So Glad Our Museum Isn’t Real – It’s Virtual
– An Overlooked Overlap by Tom Trimbath – Project Manager, HCLE
Many museums, libraries, and archives are creating virtual versions; either because of outreach, costs, or experimentation.
Overlaps between museums create niches that inspire small, targeted museums; but, the inefficiencies of small museums can overwhelm small staffs and budgets. One solution is to go virtual.
In HCLE’s case, other museums cover History, Education (from the dawn of history), Computers (from room-sized machines down to ingestible devices), and Computing (there’s a demand for games). They overlap, but insufficient funds mean the core missions of museums can fade at the borders. HCLE is preserving the intersection of three.
Funding niches is harder than funding broader museums. The broader the topic, the larger the audience, and the greater opportunity for fundraising. Cover the intersection of two topics, and the remaining set is a smaller number. Cover the intersection of three topics and the population becomes quite small.
Disadvantages can become advantages. Competition encourages HCLE to duplicate each type of museum, which is expensive. Besides, each type of museum has a different culture and requires a different infrastructure. Collaboration instead of competition means duplication and costs are reduced. By contributing appropriate artifacts and efforts to established museums, both collaborators win. Topics at the border are emphasized rather than marginalized.
In HCLE’s case, we need to preserve and make accessible the documents, software, lessons, and experiences that affected how society rapidly learned a new way to learn. All of that material is perishable; particularly, educators rarely formally documented the techniques they pioneered, except as newsletters and stories. We’ll collect what others won’t save.
But, simply dispersing the various elements and artifacts does not enable the necessary integration for academic research and insight.
Fortunately for HCLE, the remaining unarchived elements can all be digitized; which is why our museum is virtual.
Collaboration eases the overall effort, but it requires above average levels of communication (a potential burden for a small museum.) We must relinquish control of most of our artifacts, because that’s the best way to improve a collaborator’s collection; while simultaneously guarding a core mission. Respecting our mission requires a stewardship of access to the artifacts while developing a common standard across disparate disciplines.
The effort is large, complex, and valuable; but, the effort is far smaller thanks to collaboration.
We’re attempting to fill the gap by using open source software, advancing the art of the proper catalog (using Dublin Core+), hosting the database within shareable environments (mySQL), building collaborative exhibits (Omeka), providing provisional access during development (our wiki), and researching other repositories to minimize duplication and to introduce disparate partners.
HCLE’s essence is like many museums’: deliver a body of knowledge to a diverse users through a variety of avenues. Our avenues must enable: data mining for researchers, archive browsing for participants, and virtual exhibits for the casual visitor.
To see our progress or collaborate, check out our wiki (for information about our database, catalog, and repository) and the draft of our first exhibits.