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Web person at the Imperial War Museum, just completed PhD about digital sustainability in museums (the original motivation for this blog was as my research diary). Posting occasionally, and usually museum tech stuff but prone to stray. I welcome comments if you want to take anything further. These are my opinions and should not be attributed to my employer or anyone else (unless they thought of them too). Twitter: @jottevanger

Thursday, May 03, 2007

Cross-posted comment: on real museums and digital value

Cross-posted comment to Holly Witchey's post on musematic (since it's what I had on my mind today anyway):

Hi Holly, you won’t remember me but we shared breakfast in Pasadena…. I do understand how you can sometimes get to feel like this. I don’t have much to add to your thoughts on communication breakdown – you’re right, communication takes both effective transmission and reception. Your remarks on the value of our whole digital enterprise, though, chimed very serendipitously with my own musings on the way to work this morning. I was thinking: some museums that hold a preponderance of “real” objects, others contain more in the way of dioramas, reconstructions, replicas, interactives and experiences; indeed some have nothing “real” at all. Does this lead them to have different attitudes to their digital holdings or place different value upon them? Despite the AAM’s Code of Ethics, not all museums (in the broad definition that the AAM also holds) have collections per se. In fact, the section you quote includes not just collections but “exhibition materials”, and maybe that’s where we can salve our consciences a little: exhibition materials could well include digital resources. In the end it’s true, most of the time in most cases it’s the collections that really count and they must take priority, and museums always have to balance, to choose, and they do. As well as going on building and maintaining collections they have to use them in all sorts of ways to get value now as well as in the future. That’s where we come in – only rarely are we creating works of art; mostly we’re making stuff that brings art, history, science, ideas to people. It would be foolish to spend too much on that, like it would be foolish to spend all the money on gallery refurbs and none on building and caring for collections, but still it’s valuable work. Occasionally we might even make something that could become digital heritage (i.e. a digital thing worth keeping) as opposed to digitized heritage, and in this time of flux and exciting experiments we are surely seeing some genuinely valuable bodies of knowledge and experience that perhaps we’ll want to “preserve for posterity”. I’m really interested to find out if and when our digital stuff is anywhere near as precious as our real stuff (it’s my research area, as it happens), but anyway don’t be too down! If people needed museums in the past, not just collections, then they need us now, in the same way