Q&A with Shari Caine, Executive Director at the Des Plaines History Center
Founded in 1968, the Des Plaines History Center collects, preserves, and interprets the history of Des Plaines, Illinois and its people and provides access to those resources through exhibits, educational programs, and research facilities. They launched their mobile walking tour in late October, 2014, which includes interpretive audio for 10 historic sites in downtown Des Plaines and features a room-by-room tour of the Kinder House–a 1907 Queen Anne home turned museum.
Q. Why did you decide to create an app for your organization?
A. This was something we’ve been discussing for the past year. We wanted to do something technology-based that was interactive and available to as many people as possible. At first, we talked about working with an app developer, but around the same time we learned about what TourSphere had to offer, and after trying it out, we knew it was the type of app-making tool we could use ourselves.
Q. What are your interpretive goals and what are the benefits for people to use the app?
A. Our goals include increasing attendance, improving the quality of program content through historical interpretation, and increasing awareness of history in the community. We believe that this app will serve as both a great educational tool and a marketing tool, helping to make people more aware of the history of the community and bring in more visitors to the History Center. The proximity of the walking tour to our downtown area will reach many people who are in the area, whether they are residents, commuters, or visitors. The nearby transportation services, including the bus transfer points and the train station, are opportunities for us to promote the app further.
Q. What advice would you give to other organizations who are looking to create an app?
A. First, I would suggest that they determine whether they need someone to create and design the app for them, or if they are willing to do the work themselves. Then, I would recommend they look into all the tools that are available, compare the costs for each option, and take advantage of opportunities to test out the free trial for app-building tools. Finally, they will need to identify their potential audiences and how far they can reach by using the app to bring in new visitors.
Q. Can you tell us a little about how you created the audio content?
A. The script was written by our Curator based on information and photographs from our historical archives. The audio was created by a volunteer who works in the IT field and who also has a bit of a background in voice acting and recording. He recorded the digital files from his own studio and delivered them to us. We were fortunate to find someone willing to work with us on a volunteer basis. I would recommend working with a volunteer to keep costs low, but it’s important to interview the person first, and review their demos, in order to assess their level of skill, knowledge, and ability in this type of work.
Q. How are you planning to market the tour?
A. We held a special event on October 17, planned in conjunction with a re-opening of the second floor of our house museum. There was a special introduction to the walking tour app featured during the event. We also published information about the new app in our newsletter, and we’ve been interviewed by the local newspaper. In addition to the publicity for the special event, we will also distribute a poster and other materials relating to the app itself, with QR codes printed large enough for passersby to see as they are in the area of a building that is featured on the tour. We will promote the tour on a continual basis throughout the community, at other events, and through our Facebook and Twitter feeds, as well as in other community publications. We also just had a group of 44 high-school aged German exchange students visit the History Center, and they participated in a demonstration of the walking tour app.