Defining Open Authority

An attempt to illustrate, define, & discuss the intersection between museum
authority & participatory digital culture. | Ask me about museums & Wikipedia.

Posts tagged "Collections"


1 year ago open authority Grand Rapids Michigan oral history history collections museums openauthexamples

Open Authority Example #3:
Institution: Grand Rapids Public Museum

This fall we are beginning a project by professionally photographing 500 of the artifacts of the Grand Rapids Public Museum. Visitors to the website will eventually be encouraged to attach their own oral and written histories to the artifact, giving them a more complete and in-depth story. We’ve asked community members to write about objects that caught their attention so we can share them here.

Open Authority Example #3:


This fall we are beginning a project by professionally photographing 500 of the artifacts of the Grand Rapids Public Museum. Visitors to the website will eventually be encouraged to attach their own oral and written histories to the artifact, giving them a more complete and in-depth story. We’ve asked community members to write about objects that caught their attention so we can share them here.

Download high-res photo


2 years ago 7 notes museums the future collections ethics

The new museum collection

On her blog The Uncataloged Museum, Linda Norris recently wrote the post, “Do You Need Every Single Thing?" in which she shares an incredible case study about the McLean County (Illinois) Historical Society's efforts to be “more targeted in their contemporary collecting efforts.” 

This post was extremely timely, as I just responded to the Center for the Future of Museum’s survey on the future of museum ethics. As I was filling it out, I was surprised at how passionate I was about the current state of museum collections and the future of collecting in general. I had never forced myself to articulate my opinion before, and I found it really valuable. This is why I found it so great that Linda’s blog post and the efforts of the McLean County Historical Society are precisely my thoughts in action.

There are an abundance of federal, state, and local studies that show the dismal state of museum collections (particularly small museums) -this mainly resulting from the lack of resources required to preserve what they already have. But more than this, museums are caught in the ethical dilemma of needing to be stewards of the objects they have, all while they are often in over their heads and lack the ability to appropriately store and conserve their collections. Only small portions of the collection are actually interpreted, or are even useful at all, and the others are becoming burdens as museums will increasingly be expected to digitize their collections to make them all more accessible to the public. We all know these issues, and it’s a vicious cycle. That’s why better standards will need to be in place, and support systems created, to facilitate a shift (which has thankfully already begun) in deaccessioning and future collecting.

I’m really inspired by the McLean County Historical Society’s goal to focus their collecting on representing their diverse audience while being bold in the deaccessioning of uncontextualized objects. That will be the call of the responsible museum of the future: to make every object count.


2 years ago 8 notes museums technology collections

Museum collection meets library catalogue

Seb Chan, Fresh & New(er) blog:

This integration also signals the irreversible blending of museum and library practice in the digital space.

Only time will tell if this delivers more value to end users than expecting researchers to come to institutional websites. But I expect that this sort of merging – much like the expanding operations of Europeana do suggest that in the near future museum collections will need to start offering far more than a ‘rich catalogue record’ online to pull visitors in from aggregator products (and, communities of practice) like Trove to individual institutional websites.

3 years ago 20 notes New Facebook collections conservation museums

richardmccoyReblogged from richardmccoy

“All your stories, all your apps, and a new way to express who you are” – Did Facebook just become a social history museum? by Suse Cairns


This article by Suse Cairns is an interesting take on Facebook’s new Timeline, but I was thinking about it in a slightly different way: did Facebook Timeline just pawn all of the Content Management Systems (EMu, TMS, Past perfect, etc.) and the new Mellon projects, Collectionspace & Conservationspace?

Here’s a video that describes Facebook Timeline

It would be great if museums could harness this kind of thinking and use it for collections management systems …. Seriously, what if museums had a Facebook for their artworks?  That kind of easy functionality and interface would make things a heck of a lot easier.

In this way we could keep a Timeline of everything that happens to them: when they are made, exhibited, broken, repaired, installed, loaned, de-accesioned, etc.

If only I knew computer magic and had a little free time, I just make the program this afternoon ….


3 years ago 1 note QR codes collections art tech

mining the museumgeek -

– meta-museology in the art show. via @shineslike

I’m so proud of Suse Cairns for putting her incredibly smart ideas into action, going out of her comfort zone to create a thought-provoking artwork (Classify Me2.0), and (controversially) winning a significant art prize that will allow her to travel from Sydney to Atlanta to present her ideas at the Museum Computer Network conference this November. Congratulations!!


3 years ago 10 notes museums collections Digital Collections

Join the conversation: Who are you collecting for?

I’m really enjoying the conversation about digitizing collections & audience sharing (or as we should be calling it now, participant sharing.) Please do join the conversation on Suse’s blog. I just wanted to pull together things here, for my own sake, since they so directly link to my research & thinking right now.

My blogged response.

Mike Woodward: (Response to my blog.) Great piece. My own view is that public museums have a moral obligation to share. I can see why curators want to curate every last expression of an object, but that is simply impractical and often manifests itself as blocking behaviour.

Suse Cairns: (On her blog.) Awesome post, Lori. Nice to have you in the conversation, and to have your insight as a Wikipedian-in-residence! I am so glad you understood that I was not so much thinking about collecting policies and strategies (the first moment in this process when it’s important to ask who are you collecting for), but the bigger picture question of who is this collection, once collected, actually for. I think you really get to the heart of the matter when you ask “An important question is, “How might our audience use our collection and how can we serve these needs online?”” Something to think about…

Mike Woodward: It’s really good to see these issues being discussed. Just to complicate the picture a little more, we should be aware that our institutions don’t have a monopoly on knowledge about the collections we hold. Sharing may be a way of unlocking even more metadata and so even more value from them.

Suse Cairns: Good point Mike! That’s actually one of the exciting things (I think) about uploading museum collections to the ‘net – the opportunity to learn new information about the objects within. But of course, then we probably have to consider how this impacts on our recording of the history of the object’s interpretation. Do the interactions that the public has with a collection online (like tagging/commenting on an object) actually feed back into the formal museum documentation? And if so, under what circumstances?

Mike Woodward: Hi Suse. Absolutely, that question follows, but in a sense it is a secondary consideration, one of those ‘nice to have’ problems.

Me: Thanks, Suse! I’m excited to have found a group of people thinking through the same things that I am, and in a broader sense outside of Wiki (because I’m not all Wikipedia! :) The question, “How might our audience use our collection and how can we serve these needs online?” directly links to your research on creating different website front ends that cater to distinct users. How can our online collections do this too?

@Mike your point is really important, and one that sites like the Reciprocal Research Network ( is trying to address. The RRN is reaching out to indigenous communities to better gather oral histories, images, and research on objects — and is doing so with communities of all levels of technological connectedness. I learned about this project at the recent World Archaeological Intercongress in Indianapolis and I’m really intrigued by how this type of platform can be adapted to all collections (kind of like mixing that with CollectionsSpace). Anyway, my point is that opening up the collection for comment from your visitors, and from experts around the world, will only enrich the collection, as I know you to very much believe in.

I actually think that Suse’s question about how informal documentation feeds into the formal documentation is a really important one and not necessarily secondary. I’ve been talking through the beginning stages of this at our museum and it’s incredibly important that the curators understand how the collection is being shared, how participant input will be gathered, where that information will live, and how it will meld (or remain separate from) the curatorial research and archives. It’s important, for instance, that it’s clear that their research and metadata within their own database will not be altered by visitors; the two will remain distinct. (Or, will they? depending on the project and the institution.) It’s an important conversation to have up front.


3 years ago 9 notes museums collections museum tech tech Wikipedia

Re: Who are you collecting for?

Over on my new favorite blog, Suse Cairns asked, "Who are you collecting for?" within the context of the tension between (digital) accessibility to collections and museum control over information. This is a topic I’ve been obsessively interested in, and as such I found Nick Poole’s recent OpenCulture post (previously Tumbld) extremely valuable. That post is quoted by Suse, as is a recent Center for the Future of Museum’s post about accessibility (hey! which I also Tumbld!) Suse and I are definitely on the same wave length. It’s about time I take a breath and join the conversation.

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3 years ago 5 notes Wikipedia collections GLAMWIKI museums

OpenCulture: Language Matters

Nick Poole provides important food for thought regarding how the cultural sector (and, in my personal experience, curators in particular) are approached about sharing their “content” (a word that I use often, but am now reconsidering.) The debate over control of information is important, and one that as a collections-focused graduate student I’m sensitive to, in spite of being solidly on the free culture side of the fence. A more open discussion needs to take place that more clearly considers the museum’s stake in these collaborations - it really is time to meet in the middle, rather than being preachy. I personally hope to be involved in that discussion.

From Nick’s post (emphasis added):

If the aim is to furnish an online experience for the user that is complete in itself, then you can see how [sharing metadata] would present a challenge to a museum. The object record was created to augment and facilitate an experience, not to be an experience in its own right…So the word ‘metadata’ fails in its primary function to explain to museums exactly what it is that they are being expected to provide.