In this edition of the Voices of the Past Netcast, we meet Kaitlin O’Shea. Kaitlin is the creator of the Preservation in Pink blog and newsletter. She will explain how the iconic pink flamingo, and a group of bloggy friends, have helped her find her voice to take the conversation about historic preservation to a wider audience. Also features posts: Exploring Archaeology on the Social Web and Shawn Graham of the Electric Archaeology blog.
In a world where heritage values are challenged by the economy yet empowered with new media, blogger Sabra Smith faces these developments head-on and relates her own journey through the blog, “My Own Time Machine.“
1. How did you begin blogging?
I’ve been blogging elsewhere since 2004 and was amazed at the potential the Internet offers for creating community and making connections. Working as a preservation advocate at a nonprofit, I saw a need for a matchmaking place where people and “buildings in need” could come together. A blog seemed like an ideal way to raise awareness of places to try to keep them from becoming endangered in the first place, or, if need be, alert the cavalry if help was needed. I started “My Own Time Machine” when I was laid off in May 2009 (the economic downturn has hit nonprofits as well as corporations).
2. What do you mean when you describe your blog being a “newfangled time machine?”
Well, I think we’ve seen that history can be compelling and find a place in popular culture – just look at the success of a film like “National Treasure” or Dan Brown’s novels and film adaptations (The DaVinci Code sold 80 million copies worldwide and his new record-breaking book sold 1 million copies in a single day. I predict the D.C. historic sites that are part of the plot will see an increase in visitation!).
Those books and films use history to capture people’s imaginations. History needs to be more than a list of dates and dead people – and this is still the default presentation at too many historic sites. So, in thinking about how to make history more approachable, my idea was to try and demonstrate that “history” is just a term we use for daily living that used to be – if you think about it, we’re living in tomorrow’s history now.
Our world, and the context in which we live, might change, but I think people’s basic hopes and fears don’t change very much. In my graduate thesis, I made this point sharing a portion of a letter written by Elizabeth Willing Powel, a wealthy Philadelphia socialite and confidante of George Washington. Writing to her sister, she described “spasms and pains in my Head,” which she blamed on her husband’s fondness for large fires in the fireplace, but which he dismissed simply as her “bad Nerves.” Though she may have lived long ago and far away in time, it could just as easily be a modern domestic scene of bickering husband and wife.
This sort of time collapse really hit home for me while going through my great-grandfather’s papers. I never met him, but his journals revealed that he dreamed of owning his own business. He studied hard, saved his money and achieved his goal of owning his own mill. But then I found the truth of his dream tucked inside a worn envelope. There were three letters, addressed to his wife, apparently written in case something happened to him. They all basically said the same thing, advice and a sort of apology because life had been hard and he hadn’t been able to provide the things he’d hoped. One of them was so worn it was falling apart along the fold lines. I imagined him carrying it with him every day, tucked in a pocket, just in case. It brings me to tears every time I read it. How is it that a piece of paper from 20 years before I was born can affect me in that way? Because it feels like I am alive in that moment when I read it.
So, when I was thinking of a name for the blog, I wondered how I’d get people to come with me on these journeys. How could I coax them to come meet people that could be their neighbors except for the passage of time? And I thought of H.G. Wells and his time machine. And Sherman and Peabody and the Wayback Machine. And I figured I needed my own time machine. (And I described it using the word “newfangled” because I like the oxymoron of a word some old codger would use – that stereotype of preservation — combined with a futuristic modern tool for meanderings through time.)
3. How can the past be approachable and how is your blog helping make that happen?
I think a great purpose of history is to inform the present. We can make it relevant for people today by connecting it to current events or by capturing modern imaginations. Philadelphia has a wonderful program, aimed at kids, called “Once Upon a Nation” where kids travel to 13 stations around Independence Mall. At each storytelling bench, they hear a tale connected to that location. The experience is interactive, it fires the imagination, it challenges young minds to put a historical event in the context of how they live today. I know it’s a successful program because my own children clamor each summer to make sure I take them! We’ve heard stories about ghost riders, bank robbers, baseball, and eating your vegetables that conveyed lessons about the Revolutionary War, the Constitution or life in Colonial times. I’m trying to do something similar with the blog – make these sorts of connections between past and present, or simply put historical things into modern context. For example, I did a post on the Transformers movie that came out this summer and the Philadelphia-area historical sites it featured – up there on the screen along with the great pyramids and the Temple at Petra. Who’d expect a bunch of robots from outer space to show up on a blog about history and architecture? And that’s sort of my point. There is a connection to be made.
4. How do you define the concepts of history and preservation?
Well, to my kids, I am history. When the elder one was smaller, he asked me what things were like in Colonial Times – there’s a child’s perspective on “history.” And I confess I’ve fallen into the trap of saying things like “well, in my day, we didn’t have ipods — you had to listen to the radio or a record!” (Do you think “history” happens faster now because of technological advances?)
I grew up in lots of little towns, mostly in New England. History was all around – I remember analyzing the walls, stairs and space of one 18th century house we rented because I was sure it probably had a secret passageway (none that I ever found) yet that was contrasted with contemporary history in the making, like the moon walk or even an object from my father’s dresser like the radiation exposure meter he wore onboard nuclear submarines (I venture to claim to be one of the few children in the world who celebrated their birthday party aboard a nuclear submarine during the Cold War). Once my father retired and I started helping him research family history, I became very conscious of a timeline of history and my ancestors placed, like little push pins, along that long stretch of time.
Now, as for “preservation” I am still attempting to define that word for myself. Is it about freezing time? Capturing history? Finding stability in a changing world? Collecting mementos of a time past? Is it about art and style (reflected in architecture) and their ability to contribute to the character of a neighborhood? Does it refer to the ability of a building to tell a story about the way things used to be? If the Eskimos can have so many words to refer to “snow” I don’t know why we have only this one inefficient word – “preservation” – that attempts to describe so much.
In some respects, this is probably a culmination of lifelong interests – historical fiction, art books, photography, films with a strong sense of place. When I lived in NYC I found myself studying buildings, looking up at cornices and fenestration patterns more than any tourist. I loved the urban patterns and the way each neighborhood felt like its own place and had its own stories.
Then I moved to Philadelphia and observed its strange dependence on the story of Independence while admiring its remarkable portfolio of buildings of all vintages. When I got divorced there was a moment of “what now?” that forced me to focus on my interests to find a new direction for my life. It seemed logical for a building lover to go back to school for a masters in historic preservation. What bliss to read, write, draw, photograph and study building form, theory and history. And there was a moment when I realized that to get anyone else to care about a building, it wasn’t enough to slap a curatorial label on it – Building x, by Architect z: Note egg and dart molding and fine example of Greek revival pediment – I felt there was a need to put that building in context of who lived there, who walked by and thought of it as a dream house, who worked in it, what happened to it after that person was gone, etc. etc. I’m in this field in a time when the Colonial Dames are dying off, the money is drying up and no one wants to go to a historic house museum that celebrates a doorknob just because it was made in 1767.
5. How else do you use the Internet to communicate your ideas and thoughts on heritage?
I love reading other blogs, I check the National Trust for Historic Preservation site for current issues, see Flickr for photosharing and armchair visiting, and use Facebook for passing along links I like or trying to get people mobilized to support an issue like tax credits for homeowner restorations. I adore that Google books makes it possible for me to browse a 1919 edition of the Architectural Record and seeing what buildings and architects were being reviewed. (It’s fascinating to read a scathing review of an architect we now revere.)
6. How did you first become interested in heritage issues?
I’ve had some funny conversations with colleagues in the field of historic preservation about how we got where we are. As near as I can figure it, it’s our parents’ fault. They dragged us to too many antique shops and odd little historic house museums when we were at an impressionable age. And more than one of us was profoundly affected by those historic sites of our childhood that featured those creepy manikins – you know what I mean, a smiling 1950s plaster model dressed in colonial attire, wig askew on its head, standing in the one room schoolhouse. There was something both sinister and engaging about those stilted displays.
It’s actually hard to say. It may have been the time I spent in a small New England village, with the wonderfully carved gravestones in the picturesque cemetery and the white church towering over the village green, and the aforementioned one-room school house across from the National Historic Landmark prison dating from the 17th century. It may also have been my Seventh grade English teacher, who gave me Jack Finney’s Time & Again to read. In the story, a government program experiments with time travel and the protagonist finds himself in Victorian New York City, climbing the Statue of Liberty torch on display in Central Park and caught up in the Triangle Shirtwaist Factory fire. My teacher took the class on its own time travelling trip to a tiny pocket of Victoriana in downtown Honolulu. She and the book both captured my imagination in a way that stayed with me. Now here I am with my own time machine!
7. How do can other people can contribute to your efforts?
Well, I’d really like to see people have conversations in the comments section, sharing experiences and opinions. If I feature a historical site or society archive, it would be great if others would visit and report back what they discovered. I’d love to see the Bulletin Board become a real sort of marketplace, finding owners to adopt sites in need, matching nonprofits who need assistance with someone willing to provide it – and not just for people who might call themselves preservationists, but anyone. So “historic preservation” can become more mainstream – in fact, I’d like people to help come up with a new name that better captures all the wonderful things that “historic preservation” is really about.
Dale Jarvis is a member of a diminishing class: the storyteller. Yet, he is finding ways to share his art with whole new generation by reaching out to “use the media that they are using.” Whether it’s a podcast of traditional stories told by school children or telling stories 140 characters at a time on Twitter, Jarvis explores the web to find new ways to connect folks to their heritage. In episode of Voices of the Past, we talk to Dale about the online tools he uses and what kind of impact the Web will have on the preservation of cultural heritage.
Jeff: Welcome to the Voices of the Past podcast. I’m Jeff Guin and today I will be talking with storyteller Dale Jarvis of Newfoundland, Canada.
Now, Dale is the Intangible Cultural Heritage development officer for Newfoundland. Dale, welcome to the podcast.
What do you do in your role in Newfoundland?
Dale: I help communities run community programs. So I go into communities, and I help them identify aspects of traditional culture or local heritage that they want to preserve. I mostly deal with things like community history, place names, traditional music–that type of thing–traditional skills like boat building. Those types of knowledge.
Jeff: Now Dale, you seem to be everywhere online, you contribute to a lot of different sites. How many sites do you actually contribute to?
Dale: I have different blogs for different organizations that I am involved with or different projects that I’m running. The most active one is the blog that I run for the heritage foundation for Newfoundland and Labrador, the Intangible Cultural Heritage blog. And that’s where I put a lot of information about the projects that I am involved with or community based projects that are starting up, workshops that we are offering, that type of thing. Just to keep people knowledgeable about what we are doing on a day to day basis.
Jeff: Well there are an awful lot of opportunities to have a conversation online, why did you choose Blogger for your blogs?
Dale: Blogger was free and easy. That was the main reason we do it. We do a lot of community based work, we do on pretty shoe-string budgets. So Blogger is a good tool for community groups and for myself to use.
Jeff: Absolutely, there are a lot of heritage organizations experiencing a budget crunch right now, and that is the great thing about social media, I guess, all of it is free, and there are different ways to communicate with it. Why did you choose to become so involved with social media?
Dale: It’s one more way of keeping in touch with people. I find that these days the first place people go when they are looking for information is online, and social media allows me to maintain contacts with people in a disparate area.
So I do a lot of work in the rural part of the province, and so it is just a way to create a network of people working in rural areas. So people that I might have a difficulty driving out to see, might be hours and hours of drive or a flight away can keep in touch using social media. And I like that it is very easy to update. So if I am doing something new on a particular day, I can very easily go in and make a very quick update. In a way that is more difficult with just a static website, and people can subscribe or not subscribe to what I do. So they can sort of choose to follow particular items that I am involved with.
Jeff: Now your use of online tools goes way beyond just the blogs. You are actually involved in quite a few social media outlets, what tools do you use?
Dale: I use a variety of stuff, and they are all sort of interconnected in some way. I use Blogger a lot. I use Twitter. I am constantly twittering about little things that I am doing. If I am running a new coarse or developing a new workshop, I will put a little Twitter update about that.
And I use Facebook a lot as well. I have Facebook groups for some of the organizations or some of the projects I am involved with. For Newfoundland and Labrador, there is an Intangible Heritage Facebook group.
This morning actually, I was updating some stuff about traditional wooden boatbuilding. We are developing a documentation coarse for people wanting to record traditional wooden boats. So it is a combination of photo documentation, drawing and oral history. So we are going to be teaching a coarse.
So I blogged about that using Blogger, and then I put a status update on my Twitter page, and then that’s all linked into Facebook. And I posted the event on Facebook as well because different people follow different things.
So it is a little bit of work. I find that I am updating a lot. I would love it if there was one, if I could do one thing and it would update all my different social media aspects. It would be great. But I do find that it is a great way of reaching out to people, and I do find that it reaches sort of a different audience.
When I am doing local history and working with community groups, the average age is sort of an older population. For boatbuilding, for example, the boatbuilders in the provence are generally older men, and they are not on Facebook. They are not following Twitter.
But there is a whole other generation of younger people who are interested in these issues, and it is a great way to reach out to them. And to get younger people involved in heritage and museum work, is to reach out to them and to use the media that they are using. So we are finding that we are getting folklore students, we are getting university students, college students who want to learn more about some of the programs we are running, and I think it is directly because of the fact we are using social media that is aimed toward that younger group.
To reach out to those older people, the people who aren’t computer savvy, I still to rely on the telephone and ads in the paper and that sort of thing, but it is a great way of reaching a broader spectrum of people and people who might not have been interested in heritage in the sort of traditional sense.
Jeff: All of this is great in communicating, but you still have a job to do. You are actually a professional folklorist, and how do you do your field work in the digital age?
Dale: I still rely on sort of old-fashioned methods of doing field work and documentation. If I am going out to sort of interview people, I still have to go knocking on doors and finding people to interview the old fashioned way.
I do use digital technology when I am doing my fieldwork. I use all digital photography, and I record digitally now. All my sound recordings are done digitally. I have a little hand-held digital recorder I use an mp3 wave recorder when I am doing my field work, which allows me to take field work and put it online pretty quickly in some ways.
One of the projects I am involved with with the university library is call “The Digital Archives Initiative,” and that’s a program to digitize material and put it online. They have digitized a lot of print material, but we are encouraging them to do more and more fieldwork documentation. So to take oral history interviews, interviews with traditional crafts people and put those digital interviews on line.
So the field work is still done the same way it has been done for 100 years, I have to go out and I have to sit down and talk to people. And that’s part of the job I love, but I am using new technology to make the processing of that information a little bit easier and putting that stuff online a lot faster.
Jeff: What’s your specialty in folklore?
Dale: My real interest is in Vernacular Architecture. That’s what I did all my MA work on, but I have a real interest in traditional knowledge and narrative and place-based narrative. So stories about place are really the sort of things I am passionate about.
Jeff: Do you focus primarily just on the folklore of Newfoundland or do you look at other countries as well?
Dale: I am really interested in collecting local stories. I am really interested in collecting local legend, and a lot of these things are migratory, like everything comes from somewhere else in some ways, and so I am really interested in how traditions blend and synchronize. And how stories from one place are adapted by people to a local condition and a local culture.
I think one of the great benefits of social media is that it allows me to keep in touch with people that are doing similar research in other locations. So if I have an interest in sharing stories digitally, it is very easy for me to find people who are interested in those sorts of things.
So for example, I am on several different listservs, public sector listservs and oral history listservs. So I know that people are doing similar work to what I am doing in India and in Hong Kong, and I have contacts with people I keep up with in Norway and in Switzerland.
Because we are all doing similar things, and the approaches and techniques are similar. We are all interested in our own local situation, but it is a real great way of sharing information and technical information.
So if someone is looking for information on how to record a Skype conversation, they put that request out on the listserve and almost instantaneously someone, somewhere in the world can get that information to them.
So it is a great way for professionals to keep in touch with one another. Whether or not that will impact how field work is done, I don’t know. Some people are starting to do field work in sort of digital worlds, and people are starting to study how societies online interact.
I think that is a fascinating field, but for me I still like traditional culture. I still like going out and interviewing the old men, you know, hanging out with the boat builders.
Jeff: Now you’re also involved with a professional storytellers’ Ning site, which Ning is a ready-made social network anyone can build. Tell us about that. Do you still have that sense of community in an online setting that you would in real life?
Dale: The Ning sites are good for sort of special interest type groups. So the professional storytellers‘ Ning group is a great way for keeping in touch with people that I might not have met in other ways.
I live on an island in Canada, so it is sort of difficult for me to met people face to face. And the storytelling community is sort of small in a way, there is not a lot of professional storytellers in the world really. And so sites like professional storyteller on Ning are a great way for me to meet sort of storytellers and find out what other storytellers are doing to keep abreast of what’s happening with the regional and national organizations.
Jeff: Tell me about your thesis work.
Dale: I did my thesis work on Vernacular architecture up in Labrador, northern Labrador, on a series of churches that were built by the Moravian Church out of Germany in the 17 and 18 hundreds. And they set up sites, pretty well-known American sites like Bethlehem, Penn., but they had also set up sites in the Caribbean and South America and in the Canadian North.
So they built these amazing Germanic churches way up in the middle of no where, these prefabricated in Sascha and then shipped over in pieces to North America. Fascinating, little-known aspect of Canadian architectural history.
And so I was studying how the architecture changed over time and how as the society changed and the local inductee population got more control over the church, how the architecture changed to sort of reflect more local concerns rather than this grandiose European style type architecture.
Jeff: That’s fascinating research Dale, and you actually contribute a lot to online media. You’re a prolific poster, you actually tell some of your stories on YouTube. Now, I imagine by now you are actually starting to get feedback on some of that content. Tell us about that.
Dale: I do get some feedback. I find that posting to sites like YouTube, and I also post video to a website called TeacherTube, which is sort of an education-friendly site. A lot of schools block YouTube, and so stuff posted on TeacherTube is more likely going to make its way into the school system.
I do get some comments from people who just happen to stumble across my stuff, people from other parts of the world. It’s not as interactive as some of the other online ways of communicating, so I never quite know who all is listening to my stories or watching my stories on YouTube.
But it is a great way to get that stuff out there. I think it is a great way of sharing stories.
As a storyteller, one thing that people ask me all the time is is storytelling dying. You know, is this a dying art? And I really believe that things are always in a constant state of evolution. I think traditions are always changing, and I think that the rise of things like YouTube indicate that people are really passionate about storytelling. They really want to share their own personal stories.
So, it is sort of a really great democratization of storytelling in a way. Maybe people don’t sit around and tell the long form fairy tales in quite the same way that they used to, but people are incredibly interested in sharing their own personal stories and creating stories and sharing them.
So I am fascinated by sites like YouTube because I think it does indicate that their is this human desire to share stories. That storytelling is something that is something that is really important to us as a species. Everyone wants to share their story in some way.
Jeff: Well exactly and storytelling is evolving. There are different ways of telling a story now, and I actually noticed that one of the things you are involved with is using Twitter to tell a story. Tell us a little bit more about that.
Dale: Yes, Twitter is one of these things that you have to sort of boil down to something to a very little short sort of thing.
So storytellers are sort of used to waxing poetic and telling these long stories. I can tell stories as a storyteller, you know, sort of those long fairy tales that take 30 minutes 45 minutes to tell, and I know storytellers who can tell one story that can last three hours.
So Twitter sort of forces you to rethink how you approach a story. I have told stories on Twitter. As part of a storytelling festival I was involved with, I actually told a long-form story just 100 characters at a time in over the course of a week.
So people could sort of follow my tweets and then read the whole story as I posted it. But I think that there is also the potential to use Twitter as well to share some tiny little stories.
There are some great little websites. There is one called Twistory, which is sort of one of these sites that collects all the things that people are putting as updates on Twitter and post them under different categories.
So you can find everything someone hates or loves at a certain moment or what they believe in at a certain moment. And they are fascinating.
It is maybe not sort of narrative storytelling in the way that we think of it, but it is sort of a remarkable insight on into current moods and how people are perceiving their own little personal worlds.
Jeff: How else are you bringing storytelling to the online world?
Dale: I have experienced a little bit with telling stories online. I’ve told stories in Secondlife for example. I have started a storytelling guild in Secondlife. So I can go in as an avatar and tell a story.
It’s a very different type of storytelling from the sort of storytelling that I am used to where you eye contact, which is very important I find in telling a story. But people are really interested in hearing stories. So even in a sort of virtual setting where you don’t have quite the same physical eye contact, direct human interaction, people still come together to sit around a virtual campfire to listen to stories, which I find remarkable. And I think it really illustrates that human interest to listen and tell stories.
Jeff: I think it is great that Newfoundland actually has an official Intangible Cultural Development Officer and an official folklorist. Is that something that is integral to your culture there? Not everybody has one of those.
Dale: I think because Newfoundland has such a unique history in Canada. It’s the oldest part of Canada in some ways, but it is also the newest part in Canada in others.
It only joined into confederation in Canada in 1949, so before that it was its own country basically. And so since it was its on country and an island for so long, it had sort of developed its own unique sort of indigenous culture.
Very sort of Irish, west country English sort of culture. Very much based on traditions around the sea and fishing. Great live traditional music seen here in the Provence. So culture and language and music and traditional dance are really important still at the community level.
So it’s not surprising in Canada, which is this geographically large country, there are really only two providential folklorists in the whole country–one is in Quebec, which has a very distinct French tradition and then my position here in Newfoundland, which has its own very Anglo-Irish island tradition as well.
So yes, I think my position really has come about because people here really recognize that there is something unique here and that there is a value to it and that it is something worth preserving, worth saving.
Jeff: Dale, do you think the stories you are telling now are going to get lost in the online melange of different tools? Is there something that is going to get lost in the actual storytelling itself in the shift of digital?
Dale: One of the programs I run here locally is a storytelling program at the elementary school level. I work with one local school, and I go in and I teach storytelling to grades 4 to 6.
So I go in one day a week, and I work with six different classes and I actually teach students how to tell stories. So I teach them how to tell traditional stories. I teach them a lot of local stories, so stories about the fairies and local ghost stories and local legends and local folk tales.
One of the little projects that we started last year was to record those stories in mp3 format and then podcast those kids telling those traditional stories.
When I first went into the school, I said, “How many of you have heard people tell stories?” and you know, a couple of kids raised their hands. And I said, “How many of you have an mp3 player?” And like every kid in the class put up their hands.
And so what I am trying to do with that project is use new technology to promote a traditional skill amongst youth. And unless it’s meaningful to them in some way, unless it has some sort of value to them, they are not going to be interested in the tradition.
But they are fascinated by the stories, they love the stories. And they also kind of think it is neat that they can go online and listen to other kids telling their stories.
And I sort of knew it was working when one day when I was leaving the school, there were two girls talking to each other and then one girl turned to the other and said, “I’m so downloading your story.” And I thought OK, OK, I have done something right then in this school.
Jeff: Is that podcast still available?
Dale: The podcast is still available. It is holycrosselementary.blogspot.com, and you can go on and you can listen to some of my grade 5 and grade 6’s telling traditional stories.
Jeff: And how do you think the new technologies are going to affect the folklore field?
Dale: I think technologies, like cell phones, are something that we are going to see more and more get used for some of this stuff, especially like the iPhone. Especially with the GPS capabilities, and I mentioned before that I am real interested in place-based narratives, place-based storytelling. I think that we are going to see more and more of this type of stuff.
One of the projects I am involved with right now is a project that was started in Toronto called Murmur. The murmur project started off as an art project in downtown Toronto, where people collected local stories told by local people, they recorded those stories, they put them all online.
So there is a map of the neighborhood and you can go to the site and click on the little dot and listen to a person tell the story about that particular location. But then if you actually go to the street and walk down the street, there is a little sign on the street with a phone number and a six-digit code, so you can take your cell phone and dial the number, punch in the six-digit code and listen to the person tell their story on that spot.
And this a project that started in Toronto, it’s moved across Canada. There are now projects in South Pablo and Brazil, there’s projects in Scotland and Ireland, and we are starting up a similar project here in Newfoundland.
I think that that has great potential. That these sort of cell phone based stories and sort of using new technologies to get local stories and local traditions and local knowledge out to a wider public are going to be very, very popular.
I know places like the Appellation Trail and national historic sites in the United Kingdom are starting to experiment with GPS based narrative-type devices, so you can have your iPhone and walk around the site and listen to different types of stories. And I think we are going to see a lot more of that type of stuff happening more in the very, very near future.
Jeff: Do you see more folklorist catching on to social media or more of them using it these days?
Dale: I think it is going to happen. I think the technology is getting friendlier all the time, and it is getting easier and easier and people are getting so familiar now with things like Google Maps.
Even two years ago, people didn’t use Google Maps in the same way that they used today. It comes almost standard that when you are looking for place information, that you go to Google Maps. And it is so easy now to integrate YouTube video onto Google Earth. I think we are going to see more and more of this way of sharing local heritage information and local folklore on those new forms of media.
I was just at the Toronto storytelling festival telling stories, and it is very much so the traditional festival, folk festival, where you go and sit and you listen to people tell stories. And that is fabulous, and I think that the sort of heart of storytelling will always be there at that sort of very personal way of telling stories.
But while I was at the festival, there were two sort of middle-aged storytellers who came up to me and said why do we need to get on Facebook? We have been on Facebook, and we don’t understand it, and why do we bother doing this?” And so I sort of went through my social-media rant about why they needed to be on it.
And then later on in the festival, I was with the same storytellers, and they were saying, they were discussing problems every festival has about attracting new audience. You know, how do we attract new audience to the festival, and I said you know, this is part of the reasons you need to be involved with social media because that is a sort of way to attract the “under 40” crowd to come out to these types of events.
When you go to folk festivals and storytelling festivals across North America, the average age is about 40 plus, generally, but there is this whole other generation of people that are a potential audience and ultimately a potential paying audience for some of this stuff.
So I think that it is really important to start reaching out to those different people and keeping those sort of traditions, whatever they are, by transmitting them to the next generation using the new technology, new media, those types of things.
Jeff: Dale, thanks for joining us today.
Well, that’s it for today’s episode of the Voices of the Past Podcast Podcast. Now, to reiterate what Dale said, our mission here is to inspire connection to heritage values using new media. If you like, you can join the conversation at our show notes site. That’s voicesofthepast.org. Check out the heritage news and even contribute news of your own. I’m Jeff Guin, and until next time, I’ll see you online.
By Bethany Frank
There are lessons that hit you like a ton of bricks, and then there are lessons that need time to simmer like homemade jambalaya. By allowing it to sit, the flavors are able to absorb and strengthen.
Last week, power blogger Lorelle VanFossen came to the National Park Service office where I intern and taught a workshop on the art of blogging and its uses in the heritage field. Lorelle stood in front of us and asked, “what do you say when someone says they have a blog?” Without missing a beat, one participant responded, “ask if there is a cure.”
That sudden burst of laughter broke the ice as we all discussed our thoughts on how blogging could potentially help the organization. Some responded with, “I don’t know; I am here to learn the answer” or “Because my boss told me to.”
But then we started discussing how blogging could help us reach a wider audience.
If you want to have a discussion on true Cajun cooking, you don’t go to Massachusetts or Texas. You go “down south” to southern Louisiana. If you want to converse with a younger audience and share your heritage values, you go online. That is where the people are. That is why we learned with Lorelle for a day and a half.
We still need and want to converse with folks already in preservation, but right now that is an older audience. What happens in another decade or so when the tools that the audience uses to communicate are obsolete?
Preservation is as much about preserving the memories of today as those of yesterday.That is what we learned to do. Instead of just jumping into the “work” aspect of blogging, we received the opportunity to begin our own blogs. Everyone was asked to find something he/she was passionate about. Something worth blogging.
We then began the “creation” part of our blogs.
We worked on finding a focus and creating a goal. Lorelle challenged us all to think about whom we were talking to. Who did we want to read our blog? And why were we writing? That was my favorite part. I enjoyed looking around the room and seeing the participants’ eyes twinkle with passion as they created their lists of tags and categories as they rediscovered their passions.
It was apparent during the outlining stage that I was in a room of established professionals. They had some of the most beautiful lists I had ever seen. But what was more fascinating were the subjects they chose to discuss.
Some found the new Apple technologies fascinating while other looked toward the dead and wanted to discuss graveyards and tombstones. One looked beyond the grave and deeper in the past to letters from a family who lived decades ago.
“If you want to get someone’s attention, you need to show them something they’ve never seen before or show them something in a way they’ve never seen before,” Lorelle said.
Lorelle reminded us that there are a hundred and ten different ways to show our passions. Some might be pioneering new land with an innovative idea. But most will broach subjects that have been discussed before, and it is our job to ensure that we cover them in a new way.
Lorelle’s lessons lingered on throughout the workshop. She provided opportunities for everyone to practice various blogging techniques and tools including video and podcasts.
She left mark on everyone by the time the workshop had concluded.
We all reflected about what we learned throughout the workshop. Our thoughts truly reflected the wide array of personalities in the group. Some found the power in block quotes and the value in writing out the plethora of thoughts and ideas in a blog format. Some were intrigued by the possibilities available with speed blogging and one even found a friend in WordPress.tv (a site with videos on how to use various WordPress applications).
The group, as a whole, found its voice. It found the ability to ensure it is heard in today’s hectic world.
Feature photo by jpozadzides on Flickr
Nina Simon, the blogger behind the popular Museum 2.0 site, talks about why she believes social media is the key to helping museums and heritage groups connect their constituents with their content. Among the topics covered are the time investment required for social media as well as how to use social media philosophies to better visitor experiences without necessarily using the web tools.
Here’s the transcribed interview:
Welcome to the Voices of the Past Podcast. I’m Jeff Guin and today I’m talking to Nina Simon with the Blog Museum 2.0. Nina, I wonder if you’d just start by telling us the story of how you created museum 2.0 and also tell us what kind of impact your hoping to have in the field of cultural heritage.
N: Sure. I think that in late 2006, there were a lot of museum folks who started to be interested in this idea of what is the impact of web 2.0—wikis and of YouTube and all these things–on cultural institutions. But a lot of the people who were asking these things were not people who were in a position to be technically embedded in what was going on in that world. I was somebody who, because of the people in my peer group and also because my husband runs a web technology company, was heavily involved with people who were really on the fringe doing some pretty crazy stuff. You know, the first ones to Twitter, all that kind of stuff. So I felt like I was in this position to learn more about it and maybe to some demystifying about what all this stuff is and how it can really apply to our missions. I think that one of the problems is that we look at this new technology and we say, “Okay, this thing will slice penguins!” And then we say, “Great! Everybody needs this!” But nobody needs a thing that slices penguins. And certainly not zoos and aquariums!
But there is this question of ‘these are communication tools and they’re being used in some interesting ways and how can we use what’s going successfully about those, and apply them to our missions; not just by using those same technologies like blogs and podcasts, but also by looking at what’s going on in the web and saying, “How can we make a physical space that has the energy and the conversation around artifacts and content the same way we’re seeing that happen right now so intensely on the web?”
J: Now, I first found out about your blog through a post you wrote a while back called “How Much Time Does Web 2.0 Take?” And I know that the time versus benefit is question is still a big one for lots of folks. What do you have to say to someone who’s in heritage preservation who kind of sees the benefits of social media, but is still scared that it might be too big of a time sink?
N: I think that very reasonably our first approach to something like this is to say, “We need to understand the whole landscape so we can form a strategy.” But I think that that’s not the real appropriate starting point; that can be very overwhelming. I think the starting point is more, try one thing that doesn’t take too much time and can work for you. And so a great example is something like just looking at blogs just becoming a spectator in that world; joining LinkedIn or joining Facebook. LinkedIn is a perfect example of one that, I think a lot of people have joined LinkedIn and they’re not really sure why, and they’re sort of aggregating connections but there is this understanding that maybe one day I’m going to need this network, and every once in awhile I do get a message from somebody who says, “Hey, I’m looking for someone to fill this position,” whatever it is through that network. And I see it as having a very specific professional function, and I feel comfortable with it in that function.
I think that in the same way that a lot of museums, when we first started having interactive exhibits. Imagine if instead of ever touching a push button or flipping a flip chart, you would start it by saying, “We want to understand every kind of interactive we could ever make, before we make a decision about where we’re going to go.” And I think that instead what we know that we do, is we go museums, we experience interactive, we start getting a sense for ‘I like this; I don’t l like that.’ And I think that in the same way, we have to explore those new communication tools, just by engaging with them a little bit personally. And one thing I often recommend to people is if you are uncomfortable by starting with something visitor-facing, because maybe it won’t reflect your mission, maybe it will be overwhelming or too much, then start by creating something within your own staff. A lot of these tools have opportunities to be private, whether it’s making a wiki or having a Twitter feed, and I think that working within your staff can also help you understand where the people who might be great resources to be part of these initiatives. You may have a lot of young people in your organization who are already engaged and can give you a little bit of an introduction to this landscape. And you may find that there are certain services that are or aren’t going to work for your institutional culture. And working within your staff and volunteers is a great soft launch place to test that out.
J: Great advice, and also very in keeping with what you’re all about, because you’re not totally connected and wired all the time, as people would expect from bloggers. You actually off the grid out there in California, tell us about that. Does that help keep your life in balance and is it possible for someone to be too connected to the web?
N: I’m sure there is that possibility. I don’t know that I’ve ever been one of those people. I think that I am less connected than people would think. What I’m connected to is other people who are very connected to the web. I think that it is important from the perspective of the Museum 2.0 blog that I am always a learner alongside other people who are reading as well, and I am not an expert or a super-user. And I’m often in the same way everyone else is, looking at this stuff and saying, “Oh, another thing.” I can’t do that. But in regard to living off the grid, I love living off the grid and for me, living in the woods means that it’s so easy for me to unplug. I think when I was living in the city of Washington D.C., there was a more a sense of everybody—you could always be online. You could always be with your device, and I think that this is not a generational difference. You know, my mom–early cell phone adopter–she picks up her phone everywhere. We’re in a restaurant, she picks up the phone. I can’t believe it. I don’t think this is something that’s just ‘kids are always on their cells.’ I think that there are a lot of people who don’t have comfortable relationships with technology where we control it. And for me, part of living out here means it is so easy for me to say, “You know what? I do not have to be connected right now.” And granted, yes, it helps that sometimes I notice “Oh, we don’t have a lot of power right now. It’s been really cloudy. I guess I’m gonna spend some time with some books now.” Or “My cell phone doesn’t work up here,” kinds of thing. But I think also, you can do this everywhere. I think that it’s very legitimate and peaceful for us to all turn off every once in a while and that’s certainly something I use a lot in my own life, because otherwise you can’t get anything done.
J: Exactly. Now, you are someone who knows how to get things done though, and you’re not leading the conversation among museums, but really in the social media world as well. In fact, you had a post recently called “The Hierarchy of Social Participation” which was very popular; it was linked all over the blogosphere. Tell us how you came up on the concept and also how do people use it to connect better to their audiences.
N: Yeah, I think that a lot of people look at what’s going on in the web in terms of people socializing on the web, and they say, “Wow, there are these huge community spaces where all these people are talking to each other!” And I think that then, from a cultural heritage perspective, the analog would be to say, “Well, if we create the right kind of space, we’ll get a lot of people talking to each other.”
And there’s a more sophisticated problem here and what I did with that “Hierarchy of Participation” was really analyze ‘How did they get to that conversation space on the web?’ And it’s sort of surprising—I call it ‘Me to We Design’—that they don’t start by saying, “Hey, everybody get together and talk about books.” They start by saying, “Oh you? You like these books? Oh, this person likes those books and this person likes some of the same books as you.” And you start having these triangulating experiences, from my very personal interest to somebody else, through a shared interest, and then that compels me to talk to that person. So I think that what you see happening on the web in terms of these social interactions and relationships forming, are really mediated through technology and through content. So I’d love to see museums looking the same way for content and having ways for people to say, “I love this painting. He loves this painting. Now I’m more compelled to talk to that guy than I am to talk to talk to that guy than any other visitors in this place at the same time.
J: That’s a great insight, and you seem to be breaking ground on so many different levels, but I wanted to talk about your writing for a second. Most folks who read blogs or have attempted to blog have heard the rule ‘250, 300 words max.’ Keep it short and sweet; it’ll keep your readers coming back for more. Yet your posts are 700 and sometimes 1000 words long. And yet they’re still engaging and philosophical and deep even. Was that something that came naturally to you or was it the result of a process of you finding your voice as a blogger?
N: I can’t remember which writer it was who said, “It’s much harder to write 250 words than it is to write 1,000 words.” And it may be just that I’m sloppy, but no, I think that what I see—a lot of blogs are places that you go for aggregated content. I know if I go to Tree Hugger, that’s the only that’s the only place I need to go around environmental design because they’re connecting to everything. And they don’t need to put long posts because they’re not really doing analysis; they’re more saying, “Hey, look at this thing. We know our audience wants this aggregated stuff.”
And I think from the beginning what I was trying to do with Museum 2.0 was really to learn myself by figuring some of these things out and doing that in a public way. So I feel very grateful that other people have interest in these longer posts. I think that one lucky element is that because the museum audience–there aren’t many blogs in this world–I think that there’s not a set expectation for the posts to be short in the same way there is, say, in the tech world. And so I think of it more as a magazine kind of experience. I’m only putting up a couple of posts a week and so I feel like I spend time on them. Hopefully other people spend time on them. And that it’s a different sort of analytical experience.
J: Well it certainly is for me and it must be for other folks too because you have so many comments on your blog, which is kind of a rarity among blogs about heritage issues. How did you manage to build the sense of trust and community around Museum 2.0 that makes people feel comfortable enough to comment?
N: That has been a very slow growth and something I am so grateful for. It took me a while to realize that. Because when I go to other blogs I don’t always comment them. In fact, I rarely do. But now that I blog, I realize how desperately needy I am to hear from other people. And it makes me realize that there are probably other people out there who also would love to have more comments. But it’s interesting to think, when I talk to other people who read Museum 2.0, they never–unless it’s in sort of this marketing way of “Oh, how do you get comments?”–they really don’t care too much about the comments. And that is so interesting to me because, for me, what they’re getting is from me; what I’m getting is from them so I feel like I’m much more desirous of comments than they are. And I think that if you start a blog and you find that you don’t have a lot of comments, look at how many readers you have, because it’s okay. Think about it. Most of the things we read in this world we don’t comment on. That’s really okay. And it was not until Museum 2.0 got to getting about 1,000-2,000 people per week looking at it, that I really started to have a few comments. So now even, probably about two thousand people look at Museum 2.0 a week, and on the average week maybe there are ten comments on a great week. So it’s a pretty low percentage there. That’s fewer than 1%, and so I think that it takes a lot of eyes to get a few fingers moving and that’s something you see all over Web 2.0 that the number of spectators compared to the number of creators is really a huge percentage. And I think that’s something that when we do these initiatives with organizations we’re not aware of, and so sometimes we can end up in these sort of embarrassing situations you say, “Our museums going to have a video contest.” And then you only get three submissions and you wonder what happened, because YouTube is so popular. But of course, there are millions of people looking at YouTube videos and a very small percentage of those millions are actually posting videos. It’s still mostly an audience that wants to consume.
J: Well, let’s go a little bit deeper into your writing style then, because what I’m interested in finding out is when you sit down to write a post, do you consciously think about how to turn that consumer into a commenter?
N: Yeah, I think a lot of the posts start with a question and end with a question. And it’s important to me that most all of those questions—I don’t think I ever write a question just to have it there. This is a pet peeve of mine with museum labels, when you have a label that ends with a question like, “What do you think the girl is doing?” But of course, the person who wrote the label doesn’t care what you think. It’s just sort of there for you to work with. And I think a lot of the things I’m dealing with on the blog, I’m grappling to figure out ‘What are the situations where you want to talk to strangers?’ or ‘How could this tool be used?’ And I think that the more I can—and I’d love to hear from people about what they think works for them, but for my perspective–the more I put myself out there and honestly say, “Hey, I’m trying to figure this out. Let’s help each other figure this out. Help me figure this out,” that I really legitimately love reading those comments and learning from other people. I hope that honesty and that interest in them comes through. And that’s different than if I was just saying, “Here’s my thing. What do you think?”
J: Absolutely, and obviously you’re very skilled in developing that interpersonal communication through your blog, and I’m also curious to know if you use any social media platforms. And also, what those platforms allow you to do as far as furthering that relationship with your reader.
N: I love Twitter these days, but I think I fall in and out of love with different things. Certainly, I use a Google homepage, which I really recommend to anybody. It’s a very easy tool that just helps you, and on Museum 2.0 there is a post. If you search ‘Google homepage’ there’s a step-by-step of how to do it, but basically it means that whenever I open a web browser, I’m seeing feeds that I’m interested in, I’m seeing the weather where I am and I have a Wikipedia where I can search right from there. It’s a very useful thing where I can have a lot of content at my fingertips.
So, certainly I read several blogs, although one of the things I love about Twitter, which is what’s called a micro-blogging program, is that Twitter is a way that individuals can send out very short messages and you can choose to follow those individuals, in which case you receive their messages, and other people follow you. So, when you “tweet” something out, it goes to everybody who’s following you and vice-versa. So, often what will happen is, somebody will just put out a provocative question. I just got one from the Tacoma Art Museum where they just, in their tweet said, “When does public art not become public?” and it had a link to a Wall Street Journal article. So, I’m more likely to read this article now because it came with this interesting tag line of, “The art museum is interested in this; maybe I’ll check this out.” So, I use the web pretty informally in that way.
I love a program called Pandora, which is an online radio program. And actually it’s one that I know several organizations, stores, and I don’t know if any museums are using it as their background music, but is a one that’s safe to use and doesn’t have advertising, and it works in a really interesting way based on collaborative filtering, where you put in a song or an artist, and they have all this music tagged so they can figure out which music you might like because of the music you’ve put in. And it’s pretty sophisticated; it’s not just saying, “Oh, you like Paul Simon. You’ll like Art Garfunkel.” It’s saying, “Oh, you like Paul Simon. You’ll like other things with African drums and call and response, or whatever elements they’ve tagged as being part of that artist’s experience. So, but those are totally personal. I think that professionally, I don’t use Facebook that much, although I’m aware of it. I think mostly for me it’s about making sure I’m keeping track of the people, via mostly their blogs, that are really doing something interesting. Oh, and the other one that I use so much I forget that it’s Web 2.0 or social media is Flickr. Flickr is a photo sharing web site and I recommend this to any person who is planning an exhibition, a program, anything where you need source images. Flicker is all based on photos that people have uploaded themselves. So for example, when I was working on an exhibition where we knew we wanted to thematically have a Middle Eastern, Moroccan kind of feel. I could go on Flickr and look for things like “Moroccan hair dresser.’ And I could see exactly what a barber shop would look like in Morocco in a way I really couldn’t find on something like Getting Images or Google Images or any of the typical sources. So, I highly recommend Flickr in that way.
And then the last one I use, which I use personally and professionally is a site called Delicious. Delicious is a way to keep your web bookmarks, but it stores them online so that instead of them being in a folder on your computer, they are something you can access from any computer. And what that means is that if Jeff and I are working on a project together, I can create a delicious tag for Jeff and Nina’s project, and then Jeff knows at any time, he could go and look at the links that I have put in folder. So we can sort of share bookmarks in that way. And I find that pretty useful when you’re working on specifically research project with other people, where you want to be able to say, “Hey, check this out.” But you don’t want to have to constantly email links to people.
J: Yeah those are interesting.
N: What about you?
J: Well actually I use most all of those, and I’m glad you mentioned Flicker because it’s been a great help in putting together the Preservation Today Netcast. You can go on there and you can actually go to advanced search and search by creative commons licensing and that means you don’t have to go through the long copyright process for use of the photos. All you have to do is give attribution. So how can folks find you on these other social media platforms?
N: Yeah sure. I’m “ninaksimon” in all kinds of places on Facebook and Twitter. And I think if you go to the blog, under the contact area I think it lists all that kind of stuff, but also, one thing that I use and has become very popular in some areas and some people have no idea about it is a website called SlideShare. It’s a great way to very easily share PowerPoint presentations or Keynote presentations. Like, on my site, you can see a link to all of the presentations that I put up or download. So it’s a really useful way to let other people download your slides and talk about them.
Oh, and one other one that I just love, and I think that museums should be using all over the place, especially with education programs, is a website called VoiceThread. It is so wonderful. It’s like Slideshare in that it’s a way to share images with other people, but then you talk over them, and it’s really easy to have conversations around them. And so for example, I’ve used them in planning an exhibition where I would put up a bunch of images and say, “Here are some of the things we are thinking about for this exhibit. We are thinking about doing an exhibit on this with an image of that and talking and thinking about it, blah blah.” And then other people can go on and can also comment in voice.
And there is something about voice and having people talking to each other that really is neat. And I was surprised to find it was a vehicle that got a higher comment rate than blogging did. So, a much higher percentage of people who look at a voicethread will comment on it in voice. And I find that really interesting, so I think that that’s another element as you’re looking for social media strategies for your institution that maybe a variety of different strategies that may elicit different forms of visitor participation.
And you can really design that based on your own comfort. So, something like a podcast— that’s totally pushed content. You don’t have to receive anything back from visitors on that. So if that’s what you want to do, that’s okay. But if you want something that really elicits participation, I love following museums and libraries on Twitter, because that’s really a conversation going on and it is so neat to me to feel like, “Wow, the San Francisco Zoo is shearing a sheep this week,” or, “The library in Grand Rapids is talking about a favorite book that a visitor brought in today.” And it gives me a little slice of what’s going on in institutions that really increases my connection with them in a more personal way. And I a lot of that is what this is all about: getting away from our branded, museum-speak language that can really read in this day and age particularly, as kind of false, and getting to a place where we are having more personal relationships with each other and with visitors.
J: And that’s what it’s all about, really. Now I haven’t heard of VoiceThread before; this is a new one on me. Is it just found at www.voicethread.com?
N: Voicethread.com, that’s right. And let me check. I think my name there is Nina K. Simon, and I’ve a couple, if you want to check them out in a museum way, and it actually includes one where we failed to get comments and that was sort of an interesting situation I have some ideas about. But it looks like I’m just ‘Nina Simon.’
J: Well, now you piqued my interest. Tell me a little bit more about the technology and what type of audience is it best suited for?
N: It’s great for students, because you can have all these kids that are so cute, where every kid is doing their presentation about their drawing and they’re talking about their drawing. And then other kids are commenting on their drawing. It is really great.
J: Okay, I’m gonna switch gears here just for a second and ask you my big question for the interview, and it is a question that is directly related to museums but is also very personal to me, and it actually entails a confession too. The confession is–pause for dramatic effect–I don’t particularly care to go to museums. And I like the idea of going to them and I realize that that statement kind of runs counter to everything that I’ve said about your blog and enjoying it and maybe even my stance as someone who values heritage. Is there a social media solution for someone like me,–and I hope I’m not the only one–who can’t see beyond the glass case to connect to the artifact or the museum contents?
N: Yeah, absolutely. Jeff, a lot of people share your problem. I have that problem in art museums. I always say to people in art museums who work there, “I feel like I am always going to an art museum hoping for an epiphanil experience and I always leave a little spiritually unfulfilled.” I think that there are some—well, I think that there are some things that are already happening in museums that we, as visitors, are bad at taking them up on. And they as museums are bad at really selling us on. I don’t know if you’ve ever done audio tours or gone on a tour with a guide in a museum. I tend not to do them, but in times when I do, I always have a better experience. So, that’s sort of an interesting problem, right? There is great additional content available, but for some reason it just isn’t appealing to us in the format that it is being presented. So, one thing I’m seeing happen at some museums now, for example, SFMOMA, San Francisco, they’ve hired somebody they’re calling a community producer, and that person is basically staging conversations in the museum. She reserves time with curators and she really creates a space that feels like, just sitting down on a couch with some people. Some are experts, some are visitors, and talk about this stuff.” And it’s not something you have to sign up for or you have to go with a guide to do. You just into a room and there it is.
And I think that there are these ‘lowering the barriers’ ways to connect people with experiences that are additional layering of information that can be very nonthreatening like that and don’t require a lot of planning. Also some great examples of places where they’ve either allowed visitors to write labels of their own or write questions directly on the labels where they find that—well the big argument against that is, “Well, visitors don’t know anything.” But what happens is, people spend so much more time with the artifact if they have to try and write a label about it or if they have to think of a question about it, that they are having a more valid, analytical experience with the artifact. And part of that is what museums are supposed to be about, is helping you figure out, “How do I learn about this stuff and how do I get engaged with this stuff?” So I think that sometimes giving up a little authority, even if it means losing that expert voice at the front end, doesn’t mean you lose it at the back end because what is those visitors then become very interested in learning more.
So, I think there are a lot of things that just have to do with how we host people and how we make that a friendly opportunity. And really connecting humans with humans. Because, overwhelmingly people who leave museums who have a positive experience, when asked what that positive experience was, they say the experience they had was another person, usually a staff member. And so I think that the more we can maximize that opportunity, not just between visitor and staff, but between visitors and visitors, the more it’s gonna be seen as a really positive experience. And then museums will be more fun because they’ll be thought of as somewhere social instead of somewhere where you have to whisper.
J: Exactly, and ultimately that’s what it’s supposed to be about, right? It’s about the people. It’s great to preserve the artifacts and the material culture, but ultimately it’s about the people who made it, I would think anyway.
N: Yeah, and on the flipside, some people would say, “No, no, it’s not about people, it’s about preserving these artifacts.” And I think that even in preservation, there are some places where they are starting to say, open up their preservation labs so people can watch how paintings are restored or the Smithsonian has a really interesting blog on their exhibit central, an interview with a model maker and stuff like that. And I think that that is great also in terms of the more the parts of the museum that are more visitor accessible, exposing the process. Everybody loves those ‘how things are made’ kinds of shows and I think that museums, when we put an artifact out on the floor and it looks all perfect, it’s also kind of dead. And it’s really the making and the decisions around that that are very exciting and we need to find new ways to be comfortable exposing those, I think.
J: Absolutely. Well, let me propose a scenario for you. Let’s say that there’s this very small university museum somewhere with an even smaller budget. The curator is very involved, but minimally involved with the web and social media. Occasional web browsing, email primarily. What could a person like that do to use the social media philosophies and even the tools to better connect with their visitors?
N: I think the first question–and anybody can answer this question–is “what do I want my relationship to be with visitors?” And I think that part of that is about what we’re already comfortable with, but part of that is aspiration. What could it be and where would I like to go with this? And I think that that really drives what you might like to do. So, some people might say, “The conversation I want to have with visitors is to share my expertise.” And that’s what they already do in exhibits and that’s certainly something you could continue to do in, say, a blog. And maybe then the voice would be a little more informal, or you’d cover things that aren’t covered in the exhibition. Everybody bemoans that they can’t get enough on the labels as they’d like to. So maybe a blog in that case would be appropriate if you want to share expertise.
Other people might say, “I want to have more conversations and understand more about what my visitors want from the museum.” And those people might want to look into something like Twitter or Facebook, putting yourself out there as an individual in a social network in forum that involves things like asking questions and getting answers. Now, you understand that I started by saying, “you want to have conversations with visitors, try out Facebook.” Not, “Try Facebook and try and convince people that you want to have conversations with them when really you’re just there because you feel like, “Oh I’m supposed to be there.” I think nobody is well served if you feel like you’re going into technology because you feel in some way like you ought to be doing it. I think that what you ought to be doing is examining the kinds of relationships you want to have with visitors and then I think a tool like that Museum 2.0 can help you refine what those possibilities might be and then search for the tools that are going to accommodate that.
J: Right, good stuff. Well Nina Simon, thanks so much for taking the time to visit with me today. I know that I learned a lot, and I just had a good time talking with you. I’ll see you on the blog.
N: Of course! Thanks, my pleasure, Jeff.
J: Well that’s it for the first episode of the Voices of the Past Podcast. I hope you enjoyed it. Now our mission here is to inspire connections to heritage values using new media. If you like, you can join the conversation at our shownotes site, and that’s voicesofthepast.org. Check out the heritage news and even contribute news of your own. I’m Jeff Guin, and until next time, I’ll see you online.