Extending the museum narrative

A very quick thought. A friend linked me to a post on Seth Godin’s marketing blog today, and although that post didn’t particularly resonate with me, another one did. In Extending the Narrative, Godin discusses the stories we tell ourselves about who we are.

The socialite walks into the ski shop and buys a $3000 ski jacket she’ll wear once. Why? Not because she’ll stay warmer in it more than a different jacket, but because that’s what someone like her does. It’s part of her story. In fact, it’s easier for her to buy the jacket than it is to change her story.

There might be lessons in this for the discussions we’ve been having lately in museum tech circles about building digital practices into museums at a strategic level… maybe most museums haven’t been building digital in at a strategic level because doing so would threaten their story (ie that museums are about their ‘stuff’). Digital potentially challenges museum authority. It raises questions about why museums do certain things, and those questions are not necessarily easy or comfortable to answer. It is easier to embrace digital at arms length than to really examine what it means at a foundational level for museums, because doing so potentially means changing the narrative of museums.

Godin continues:

It’s painful to even consider giving up the narrative we use to navigate our life. We vividly remember the last time we made an investment that didn’t match our self-story, or the last time we went to the ‘wrong’ restaurant or acted the ‘wrong’ way in a sales call. No, that’s too risky, especially now, in this economy.

So we play it safe and go back to our story.

The truth though, is that doing what you’ve been doing is going to get you what you’ve been getting. If the narrative is getting in the way, if the archetypes you’ve been modeling and the worldview you’ve been nursing no longer match the culture, the economy or your goals, something’s got to give.

It’s something to think about.

Concrete, clear & specific: Practical ideas for building digital practices into museums

The museum blogosphere has lately been enlivened with posts about risk, leadership and incorporating digital into core museum operations – all questions that relate to the problems of dealing with institutional change in museums in response to the changing social/technological environment.

Last week, I had coffee with Janet Carding, Director of the Royal Ontario Museum, and she too mentioned the widespread acknowledgement within the sector that this is a time of paradigmatic shift for museums. The theme of MCN2012 also reflects this. The Museum Unbound: Shifting Perspectives, Evolving Spaces, Disruptive Technologies “focuses on exploring how the quickening pace of technological innovation is expanding the very definition of what it means to be a museum”, and the discussions of the Program Committee certainly revolved around these issues.

As such, I’ve started thinking about the practical steps that institutions can take to build digital practices into core museum practice. This article – A call for leadership: Newspaper execs deserve the blame for not changing the culture (tweeted by Matt Heenan) – has some useful thoughts about the newspaper business that are applicable here. Obviously museums are different to newspapers, but the article by still has some instructive ideas (emphasis mine):

Changing a culture is not a top-down or bottom-up proposition: It’s a dance between leaders and their organizations… Leaders must examine their own actions carefully to determine what they reward and what they punish, what the day-to-day routines of their organization reflect, and how best to create an environment in which open and constant communication is a priority. They must develop concrete reward systems that encourage risk and help employees make digital duties as much a part of their routines as the traditional

…One daily newspaper of less than 50,000 circulation we studied struggled with the change to a web-first organization because, though its leaders acknowledged the importance of the new medium, they did not reinforce that desire through their reward and accountability systems. Print revenue and circulation remained the benchmarks of success, not digital revenue or pageviews. As a result, newsroom staffers struggled to develop the kind of online content needed to expand the web audience…

…[M]any of the people executives dismissed as anti-change curmudgeons were often much more thoughtful and accepting of new digital strategies than expected when asked directly. While they had concerns about change, the root of their trouble was lacking clear, specific goals from on-high. Staffers hungered for specific direction on how to reprioritize their workloads, which had increased substantially as staffs shrunk and responsibilities increased.

The application of these lessons to museums seems straightforward. For digital work to be incorporated into core museum business, staff need clear goals and guidelines for doing so. Museum workers right across the institution – and not merely those working in web/technology focussed departments – need actionable and clear benchmarks for success that include creating digital and online content, pageviews or revenue. And once these benchmarks are set, staff then need guidance for reprioritising their normal workloads to account for the changes.

In Rob Stein’s great MW2012 paper Blow Up Your Digital Strategy: Changing the Conversation about Museums and Technology, he writes:

The key to building trust within the organization is beginning to build internal confidence among staff and to demonstrate the success of metrics that are important to the whole organization…

… If your museum’s strategic plan does not have clear metrics that help you know what success looks like, then a document that describes what they are and how they are measured would be much more useful to the museum than a technology strategy. If your strategic plan talks about reaching new audiences, how will you measure whether or not they are being reached? If the plan seeks to improve access to collections, then the ability to measure that access is crucial. Once those metrics are known and accepted by the staff, creating technology strategies that enhance those metrics is a much clearer task.  Rather than debating whether a particular effort was “worth it”, such metrics can clarify the discussion about how museum resources were spent. The impact of technology then becomes less about opinion and more about whether or not the museum’s goals were met.

He’s right. Having clear metrics is important for defining what success looks like. However, once those metrics are defined at a strategic level, staff right across the institution whose work could (should?) intersect with the digital world need to be given their own benchmarks for digital success, along with specific directions as to how to incorporate these new accountabilities with their already-existing work. Large-scale strategy is important, but so are the individual strategies that are built into it.

Has your museum developed any clear goals and guidelines to help staff incorporate digital work into their routines? Do staff (including curators, marketers, educators etc) across the institution have concrete, actionable and specific benchmarks for digital success, as well as guidance for how to reach those goals? If so, who has driven this process within the museum? And has it made a visible difference to the incorporation and acceptance of digital into core museum business?

For museums to make the ‘digital shift’, does the art/artefact market itself have to change?

Seb Chan has just written a great post positing the idea that museums will not truly begin to incorporate the digital into their core operations and institutional DNA until they have significant born digital collections. He writes:

Born-digital no longer requires ‘buildings’ and that’s when things becomes interesting.

He’s right – it is interesting. However, I think it is only scratching the surface of the question, because in order for most museums to view born-digital as being significant for collection, the very art/artefact market likely needs to change. (Note: I am mostly thinking through this issue with the art market in mind.)

Somaya, a commenter on Seb’s post, writes:

Born digital suffers from both impermanence and the ability to be everywhere all at once. Either there is only one copy (which is lost easily) or millions that are everywhere and likely to turn up in collections multiple times (not a good approach of every organisation is spending their resources preserving the same thing).

Until there is a basic shift in fully embracing digital collecting plus preservation, management and provision of access – through policies and strategic directions of these organisations – digital will slip to the side of other more traditional collecting workflows.

Her point, that the born-digital artefact is both impermanent and able to be everywhere at once, seems to run completely counter to the way art markets create value, with their emphasis on rarity, longevity and physicality (and therefore, good prospects for return on investment). A 2008 article from the NYTimes on the sale of a version of the Magna Carta exemplifies this sentiment.

Just when digital reproduction makes it possible to create a “Rembrandt” good enough to fool the eye, the “real” Rembrandt becomes more expensive than ever. Why? Because the same free flow that makes information cheap and reproducible helps us treasure the sight of information that is not. A story gains power from its attachment, however tenuous, to a physical object. The object gains power from the story. The abstract version may flash by on a screen, but the worn parchment and the fading ink make us pause. The extreme of scarcity is intensified by the extreme of ubiquity.

The object, thus, potentially could become more valuable for museums in the short term, and in fact until museums begin to build the digital into core operations and value. There could be both a backlash against the potentially ubiquitous nature of born-digital art/design/architecture etc, and an urge to cling on to what museums have that is different from that which is available everywhere else online, particularly because there is a known and quantifiable value that can be placed on objects in a way that has not yet (to my knowledge) been defined for born-digital artefacts.

Beyond this however, museum collections are undoubtedly influenced by the art market and the interests of private collectors, whose willingness to spend money on acquiring works of art by particular artists will often drive the reputations and careers of those artists (and therefore make them valuable for museums, too, to collect). Such a system is thus a kind of informalised method for vetting those works or artists that a museum should seek to acquire, because those objects (should) have a more likely ROI.

This article explaining the art market by James Panero captures this idea:

The art market has a unique talent for promoting art about the market. Since exhibition history enhances value, the collectors of what we might call “market art” have a vested interest in seeing their work take up space in traditional public collections. They often have the financial leverage to make it happen. In this way, the hedge-fund collector Steven A. Cohen could place Damien Hirst’s shark tank on temporary loan at the Metropolitan Museum. The oversized trinkets of Jeff Koons start appearing at the same time in the museum’s rooftop gallery.

Curators defend such expensive contemporary work as relevant to the commercialism of the age: the market gives meaning to the art.

A quote from Leo Steinberg in the article is also useful.

Art is not, after all, what we thought it was; in the broadest sense it is hard cash. The whole of art, its growing tip included, is assimilated to familiar values. Another decade, and we shall have mutual funds based on securities in the form of pictures held in bank vaults.

What we don’t yet have, then, is the way for equating born-digital art/artefacts with hard cash, and a proven sale/resale history to demonstrate ROI.

In some ways, I am sure this cannot be far away. In the Internet age, information is becoming valuable in ways that were previously unimaginable. The Real Time Report recently reported that estimates put the market value of a Facebook user at between $89-$118. Here, the seemingly intangible has tangible or real value. What the art market, and museums, haven’t yet done is find ways to assess/communicate the intrinsic value of born-digital materials. We don’t yet know what the ROI is, either for private collectors or institutional ones.

And there’s the rub. While Seb is probably right, and it’s not until institutions hold substantial born-digital collections that they are likely to build digital into core museum practice, it might not be until the art/artefact markets begin to intrinsically value born-digital artefacts that they will become a collecting priority.

What do you think?

Thinking differently and making change

Museums are pretty strange. They exist simultaneously as a conceptual space, an actual physical place and as a kind of practice, which means there is constantly a sense of redrawing the borders of what a museum is, and why a museum is. Because the context in which museums exist is always fluctuating, museums too are subject to perpetual evolution. These interconnected elements of theory, practice and place make the museum a very interesting world in which to work, because what works for one area (say, the museum as concept) might not marry with the other elements.

Despite this, the theory of museums does have very real impact on the business of museums (if not always immediately). As our conceptual ideas of museums change, so too does museum practice (often later down the track). This is why now is such an interesting time to be working as a museum theorist, because the Internet is raising so many interesting questions about what a museum should be, and how it should conduct its business, in the age of information. New theories, new discussions are emerging, and these discussions impact on museum practice itself. It really feels like there is a chance to shape the museum of the future, through ideas. Amazing.

With this in mind, I draw your attention to Koven Smith’s latest blog post, which is also the abstract for his upcoming MuseumNext talk. The post is titled The Kinetic Museum, and in it, Koven asks:

What if a museum’s overall practice were built outwards from its technology efforts, rather than the other way around? What would a museum built from the ground up for speed and agility, rather than stability and longevity, look like?

This is a fascinating line of thinking, because it really starts to question the very foundational processes upon which museums are constructed and their appropriateness in an age of networked knowledge and endless connectivity. Rather than relying traditional models for museum practice and hoping they still suit the external context in which museums now find themselves, these sorts of questions prompt a complete rethink not only of how museums do business, but also of why and what a museum is. They are the sort of conceptual questions that could impact the physical and practical elements of the museum too. (This means they are also very important questions, given the changing state of information and knowledge – the stock and trade of museums.)

The very process of questioning these ideas in a public forum raises the possibility that the museum itself will change as a result (a question asked cannot be unasked); that it will be re-conceived in a new context. Such large-scale abstract questions remind me of an article that did the rounds recently about the mission that Steve Jobs set his first iPhone development team. Jobs

wasn’t focused on conceiving a device that would run all sorts of apps and media but instead laid out a simple mission to his team: to create the first phone people would love so much, they’d never leave the house without it.

In response to these somewhat idealised goals, Apple designed something that changed the marketplace. The article continues:

Apple’s success largely stemmed from focusing on only a handful of fundamental concepts: break the rules but do so in an exceptionally well manner, pay attention to detail and make people “think differently” about the relationship they have with their device, especially given that smartphones already existed in the market.

Questions like Koven’s, that ask us to rethink museum practice in a connected world, are so important, because they actually open the possibility that we can remake this essentially nineteenth century institution in a way that is far more suited to our time. If we were to take the fundamental elements of a museum (say, the selection, preservation and dissemination/communication of elements of the past and present for their potential future use), and be willing to discard the rest if it was not useful, I wonder how we would design a museum for today’s circumstances.

In Mia Ridge’s round-up of our MCN2011 panel, she includes a Titter quote from Bruce Wyman that “current visitors most frequently give *incremental* ideas. You need different folk to take those great leaps forward. That’s us.” The way I see it, it is through asking these questions and thinking of the practice and concept of the museum in new ways that we will make those great leaps.

What do you think? Are we asking the right questions? And if not, what questions should we be asking?

What is your dangerous idea about museums?

A number of years ago, I acquired the book What is Your Dangerous Idea?, in which significant thinkers addressed the question “What do you believe is true, even though you cannot prove it?” According to the book’s preface, the question comes from psychologist Steven Pinker, who wrote:

The history of science is replete with discoveries that were considered socially, morally, or emotionally dangerous in their time; the Copernican and Darwinian revolutions are the most obvious. What is your dangerous idea? An idea that you think about (not necessarily one you originated) that is dangerous not because it is assumed to be false, but because it might be true?

The question asks for speculation. It asks for wild, instinctual guesses. And there is a very good chance that many of these guesses will be wrong.

However, what is even more thrilling is the possibilities that some of the guesses will not only be right, but that they will themselves shape the very future of the world and of ideas. Often simply be giving voice to something, we start creating it in fact where it previously only lived in imagination.

This is the thrill and terror of speculation. There is the chance that an idea will be wrong, laughable. But making it known (as terrifying as that can be) also brings with it the chance to write the future of the world and make possible things that once seemed unbelievable.

I recently put in an abstract for MuseumNext that dealt purely with ideas. It did not include case studies. It was not filled with practical answers to problems. Instead, it contained one (possibly dangerous) idea that I firmly believe could be true. I’m not going to go into too much depth about it here until I find out whether it made the cut (although with around 200 applications for 30 places, my hopes are not held tightly). However, the question comes up: What is your dangerous idea about museums?

I would love to know.

Why should I believe anything you tell me, you nameless and faceless institution?!?

I had the exceptional good fortune at MCN2011 of coming away with dozens of unanswered questions, and more than a handful of lovely people with whom to try to figure out the answers. My hands have barely left my keyboard in the last couple of weeks, as I’ve tried to capture ideas, exchange emails and make possible some of the grander schemes of world domination that have surfaced. But in doing so, I have alas neglected this poor little blog space.

So, to pick up from where I last left off, with a summary of the emergent issues that captivated me at MCN2011, I’ve decided to start with an exploration on the issue of authority on museum websites. It’s something that Claire Ross has also just written about, in her blog on MCN takeaways – although my discussion will take a somewhat different tack to hers. Claire writes:

This Panel took an interesting perspective to the authority question, asking how we should be building museum websites to gain and maintain authority online, something they argued that museums haven’t really earned in the online space yet, rather relying on the automatic ingrained authority physical museums have built up. But really can physical museum authority transmit in a digital space? And more importantly should it? That’s something I really came away with. Surely participation, dialogue and engagement with visitors breaks down the authority barrier to enable museums and visitors to work together to create an engaging online experience? Rather than a transmission of authority? So should museum websites be authoritarian at all? Right enough of a rant on that.

But here’s what I want to know… Can an institution even be an authority?

An individual can be an expert. An individual can be an authority. But I don’t know that a museum can be an authority on anything. Museums can be authoritative, sure, and point someone in the right direction (like the new Walker site seems to do pretty beautifully). But I am not going to believe something just because “the Tate” told me it was right. There is no accountability there. A blog post on the Tate site could have been written by a work experience kid who happens to be good with words and Google. Even collections information, unless it has a specific author’s name attached to it, gives me nothing I can particularly trust and believe in really (particularly in instances where there is no sense of how, when and by whom changes have been made to the collection record).

In a museum exhibition, I suppose there is a level of trust that the museum display has been created by someone who is an expert in the field. If someone got a job as a curator, I am hoping that they have some level of knowledge/expertise. Within this space, there can be room for intuitive judgement, for creating relationships between things based on experience and instinct.

But the information I get online, I want to be accurate – not accurate within a context. I want to be able to use it for my purpose (whatever that may be) – and so authority becomes more important in a different way.

In our panel, Koven raised the authority issue because he wanted to know how he should be building his museum websites. It’s a really significant question, but authority in an information context comes from more than just SEO and a trustworthy visual space and design. I want to know where the information came from. I want to know who entered in, and when, and why there has been a change in interpretation. If a collection object is re-dated, I want to know what prompted that change in associated information. I want to know who made that call, and why.

Until that happens, I don’t know whether our collections online will be truly authoritative. As some of my own research at the Powerhouse Museum shows, even curators don’t necessarily trust online collections records to be accurate. And if we don’t trust in our own information online, why should anyone else?


***nb obviously institutions have a name, but I’m sure you get my point.

Initial takeaways from MCN2011

I wrote this post on the plane on the way home from MCN2011, trying to wrangle some sense from the myriad of stimulating and interesting conversations and sessions. It captures my first takeaways from the conference, and is something I will no doubt expand on in coming weeks.

This was a very interesting conference. Much of the focus of the sessions and the conversations I participated in seemed to be really about the broad frameworks and implications of the work that is happening in the museum tech field, which was fascinating and useful. I got an incredible amount out of attending, and am already starting to think about how to get back next year.

So what kinds of issues and questions emerged from MCN? Here’s a brief summary of some of the big ones I came away with:

Authority, inclusion and visual language/design choices
In our panel on What’s the Point of a Museum Website?, Koven raised the issue of museum authority online. He wanted to know how we should be visually building our websites to gain and maintain authority online, something he argues that we haven’t really earned in this space (gambling instead on the fact that our offline presence confers us with automatic authority online).

Having said that, I think the issue is bigger than this. Our sector spends a significant amount of time and energy trying to find ways of making what we do inclusive and participatory. It’s one of the findings of the potential benefits of folksonomies and social tagging – to invite and acknowledge other voices. However, if the visual language (and actual language) we use online is one aimed at gaining authority (as might be expected, since this is still an important issue), then maybe that goes against any claim to inclusion. The austere appearance of our buildings is the same thing that makes them at times foreboding to those not comfortable in those spaces… if we design our websites to be authoritative, do we not risk the same thing in the digital space? How can we resolve these seeming contradictions in intention?

Communicating what we do better
Another issue that emerged for me particularly was a growing sense that for all the great work happening in our sector, we often seem to do a poor job of communicating the benefits of it to those outside our immediate community. Therefore, I want to know what big (or small) issues that the museum tech sector needs to become better at communicating to those outside our immediate community? How can we create a compelling framework/language for communicating the value of what we do to funders/directors/curators etc?

New funding opportunities? New models for museum websites?
What new funding opportunities might be available for museum technology projects if we can change the language/reshape the argument? If we can demonstrate our value beyond the financial in more effective ways, will there be new ways for attracting support for what we do?

Similarly, are there new funding models that we could consider for the online space? In the discussion of one session, Nate Solas asked what would happen if we made all of our images available for free, but put a price on interpretation. It’s an interesting idea, and makes me start wondering further on what other new models we could investigate. I recently raved about my love for Bjork’s Biophilia app, which was released a few weeks ago. The app, which accompanies her latest album, brings with it depth, games, essays and ultimately, new discovery. It is super easy to get music for free online with so many file sharing sites. What is not so possible is gaining access to this same experience without paying for it – and it’s the first app I’ve really spent money on. What can museums learn from these sorts of creative solutions to content and context?

Digital conservation/preservation
This is one that came up in the Horizon Report (launched at MCN2011). How can we ensure that works of art that utilise technology (esp ones that might only function on a particular piece of equipment/OS etc) can be preserved? Can we create and set some industry standards for this practice, which individual institutions can then adapt to their own needs? How can we start ensuring that there are conservators adequately trained in both the ethical and technical issues that this will involve? And how can we do it fast, since we are already losing works to the ravages of time and obsolescence?

Career path development and longevity.
This question emerged out of some more personal discussions than actually out of conference sessions, but it is still a very significant issue. How can we create succession lines, and better opportunities for career development so that we don’t lose the best people in our field?

Museum content on external sites
How can we capture and archive our “museum” content that lives offsite, on platforms like Facebook? Is it problematic that so much interpretative content exists in spaces that we cannot necessarily harvest?

Crowdsourcing and exclusivity
In the History Museums are Not Art Museums. Discuss session, one crowdsourced history project was discussed in which people were asked to transcribe old documents. Before being able to transcribe, they were asked to join the site, and were given a short questionnaire that included a question that asked why the person wanted to contribute. It was estimated that 75% of contributors wrote a significant piece on why they deserved to be allowed to contribute to the transcription. It makes me wonder if there isn’t some value in actually raising barriers to entry in some cases of crowdsourcing, particularly when the quality of the work is important. I might be wrong on this, but there is something like the idea of “I would never want to be a member of a club that would have me as a member” is playing in my head here. Maybe sometimes communities want a sense of exclusivity that the easy access of the web takes away? I haven’t thought this through fully yet, but it’s something that I want to explore further.

Rob Stein wanted to know if there was a way to measure for epiphany? Or, do our online metrics measure the right things? And if not, what are the right things, and how can we measure for them?

Following on from that, are we doing enough to provoke epiphanies, rather than just trying to teach people things? This is something I am definitely going to explore at a later stage, but it seems to me there is a particular value in things that don’t have easy answers or ready conclusions. These are the subjects we dwell on, that stick in our minds (or at least in mine). These are the things that we keep coming back to. So why do we, in museums, feel that we have to teach (ie, to provide answers)? Maybe we would be far more compelling if, like the art and objects we display, we asked more unanswerable questions. What if we again became philosophical centres, rather than centres for education. In the History Museums session, there was considerable talk about equipping people with the means to conduct historical research. What if the emphasis of museums becomes less about education, and more about enabling people to think critically through issues – without providing the answers? This is probably something that already happens, particularly in the best museum spaces, but it does seem like a critical issue that could be addressed particularly well in the offline space.

The museum website of the future?
Does the museum website of the future become as critical and central to the museum purpose and mission as the physical building itself? What happens when we start thinking about our data as a collection of digital objects to be curated? Does the position of digital knowledge curator become as essential as that of object curator? Can we reconcieve our online collections data in new ways that can be more beneficial to both museums, and society more generally?

…Ok, I think that is enough to get started. I am obviously going to continue to flesh out and develop these ideas in the coming few weeks, so stay tuned to this blog if you want to gain some insight into the nuance of the discussions that I had whilst at the conference.

In the mean time, thanks to everyone who was a part of my MCN experience. It was absolutely incredible, and I cannot believe what an interesting, supportive and warm community I have become a part of. Special thanks to the ever-amazing and provocative Koven Smith for inviting me to be a part of his panel, and to the MCN scholarship committee and ArtsNSW for their support in making it possible.

I leave you with pandas.

Aren’t they the cutest?

Biophilia – Björk

Björk’s app album Biophilia is pretty well the coolest thing I’ve come across in ages. I downloaded the app this afternoon, and promptly lost myself exploring music and music-making, games and visuals. Have a listen to David Attenborough’s introduction to the app/album below:

This is everything that an app should be. It just spills over with creativity, and invites participation and creativity from its users in kind. Through experiments with science, and essays enclosed within, the app promotes learning too. Mind you, if this is the start of a new wave of creativity in apps then museums and other institutions who pride themselves on making knowledge and education accessible could be left fighting for relevancy. Or maybe we should just be looking for awesome and creative new partnerships to explore.

The Internet, GLAMs and the production of new knowledge

In line with my involvement in the Digital Culture Public Sphere in the last week, one major question that has been surfacing time and time again during the discussions: How do we pitch GLAM organisations as being for the future, rather than simply about old things, and nostalgia? Or, in other words, how can we make GLAMs sexy to politicians?

Museums are often thought of as being about ‘old stuff” and stories. Much of our publicly recognised value still seems to be in the kind of nostalgia or memory arena. We can absolutely see this in the kind of language that was used within the National Culture Policy Discussion Paper, in which cultural institutions have the following “pitch”:

The Government also funds national collecting institutions which perform a central role in preserving and making Australia’s art and culture accessible. These institutions have traditionally centred their activities on collections management which includes documentation, conservation and exhibition. However, changing community expectations of access and service have created additional areas of common interest, including education, interpretation, regional delivery and digitisation of collections.

Even in this policy language, the view of cultural collecting institutions is really only about preservation and accessibility of art and culture. The value of our collections is seen to only reach so far as education and interpretation.

But right now, GLAMs have far greater potential in the creation of new knowledge, particularly with the incredibly rich data that’s held within and around our collections. In a data economy, we are actually incredibly rich with the sort of data that no one else has.

Ben Goldacre at the Guardian published an article on Friday, arguing for the incredible value of everyday government data. He writes

Amazing things happen when you pull individual pieces of information together into larger linked datasets: meaning emerges, as you produce facts from figures. If you’ve ever wished you were born in the 19th century, when there were so many obvious inventions and ideas to hook for yourself, then I seriously recommend you become a coder, because future nerds will look back on this time with the exact same envy. But that leap forward will be tediously retarded if we don’t make the government allow us to use the pavements.

This is the same argument that I’ve started making in regards to GLAM collections. As I said in my Public Sphere presentation:

We cannot now even imagine the full possibilities that might come from the uploading of our collections to the Internet… Who knows what possibilities for new discovery, new knowledge and new insight lie hidden in the collections of our museums, galleries, libraries and archives? Digitising our collections and making them available online in usable forms… will lead to incredible new opportunities for cultural institutions to gain new relevance in the global knowledge economy.

GLAM collecting institutions have incredible information resources that can tell incredible, and hitherto hidden, stories about the development of society and of the natural world. We should be partnering with researchers, scientists and data visualisation specialists. Although we might hold expertise on our collections at an object level, or even a collection level, there is new knowledge that is held within our collections that will be liberated when we can pull together the individual pieces of information, and find new meanings.

The Internet, and Linked Open Data, really do liberate our cultural institutions to be more than just the sum of their parts. Now might be the time that GLAMs really do come into their own, as public institutions that truly serve the public both off- and online.