If there is no wind, row!

John Webber, A Canoe of the Sandwich Islands (drawn 1779, published 1784)

Si ventus non est, remiga–Latin Proverb

I’d like to end the year on an inspirational note, and so, the Latin quote, which roughly translated means “If there is no wind, row!”  I’m lucky enough to be able to remember a time at museums when there was actually more than enough money to go around and to do all the things that we wanted to do.

There are still museums that can make that claim–the 800 pound gorillas in our midst–and I’m glad that they can.  In terms of interpretive technologies and innovative tools we are used to seeing institutions like The Met, the Getty, The Tate, The National Gallery, the Smithsonian Museums, and the Art Institute of Chicago, and the Indianapolis Museum of Art at the forefront of initiatives.  As the examples from the Horizon Report > 2011 Museum Edition indicate, smaller institutions, with fewer resources are finding ways to make an impact on their visitors as well.   If you haven’t already had a chance to see some of these projects let me suggest that you check out a few of the projects.  If you are interested in mobiles take a look at The Nelson-Atkin’s “Mobile Guide”. For a neat example of the use of augmented reality how about  “A Future for the Past” from the Allard Pierson Museum in Amsterdam, and one of my favorites, taking advantage of Smart Objects is  “QRator” from University College of London’s Grant Museum of Zoology.

The Advisory Board for this year’s Horizon Report > Museum Edition identified seven challenges museums face with regard to technology adoption and implementation.   Here are the main points, you can read more about the individual challenges in the report itself:

  1. Content production has failed to keep up with technology in an era when audiences expect ot consume information whenever and wherever they want.
  2. A comprehensive digital strategy has become a critically important part of planning for long-term institutional sustainability.
  3. Funding for technology projects, even those for the interpretation and exhibition, continues to fall outside core operational budgets.
  4. Boards of Trustees and executive management too often do not recognize the importance of technology in generating financial or mission return on investment.
  5. In many cases, museums may not have the necessary technical infrastructure in place to realize their vision for digital learning.
  6. Greater understanding is needed of the relationships, differences, and synergies between technology intended to be used within the museum and public-facing technology such as websites, social media, and mobile apps.
  7. Improving the ability to measure impact using new digital technologies is a largely unmet but critical need.

Now, you may be thinking to yourself, ” Hey Holly, those are big challenges. I am one person, or a member of one small department, or an employee at a small institution, or a junior employee at a big institution, how can I make a difference?”

For me,  these seven challenges fall into three main categories:  content, communication (which includes planning), and funding.   It would be lovely to have a magic wand and to be able to eliminate one or more of these challenges with a graceful flick of the wrist, just as it would be lovely to speed gracefully from one destination in a canoe or a shell with just one sweep of a set of mighty oars.  But that’s not the way life works.   The current economic crisis may have taken the metaphoric wind from our sails, but we’ve still got our oars.

So if you are a content producer, produce content.  Take a half-hour each day, or three days a week, or once a week, and write that short chat label you’ve been intending to write.  Or research that topic you’ve been meaning to research.  Or look up the translation of the inscription on a print or drawing.   Or, heck, just take an half an hour today and make a list of 10 content-related projects you’d like to complete in 2012.

If you are a technologist or an administrator you might spend a half hour today thinking about communication issues.  Make a plan.  What do you need to do?  What resources will you need to get it done?  Who do you need on board with your ideas?  Is there an individual or small group that you could call together?  Can it happen over a cup of coffee?  Lunch?  Have you left anyone important off the list?  This last question is critical, remember what happened to Sleeping Beauty.

Once upon a time there was a Queen who had a beautiful baby daughter. She asked all the fairies in the kingdom to the christening, but unfortunately forgot to invite one of them, who was a bit of a witch as well. She came anyway, but as she passed the baby’s cradle, she said: “When you are sixteen, you will injure yourself with a spindle and die!”

You don’t want your project(s) to fail because you haven’t invited the right people to the table.

And finally, funding.  Funding is always going to be a problem but you might find your projects will meet with a warmer reception if you walk into a meeting having already done some legwork on funding opportunities for the type of projects you are recommending.  Who is funding mobile projects? Table computing projects? Augmented reality projects?  Experiments with smart objects?  Digital preservation?  Electronic publishing?  Are you trying to recreate the wheel or is there a tool or technology out there that would allow you to accomplish your goals at a fraction of the price?

Moving forward requires action on your part.   You know what you have to do now go do it.


One Response to “If there is no wind, row!”

  1. Thanks, I really needed that!

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