Museum on the move


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A giant black and gold RV has now traveled more than 11,000 miles and visited 36 counties all over Iowa to showcase university collections and research.

The University of Iowa Mobile Museum first opened its doors to the public in April 2014. Since then, it’s reached more than 30,000 people.

It visited the Adler Journalism Building Monday to launch a summer campaign. During the season, the Mobile Museum will feature three new exhibits about underground water, the UI’s contributions to space exploration, and Iowans in World War II.

The World War II exhibit will use artifacts from the UI Libraries Special Collections and University Archives.

“We’re hoping to talk to people about the types of materials they might have in their own families,” said Greg Prickman, the head of Special Collections & University Archives.

Interim Director of UI Pentacrest Museums Trina Roberts said one of the major changes between the 2014 and 2015 seasons for the Mobile Museum is the amount of interactivity users could enjoy.

For example, she said, she hopes visitors will share their experiences of World War II at this year’s exhibit. 

Additionally, the museum has added more digital content users could access through touchscreens.

“We weren’t entirely sure what to expect last year,” Roberts said. “We weren’t sure people around the state would be excited as we were.”

Major stops included festivals, county fairs, the State Fair, and each of the RAGBRAI overnight stops.

“We want to bring the story to them,” Roberts said.

In fact, she said, many of the communities the museum visited last year invited the museum back.

State Archaeologist John Doershuk said last year his office had a large exhibit on the Glenwood archaeological culture in southwestern Iowa. The Mobile Museum, he said, allowed them to teach people all over Iowa to tell them about the first corn farmers in the area 800 years ago.

Doershuk said the State Archaeologist Office wouldn’t have an exhibit this season. Instead, the office wanted to make room for collaboration with other departments but remain involved with its planning, design, and logistics.

“This is a great partnership that really showcases the creativeness and interdisciplinarity of the Mobile Museum concept,” he said.

Doershuk said the first year exceeded even his expectations. During the stops at RAGBRAI overnight towns and some days during Iowa State Fair, as many as 1,000 people visited the vehicle.

Roberts said officials plan to be at each RAGBRAI overnight stop again this year. Because the Coralville overnight stop will be close to home, people from different departments may be available to discuss the exhibits with visitors.

Still, Doershuk said numbers weren’t the only measure of its success.

“The best days, I thought, were when we hosted just 200 to 300 visitors spread out over many hours, because this allowed folks to linger and really absorb the content plus engage in meaningful conversations with the educational staff,” he said.

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