DIY digital signage for libraries, museums, galleries & archives

What is Digital signage?

Digital signage, displaying content on a screen in public spaces, is a great way to promote library, gallery and museum services, list upcoming events and generally keep users up-to-date with what’s going on in your space.

But beyond the information aspects of digital signage, it also has the potential to encourage and improve interaction between your users and your collection.

For example, Stanford Libraries documented how they used digital signage to provide digital, participatory content in their libraries using Oalla.

Bristol Culture have shared their approach to digital signage design for their museums, including developing custom software for managing displays.

And University of Houston Libraries have documented their use of digital wayfinding signs which is another increasingly common usage.

A lot of the commercial digital signage solutions are hideously expensive but it’s increasingly viable to get your own digital signage up and running using some relatively affordable options such as a Raspberry Pi and that old neglected monitor you have lying around the office.

The options will vary in terms of how easy they are to manage and what you can do with them. We’ve looked at a few of the Raspberry Pi-powered digital signage options to see what they can do and how easy they are to set up and manage.

Kiosk mode

At its simplest, you can set up a browser or other application in kiosk mode to display web-based or a single application. Kiosk mode is the full-screen mode for applications - it gets all of the things like menus and taskbars and even the cursor out of the way.

You can set browsers on Raspberry Pi to open in kiosk mode by default and configure other options for when you boot the Raspberry Pi. You don’t want your screensaver to come on either so make sure to disable that too, for example.

You can also set applications (like LibreOffice) to display in fullscreen mode to show a slideshow or document file (though the content then needs to be managed and updated locally).

The way to do this will depend on what sort of content you’re displaying and what version of the Raspberry Pi you’re using but there’s a brief guide to setting your browser to run in kiosk mode on a Raspberry Pi available on librarymakers.net

More configurable options

There are also some handy off-the-shelf (well.. downloadable anyway) options that you can use with a Raspberry Pi in a way that let you manage the content yourself.

Screenly

Screenly is a digital signage content management service developed by a company called Wirely. There’s an open source version as well as the $10/month for a Pro version which can be managed via the browser and a bespoke Raspberry Pi distribution.

To install the open source version (Screenly OSE), you need to download the image to an SD card. It’s not too difficult to get up and running with (though if you do run into issues, the channel on the Raspberry Pi discussion forum can come in handy).

When the Raspberry Pi boots up, it will show you the URL where you can configure your display. You can then navigate there on any computer on your network to add and manage your display content.

Screenly digital signage screenshot

You can add links to public assets (e.g. images and websites) or upload local ones - though you are limited to 3 types of content- images, webpage and video.

The only other configuration options for each asset are the duration it displays and a start and end date for the display. You’ll also need to limit access to the configuration screen URL via a firewall.

Screenly Pro gives you a bunch of options for managing multiple displays at once and there are different pricing levels depending on how many screens/nodes you’re managing. There's a more comprehensive guide to installing and managing Screenly OSE available on LibraryMakers.

Pi Presents

Pi Presents is a “Multi-media Toolkit for Museums, Visitor Centres and more running on the Raspberry Pi” developed by Ken Thompson, a retired programmer/farmer in the UK.

It’s much more configurable than Screenly with a lot more potential for interactivity -it’s designed specifically for the kind of use required for public spaces like museums, libraries, archives and galleries. It can be used to create touchscreen systems, button controlled kiosk displays, repeating multimedia shows, audio-visual interpretation of exhibits and lots more. With that additional functionality though, comes a slightly more difficult installation and configuration process.

The most impressive thing about Pi Presents is the way it incorporates usage of the GPIO pins on the Raspberry Pi to allow for more interactive displays that enhance collection displays that you find in museums and galleries and libraries and other exhibition spaces.

You can trigger displays based on digital input like sound or key press or even proximity. You can also schedule displays for particular times of the day or week - great for programming particular displays for specific exhibitions over a period of time.

The manual goes through the main examples of creating animation profiles. We've also documented the installation process for Raspbian Jessie on LibraryMakers.net and are looking forward to testing it out for different use cases.

Other options

There are some other customised options available for Raspberry Pi that we’ve yet to test out including Info-beamer, which is designed for visualisation signage on Raspberry Pi .It’s available for 40 euros per device (and there’s a free version for personal use that you can use for testing). Raspberry Digital Signage is another option available. You can also run dashboard displays from a Raspberry Pi, but that's a story for another time.

Summary

The options vary but as DIY digital signage systems become more accessible, they provide new ways for users to learn about and engage with collections.

They’re also a good way to offer your users contextual information and liven up a museum, gallery, archive or library space.

Keep an eye on librarymakers for updates on digital signage and additional how-to guides or get in touch if you'd like to learn more or contribute a guide.

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