The future of museums and libraries

March 16, 2010 at 2:00 am 2 comments

For those of us interested in museums, libraries and information management – here’s a great wiki called The Future of Museums and Libraries. There’s an accompanying discussion guide on planning for a sustainable future of museum and library service delivery, which you can download here.

What I found particularly interesting was the discussion over the relationship among museums, libraries and society in the 21st Century. I’ve often felt that the roles of museums and libraries should not be as distinct as they have been. In fact, I initially wanted to study to become a museum curator but chose instead the combined teacher librarian degree.  I’ve often regretted not being a museum curator to be honest. When you think about it, museums and libraries do similar things:

  • they connect people to content
  • they allow for serendipitous discovery
  • both contribute to society or the public good
  • both provide an educational environment and opportunities for intellectual growth and lifelong learning
  • both focus on users, the user experience and the community
  • both are gathering spaces for social interaction and engagement
  • both have a role in cultural transmission and preservation

I’ve wondered what would happen if you dropped the distinction between museums and (public) libraries and focused instead on a space that simply took into account the social and cultural needs of a community. What if museums and libraries collaborated to provide a blended service delivery model? Now that technology provides virtual spaces, how could museums and libraries offer a digital space where the community can gather and be engaged through combined exhibits and conversations?

I can imagine a whole host of opportunities for museums and libraries to collaborate on one-off projects or a continuous programme of events. And from a KM perspective, imagine the benefits of sharing expertise between museum and library staff. Obviously, not every museum and library can be co-located but collaborative projects could provide opportunities to share physical resources, work practices, expertise and thinking of new ways to engage with a 21st Century audience.

Think of a museum that boasts a fabulous collection of advertising posters from the early 20th Century and shares this with the local public library, which holds texts on the history of advertising. Or a collaboration on art and literature or a museum’s photographic collection shared with the local history section of a library.

I don’t know of many museum/library collaborations because obviously there are differences in funding, institutional policies and so on. Perhaps you know of some examples. But I do know of the Institute of Museum and Library Services in the US, which offers collaborative programmes that have national impact. In fact, the IMLS has done some fabulous work looking into 21st Century skills and have identified these as information, communications and technology literacy, critical thinking, problem solving, creativity, civic literacy and global awareness. And I very much like the 21st Century global themes they have identified:

  • Global Awareness
  • Financial, Economic, Business and Entrepreneurial Literacy
  • Civic Literacy
  • Health Literacy
  • Environmental Literacy

I also found this visual of the shift museums and libraries need to make in the 21st Century a good example of the kind of collaborative roles they can both play (click on visual to see larger version). The visual is from the 21st Century skills report that you can download from the IMLS website – it’s a good read.


Entry filed under: Information management, Knowledge sharing, Libraries. Tags: .

Purrrrr We see you here; we see you there

2 Comments Add your own

  • 1. innotecture  |  March 16, 2010 at 10:05 pm

    Kim – I think the critical difference between libraries & museums remains the physical collection that museums house. I do agree with you that we need to start thinking about public, shared cultural spaces rather than book warehouses (libraries) or art warehouses (galleries) or antique warehouses (museums).

    Taking it even further, how do we shift this work out onto the streets? A while ago, there was a little tent in the middle of Marrickville High Street where a one-day exhibition of old photos of the locality was put on. Excellent stuff!

  • 2. thinkingshift  |  March 16, 2010 at 10:22 pm

    Hey Matt: what an excellent idea that is – taking it to the streets. Love it. That would be a great step forward in showing civic engagement, which is what I think museums and libraries must do in the 21st C. How can they benefit, help and advance society?


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