One can always trust Clifford Lynch of the Coalition for Networked Information to bring the issues home, and DISH2011 was no exception. ‘The digital shift is disrupting our organizations in fundamental ways,’ he said, finally addressing the question that the other four keynotes had left open: what does it all mean for us, for memory institutions.
‘There are many more opportunities now for users to engage and to participate. Sometimes user impact is quite trivial, but it can also be very profound. For a lot of content, there is somebody out there who knows much more about it than we do and he is able to get in touch with us. Just think of the vast volumes of audiovisual content from our living memory. But user generated content does raise issues of trust: to what extent will we, memory organizations, be able or willing to vouch for this content?’ And there is more, ‘These participants may want to contribute more than just tags, they may bring us their own archives, expecting that there should be a place for the memories of all of us.’
Such a development will have a fundamental impact on our acquisitions policies. Many new choices will have to be made. We must talk about those choices, document them, share them with our peers, and thus develop a sense of what is happening. ‘I find that exciting and promising,’ Lynch concluded.
So the question becomes: are we adapting to this new environment? I attended a workshop session on ‘national infrastructures’ and heard Marco de Niet of the DEN Foundation say: ‘We should have done this ten years ago.’ He was commenting on Dutch plans to use the Europeana structure and tools to aggregate content from a variety of Dutch institutions on one discovery platform. They call it the ‘Netherlands Cultural Heritage Collection’ – but really, it is metadata only and, if we are lucky, we will get some thumb nails. A workshop attendee asked the critical question: “Will our users be satisfied with just metadata?” Joyce Ray of the US IMLS figured that no-one would be able to find the money to aggregate the content as well.
But should such practicalities stop us from making bold moves?
In order to give us a sense that all of this is doable, the conference organizers had contracted strategist Michael Edson of the US Smithsonian Institution to give us a final pep talk the American way. His advice: stop thinking and talking in terms of ‘the future’. The pace of innovation is so quick now that we simply cannot spend months or even years talking about strategy. Because if we do, we will fail to recognize the things about digital culture that we can bank on now. In other words: ‘It is all a matter of going boldly into the present.’ Strategy should do work. It is a tool. (The text of his entire speech is on slideshare (edsonm).
This is a spirit that can work – just look at what the Internet Archive has done with a shoestring budget of $10-15 million. But can it work for us, for you and me?
This is what Edson offered to take with us into the office this Monday morning: