Recently one of our curators at NMAH came to me to discuss the aftermath of the Smithsonian 2.0 conference. “You have an image problem,” he told me. According to him, the buzz among his colleagues is that the conference was mostly a dump on curatorial authority, despite my protestations to the contrary.
Rethinking the role of credentialed expertise in a “crowdsourced” Web 2.0 world was certainly one of the subtexts of the weekend, and indeed of conversations in the larger online museum community. And yes, some questioned the monopoly that credentialed experts have traditionally enjoyed over interpretation and allowed uses of our collections. Dan Cohen and his crew over at the Center for History and New Media produced an excellent podcast on the subject as a follow-up to the conference that is well worth listening to for an informed outsider’s perspective on this topic. On the podcast, Tom Scheinfeldt provides some useful historical context, reminding us that the question of who gets to interpret museum collections is as old as museums themselves, and periodically gets raised as museum practices change and evolve.
This is an area that really interests me. I am convinced that as we continue to dialogue as a museum community, and collaboratively examine and experiment with new technologies to see how they might be of benefit, we will make progress toward solutions that threaten no one and benefit everyone. Our NMAH blog is a good example of this. When we started it last summer, it had a handful of advocates and contributors and many skeptics. Now, it is really starting to blossom as more staff members come on board and use it to share their work and interact with the public. Of course we hoped it would be an instant success, but in this instant-everything world, sometimes good old-fashioned persistence pays off (and Obama agrees with me on this…).
Speaking of sharing our work on the blog, I have started an effort to carry this very conversation to our blog readers and solicit their input on the role of the digital museum. In response to an embedded survey about museums and trust, over 75% of our unscientific sample were of the opinion that museums would become even more important as trusted sources of online information (curators, take heart!). Only 9% felt that museums’ role would diminish. We will be using these responses to continue the conversation – please join us and follow along!
In addition, for anyone who will be at the AAM meeting in Philadelphia, I will be conducting an Idea Lounge discussion on the topic “Digitizing Museum Expertise.” As museums continue to produce increasing amounts of digital data, how can we similarly expose our wealth of human talent by facilitating creative connections and/or collaborations between museum experts and online audiences? Look for it on Sat., May 2 at 8 a.m.