Saturday, 14 April 2012

Museum technologists redux: it's not about us

Recently there's been a burst of re-energised conversations on Twitter, blogs and inevitably at MW2012 (Museums on the Web 2012) about museum technologists, about breaking out of the bubble, about digital strategies vs plain old strategies for museums.  This is a quick post (because I only ever post when I should be writing a different paper) to make sure my position is clear.

If you're reading this you probably know that these are important issues to discuss, and it's exciting thinking about the organisational change issues museums will rise to in order to stay relevant, but it's also important to step back and remind ourselves that ultimately, it's not about us.  It's not about our role as museum technologists, or museums as organisations.

Museum technologists should be advocates for the digital audience, and guide museums in creating integrated, meaningful experiences, but we should also make sure that other museum staff know we still share their values and respect their expertise, and dispel myths about being zealots of openness at the expense of other requirements or wanting to devalue the physical experience.

It's about valuing the digital experiences our audiences have in our galleries, online and on the devices they carry in their pockets.  It's about understanding that online visitors are real visitors too.  It's about helping people make the most of their physical experiences by extending and enhancing their understandings of our collections and the world that shaped them.  It's about showing the difference digital makes by showing the impact it can have for a museum seeking to fulfil its mission for audiences it can't see as well as those right under its nose.

I'm a museum technologist, but maybe in my excitement about its potential I haven't been clear enough: I'm not in love with technology, I'm in love with what it enables - better museums, and better museum experiences.

3 comments:

  1. Thinking more generally about the role of technologists in museums, I suspect technologists should look to the Learning community for lessons from the past (in the UK, anyway) about integrating new paradigms into the core of museum work...

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  2. Two posts with an interesting perspective. The first on why technologists are needed:

    Tom Steinburg on 'Can you recognize the million pound chair?': "The problem is that when it comes to identifying technology needs, and procuring successfully to fill them, you can’t simply rely on general life experience to save you. It’s a specialist skill, and one that requires knowledge to be constantly relearned and unlearned as technologies change.
    ...
    It is time for leaders to bring some people who have got their hands dirty in the guts of digital projects into the decision making rooms, and onto the decision making boards."
    http://www.mysociety.org/2012/06/19/can-you-recognize-the-million-pound-chair/

    And Rob Stein on 'Technology: Catalyst for Change in Museums': "While many museums continue to struggle with the day-to-day needs of operating a public institution, and rarely discuss the theoretical and philosophical issues of the field, those discussions are beginning to gain prevalence and traction among a tight-knit community of museum professionals who are at home within the technical landscape of the web and social media. This is not to say that those discussions don’t occur in other professional communities and in museums, but rather that their presence in technology circles is frequently met with surprise." http://www.museum-id.com/ideas-detail.asp?newsID=315

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  3. And another that perhaps sums up the general characteristics of a 'double domain' technologist (someone with technical expertise + another specialism), 'On being a learning technologist' at http://learningtechnologiesteam.blogspot.co.uk/2012/12/on-being-learning-technologist-and.html

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