And so, my contribution to the SSWC book, translated into English.
Imagine picking up your cell phone at the museum, you connect to the wireless network and download a picture of a pair of shoes that you see in the exhibition of the clothing fashion of all time. With the picture comes a movie about shoes, when they were manufactured, what they’re made of and a text about the previous owner. At the art museum then down load the portrait of the owner and at the library a book on shoefashion.
At home, upload the images, texts and movies onto your computer, use them in an essay at school, use them in a an article or paper, or just print a photograph and put up on the wall. Maybe you have already sent the picture of the shoes to your friend.
In the museum you can also rate the shoes – are they your favorites or just boring? Or why not rate the entire exhibition directly through the cell phone. You can see the exhibition that your friends prefer or which shoes are most popular. You can also contribute to the exhibit by uploading pictures of your own shoes on Flickr, and you see the picture being displayed in the museum just as you stand there. In your cell phone you can also watch movies with extras from the exhibit.
All this are pretty basic services that are technically possible today. And the possibilities are endless. Social media open for innovative ways to communicate and consume cultural heritage, ie. both social media as actual services but also as new ways of running a business – to share, keep an ongoing dialogue, listen and collaborate.
Still, many cultural heritage institutions, archives, libraries and museums, are in an exploratory phase, where they experiment with social media, staying in touch with users.
Museu Picasso in Barcelona, the Brooklyn Museum in New York, Museum of London and the Powerhouse Museum in Sydney are some museums that are no longer merely experimenting. For example, using services like Flickr to strengthen the relationship with visitors, conveying news through Twitter, letting users comment on content, sharing their favorites in the collection, and so on. Other organizations use crowdsourcing to gather content and build relationships.
Why is social media especially interesting in the heritage sector? Museums have, by definition, collections. There are items (such as a suit, a plow, a stone ax or a photograph) which are traces that over the years we interpret and reinterpret to learn about our history and our contemporary society. Archives and libraries are accdording to Swedish law obliged to collect documents, sound, moving images and printed texts. They are, in other words, custodians of a huge body of knowledge. Their job is to manage and communicate these resources. And social media offers new tools and opens up new paths.
In all parts of the cultural heritage sector, institutions are able to streamline and develop their work with social media. But just as in other industries it requires a change in skill profiles, traditional knowledge has to change and evolve. Organizational processes must adapt to the new flow of information generated through the effective use of social media.
How do we get there? Through cooperation, openness (to have a dialogue with end users and colleagues), to learn from each other (including other sectors), and by not forgetting any part of the organization when moving into the new phase of implementation of social media. In particular, an overall strategy is necessary, not just about policies and guidelines for staff use of social media, but one that covers all parts of the organization. It is about changing practices and procedures so that social media contribute to the development, ie. provide visible, measurable results. Then it is possible to build a lasting knowledge and communication platform that becomes the foundation for further development of the museum, archive or library
So what is the next step? Once we have built a communication platform where the users / visitors are an integral part, the best ideas will emerge in the encounter between humans and the body of knowledge. Then it is necessary to be ready to take advantage of these ideas, to share and let other organizations take part in the development. Also not to hesitate to take advantage of others’ strategies and projects, remixing and further developing them, all in an ongoing process. This opens up for the cultural heritage sector, including the body of knowledge, to become a living part of society and no longer stay in large parts securely hidden in the museum, archive or library.