November 11, 2015
Last week I was fortunate to visit the University of Minnesota Social Welfare History Archives, and attend the Museum Computer Network conference: “The Invisible Architectures of Connected Museums: Making Meaning with People, Collections, and Information.” What follows is a quick overview with lots of pictures (just click to enlarge the images).
Minneapolis welcomed me warmly with sunshine and temperatures in the upper 60’s, letting me get out and walk over to the Walker Art Center. The Walker was renovating their campus (I felt right at home among the construction barriers), and they had set up some peepholes to pique visitor curiosity about the project.
While at the Walker, I saw a fascinating exhibit of “Hippie Modernism.” The experiments of the 1960s and 1970s counterculture that aimed at creating communities and occasions for audience participation, along with the many publishing experiments of the era, reminded me of what we now try to do online. The Whole Earth Catalog subtitle, “access to tools,” made me think, “Oh, like YouTube tutorials.”
I next visited the University of Minnesota Social Welfare History Archives. Part of my new role as Digital Outreach and Special Projects Librarian involves working with The Social Welfare History Project, a website devoted to the history of social services and social reform. Visiting the Social Welfare History Archives was like taking a crash course.
Archivist Linnea Anderson was very generous with her time and expertise as we talked about their collections and the work they’re doing. She gave me a tour of the massive underground cave where all U. Minnesota archives store their materials. It’s a very impressive two stories high with the square footage of two football fields. Staff retrieve materials using two stockpickers named Isis and Osiris.
I also saw numerous exhibits and learned about a great monthly lunchtime series on “Humor in the Archives.” One of those talks will look at social welfare agencies’ use of comic books to create better citizens—a topic Anderson also explores in the many classes she teaches.
The next item on my agenda was the conference. #MCN2015 was a new one for me, another attempt to learn how other cultural heritage institutions are tackling the same challenges we face in libraries: digitization, preservation, item description, finding partners and working together to stretch scare resources, and outreach and communication to researchers and visitors both online and in person. We are all working hard to adapt to rapid technological and societal change.
It was especially interesting to hear how museum people think about libraries and universities. Many of these museums have research libraries and archives within their buildings, and while I came away with only anecdotal evidence, my sense is that most everyone believes that the lines between our institutions are beginning to blur. By and large, museum folk seem to like libraries and view us as genuinely helpful people and good collaborators. Many of them believe that libraries do a better job at description and data management than museums, and that public libraries in particular, are more successful at reaching a broad range of clientele and being an integral part of the local community.
In addition to the many informal conversations, there were of course, lots of presentations. The conference kicked off with a fantastic keynote by architect and social innovator Liz Ogbu on designing opportunities for impact, not just designing buildings. I encourage you to listen to her TEDx talk if you have time.
The next three days were taken up with sessions on creative technology, enhancing discoverability through Wikipedia, using WordPress as a CMS, and accessibility issues–especially for the blind and visually-impaired. I heard about one institution’s experience becoming a service hub for DPLA, and listened to many people talk about Linked Open Data and IIIF (International Image Interoperability Framework). There were sessions on artists’ books, ebooks, OSCI (the Online Scholarly Catalogue Initiative), creating 360° x 180° panoramic views for display on the iPad, making visitors aware of hidden scientific research, looking to the work of sound artists Janet Cardiff and George Bures Miller for new ways of thinking about audio tours, and the big question: how to find funding for your next great project.
My mind was full of ideas and information by the time I left Minneapolis. I could see so many connections: between the past and the present; between libraries, archives, and museums. It was an energizing trip, and one I’ll be mulling over for a good while.