Misconceptions about museum technologists

Last week I left the safe confines of museumgeek, and entered the wilds of the Internet, when the UK Museums Association republished my post Can a technologist get ahead in museums? on their site.

I was a little scared about ceding control over the post, and allowing it to sit without the context of my other writing (particularly as it was not written specifically for that purpose). However, there is often discussion within museum tech circles about the dangers of merely talking to ourselves, so I grit my teeth and let it loose.

The post has been live for little while now, but it was the second comment that immediately grabbed my attention. I’ll post it in full, so you have the context, though the emphasis is mine.

Of course museums and museum leaders should engage with new technology and digital media, but this is not going to lead anyone to a holy grail. It is a medium not a message, and useful though the web and social media may be they will not guide anyone to run a great museum. I suspect the ultimate aim of museum technologists is to run everything virtually. You could digitise everything, keep it on a cloud, dispose of the real stuff, close the museum down and tweet all day to your virtual friends. How relevant is that? Well at least it wouldn’t cost anything, so it might catch on. But wait a minute…aren’t museums supposed to be looking after and presenting collections and getting people engaged with real things or is that just too tediously old fashioned for the twitter generation? I hope there never are career paths for museum technologists who love their i-pads more than their collections.
Oliver (MA Member), 21.03.2012, 18:19

Now, it turns out that what motivated this comment was (at least in part) a lack of familiarity with the terminology, and the lack of clarity of what a museum technologist actually is (nb – can we come up with a better term to describe someone who deals with – or even thinks about – the implications and applications of technology in a museum context?).

However, even if it was written to provoke, Oliver’s response reveals insight into what could be legitimate fears for some people working in museums – that museum technologists (however they are conceived) have no respect for the ‘real thing’.

Maybe such people have happened across Seb’s post advocating for born digital collections, or my own questioning about whether museums should still consider the physical space as the most important one, and assumed that by arguing for digital we were simultaneously arguing against the physical. I don’t know anyone in this field who would honestly advocate getting rid of collections (do I?). If anything, there is a general desire to make museums more – more useful, more connected, more relevant.

But what if we aren’t communicating that? What if there is a sense from those who aren’t part of our discussions that technology (and technologists) actually presents a threat to collections specifically, and museums more generally? What if the greatest common misconception about museum technologists is that the long tail consequences of what we do and advocate for leads to the end of the museum itself?

Obviously I am overplaying this a little bit. It’s likely that Oliver is an outlier, and that his expressed views are more extreme than his real ones. But it still provokes the questions: as a museum technologist, what misconceptions have you faced? Have you been confronted by attitudes like Oliver’s, or struggled to communicate with more traditional staff because they misunderstood your motivations? And if so, what did you do about it?

***Bonus points to anyone who can give me a better term to use than ‘museum technologists’, because it’s likely that at least part of the problem is a semantic one.

32 thoughts on “Misconceptions about museum technologists

  1. I think it’s an extension of a older and larger problem. For a long time now, western civilization was predicated on the belief that life is a zero sum game. For someone to win, someone else has to lose. The very notion that both sides of anything can benefit simultaneously is something that most people have a hard time accepting. Historically speaking, those who don’t buy into the zero sum game theory of everything are the exception and not the rule.

    Combine that with this prevalent notion that digital and “real” are at odds with each other and you get people who are very defensive when we start talking about websites. Most people widely believe that the digital aspects of our lives are “less real” than whatever they think is real. People are still looking at the technology and not what the technology represents. Early “technologists” didn’t help us much with this misconception either, always using the word “virtual” to describe everything they did with a computer.

    But it’s not the computers that are significant now. It’s what they represent, the information that describes our lives. The data is no less real than reality. It’s a snapshot of reality (taken from a limited perspective perhaps, but no less real than a photograph of which you will find many hanging on the walls of any museum in the world). It’s not the tech that “technologists” are supposed to be promoting but what you can do with it, and for many people today they just don’t see that.

    Some people understand that “digital” or “technology” means “information” and can sometimes mean “connections”, and they understand that connecting people to their heritage and to each other through information (“knowledge” if you prefer) is a key element of a museum’s mission. So maybe we are using the wrong words. Maybe by using the term “technologist” we are focusing the conversation on the wrong aspect of what it is we’re trying to get across. But what we’re trying to get across is something that can’t be easily expressed with a pithy title. What’s an alternative to technologist though?

    – Relatedness Manager (rolls right off the tongue)

    – High Prognosticator (predicting how our audience will engage with us in ten years)

    – Information Cowboy (herding data across vast expanses)

    – Specialist in the Not-Virtual (because it’s not fake, it’s data)

    – James Burke

    – Reality Augmentor (the ‘o’ in ‘or’ is important because it feels more authorial that way)

    – Knowledge Purveyor (the ‘o’ is important because that’s how it’s spelled)

    1. I would totally apply for a job whose title was “James Burke”! I might even go for being an Assistant James Burke, just to get my foot in the door.

      He’s been invoked several times in meetings about the nature of technology we’ve been having.

      1. I wish I could apply for that job. There’s no way I’d get hired for it though. I could never be the Denver Art Museum’s Resident James Burke. I still watch Connections Series 1 once in a while. I still find it awesome every time (in spite of that dreadful liesure suit). I plan to someday raise my kids on those videos (now that I think about it, it was a pretty formative influence in my own childhood).

  2. I don’t have much to add after Matt’s thoughtful comment above and your insightful post. Understanding misconceptions is as important of course, as defining yourself in ideal terms.

    I would say two things: 1) that both technologists and the general public both suffer from and complain about the notion that the technology is more important than the content. It’s important for everyone to emphasize that technology will add no value unless you’re passionate about the content that you’re producing and 2) there is a difference between the material object and the immaterial objects of the web. Just because items on the web can’t be held in your hand doesn’t make them “unreal,” but it does make them different than a physical object that you can touch with your hands or see in person inches from your eyes. I’m not trying to qualify one as better than the other, but simply to point out that there are differences that “museum technologists” (or knowledge purveyors, or whatever–we say web, new media, and outreach where I work) need to keep in mind when creating online outreach or content so that interactions with objects in person and interaction with objects on the web can each capitalize on the strengths of each situation (e.g. being able to touch items or look at them as closely as possible in museums where possible vs. including a social aspect to viewing objects on the web whereas museum viewing is often solo or social in a more limited way). I say all of this as someone who both was trained as a material anthropologist and currently works as a “museum technology” person 🙂

  3. Strangers in a strange land. Fear of the unknown.

    I think Matt hits on a couple of good points, especially with the notion of things being a zero sum game — which in times of tighter fiscal budgets seems to be more true than not. We talk of tradeoffs and sacrifices during budget reviews.

    That being said, there are few other fields that have evolved so dramatically and quickly as technology. And, worse, the best practices that have been established in other areas over the last hundred years (regardless of how true that is…) are fledgeling ideas in tech and will probably change in another few years. From the outside, it all appears to be an incredible amount of noise and churn.

    Which is why the best technologists need to not represent technology. They need to represent ideas and simply are figuring out ways to execute experiences.

    You asked for people that wanted to eliminate collections — Jacques Cousteau (and his son) advocated for years to eliminate living collections. Aquariums shouldn’t house animals because it was unethical to put living creatures on display in a confined space when they were wild and should be able to roam the world. The traditional argument is that you sacrifice a few for the greater good and that letting a person engage with a real dolphin stirs something different than a simulation.

    In partnership with NEC, they helped create the Virtual Aquarium in Japan in the mid-90s. High definition screens, tons of video, interactive bits, and all created with input from aquarium professionals around the world (disclosure: NEAq staff (including me) were involved). But, in execution, while there was some pretty amazing bits, it didn’t grab your soul in the same way as some of the living collections you see elsewhere. Things had skewed too far in the *other* direction and it lacked a final sense of balance between the two.

    We’re used to advocating for the things we believe pretty hard. New opportunities can be frequently be perceived as threats to our current existence which we’ve worked hard to establish. Technology is the new kid on the block and if technologists leave the discussion framed as “do this or some tech” then they’ve already lost the discussion. We need to spin it around and take technology out of the equation in the discussion and focus on overall execution.

    In that reality, you simply aim to start taking about the presence of the organization and you use the collective parts of the organization and forms of the collection as part of a collective whole. Technologists need to leave their home turf and talk to other disciplines in their language and with their needs in mind. They need to show understand of the goals and how to improve those *specific* core needs not only through technology but also the overall program. In short, they need to be museum people. They can certainly question — and anyone who knows me should know that I’m a pretty strong advocate of that — but they also need to understand the history of how things got here to this place in this time.

    The digital presence of the organization (and think of it as the counterpart to the physical presence) all blurs together in the final user experience. Thinking of these things as separate elements weakens them individually and it needs to be clear that the best executions will have co-dependent experiences. At the core of the museum is an idea, a concept and then we imagine ways to manifest that experience to our visitors. Part of it may require an exhibition, part of it may be curators talking via social media to interested audiences, part of it may be a publication that appears in certain circles, part of it may be an interactive component that expresses what the objects cannot across multiple devices, etc. Think of the idea, the story, and then list *all* of the ways that the museum can communicate the experience, not as an afterthought to one primary thing (like an exhibit) but as an integrated whole.

    So, in short:

    1. Find balance and represent it.
    2. Recognize that we’re the newest thing in an established practice.
    3. Talk to other fields on their terms with their needs in mind.
    4. Focus less on technology but the whole experience of the organization.
    5. Be prepared to execute the tech better than people imagine it can be done.

  4. There’s no way that my fried thesis-writing brain can compete with the previous comments, but I’ll chime in anyway. To add to all of those brilliant and spot-on thoughts, I’d just say that we’ll be dealing with misconceptions for some time — until the digital natives start rising the ladder in these organizations and the overall culture starts to shift towards digital being an unquestioned component of all aspects of an organization. There’s still much resistance to this, but eventually it will pass… in our lifetimes hopefully? I’m always encouraged by my museum studies graduate cohort and I see great change coming down the line in museum leadership – there is massive potential in these rising stars in the implementation of technology, the re-imagination of collections and accessibility, and the addressing of social justice issues in museums. I get misty eyed thinking of what my peers will be doing in the world – and this is why I’m so vehemently against the idea of museum studies programs creating legions of zombies (see my Digital Humanities submission to Neal Stimler’s panel for MCN 2011 ;).

    Back to the issue at hand – We do a lot of talking at each other, you’re right, but that’s valuable in and of itself. We’re thinking through such great ideas and really honing what it is to be a museum technologist and what that will mean in the future. But as always, we’re light years ahead of those who hold to the traditional ways of seeing the world and their organizations. So when our foreward thinking ideas come to the fore, others get rattled. That’s good though, because it causes us to step back and rethink how we’re defining ourselves and how we’re presenting what we do to the outside world — and I think I just restated your post in its entirety.

    I was intrigued by the first comment on your MA post from the museum technology consultant – who was resistant to the idea of a technologist being a leader at all. I think that many have a narrow view of what a museum technologist is, for sure. We have had the opportunity to see brilliant museum technologists in action, being amazing leaders and making strategic change in their organizations – but perhaps we don’t do a good enough job of showing off these examples. If the “outside world” were given context and shown what it really means to be a “museum technologist” in the sense we’re speaking, then perhaps that would help. Let’s edit a book of case studies! (In our abundance of free time.)

    In regards to what we call ourselves.In my writing I’ve tended to stretch the term out to be “museum technology theorists” or “museum technology strategists.” But that only adds more characters, which isn’t helpful in a world anchored in Twitter. : ) Coming full circle, I see a time in the future when we won’t need to include “technology” in the title at all – because technology will be inherent in all that everyone does. Wiser people than I have said that there shouldn’t be a “technology department” but that technology should be incorporated into each department. Really those who are “museum technologists” will end up being those managers and facilitators of content, community, evaluation, education, and engagement — we’re the ones who pull it all together, make connections, and increase access through the tools that we know to be available. I can’t think of a worthy word for how amazing we are at pulling that all together – let me know when you think of one!

  5. Love this discussion. Chiming in with Lori, I also tend to describe my job as “technology strategy,” or, on really good days, as just “strategy.” Generally speaking, I’m not all that interested in tech itself. I’m mostly interested in making museums better, and I happen to believe that technology (or at least the collection of practices we currently define as “technology”) is best suited to doing that. I don’t think this perspective is unusual–I’m pretty sure that most in our field would agree that if you care about technology more than you care about the subject matter, you’re not going to last long.

    Which makes comments like Oliver’s sting all that much more. It’s certainly not my goal to eliminate the need for quote-real-objects-unquote. Part of the reason I love working in museums is that I love moving between on-line and on-site experiences. But for some museum staffers (and some visitors, too, for that matter), almost any talk of going digital triggers a “you’re trying to steal the soul of the museum” threat response that eliminates any of that nuance.

    I don’t know how certain practices get to be part of the soul of a museum, but I suspect that longevity and tradition are big parts of the equation. That puts us, as technology people entering late in the game, at a significant disadvantage. We have to find a way of articulating the message that technology is part of the museum’s soul, too. It’s simply too much a part of our *visitor’s* lives for it not to be. Unfortunately, this means that “museum technologists” have to define our value in a way that’s unique and somewhat unprecedented in the museum world–we have to make the case that what the world values *might* be shifting away from what museums have historically valued. And for the newest kids on the block, that’s a hard case to make.

    1. Koven, your last paragraph really catches me. How do certain practices get to be part of the soul of the museum? Gosh, what makes up the soul of the museum in the first place? Maybe one of the hardest things about this whole discussion is that we are essentially talking about something that is both a concept and a thing. Being in the retail business, for instance, probably has some clear end point, because you know exactly what you want to achieve out of your work (sell things) – and so although the tools might change, the end point is pretty clear cut. But maybe because our endpoint isn’t so well-defined, then it becomes harder to know what tools to use and in what contexts. Maybe museums are their own histories as much as the histories of their objects?!

    2. @Koven: “I also tend to describe my job . . . on really good days, as just “strategy.” Generally speaking, I’m not all that interested in tech itself. I’m mostly interested in making museums better, and I happen to believe that technology (or at least the collection of practices we currently define as “technology”) is best suited to doing that.” Great quote. I feel the exact same way, which is why I sometimes feel surprised to describe my job to someone else and find that it involves technology. It goes back to the problems of what we call ourselves. I wish I could simply describe myself as a curator and strategist–this focuses on the content creation aspect (on the web instead of the wall/in a book) but ads a real thinking about how an experience is going to work for the public to the mix (the strategy part). Too bad that for many, both words are problematic, and “strategy” takes on its negative private sector / marketing connotations.

      And @Susie: “Maybe museums are their own histories as much as the histories of their objects”–without a doubt. Call me old-fashioned, but that’s why I’m a fan of museum studies programs that have a heavy focus on the history of museums and collecting. It puts all of our current-day work into context, and as you and Koven have suggested, gives insight into some of the challenges that museum tech/strategy folks inevitably face right now.

      1. When we created my position in 1995 at the New England Aquarium was ‘Curator of Interactive Technology.’ I was responsible for the new website that I’d just built and our increasing use of tech in the exhibits. We created it as a curatorial position to place a certain emphasis on it within the organization and to validate the role as a core concern — it was inline with our Curator of Fishes, clearly a critical role in the org.

        We paralleled the living collection infrastructure. Where there was an Animal Care and Use Committee (that reviewed our best practices and established new policies), we created the Technology Care and Use Committee. Where there was a monthly Fishes Report to our trustees, we added a Technology Report to the monthly meetings. The goal, ultimately, was to ensure that we were treating our new technology efforts with the same care and consideration as we did the most important thing we owned, and the reason that we existed, our living collection. It worked pretty well.

        This was all borne out of two things — up until that point I was simply a volunteer in the organization (albeit I volunteered *crazy* hours, in some years double the amount of an FTE). I created NEAq’s website in my spare time working with a handful of staff (I’d spent the summer creating early versions of websites for WHOI and MBL) and repeated discussions with the aquarium’s Director. Bonus round was that I was also president of the volunteer organization which placed me at the monthly trustee meetings and so I was talking pretty philosophical about what the future could entail with an even higher authority.

        I’d established two critical things in the eyes of someone with the authority to actually do something: I had a vision and I could execute on that vision. It’s a formula that works and can be done in most organizations and *both* halves are pretty important.

    3. This isn’t a new thing.

      The same happened to educators in museums in the 80s – and now you’d be hard pressed to find a museum that doesn’t see the critical importance of museum educators in delivering their mission, and has educators in senior executive roles.

      Large museums have had CTOs, CDOs, CIOs, for at least the last decade too – and now Director of New Media, Director of Digital etc are appearing in medium sized ones too. Many of the ones I know have had significant, visible and prolonged influence in the direction their organisations have taken.

      So perhaps the real question at the heart of what Suse is talking about is . . .

      How do staff in content production & delivery roles move into middle and upper management and leadership roles?

      And that’s not a question unique to museums – and has a lot to do with succession planning and staff development.

      1. Here’s my formula:

        1. Have a vision and articulate it.
        2. Execute on that vision.
        3. Iterate based on what you’ve learned.
        4. Tell other people about it.
        5. Repeat steps 1-4 as needed.

      2. Seb and Bruce, I really appreciate hearing your perspectives/experiences on these things. It is very interesting to get these insights into the ongoing and generational shifts that have happened in institutions.

        I often wonder what ‘technologists’ can learn from museum educators in this area, actually. Obviously the New Museology’s emphasis on education/learning presented quite a significant shift in the emphasis of museum work, and that did impact the roles of people within the museum. How was that change managed, and where did the push for change come from? My understanding of it comes from the way it was written about, but I’m sure that without the open discussion ground of blogs, for instance, the version I get is a more sanitised and idealistic one.

        Seb, your point about the impact and influence that CT/D/IOs have had is a good one. The reason I am in this field in the first place is because of an increased awareness of the questions at play, due to reading your blog, seeing your work, and thinking about the impact it had on the museum/sector.

        The trickle down effect is happening too. Obviously, my perspectives are shaped by working at the other end of the sector – in and around small institutions that feel pressure to be online, but not at the core organisational level. But even in these institutions that are never going to be at the forefront of change, there is acknowledgement that being online is important.

        However, what is lacking at the moment is any sense that digital belongs as part of the institutional DNA, and so your question is a good one. Maybe that is a core part of what we are dealing with. (Which makes me feel like the last month of blogging was all just a big circle towards finding the right question.)

      3. The issue with small museums is that they tend to be caught in the cycle of the everyday. They don’t have enough resource to do proper strategic planning for the future, and even if they do, they rarely have the stability and resources available to execute the plan.

        It isn’t that digital is sidelined, its just that there are 100 other things that need to be done that have immediate and physical impacts. That’s not unique to museums at all – your local corner store suffers from this too, as does your community theatre.

        Part of the deal with choosing to work in a small museum is you trade that strategic planning and supporting management infrastructure for agility and responsiveness. That’s not a trade that works well for collecting museums as the collection itself becomes an ever-growing recurrent cost to preserve and maintain. For non-collecting museums, though, it is probably the greatest opportunity to transform into a ‘vibrant town centre’ as some museum activists have described it.

      4. That’s an interesting point. I wonder how smaller institutions, which likely have lower digital proficiency generally, improve their skills/expertise and understanding of the changing technological landscape then. Catherine and Erika both mention museum studies programs. Do smaller, more agile institutions simply respond to the opportunities that come with staffing changes? ie, does getting new staff with new skills change the aspirations of smaller institutions, because it enables them to consider doing things that they couldn’t before? Are they then driven by the people who they can/do hire?

      5. Replying to all of the posts below this one too…

        I think this is where shared open source development can make a real impact. Small institutions are agile enough that they can implement new ideas quickly, but they don’t have the resources to develop those new ideas, and often their staff doesn’t have the specialized expertise to design, deploy and maintain them. While the larger institutions can afford to hire a few specialists, but can’t always hire a full development team or change their direction too quickly.

        But if we develop robust flexible platforms for leveraging our collections and if we all try to work together to drive at least a minimal level of standards development between our efforts we can all get access to more tools and expertise without greatly increasing any single institution’s operating cost. By pooling our resources into open-source efforts for these things we can spread the development cost across multiple institutions and the smaller institutions only have to worry about deployment and maintenance (I know, not small) rather than full design and development.

        I’m going to start playing Nate (Solas)’s broken record here and say we really need to start thinking about a standard API for our collections databases and other core museum processes that we can all benefit from re-examining and developing flexible platforms for. We’re all struggling with a lot of the same problems and the smaller institutions, especially are literally at risk of disappearing in many cases because they can’t afford to meet these challenges. Stable, open sourced solutions would go a long way to helping everybody figure this out, not just because the solutions would be made readily available at a lower cost, but we could collectively experiment during their development to really hammer out what some of the best practices actually are.

      6. @polackio – there’s plenty of great examples of this although mainly outside of the USA (exceptions being Omeka, TAP/TourML etc obviously). Take a look at NZ and eHive. Or the somewhat failed attempts in Australia with Collections Australia Network. Both of these specifically targeted small primarily volunteer run regional museums (some with zero paid staff!). There’s also Collections Link in the UK etc.

        I’m not convinced that doing all in-sector solutions is the way to go – especially not for more generalised museum processes like retail and ticketing. And there’s certainly a large role for national institutions to play in developing open source solutions for other museums to play with (Museum Victoria has done a great job with this over the years, and Powerhouse too with their regional initiatives – and Te Papa in NZ).

      7. @sebchan Don’t get me started on ticketing. I would love a reliable, well-designed general purpose open source ticketing system that could be easily integrated with member and donor databases, and I would happily take one that wasn’t designed specifically for museums (seriously, why doesn’t this exist? And why are the commercial options all so universally bad when it comes to online interfaces?). I would love to see better member/donor databases too (open source or commercial at this point, I’m not that picky. I’m actually kind of distraught at the quality of software that passes for professional in this application space and how much it costs.) I don’t think that all of our open source efforts need be focused on specifically in-sector needs. But I think that’s a good place for us to start since no one else is in a hurry to address those needs for us. And I think that we can contribute to more general purpose software in ways that purely commercial-focused developers might not think about on their own.

        As for the projects you mentioned, I’m still catching up on a lot of what’s going on in this sector. I’ll gladly admit that I’m still the newish kid on the block (and I just spent the last quarter or so with my head buried deep in our own project so I’ve got some catching up to do on recent conversations too).

      8. Ha — ticketing. You should see the options that we turned down. Back in 2005/2006, there was *nothing* for the museum-sector (and not for museums), commercial or open-source, that met all the business requirements *and* would make your heart sing. Believe me, I understand your pain and frustration. Even better, Denver does fund-based accounting so that cuts down on financial system options significantly. And, even better is the proprietary nature of most of the systems — your development software used to ask for $100k just to have the option to open up an API. Want to skip that step? Sure, do a sql structure lookup on that beast and see how quickly you back down from the challenge… 😉

        All of that to get to the point that few museums fully realize the sorts of business analysis that they *should* be able to do and even worse, few of their software systems even want to make that possible. Museums have a tendency to create overly-complex scenarios for operations and it’s solving for the final 10-15% of the edge cases that leads to these surprisingly esoteric solution.

        So, yeah, I probably owe you a drink at MW. 🙂

  6. Catherine “Call me old-fashioned, but that’s why I’m a fan of museum studies programs that have a heavy focus on the history of museums and collecting.”

    I am almost the opposite! I am not a fan of how much time museum studies students spend on the history of museums, I think more time should be spent theorising about the future of museums. I think papers from conferences like Museums and the Web, and Museums Next, should make up a whole units of study for these courses.

    1. Without some knowledge of the past, you just reinvent it in new times. I totally agree about making more use of resources MW deep, deep well of knowledge, free for the taking. You wanna know where the field is, it’s the easiest first stop.

      1. Sorry I missed this portion of the conversation earlier @erikajoytalor! @Ed Rodley pretty much sums up my own thoughts. When I said I thought that the history of museums and collecting was important, I didn’t mean that students and profs. also shouldn’t be having conversations on blogs like this one, and reading current day case studies–that is just as important. I do think it might be difficult to understand some case studies (e.g. one situation that quickly comes to mind is a museum collaborating with an indigenous source community) without understanding the history of how objects came to be in a museum in the first place, and the politics of why many museums operate in the ways that they do. Understanding your organization, and how it situates itself in this history (both long ago and more recent history), is the first step in moving forward with meaningful web/tech work.

  7. Wow what great discussion – I take Lori Phillips point “Wiser people than I have said that there shouldn’t be a “technology department” but that technology should be incorporated into each department. Really those who are “museum technologists” will end up being those managers and facilitators of content, community, evaluation, education, and engagement”
    I do think the traditional structure (especially in big museums) has a part to play – curators in one department and ‘technologists’ in another etc. This structure gets broken down for specific projects such as exhibitions and purpose built web sites when representatives from all departments are put together and are working towards a specific goal. These teams generally produce great results. But the background work of the museum does not operate like this. People work away in their own areas and to their traditional goals (and power structures).

    At the moment I’m lucky enough to have a split role where I spend part of my week in with the Web team. It makes a big difference to understanding to sit in the area and pick up on the daily “chit chat” rather just learn what is happening in meetings or gossip in the hallways.

    1. Hey – that’s an interesting point Lynne. Maybe we almost need an inter-museum emissary program, where ‘technologists’ sit in with curators, educators etc once a week for a few months in order to increase cross-disciplinary understanding.

  8. Museums should embrace technology as an extension, and an enhancement, of what they are able to do in the physical space. Their website can connect museums and their collections with new audiences online, and in ways that aren’t possible in their galleries.

    Technology is a tool to promote engagement and bring people closer to all the great things museums have to offer.

  9. I think Seb and Bruce have hit on a couple of important points (out of the many good points they make) I’d like to amplify. the importance of vision and ability to deliver on it is an essential. And that the power of stepping out of the technology vs. tradition debate and instead reframing it as that of content producers, and placing that expertise front and center.

    1. Yes, I think the question of framing is an incredibly important one (and also maybe one reason I’m struggling with the semantics of what to call myself, and how to talk about the other people who are progressive thinkers about museums + technology). I just quickly wrote a post about museums and their self-described narratives, inspired by a Seth Godin post, and it raises the question of how technology fits within the framework and vision that museums already have of themselves. Maybe it’s not just the framing of our message that we have to think about, but also the messages that museum staff already tell themselves about themselves (if that makes sense?).

      1. Don’t worry about what to call yourself. Just do stuff.

        The naming bit will sort itself out later.

      2. Agree. I can barely remember my current job title most days. But the personal narrative issue is real and very different from the nomenclature one.

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