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Convergence? Explore the Future of Museums and Libraries

Category: Center for the Future Of Museums Blog

The Institute of Museum & Library Services has just announced the launch of UpNext, a wiki site where people can share thoughts about IMLS’s recently published Discussion Guide on the future of museums and libraries. Starting next week, a series of themes will be featured on the wiki, each for a two-week period, introduced by expert discussion leaders. The project wraps up May 19 when IMLS posts a summary of the discussions.

If you haven’t read the guide yet, I recommend you access it here. It’s a good framework for thinking about the trends affecting both museums and libraries (like financial stress, challenges to traditional models of authority, digitized content and the search for effective measures of success.) In the future, the boundaries of these organizations may become more and more blurred, until it’s hard to categorize them as one or the other. (And IMLS may become the Institute of Liseum Services?)

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And if you want to get more engaged in exploring the intersection (and evolution) of these two fields, check out the Committee on Archives, Libraries and Museums (CALM), a joint committee of the American Library Association, the Society of American Archivists and AAM. CALM will host a session at 9 am on Monday, May 24 at the AAM Annual Meeting in LA devoted to the Discussion Guide. And CALM welcomes attendees to join them at their committee meeting at 3:45 pm that same day.

I hope you weigh in–I look forward to seeing your thoughts, and blogging about them here!

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  1. I have not read the discussion guide; I only just downloaded it. If I had half a brain, I would probably read through it *before* commenting, but I have a gut reaction/possible point of confusion that I want to voice prior to being educated, just in case other folks out there share a similar conservative view point.

    Yes, museums and libraries both exist for the public good and involve holding items of cultural value in the public trust; yes, we are governmental or nonprofit organizations that continue to exist largely courtesy of the "kindness of strangers" as it were; yes, we both struggle with things like attendance and relevance and will need to address the same external factors such as changing demographics and economic realities. But, while that sounds like a lot of commonality, I think that's where the similarities may end. And this is where I could be very wrong and need education.

    But, from my perspective as a museum collections professional, I know that a registrar is not a collections manager is not an archivist is not a librarian. I am not qualified to care for an archival collection nor a library collection. Now, it may be in the future that liseums will simply have different collections-based departments but shared administrative, education and development offices. But I suspect that there may be differences in how education works in museums and libraries as well. Museums are, as I see them, about creating informal educational *experiences*. Libraries may offer lectures and film series and things of that nature, but when all is said and done, aren't libraries about self-motivated reading and researching as their basis for education? It seems to be that, strictly from a programming stand point, this could mean trying to appeal to vastly different audiences at the same time.

    Then there is the business model. Very few museums offer free admission, other than to members. Libraries are free. Free to members, free to non-members. I made wonderful use of my local library long before I became a member and actually borrowed a book. When research is done in museums, it often is not free, either. Many times curatorial departments will charge and administrative fee for the staff time necessary to assist a researcher. So, from a very practical standpoint, how would liseums address admissions fees or the lack thereof?

    Finally, and then I promise I will go read, if museums and libraries were to fully merge, then oh boy museum staff have *a lot* of catching up to do in terms of technology. Libraries are all over technology whereas museums are still largely looking at it askance.

    Thanks for letting us know about this!

  2. I agree with Allyson that there are many dissimilarities too, especially with respect to how collections are assembled, cared for and maintained. One small correction: most museums do not charge admission fees and nearly every museum (Beth Merritt can tell us the number) that does charge also offers discounts and free days. I echo Allyson's thanks for this discussion!

  3. In my 30 years with museum management from collections care through exhibitions and administration has taught me one basic fact. museums and libraries serve the fundamental duel purpose of protecting and preserving our cultural products and experiences whilst sharing them with others in our time and in the future. In this vein one of the newest "museums" that preserves media material and it's cultural elements and effectively shares it with others, is none other than Hulu, Youtube and similar sites.
    Future museums, that deal with media collections – of which we as a global culture are amassing more and more of – will be one way of the future. Nothing can replace seeing the original Michelangelo's David or the US President's desk, but as media, achieves and digital capture becomes more prevalent, cyber museums will begin to change status from only entertainment to preservation, accurate interpretation, careful dissemination and education as landlocked museums have always done.

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