“K” is for Keynotes – Webwise Day 1 – Morning

Posted by on Thursday March 1 2007

The Morning

Day kicked off with remarks from Anne-Imelda Radice, IMLS Director (, Mr. Jay Jordan OCLC CEO and President  ( ; Dr. Kenneth Hamma , Executive Director, J. Paul Getty Trust ( – these three public figures represent the three organizing agencies of the Webwise conference.

Jay Jordan gave an interesting survey of OCLC, what they’ve done, what they do, what they plan on doing and encouraged the audience to make new partnerships and alliances, to explore new forms of co-operation . We must make our collections available when and where visitors want them.  We need to work together as partners.

 Anne-Imelda Radice introduced Ken Hamma who, in thanking her, pointed out that the strength of the partnership (Getty/OCLC/IMLS) was that the IMLS doesn’t do things, they keep the money there.

 Since Jay Jordan and talked about OCLC, Ken started his presentation by answering the $1,000,000 question: What is the Getty?  

The answer: It is a research library, institutional archives, research archives, two research institutes, and some other stuff, (including a big foundation and a museum presumably).  Ken begin to talk about the bigger picture pointing out that this new digital age is encouraging some big new costs.  New expenses, he said, should be grounded in the mission, instead of isolating the funding we should talk about sustainability.  Being digital might give us new tools and might require new tool sets but does not fundamentally change are missions. Ken also hit hard a point that’s been made a number of times already in this conference that 80% of most library visitors use google to find what they want, 1% use a library homepage.  Web visitors do not care whether information found is ultimately housed in a museum or a library, we need to work together, we need to make certain that visitors can easily find what they want.

Ken took a moment to acknowledge Herculean efforts of Joyce Ray at IMLS for making Webwise a success lo these many years.

Onto the keynote…..

The keynote speaker for this year’s conference was Elizabeth Broun, Director of the Smithsonian American Art Museum. Her topic: Envisioning American Art 2.0 (

One of the things that is so terrific about Elizabeth Broun is she is one of those generous directors who knows and trusts her staff and is more than willing to give credit where credit is due.  What a treat to hear her recognize the very talented members of her staff by name, clearly understanding what they have brought to the table.

American Art, she said, wants to be the cross roads, the place to go for American Art.  She pointed out that it is now hard to separate the bricks and mortar from the website.  One of the impacts of all this is to cause some serious disruptions to traditional business models. 

More wonderful comments from Elizabeth Broun:

American Art has a priceless collection, a talent staff, research resources, and she believes in giving back to the public and using these rich resources for the benefit of American Art 2.0.

2/3 of our visitors don’t come for something we have shaped, they are coming to our core assets—a user-driven kind of traffic.  They aren’t coming to hear what we want to tell them, they are coming to find what they want to know.

One of the most popular parts of the new museum is the open storage. American Art went from having 1000 works on display to 4000 in the newly opened facility and the open storage is immensely popular with the public.  She feels this is because the curators decided what visitors should look at in the galleries, and in the open storage visitors choose what they want to see.

Moving forward they are looking at four areas of emphasis—with one “Involving our extraordinary customers” as the central emphasis.  The others are: make everything findable, build capacity, publish everything.  Customers are at the center of everything we do and to accomplish our goals is going to take a lot more financial resources that we have allocated to date.

Publish everything – Assets dating from 1829—enormous files, databases, ephemera—not all of it is accurate, but it’s in there.  American Art is moving away from big projects, she told us, into microcontent—leaner and meaner, posting content more frequently.  She points out they blogged 110 small stories this past year and ransacked past publications which enabled them to post 1300 artist biographies online.  

Now—how do we make it find-able? We can create all the content in the world, but if it’s not findable what good does it do?  Museums and libraries need better graphic design, more robust content management, improved information architecture, and, better search engine design.  

She noted she would love to have embedded all these ideas in the plan seven years ago but that wasn’t possible.  Now that they’ve completed the bricks and mortar she wants to implement her ideas with the web, create a strong plan and convince people that its worth doing.   The goal is to build on what they’ve done and leverage their strengths. 

Museums and libraries need to: Build value incrementally, Share our passions, Make a lot more information, insights, and excitement flow between us and our visitors

So often keynote speakers don’t actually strike a keynote, I would say that Broun hit several in this outstanding presentation.

Only one slight “fox and grapes” comment. Broun began by showing us examples of the fabulous digital resources they’ve created, hitting hard on the number of awards they’ve won.  Don’t get me wrong the folk at American Art have done fabulous, creative innovative work, they’ve produced marvelous things, and mind you, I’m not one to talk because I too come from a large art museum. I always wonder though what it must feel like to be a representative from a small museum or library to see all the projects—interactive games, podcasts, beautifully designed web features. We all want our museums to be terrific—maybe all of us at larger institutions need to spend a little more time thinking about our projects in terms of tools that could be handed  over to other institutions that don’t have the same access to resources.

After a morning coffee break, where we were treated to an exhibition of recent IMLS projects (see links below) we dutifully returned to the main conference room for the morning’s first session:

“The Challenge of Preservation Today,” moderated by that congenial man-about-town Guenter Waibel.

Session started off with Kristen Overbeck Laise, VP, Collection Care Programs, Heritage Preservation.  She re-introduced us to the problem. 

Most of you have heard about, and some of you have even read, the Heritage Health Index report—the national survey conducted with the input of 35 national associations and federal agencies which included the results of the participation of thousands of small museums.  It never ever hurts those of us in the field to re-read the report’s main recommendations:

1) Institutions must give priority to providing safe conditions for the collections they hold in trust.

2) Every collecting institution must develop an emergency plan to protect its collections (80% of collecting institutions do not have an emergency plan to protect collections or staff to carry one out).

3) Every single institution should assign responsibility for caring for collection to members of its staff—there needs to be someone on staff that has this as part of their actual job description (80% of institutions do not have paid staff dedicated to collection care).

4) Individuals at all levels of government and in the private sector must assume responsibility for providing the support that will allow collections to survive (68% of institutions reported a conservation preservation budget of less than $3000 per year, inclusive of staff).

The next speaker, Steven Puglia, who was standing in for, Henry Wilhelm, gave a presentation entitled “Preservation in the Digital Age.”   First, Steven commented, we all need to be more critical users of sophisticated technologies and reminded us that managing and preserving digital data/objects/records is different than managing physical materials.  

He encouraged the use of proper tools including appropriate assessments and cost-benefit analyses of conditions.  A useful graph illustrated that the more complex the medium, the more expensive it proves to reformat and preserve.  Thus text records are, ultimately a whole lot easier to preserve than motion pictures.

One big message in the digital preservation field: Going colder buys you something (this also works well for women of a certain age). Sub zero cold storage is desirable (not for ladies of a certain age, unless they are no longer breathing).   However, the more things come out of cold storage, the more damage is done.  Best plan keep originals in cold storage and do digital reformatting.   There was a lot more information in this preservation but I will refer you to the Webwise podcast and website as most of the technical details are beyond me.

The session closed with Jodi Hanel and Audrey Christiansen, respectively Associate Curator and Archivist for Exit Art. There presentation was entitled “Exit Art Digital Archive: The Challenge of Preserving Contemporary Experimental Art. “ This is a project with heart and they have good intentions to communicate what they’ve learned.

Ken Hamma got up to ask the first question.  Commenting about the so-distressing numbers in the Heritage Health index, he asked do these numbers represent a failure of ethics and accreditation in parent organizations like AAM and ALA?  Kristen Overbeck Laise said that several of the parent organizations have been horrified by the numbers.  Interestingly, no one from any of the parent organizations stood up to comment—don’t know whether they have representation here at the conference or not.

Projects demonstrated by colleagues at the coffee break:

One Response to ““K” is for Keynotes – Webwise Day 1 – Morning”

  1. What you missed at WebWise « Public Historian
    March 7th, 2007 10:28

    [...] Holly Witchey has all the details over at Musematic. [...]

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