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.
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 (rrnpilot.org) 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.