I just made a batch of cranberry sauce and put on the kettle for a Theraflu to keep a coming cold at bay. The holidays are upon us and the MCN conference is now several weeks behind us. For the last two years, the MCN board has asked conference scholarship recipients to write a post for this blog, reflecting on something about the conference that caught their interest. I thought I would start this year’s posts with two entries from recipients that focus on the topic of technology and small museums.
David Farrell, Collections Co-ordinator
Peel Heritage Complex
Unlike the other recipients of the 2008 MCN scholarship, I am not new to the museum and technology field. In fact, as for the museum part anyhow, I am defiantly long in the tooth, having been involved with museums for more than a quarter of a century. The technology part came later when in the early to mid 1990’s I became self-taught in Access 2 in order to build a collections management system for a community museum in British Columbia.
I do, however, work in a small community museum/art gallery/archives in a suburb of Toronto and the scholarship allowed me to attend an MCN conference after an absence of two years. As with MCN Boston in 2005, the last conference that I attended, I moderated a session concerned with technology in small museums, very appropriate for the chair of MCN’s Small Museum SIG. This year the session was Technologies in Small Museums: Common Problems/Innovative Solutions and the two presenters who were able to attend were Melissa Kinkley from the Smart Museum of Art at the University of Chicago, and Aurelie Henry from the National Postal Museum, a Smithsonian Museum. They both detailed projects at their respective institutions which illustrated strategies for introducing new technologies in small or medium museums. Melissa also gave the presentation on distributing content using affordable technologies prepared by Chris Alexander of the San Jose Museum of Art. Chris’ position was cut to part-time just before the conference and was therefore unable to come to the conference in person.
I also took part in Wednesday’s DAM workshop, attended all the Case Study Showcases and other session and chaired the Small Museum SIG meeting. My primary objective, as is usual when I attend a MCN conference, was to search for as much information as possible that would be applicable to my own institution. Also typical, I found that as the conference progressed, an unintended theme seemed to develop from everything I heard and saw; new technologies may be impressive in and of themselves, but if adopting them doesn’t spring from your Strategic Plan and if they don’t support your institution’s mission, then it won’t be worthwhile and your museum won’t be any further ahead. This came up even in the discussion that ensued after the Small Museum Session that I moderated.
It was also great to touch base with colleagues I had not seen in a couple of years and to meet some for the first time. A surprising number of them were fellow Canadians since CHIN was once again well represented. Hopefully I will be able to attend another MCN conference in the near future.
Erin Noseworthy, Manager of Multimedia Interpretive Programs
Hunter Museum of American Art
Emerging Leaders in Small Museums
There were many good sessions at MCN this year about everything from imaging to the semantic web. Although I found each of the sessions I attended interesting, much of the information seemed out of the grasp of my “mid-size” institution. However, a session entitled Technologies in Small Museums: Common Problems/Innovative Solutions helped put things in perspective with an edge of empowerment. Not only were the presenting institutions facing nearly identical issues, but the presenters were emerging professional in the fields of technology and education, like myself.
The two presenters, Melissa Holbert of the Smart Museum of Art and Aurelie Henry of the National Postal Museum, did not focus on the technologies used within their institutions or their projects per say, but rather on the processes and collaboration necessitated by technology initiatives in small museums. Even in small museums, interdepartmental communication can be a challenge. However, simple initiatives such as a technology committee, described by Holbert, can open new lines of communication and streamline work flow. Additionally, it is important to keep in mind that the museum’s staff is its richest resource; technology committees and project meetings help keep your staff in the loop and allow for a more diverse exchange of ideas and approaches. Henry’s iterative approach to the kiosk development at the National Postal Museum as well as her foresight to use the expertise of the museum’s staff as well as other resources at her disposal has empowered me to come at my institution’s current technology challenges and projects from a new angle and with a different perspective.
As a result of this session and one’s such as Exploiting the Web: Explore Museum’s Across Collections, I have added several additional lines to my “to do” list. I plan to repurpose and expand the focus of the Hunter’s current digitization committee to include the use of technology across the board. The new tech committee will be a venue for staff to discuss and explore the use of various technologies throughout the museum – on the floor, online, and in the office – as well as stay up-to-date on ongoing and new technology based projects. I intend to open the tech committee meeting up to all staff. From this larger committee more focused groups will be established, with the appropriate personnel, to address specific technology issues. One such group will focus on digitization, an initiative whose importance should only be made more obvious through the tech committee’s discussions. As one of my primary goals I returned to the museum’s digitization initiative, after MCN, with a new more critical eye, focused not only on simply getting the data out there, but also on the viability of that data.