Metaverse Friday – of Evil Twins and secret labs

Posted by on Friday May 25 2007

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7 Responses to “Metaverse Friday – of Evil Twins and secret labs”

  1. Paul Marty
    May 28th, 2007 09:55

    “What I want is a museum research and development lab.” — Absolutely, and I even drew up plans for one five years ago… the problem is finding the funding, regardless of whether you already have the Ph.D. and the potential students! 🙂

  2. Holly Witchey
    May 28th, 2007 08:47

    Dear Richard:

    You’ve hit the nail almost exactly on the head about what the two of us are worried about. I want everyone to be able to do the exciting work they want to do but I confess to be ever-so-tired of people inventing, and re-inventing the wheel. It seems to me that museums need to rethink what they are doing and remember what core activities are–what’s core to a collecting institution is not necessarily what is core to a contemporary gallery space or even a teaching-museum. We are trying to be all things to all people and that’s just not really an effective business model.

    Thanks so much for the thoughtful analysis, Richard.

  3. jtrant
    May 28th, 2007 10:16 is a research lab for museums, exploring questions related to social tagging and on-line access to art museum collections — with funding from the IMLS as a miuseum-lead and based research project. so there is hope!

    there is a lot of museum-related research going on, but once again i find myself reading proposals for conference papers — ICHIM07 this time — that exhibit little knowledge of anything that has gone before. aside from being bad research, these kinds of initiatives seem to me to be doing a dis-service to museums, squandering resources that could be directed to moving us all ahead, rather than running so fast to stay in the same place.


  4. Richard Urban
    May 31st, 2007 09:56

    Paul: Batteries not included. Some assembly required.

  5. Richard Urban
    May 31st, 2007 11:51

    Holly/Jennifer: Whew. Sometimes when you have a hammer, everything starts looking like a nail. Glad I at least got close to this one.

    So where do we go to address the issue? Is it our boards? Our directors? Our emerging professionals?

    It seems to me that we often draw in people from a wide variety of areas, from their own intellectual disciplines, from “iT”, and from our own ranks. IT folks are often charged with museum activities and many of Paul’s MIPs are self-taught technologists.
    It doesn’t seem surprising that the wheel is being re-invented when we often don’t know where we’ve been. We’re coming into the middle of the story.

    To Jennifer & David’s credit, Museums & the Web is one of the few records we have of where we’ve been (for museum technology anyway..). For other core issues the articles are locked up in proprietary journals that many museum libraries can’t afford, are poorly indexed (or scattered across many indexes) and often aren’t available in digital formats.

    One possible solution that those of us who are managers of IT project in museums can easily implement is to require internal project proposals to include a review of what’s come before. Rarely do I find the perfect solution laid out for me, but its also rare that I don’t walk away from this exercise having learned something important. Still I feel as though I’m preaching to the choir here.

    JT; Thanks for adding to the mix. At the same time the lab I’m envisioning not only has a Steve, but maybe down the hall there’s a Robert, an Erin and a Jim all working on other related issues. I’m thinking Xerox PARC, Bell Labs or (dare I blaspheme) OCLC Research .

    I know – its a dream. Especially from the funding side. In the meantime what are our alternatives?

    A “virtual” research lab – while we have MCN-L and Steve has its own listserv, how do we find each other? Especially how do emerging professionals find us? At recent conferences I’ve run into a number of students from all sorts of backgrounds working on different issues related to museum tech – in museum studies, in LIS, in computer science, robotics, HCI, visitor studies. OK. so quit yer bitch’n Richard and do something about it….

    Announcing the Museum Research Group at

    If you are in our museums (or looking over the fence) and interested in find other like minded people come and join us.

  6. jtrant
    May 31st, 2007 12:14


    There are organizations doing research about and with museums around the world — called Museum Studies departments. And there is an infrastructure there to support them — in the US, for example, there is the Smithsonian Museum Research Center —, or COMPT-L — the listserv of the AAM Committee on Professional Training.

    As for open museum research + publications — off the top of my head — try museum and society @ the University of Leicester and there are the CHIN bibliographies … + all the ICHIM papers…

    … and then there is the very long [+ documented] history of EU-funded research projects involving museums … lets just say mine is a voice a caution about the value of research if it is too far removed from museum practice [and needs].


  7. Richard
    June 6th, 2007 09:37


    Thanks these have been thought provoking comments. I’m still finding myself somewhat unsatisfied with the answer that its museum studies departments are the only answer to the question. But I haven’t quite gotten an articulate alternative yet. More to come.

    I’m curious about COMPT. I attended their session about standards at AAM, but they hadn’t really been on my radar. When I had looked at their site last year it had not been updated in a long time (I see it’s been revised recently). So far my attempts to subscribe to the listserv have been unsuccessful….I must say the fees for AAM SPCs adds up quickly when you’re a student – especially when membership appears to be the only way to access closed listservs.

    There is concern in the community that research and practice not stray too far from each other. Its a big question that we won’t be able to answer here. I’d argue that the opposite would be equally true – practice too far divorced from critical reflection may not be the best way to use our limited resources either. How do we (and who’s we?) find the right balance?

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