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Smithsonian Threatened? November 14, 2006

Posted by McStorian in ClioWired, Uncategorized.

I don’t buy that museums would be threatened if they don’t launch all of their artifacts online.  Sure, one can do a lot with a website, but they still can’t put you there . . . with the surroundings, distractions or lack thereof, just the environment in general.  I think it’s human nature to want to see something in person.  It’s not rational, but it’s human.  Putting pictures of the pyramids at Giza online isn’t going to make people think “wow, I guess there’s no point in going to see them for myself now.”  The same goes for paintings . . . or the Hope diamond, Spirit of St. Louis . . . or whatever.  A few high res. pictures and a discussion aren’t going to change that people would rather see these items in person.  I guess then the question becomes: “Do we have cool enough stuff to draw people through the door if we just put this stuff up online?”  Adding exhibits online can certainly bolster a museum’s outreach and expand its mission, but in no way should digital exhibits supersede the in-person experience, especially if it’s a good museum with good artifacts.  Maybe it’s the smaller ones that will tend to gain or lose the most from this phenomenon.



1. Jennifer Levasseur - November 14, 2006

I don’t think putting information online scares anyone really. It’s the idea that we’d have some kind of online community where others would contribute in a Wikipedia-style place to what information others see about the artifacts. That’s where I see trouble for curators in particular, as well as the rest of museum administration. Unless some kind of approval process is in place for the information that appears publically, few people would be willing to put the name of the ‘national’ museum on it. It doesn’t sound very community-friendly, but that’s government bureaucracy for you.

2. Josh Greenberg - November 21, 2006

There’s another potential outcome here – rather than coming up with a formal approval process, we might try to shift the norms and expectations around museum websites so that this sort of participation can be included without casting a shadow on the good name of the host museum…

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