Minneapolis GLAM – Galleries, Libraries, Archives and Museums

November 11, 2015

Take a peek Walker rszLast 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.

http://wp.vcu.edu/libstaff/wp-content/uploads/sites/1245/2015/11/Speak-Out-Walker-Hippie-Modernism-rsz.jpgorilla http://wp.vcu.edu/libstaff/wp-content/uploads/sites/1245/2015/11/Speak-Out-Walker-Hippie-Modernism-rsz.jpgraphics and Kamikaze Design (U.C. Berkeley) , 1970 Silkscreen on recycled computer paper

Whole-Earth-Catalogue-1968While 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.

Two stories of books and archival materials
Two stories of books and archival materials

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.

Poignant reader teaches English
Poignant reader teaches English

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.

First Fridays series Elmer L. Andersen Library University of Minnesota
First Fridays series
Elmer L. Andersen Library
University of Minnesota
National Social Welfare Assembly public service comics DC Publications
National Social Welfare Assembly public service comics
DC Publications

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.

The Reader, 1868 Jean-Baptist-Camille Corot Minneapolis Institute of Art
The Reader, 1868
Jean-Baptist-Camille Corot Minneapolis Institute of Art

The Art of the Link, or how I learned to stop worrying and love a href=

Click here.

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Think about the link–so simple, so familiar. We hardly notice that string of colored text in a paragraph.  We rarely click. “Links? Sure. What’s to know?” Maybe lots.

Links are portals, signs of the implicit human, bread crumbs revealing associative trails. Links make the Web a network instead of a stack. Take, for example, this paragraph from the Wikipedia article “Hyperlink

The term “hyperlink” was coined in 1965 (or possibly 1964) by Ted Nelson at the start of Project Xanadu. Nelson had been inspired by “As We May Think“, a popular 1945 essay by Vannevar Bush. In the essay, Bush described a microfilm-based machine (the Memex) in which one could link any two pages of information into a “trail” of related information, and then scroll back and forth among pages in a trail as if they were on a single microfilm reel.

The trick is to realize that every link represents an implied question. These questions propel us along pathways of  exploration.  If you’re writing online and adding links, your job is to anticipate some of the questions that may arise in your readers’ minds and build a pathway so their curiosity can roam.

In this way, the Wikipedia paragraph becomes:

The term “hyperlink” was coined in 1965 (or possibly 1964) by Ted Nelson (Who was he?) at the start of Project Xanadu (What was that?).  Nelson had been inspired by “As We May Think(Where can I find that?), a popular 1945 essay by Vannevar Bush (Who was he? Why is he important?). In the essay, Bush described a microfilm-based machine (the Memex(What did that look like? Is there a picture?) in which one could link any two pages of information into a “trail” of related information, and then scroll back and forth among pages in a trail as if they were on a single microfilm reel.

Sometimes, as you anticipate and answer the reader’s questions, you’re simply providing them with a citation–a footnote–because you want to be honest about what ideas are yours and you want to use other people’s work as evidence to support what you’re saying. (Though we know authors play with the footnote all the time, sometimes writing long, discursive footnotes filled with stories and information they couldn’t fit in the body of the text. This can be great fun, or it can drive readers and editors crazy. )

Then there are times when you insert a link because you’re hoping to entice the reader with an Easter Egg–maybe a joke, or a surprise, or something you think is cool.  In this case, you’re trying to elicit a question, and suggest that there’s more to be revealed. The art of the link, then, involves playing with the reader’s expectations.

But why bother thinking like this about a simple digital device? Because the hyperlink opens a door into another story space.  And if people actually click on the links and go to that other space,  they will find themselves holding multiple experiences in their brains simultaneously.  In much the same way that a novelist switches back and forth, chapter-by-chapter between two story lines,  or a movie director uses parallel editing between related events, the online writer can use links to complicate and enrich the reader’s experience. Links can provide information, but also illustrations, commentary, ironic perspective, and indeed any kind of meta- or extra-diegetic experience you are talented enough to create.

 

from Alternative Zits by Jerry Scott and Jim Borgman
from Alternative Zits
by Jerry Scott and Jim Borgman
Click to view

 

So how to begin learning the art of the link?

Ask yourself: what word will bring a question to mind?  make someone curious?  need a bit of explanation? (put a link THERE)

How will you respond to that question?   Satisfy or surprise?  (Find your response and link to THAT)

Then, when you’re feeling pretty good about figuring out where to put the links to achieve your effect,  and you know how to work the toolbar to insert them, and you’ve decided if they should open in a new page (the online equivalent to “notes at the bottom of the page or the end of the work?”), then you’re good to go. If you’re feeling confident, go over to w3schools and learn the html you need if you’re using a text editor instead of a visual editor.

Whatever you do, don’t take the link  for granted.  It can be much more than just extra information.  It’s a device. It’s a means of expression.  It’s whatever you make with it.

 

Pelikan M800, Old-Style Photo: 1000km
Pelikan M800, Old-Style
Photo: 1000km

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Thinking and feeling

For me, thinking feels like going into another space.  It’s a place in my head where ideas slide around and bump into each other. Sometimes they crash like bumper cars and veer away, and other times as soon as the ideas touch their bubbleskins meld to make a bigger idea.

Thinking also feels like being still–stepping back and watching as things go by–then leaning forward to look for hidden questions and inconsistencies; searching for roughness or weakness or spots that needs attention.

Realizing, on the other hand, feels like joy. The Aha. The Yes! The gloved hand stretched upward to catch the fly ball just before it heads into the stands.  Knowing is thrilling.  I’ve got it! Yes.

Derrick Salberg
Derrick Salberg