Ignite talk - Beth Harris and Steven Zucker

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Video: “‘Millions are waiting’: GLAM and the global community of learners” by Beth Harris and Steven Zucker (Smarthistory), an Ignite talk for the Openlab Workshop Unconference, December 1, 2015, in Crystal City, VA. Published on Jun 27, 2016




Beth Harris: So we’re Beth Harris and Stephen Zucker of Smarthistory, and so.

Smarthistory has a utopian vision, one we believe everyone here shares. What if people around the world better appreciated the meaning and beauty of each other's visual heritage? What would it mean if every museum visitor was visually literate?

Stephen Zucker: How can we use the web to leverage our collective knowledge and expertise to reach new enormous global audiences. Millions are waiting, and so what are the internal impediments that are in our way.

BH: So if you Google the words “art history” and our work at Kahn Academy comes up first. Two art historians have more YouTube subscribers than every art museum in the United States.

SZ: Except MoMA.

BH: This shouldn't be.

SZ: Here are some of our observations that we think limit museum’s reach in impact, libraries as well, the rest of GLAM, has come from our experience that are generalizable to other organizations that are trying to work with these institutions.

BH: So the British Museum recognize that their content could reach a vast new global audience through smart history at Khan Academy, and the British Museum invited us to basically republish any content we wanted from their website, but this was very unusual.

SZ: Nearly every page on Smarthistory links to the museum that the object is from, but those museums almost never link back to us. Linking helps learners—

BH: I think maybe never.

SZ: Never. It generates traffic to the museum's own website, and to enter each other’s, and yet this rarely happens.

BH: A major museum we work with recently commissioned a white paper about our very successful partnership, yet the authors never reached out to us. Institutions fail when they think they have all the answers.

SZ: Our style of conversational videos has had a significant impact on museum content, but museums have only been willing to tell us this off the record. There are lots of people doing exceptional work outside of your staffs. Are the museum's talking to them? Are you talking to them?

BH: In several cases curators believing in our mission have volunteered to contribute but have been thwarted by the politics at their institutions. Curators and others who have a more generous vision need to be persistent in overcoming bureaucratic obstacles.

SZ: Despite the fact that we describe our shoe string method of making videos, museums still often assume that they need a costly video crew. Silicon Valley understands that the web is iterative, and that and it never lets perfection get in the way of creation.

BH: Recently we mentioned to a museum that they owned a significant number of works in the new AP art history curriculum—completely new information for them. Museums need to think about that how their collection relates the needs of learners beyond k-12.

SZ: It took a year or more and many meetings for a museum of major museum recently signed a partnership agreement with us. Despite the fact that there was no money changing hands, and that there was a clear benefit for all parties. The world shouldn't have to wait.

BH: We've noticed that museums have a wealth of already approved content that can easily be put online. When museums don't step up, search results list commercial sites with unreliable information.

SZ: That so many institutions still seek to control high resolution images of public domain works of art is simply an abuse of their missions and the beneficial stacks that we the public grant them.

BH: The Wright Museum recognized that withholding image of Vermeer's—milk, yellow milkmaid resulted actually—The Milkmaid resulted in the proliferation of poor reproductions and lower postcard sales. When museums don't step up others fill the vacuum.

SZ: Can’t afford to put high-resolution images of your public domain and collections online, why not ask the public to do it for you? Smarthistory has 5,000 commonly taught images on Flickr. These images have been viewed more than five million times, these are just images we take in the galleries.

BH: Visit any museum, YouTube channel, and you’ll find videos that have a—higher—high production values and were obviously costly, but have a very low view count. We wonder, is anyone keeping track of the return on investment? Were quantifiable goals ever set?

SZ: There's some really there's some really great online content for teachers that, are that could be serving a much larger audience especially if certain words were taken out. Segmenting audiences online doesn't always make sense except when you're dealing with younger younger age groups.

BH: So millions of people around the world are coming online in the next decade as we all know. Hungry for the expertise that resides in your institutions. Why don't we work together to set ambitious goals to meet their needs?

SZ: Google the words art history, or nearly any commonly taught content and Smarthistory comes very high to the top, often above leading museums, libraries, universities. Again, were only two people this shouldn't be happening.