Museum of Play

NMC2016 - 1

I recently had the opportunity to attend the New Media Consortium 2016 Summer Conference in Rochester, New York. One of the highlights from my trip was The Strong Museum of Play.

Upon entering the building I was immediately struck by the joyful energy of the space. From tropical fish tanks to robots to Sesame Street to butterfly gardens, this was a place that you wanted to explore. The combination of inspiring quotes, light bouncing through stained glass windows, and a wide range of exhibits that juxtaposed current-day toys with historical memorabilia all worked to create a palpable feeling of adventure and excitement.


When we came to the pinball arcade (and later the Rockets, Robots, and Ray Guns exhibit), I actually thought I might hyperventilate. Tokens are available for purchase and visitors can play any (and all) of the games there. We lost several on our tour at that point…


The museum partnered with the local public library branches to seamlessly integrate library collections related to exhibits into the museum experience. There were  many “cool down” areas for visitors to relax and read before running off to another location. Books can be checked out at the museum and returned to the patron’s closest local branch library.

What we can learn about the design of academic research libraries from the Museum of Play? What makes people want to be in a space, explore it, interact with the materials? The Strong Museum provided a very immersive experience. If Penn Libraries created a greater range of opportunities our scholars to…

  • read
  • touch
  • build
  • wear/act
  • play
  • hear
  • observe
  • remix

…what would that look like?

Having had some time to reflect, here’s what sticks with me about my experience and the work we do at Penn Libraries.

The Strong Museum

  • was and is in a state of constant evolution and reinvention
  • has a strong focus on experiences and engaging the senses, honoring past memories, and making  new ones
  • reminds us that playfulness creates the conditions for openness, serendipity, and creativity to emerge

The Penn Libraries

  • are in a state of constant evolution and reinvention
  • have a strong focus on experiences and new services related to making (i.e., media production, multi-modal scholarship, art exhibits in the Education Commons), and honoring, preserving and making past scholarship accessible
  • offer (and are building new) spaces in which a variety of creative work and collaboration happens to generate new knowledge

If you are in the Rochester area, I highly recommend a visit. There is much libraries can learn from museums and vice versa. The study of play is seriously fun business – as our conference co-hosts at RIT’s Center for Media, Arts, Games, Interactivity, and Creativity (MAGIC) kindly showed us.

MAGIC-Logo-1024x462

At Penn Libraries, we look forward to your feedback on ways we can create the conditions most conducive to Penn community members’ continued creativity.

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