Every time I get on a museum’s website, I stare at it and think: “I want to learn all of the things”. I always forget how much information is on these sites, how much I can learn about the collection from my personal computer. Of course, I’m the traditional audience, I’d visit every museum , library, or archive everywhere I traveled if my family would let me. So, being allowed to view a collection–even if its only parts of it–online is very in-line with my information consuming habits. Still, I forget these places exist and fall down the YouTube rabbit hole instead.
So, how do information professionals fight this?
Being a hyperlinked organization is part of the solution.
Of course, tuning into social media is integral–if we’re going to get stuck in the YouTube rabbit hole anyways, then we at least have the option of falling down a museum or archive’s channel? For example, Lowell Observatory holds a regular livestream titled “Cosmic Coffee” that uses YouTube as its platform for the video and chatting with viewers. During one of these sessions, they interviewed the observatory’s archivist, thereby introducing their users to another part of their organization. The archivist’s willingness to participate and give a video tour in the archive was a great example of two specific tenants of hyperlinked libraries/organizations (Stephens):
“The most powerful information services to date are probably found in the palm of everyone’s hand.”
“Hyperlinking subverts existing organizational structures.”
The required-reading article, “How A 145-Year-Old Art Museum Stays Relevant In The Smartphone Age” by Titlow, was also excellent in showing how to approach hyperlinking and classic “what if” fears Prof Stephens has discussed in his lectures.
“They were worried: If you show the art online, then why would people come to the museum?” says Sreenivasan. The new site lets people download high-resolution images and use them for free in non-commercial work. “Shouldn’t they be crappy pictures? I believe that the more you show, the more people will want to come.”
I actually laughed when I read this, because it’s something that, if I didn’t know better, I might have wondered myself. But I’ve been to museums. I’ve been to the Louvre and the British Museum, and some of the Smithsonian’s. And let me tell you one thing: If I had known more about the collections before I visited, I would have had an even more amazing experience. I don’t speak French, and I was not a lover of art at almost 18 years old when I visited the Louvre. I didn’t speak French (which was what most of the info plaques were written in)–and didn’t know how amazing and helpful an English audio tour would have been until it was too late. I was unbelievably jet lagged, and all I wanted to do in the most famous museum in the world was to sit down.
My best friend, however, was passionate about art and bouncing off the walls with excitement. The difference was she knew what she was looking at, and I did not. I still had some amazing experiences at the Louvre. The most memorable–which I unfortunately don’t have photo of–was that the edges of the marble staircases had been walked on so much they were curling downwards in places. And in fact, I believe it was somewhere between the Louvre and the end of the British Museum that the first seeds wanting to be an information professional were planted.
What I regret to this day is not knowing what was available to me before I visited. I would have been more excited during my visit if I had known the history and significance of the art and artifacts. If I could have interacted with displays and collections before visiting, it would have made me want to go (if I wasn’t already) or more excited about going. Seeing how the Met is interacting with its patrons and reaching out to touch people beyond their walls, is a beautiful example of reaching “all users, not just those who come through our doors” (Stephens). This is such an important tenant of the hyperlinked organization, because some people may not be able to enter the walls of the information organization physically or they may never have thought they belonged there if the organization had not made the effort to approach the person where he was.
Stephens, M. (2020). The Hyperlinked Library: Exploring the model. https://sjsu-ischool.hosted.panopto.com/Panopto/Pages/Viewer.aspx?id=a0569381-4d66-4e0a-a7fa-aab3010a8f3e
Titlow, J. (2016). How A 145-Year-Old Art Museum Stays Relevant In The Smartphone Age.