written on Jan 13, 2012 by loribyrdphillips
As part of my museum studies MA, I have been researching the potential of Wikipedia as a platform for museums to encourage accessibility and community dialogue. My research happened to coincide with an incredibly inspiring discussion about authority among museum professionals, which led me to propose a new model for authority in museums: open authority.
What is open authority? That’s a good question, which I can begin to explain by describing the parallel theories that frame my research. These theories are actually mirroring metaphors: The Temple and the Forum in the museum field and The Cathedral and the Bazaar in the open web community. In 1971, Duncan F. Cameron posited that the museum should be both a temple and a forum — an authoritative space and a place for dialogue that coexist within a museum but remain separate. In 1997, Eric S. Raymond wrote The Cathedral and the Bazaar as a comparison between top-down software development and open source software development that is available for all to adapt and improve, with Linux as the quintessential example. The important conclusion is that, “given enough eyeballs, all bugs are shallow.” I believe that the future of museum authority lies in bringing these two metaphors together.
I see open authority as the coming together of museum authority with the principles of the open web. In other words, open authority is a mixing of institutional expertise with the discussions, experiences, and insights of broad audiences. Opening up authority within a global platform can increase points of view and establish a more complete representation of knowledge. Just as “with more eyes all bugs are shallow,” cultural interpretation will only improve with diverse participation.
What does open authority look like? Projects across various disciplines have experimented with sharing levels of authority with museum audiences. The recently published Letting Go? Sharing Historical Authority in a User-Generated World is a great overview of where the history field stands, and offers enlightening case studies ranging from digital participation, oral history initiatives, and community curation.
Wikipedia is just one of many platforms that can be better utilized to encourage open authority in museums. In fact it can be seen as both a “temple” (the main article) and a “bazaar” (the talk page.) The article talk page is a true digital forum where collective knowledge is brought together within a broad, global discussion. Adding curatorial expertise to this discussion will further enrich the information that is ultimately presented on the published article. In fact, the Wikipedia articles themselves can be viewed as a sort of authority in flux, where the best version of the moment is presented for view while details are continually negotiated behind the scenes. In this “temple” it is understood that no narrative is definitive, neutrality is the goal but bias is inherent, and interpretation is continuously improved through an abundance of perspectives. Might this be the new authority we need to embrace?
This is one vision of what open authority may look like, but there are many others out there. I’ve found that sometimes it takes defining something to see its potential. I’d love to hear your ideas and examples of open authority in museums, from what can be done today to what we have to look forward to in the future.
This entry was posted on Friday, January 13th, 2012 at 3:33 pm. It is filed under ideas and tagged with Cathedral and Bazaar, Letting Go? Sharing Historical Authority in a User-Generated World, Lori Bird Phillips, museum, Open Authority, wikimedia, wikipedia. You can follow any responses to this entry through the RSS 2.0 feed.
Lori Byrd Phillips is the Digital Marketing Content Coordinator and Wikipedian in Residence at The Children's Museum of Indianapolis. In 2012 she is also serving as the US Cultural Partnerships Coordinator for the Wikimedia Foundation. As a MIDEA/NMC Contributing Editor, she shares ideas and resources for social media and digital collaboration in museums.
Check out Lori's blog "Museums and Motherhood" at http://hstryqt.tumblr.com
Follow Lori on Twitter: @HstryQT
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