ve found so many items in scrapbooks cleverly placed in different ways on pages. Sometimes, letters were folded just so, so that closed, everything fit on one page (such as in the picture above). But to read any of the letters, I would have to open things one by one, cascading through the different items. Envelopes were sometimes glued to a page, so that letters could be tucked inside and pulled out again. This need to handle the items and put them back in their rightful place made the experience more intimate and memorable.

2. Tactile Surfaces

Since scrapbooks must be touched to be used, a mix of different surfaces creates different experiences for the viewer. For example, a nicer item may include a velvety material, while other items may be old and crinkly to the touch.

3. Page Layout and Item Placement

The layout of a page can lead the viewer’s eyes, which ultimately creates the flow of narrative on a page. Is a certain item placed front and center, overlapping over other pieces of paper? If so, a viewer might only look at the centered item, and they must be curious enough to choose to look at the other items. Viewers can interact by just following the page layout, or they can interact through searching for information by themselves, creating their own pathway through the story.

4. Mystery and Missing Information

Strange or out-of-place items can pique a reader’s curiosity. For example, an unknown name, place, or event might be referenced on a page. Since a scrapbook is historical, sometimes there are other means of looking up this information, which might not be explained in the book. Strange, small details (such as a place, phrase, or brand) that seem weird to us or out of place today can be looked up online. Sometimes, leaving details out, or having information spread out on different pages, creates a reason for people to dive deeper into the book themselves to find out more. These missing items or facts can drive a viewer’s curiosity and create a level of self-driven engagement and exploration.

Paper advertisement for “The Old Curiosity Shop” with a detailed and intriguing building illustration. Found in Isaac Hecht’s travel scrapbook. Gift from Eleanor Yuspa, 2015.008.005.

So, after all of this, what makes up a good scrapbook, or for that matter, a good story? Obviously, the content and objects found in a book are important, and so is the story that’s being told. But scrapbooks are filled with more than just photographs and information. Some contain newspaper articles, taped-in objects, small bits of writing, and letters. I found that it was the mix of different items and their personal touch that make scrapbooks and their history have so much depth. In a way, scrapbooks are similar to museum exhibitions—they contain a mix of informational text with personal and significant items to tell a specific story. They are curated, their items carefully selected by an individual or group, so that they can record a part of history. The main difference is that looking through a scrapbook can always be an individual or private experience, much like reading a book, rather than a public experience like visiting a museum.

It is really up to the readers in how they go through the pages, and what things they choose to touch or interact with. An extra layer of intimacy is created because of this self-direction. Some things are even not put on display in a scrapbook, unlike most exhibits—some things are tucked or hidden away between pages, sometimes there are missing photos or captions. When this happens, only through self-driven curiosity and exploration do readers reveal more of the story. This addition of mystery and interactivity is what really makes a scrapbook shine. When an engaging experience is added to nostalgic items, when there is a mood that is created throughout every aspect of a story, people tend to take those memories and experiences with them.

Posted in jewish museum of maryland

Intern Weekly Response: Museum Accessibility

Posted on July 5th, 2018 by

Every week we’re asking our summer interns to share some thoughts and responses to various experiences and readings. This week we asked them to reflect on a recent Museum Accessibility workshop led by our visitor services coordinator Paige Woodhouse and to read and respond to a selection of articles – including suggestions for JMM to apply. To read more posts from JMM interns, past and present, click here.

Museums and Accessibility: What’s in a Label?

~Intern Cara Bennet

Labels play a huge role in making museum exhibits accessible to a diverse audience. A label’s content, language, format, and style all have an impact on a visitor’s experience and their ability to understand and retain the information being presented. As I’ve learned through my museum studies courses, the best labels use clear, concise, simple language that can be understood by visitors of varying age ranges and educational backgrounds. The Smithsonian’s guidelines for accessible exhibit design argues for the use of active voice in labels, explaining that “people who have difficulty reading English are most successful when the active voice is used in short sentences. Subject-verb-object sentence structure ensures better understanding.” While many of the JMM’s individual object captions in its permanent exhibit “Voices of Lombard Street” are clear and concise, many of the exhibit’s introductory text panels are quite long and wordy. These panels also use words that may be unfamiliar or difficult for some visitors such as “artery” or “knell.”

Label styles and formats also play an important role in making an exhibit accessible to a wider audience. Many museums offer labels in braille and other languages for people that have vision impairments or are non-native English speakers. Even small design details like font type, size, spacing, and color contrast (all things I’ve never really considered before) play a huge role in making labels more accessible for visitors with disabilities.

White text on a yellow background was not the best design choice for these labels. The Smithsonian’s guidelines explain that “contrast is an essential element for people with low vision.”

While the JMM has done a great job making its accessible by offering large print and braille exhibit guides, I would suggest making the following changes to make its exhibits even more accessible to visitors. In addition to offering large print and braille exhibit guides, the JMM should also offer visitors exhibit guides in foreign languages. Currently these guides are kept at the front desk and must be requested by visitors. I would suggest that the JMM make it clear that these guides are available either by displaying them at the exhibit entrance or posting signs near the exhibit entrance notifying visitors that these guides are available. I would also suggest that museum includes braille and foreign language labels within the actual exhibit, but I understand that working with a small museum’s budget and limited exhibition space this isn’t always an option. I would also suggest that the JMM simplify and condense some of the text panels in its permanent exhibit to make the content more accessible to a wider audience. I would also suggest that the JMM replace all low-contrast labels to make them easier for all visitors to read.

The San Diego Natural History Museum offers labels in both English and Spanish. Image via.

Website Accessibility

~Intern Alexia Orengo Green

Museums are the perfect place to learn about a topic, increase your interest, or admire a piece of art. For many, museums are places where they can enjoy themselves while engaging in a learning environment. But, even though for some, museums are safe heavens others feel excluded because of the lack of accessibility these have.

Last week, we had a Museum Accessibility workshop with Paige Woodhouse. There we learned the different types of accessibility that museums need to have, and methods museums are using to become inclusive to all. On the workshop we also learned how the JMM is accessible and its plans to grant accessibility to everyone, making their experience more enjoyable.

One of the ways in which the JMM is planning to become more accessible is through its website. Most of the visitors of the JMM access the website to learn about the different exhibits and events happening in the museum. Because of this, it is important that everyone can engage with the website in a comfortable way.

Underneath is a list of suggestions for the new JMM website that I created following the recommendations from our workshop and readings.

List or Recommendations:

1. Bigger Text: For people who have vision impairments, such as poor vision, it may be difficult to read a small font size.

2. Night mode: The bright colors of the page might give headaches to people with vision impairments or suffer from migraines.

3. Declutter: Decluttering the page may help people, for example, with ADHD to focus better while visiting the page.

4. Underline hyperlinks: Underlining the hyperlinks would make the website’s experience for people who are color blind better by not relaying on color.

5. Smaller paragraphs: Having smaller paragraphs on the website may also help people to focus better while reading the website’s information.

Accessible Websites and The JMM

~Intern Ash Turner

Good website design can sometimes be underappreciated. As Jared Spool, a writer and researcher, states, “Good design, when it’s done well, becomes invisible. It’s only when it’s done poorly that we notice it.” And poor design negatively affects a website’s accessibility and usability.

This week, I did my readings on website design and accessibility. I found that there are a lot of checklists and articles about creating more readable and accessible websites. There are articles on different disabilities, and how to best design for them. They range from overall best-practices articles such as this one, to articles that are more specific, such as this one about designing for color-blindness.

“Posters showing the dos and don’ts of designing for users with accessibility needs including autism, blindness, low vision, D/deaf or hard of hearing, mobility and dyslexia.” Image and caption from the article, “Dos and don’ts on designing for accessibility”

The key trait for all good web design, though, seems to be clarity. Pages need to be simple and clean, from their font and color choices, to the language used, all the way to the layout of the page and its navigation. There are other things to keep in mind as well for website accessibility, such as having image descriptions for photos, captions or transcriptions for video content, and multiple ways of understanding the content for all pages.

After my research, I have a few suggestions for improving the accessibility of the Jewish Museum of Maryland website:

>Simplify and clarify the navigation

-This includes using less colors and more consistency, and underlining or differentiating links from other non-clickable text

-Declutter the navigation by making sure it’s all in the same area and easily findable

>Use larger font sizes (for both computers and mobile)

-As stated in this article about readability on websites, larger font sizes increase text readability for all users, not just those that are vision-impaired

A screenshot taken of the JMM mobile website. Notice how small all of the text is, which can create problems for readability

>Use a mix of media to convey information

-Using different types of media (such as video, sound, or images along with text) gives people the option to understand content in different ways

-For example, the museum location page could include a small map graphic for visual understanding

>Think about changing the body text font to sans-serif

-Fonts that are more common are easier to read, and sans-serif fonts are most common on the internet for body text

>Test the website with different people

-This is especially important, since all good design should be centered on actual people

-Make sure to test with those who use assistive technology

-As the accessibility blog on states, “Testing with people who use assistive technology can be a quick and effective way of identifying issues that affect all users”

Overall, increasing accessibility through web design can only create a better experience for everyone.

Avoiding Stagnation

~Intern Marisa Shultz

While closely considering accessibility for this week’s intern response – I say closely because accessibility is something we should be considering often – a quote from Mary Ann Wojton, Joe Heimlich, and Natalie Shaheen’s article: “Accommodating Blind Learners Helps All Learners” stood out:

“Museum Educators generally design educational programs that they believe accommodate all visitors.”

What is so essential about this quote is that it emphasizes that museum educators believe they have accommodated all kinds of visitors, implying two things. First, that museum educators have not been as successful in this endeavor as they perceive, and second, that some museum educators may be stagnant because they feel a permanent and fulfilling solution has already been found and implemented.

So how can we, at the JMM, avoid being stagnant, and continue to accommodate our diverse visitors? While the article I was inspired by specifically describes how to accommodate the Blind and Low-Vision communities, I would like to address our Deaf visitors and their experience on the Lloyd Street Synagogue tour.

The museum has an excellent tour of the Lloyd Street Synagogue and B’nai Israel, but we do not have staff members and docents trained in American Sign Language (ASL). This lack of ASL trained staff and docents may make Deaf visitors feel alienated. While the ideal solution is to have two ASL trained staff members or docents on site each day (one to accommodate Deaf visitors at the front desk and another on the Synagogue tour), I feel this may not be a realistic goal in the short term. Perhaps instead then, we can approach this in a two-pronged manner. If we could hire (or train) a staff member or docent who knows ASL, we could schedule and advertise multiple ASL tours each week at a variety of times corresponding with the work schedule of the staff member/docent.

Additionally, our website has a section devoted to accessibility with our wonderful Paige Woodhouse as a contact; perhaps members of the Deaf community could schedule ASL tours on dates and times that are most convenient for them (barring of course, when the museum is closed). If it is not possible to hire (or train) a staff member/docent with ASL skills, perhaps it would be possible for the museum to pay for an interpreter; however, this would require a prior arrangement, and we should be striving to be accessible to all visitors, all of the time.

It is also important to note, that not all members of the Deaf community know ASL; therefore, these accommodations would only make the museum more accessible to some members of this community. Perhaps then, we could work in conjunction with an organization such as the National Association of the Deaf (NAD) to create accommodations based around the community’s knowledge and experience, in order to create a more accessible environment.

Consider a Touch Tour

~Intern Ellie Smith

Accessibility should be a high priority for all museums. Accessibility allows for diverse audiences to patron museums and enjoy the museum community. For those with disabilities museums may not be the most welcoming place but as museum staffers we need to work hard to improve our accessibility standards so that everyone who comes to a museum can enjoy and benefit from it. Issues of accessibility range from having wheel chair ramps to providing noise canceling headphones for those with auditory sensory issues. Patrons with sight impairment or blindness need different experiences than other patrons. Museums like the Smithsonian and many others provide verbal description tours and touch tours. Verbal description tours are led by a docent who provides extremely detailed descriptions of objects that are in the museum. Docents not only describe the objects they also provide historical context and other information about how this object relates to the exhibit and the museum. Touch tours are tours where patrons wear special gloves and are allowed to touch the objects on display while a docent provides a verbal description. The Smithsonian has set a high standard for touch tours as described in their “Guidelines for Accessible Exhibit Design”.[1] This resource is available online and provides an in-depth look at how a successful museum provides the highest in accessibility standards.

Other patrons may require other forms of accessibility. Patrons who are deaf or have hearing impairment need videos with captions and transcriptions of any verbal pieces of exhibits. The Smithsonian takes great care to ensure that all patrons are able to experience the exhibits to the fullest. Another exhibit that has taken great care in making sure it is accessible to diverse audiences is Nano which is an interactive exhibit “designed by the Nanoscale Informal Science Education Network.”[2] The designers of Nano worked to create an exhibit that has different pieces that patrons with different skill levels can interact with. Instructions for these activities are written in both braille, English, and Spanish. They are also in video form with captions. And there are also demonstration videos. Interactive parts of the exhibit are placed at different heights so children as well as those in wheel chairs or short people can access them. Nano is a prime example of an accessible exhibit which allows diverse audiences to participate.

I believe the Jewish Museum of Maryland could benefit from adding a touch tour to our exhibits. The Voices of Lombard Street exhibits lends itself well to a touch tour because it already has so many interactive pieces.

For example, there is a part of the exhibit that looks like a family dining room. Patrons can sit down and feel the reproduction objects on the table and a docent could read from the panels within the exhibit in order to make those objects relevant to the rest of the exhibit. The next room that a patron and docent walk into is set up like a garment factory. There is an interactive sewing machine. A patron can sit and feel the machine and fabric and press their foot on the peddle of the machine.

While this is taking place a docent can provide a verbal description of what the patron is touching and then tell the history of the garment industry in Baltimore. With new exhibits we should work hard to make sure that a touch tour can occur. Along with this we should also consider providing an audio tour that patrons can use independently and training docents to provide accessible tours. By improving our accessibility standards we can accommodate a more diverse audience and create an overall better museum experience for patrons.



[2] Rae Ostman and Catherine McCarthy, “Nano: Creating an Exhibition that is Inclusive of Multiple and Diverse Audiences”. Exhibitionist, fall 2015.


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