The third session of THATCamp that I attended today was on museums in the digital world [scroll down for earlier posts from camp]. The first part of the discussion was about how museums might change their relationship with the objects in their collections via digital media. I threw out the example of what might happen if a museum agreed to allow collectors to contribute digital versions of artifacts to the museum’s digital collection (under tightly controlled conditions). On the one hand, this sounds incredibly interesting, because it would allow the museum to substantially increase the size of its digital collection, and for substantially less money than would be required if the museum acquired the object itself (which it would then have to preserve forever).
But many museums recoil at the suggestion.
Why? Because many curators feel that they would lose control of the collections they supervise. And what would be to role of the museum if the objects were housed elsewhere?
This suggestion also exposes the very specific differences between museums on the one hand and libraries and archives on the other. Where libraries and archives exist to make as much of their collection as available as possible, museums (at least many museums) do not. Instead, they exist to preserve the objects first and to display them to the public second. And preservation is incredibly expensive, which is why museums want you to come through the front door (to pay admission, shop in the gift shop, and eat in the cafe). Which, I think, helps to explain why (at least in my opinion) that libraries and archives have done much more interesting things in the digital world than museums have.
Another interesting topic that bubbled up was opposition among some segment of the student population to the very idea of metadata. Several people said they had a lot of trouble getting students to actually enter metadata into a database–they just aren’t interested in the concept of metadata. They like/love tagging, but that’s no the same as the grunt work of metadata. How, then, might we teach them that metadata actually make their lives easier?