It’s a Trust Issue

Sheila Brennan and T. Mills Kelly give us invaluable information on collecting data on tragedy for the historical record.  The depth of the personal devastation and sorrow for those who experienced Hurricane Katrina is extreme.  Kelly and Brennan are undoubtedly correct when they suggest that we add 25 percent to any staff time estimates we would have for collection of information for any similar type of event for which we want to collect a digital history. In addition, their experience that applying for two year grants simply did not give them the time and resources they needed to complete the job before them is important for any of us concerned about raising money for a similar project.

For many families, Katrina cost them dearly.  They lost loved ones or were permanently displaced as all their family wealth was also lost.  This was especially true for many working class people whose total family wealth resided in the equity in their homes, which had been passed from generation to generation.  For many, rebuilding was out of the question and there still has not been adequate compensation and it is likely there never will be.  That fact alone makes collecting their oral histories of the event a delicate undertaking.   It may require years of grieving before they can talk about what happened to them.  Still, because of the difficulties Brennan and Kelly encountered, they have given future historians, political scientists and sociologists invaluable information on how to plan for and execute a project like their digital collection.  Their experience, which they outlined in this article, led them to believe that the digital history of tragedies needs to be collected through a more interactive web experience than 1.0, but less interactive than Web 2.0.  This is invaluable information for future historians.

IDespite the caveats on open tagging put forward by Brennan and Kelly (takes too much staff time to curate those tags), Nina Simon provides some exciting, interesting ideas in “Discourse in the Blogosphere: What Museums Can Learn from Web 2.0.” She lays out a number of ways in which museums can move from flat websites to websites that use interaction between visitors and the museum and with each other to create a more engaging museum experience.  Her suggestions offer a series of ways to make the museum experience one of participation rather than passive looking – or as she put it “lurking.”   Simon would like to see museum websites become more like social media sites, creating space for comments, additions and new ideas.

While these ideas would most certainly increase visitors, even regular visitors to these sites, it should be noted that some of us are involved in interaction with websites through much of our day and might enjoy a little lurking, which could also be called watching and thinking about what one is seeing. There is something to be said for enjoying the work of artists or the artifacts that lend richness to historical exhibitions without having to make it about you.

In addition, she gave me pause when she started talking about perhaps curating, labeling and uploading information about our personal library or personal belongings. I agree this might be a great way to connect with like-minded book readers or even to find people who have libraries one hasn’t thought of, but might want to add to one’s learning and collecting.  However, in this particular time we know that everything we put up on the web is collected, curated and used to sell us endless products almost immediately upon our buying anything, indicating any interest in a subject or type of art or any other preference we might have that can be turned into a sales opportunity by any number of commercial interests.  There is no question that once you click onto a museum, that preference is immediately known and if you buy a ticket online or with a credit card, your known sales possibilities are enhanced for those commercial interests.  Getting it down to which exhibits you visit and which books you have in your personal library is a little too scary for this user.  In addition, some of us are concerned by government and quasi-government organizations that may be collecting information about us.  Too much is already known about my book preferences just through my purchases at Amazon.

Therefore, I think that it might be prudent to consider carefully whether what we put on the web regarding our museum preferences.  By all these interactions, are we just adding more information to unknown databases that can be searched and massaged through any number of algorithms to sell us more stuff or find out too much about our activities and inclinations.  It may be time to start thinking more carefully about what we put out there for everyone to see and use. (Hopefully, I have used those two correctly – databases vs. algorithms – I can’t say I understood what I was reading well enough to know if that is the case.)



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