Tuesday, May 13, 2008

AAM 2008 Conference Session: Networks and the Changing Natural History Museum

A question posed to the audience at the "Networks and the Changing Natural History Museum: Expansion or Extinction?" session was truly revealing: all of the grants written by audience members in the past year involved collaboration in some form or another.

This is revealing for two reasons: first, it is consistent with reports that granting agencies are more and more interested in and likely to fund collaborative grants. But second, it is indicative of a shift that the panel was highlighting, that we are now in a "networking economy" in which museums must become hubs in national and international learning networks.

In this regard, the session was very similar in premise to the "Re-Imagining the Museum" session at CAM that I blogged about here and here.

The AAM session pointed specifically at two critical points. The use of the Internet is definitely a part of the shift from individual museum to hub in a vast network, but that the Internet is only a tool rather than a means in and of itself, and that there are other factors that are just important to the shift. In fact, perhaps one of the most integral factors in successfully navigating this transition is a complete re-evaluation and often rewriting of the museum's mission statement.

Both of these points make a lot of sense in terms leading museums into this new "network economy" (my new favorite buzzword--I'll be looking more into this in the near future), described by the panel as "global, intangible and interlinked--in other words, the opposite of museums."

What fascinates and excites me the most about both of these sessions is that they really are describing a huge change in the very nature of what (natural history) museums do and are all about. Fifty years from now, will we even be able to recognize the institutions called museums? Will what we currently conceive of as museums be an historic and obsolete entity relegated to the annals of history? Is anyone else excited about this potential shift?

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