Collective Connects Feb 2013

“Life itself is an institution which auto organizes and archives human needs, wants, desires, and intentions; enlightening our minds and stimulating our memory.”

It is Human nature to gather. Storing materials and records has become a cultural necessity that reflects human evolution. We keep and preserve for different reasons; for future use, meaning, enjoyment, legal and informational, or research purposes.

The role of the museum up until just recently was to be unbiased unemotional and timeless, logical edifices to knowledge. They have been the repositories of fact, fiction and myth. Often they help to recreate a narrative which enlightens and inspires. As keepers of cultural objects their knowledge has always been viewed as the principle source of value creation and competitive advantage to the public it serves. And while organizations today are focused on seamlessly re-positioning their collection as both a provider and receiver of information, the museum remains a loyal steward for the artifact itself.

Yet, the desire or need to store objects does not necessarily mean that it has to have any direct value in the present – unless it is actually used. The bureaucracy of the museum sometimes hinders tactile access to the object or no access at all.

As a way to insure safekeeping while providing access, some cultural institutions are moving towards having dense displays of objects, known as visual storage centers. Arranged as they would be in a warehouse archive, these spaces are designed to welcome in the spontaneous observer and help them navigate the resources through the use of light, color and text, and in some cases, instant by providing access to information through the e-museum.

The rapid development of digital technology is fundamentally changing the world we live in and becoming an increasingly common element in daily life. As of 2011, one million files were being saved to the cloud every five minutes. Today, with four times as many users, that’s an estimated 800,000 files per minute. Still, this growing market is not without concerns about security, stability, and ownership.

In some cases where space is limited, complete digitization of archives increases the number of records accessible to the public without having to deploy physical infrastructure. A seamless collaboration between the object and the observer can be achieved by the e-museum through which high resolution images and cross-referencing meta-data can be delivered to local, national and international demographics.

But what happens if the physical museum is no longer needed? Visitors are still likely to experience a variety of emotional reactions or responses from the digital experience itself and the collections they happen to view. What the e-museum lacks is an affective environment that takes into consideration visitors’ experiences, such as feeling, mood, and desire when interacting with the primary source. The effect of experiencing a cultural exhibition first hand has the power to evoke a visceral reaction to the object, moving the audience beyond the use of cognition or intellect.

Museums store an ever growing amount of information about their collections in various databases, including collections management systems, content management systems, and digital asset management systems, none of which are designed for online publishing. The National Gallery of Art pioneered the still widely implemented “skim, swim, and dive” approach, in which general audiences skim basic information, students can submerge themselves in more detailed findings, and specialists can delve deep into scholarly content and comparative material.

Educational engagement with art collections is significantly higher when coupled with the use of technology, such as multimedia guides and other applications for handheld devices in an in-gallery museum setting. The hope is that online visitors, who experience the artworks and share their determination, will motivate themselves or others to further explore the expanse of the e-museum. This they manage through handheld technologies such as smartphones or tablet devices from within the museum. Museums are relying on social media to serve as significant channels for expressing meaningful experience. User generated content is filed virtually and immediately, publically available and interactive, more frequently detached from the museum.

Museums strive to incorporate technology-mediated methods to increase the accessibility of online art collections and improve the online experience for visitors. The smartphone is a pervasive tool for modern communications. Not only has it become affordable, but it combines a broadband receiver, GPS, camera, compass, accelerometer, WiFi, touch screens, and web capabilities, tools which can be used to deliver content directly anytime, anywhere, anyhow.

Institutions are now looking to implement an augmented reality layer to be delivered via these devices, placing digital information in front of the observer, about the surrounding environment, including objects, overlaid on the real world. Augmented reality offers many advantages for education. It expands the usefulness of the cell phone, a device that is already very popular with students and the general public.

It is not only the museum that retains and preserves objects and memories. Life itself is an institution which auto organizes and archives human needs, wants, desires, and intentions; enlightening our minds and stimulating our memory.

The physical museum is a modern day icon – akin to the Native American totem pole – whose meanings are as varied as the cultures that make them. Each may recount familiar legends, past heritages, or notable events. Some celebrate cultural beliefs, but others are mostly artistic presentations.

In the digital age, information is created, disseminated and accessed in real time, quicker than ever before. Museum interpretation and storage becomes more and more about including visitors as equal participants and there is already a move towards object representation being visitor-governed. Tomorrow’s museum will only be strengthened through integrating the virtual with the physical so that we all may better benefit from the collection of tomorrow.