Category Archives: Salzburg Global Seminar 2011 – Participatory Culture

Salzburg Report Released – Libraries and Museums in an Era of Participatory Culture

The Salzburg Global Seminar and the Institute of Museum and Library Services announce the publication of “Libraries and Museums in an Era of Participatory Culture.” The report details the events of the October, 2011 convening of fifty-eight library, museum, and cultural heritage leaders from thirty-one countries. Together, the participants developed a set of recommendations to help libraries and museums embrace new possibilities for public engagement that are made possible by societal and technological change.

The deliberations identified “imperatives for the future” including accepting the notion of democratic access, placing a major emphasis on public value and impact, and embracing lifelong learning.

Building on the Institute of Museum and Library Services (IMLS) initiative The Future of Museums and Libraries as well as on past museum and library sessions convened by the Salzburg Global Seminar, this session brought together library and museum leaders, cultural and educational policymakers, cultural sector researchers, representatives of library and museum education programs, technology experts, sociologists, journalists, and library and museum associations.

The report captures rich perspectives about the changing roles and responsibilities of libraries and museums. The publication describes each of the five plenary sessions and the working group recommendations that resulted from them: culture and communities; learning transformed; building the skills of library and museum professionals; and demonstrating public value. It includes descriptions of innovative case studies from around the globe and a summary of the concluding keynote lecture given by Vishakha Desia, president and chief executive officer of the Asia Society.

Download the report.

A limited number of hard copies are available. Contact [email protected] for more information.

I was honored to participate in this event last October. Thanks to IMLS and the Salzburg Global Seminar!
My blogging of the sessions is here:

Office Hours Extra: The Salzburg Curriculum

The mission of librarians and museum professionals is to foster conversations

that improve society through knowledge exchange & social action

Lifelong learning in & out of formal educational settings
These topics are equally applicable to librarians and museum professionals
These topics must be contextualized

The following values permeate these topics:

  • Openness & transparency
  • Self reflection
  • Collaboration
  • Service
  • Empathy & Respect
  • Continuous Learning/Striving for Excellence (which requires lifelong learning)
  • Creativity and imagination

The Salzburg Global Seminar convenes numerous meetings throughout the year focused on creating solutions  for issues on an international level. In October, I was honored to participate in the session co-sponsored by the Institute of Museum and Library Services “Libraries and Museums in an Era of Participatory Culture.” Representatives from libraries and museums from over 20 countries came together for five intensive days of discussion and deliberations about the future of cultural institutions in a time of hyper-connected social participation. Working groups formed to provide solutions to the many challenges discussed. As part of my role, I was asked to participate, present about emerging technologies and blog the sessions.

I joined the working group devoted to building the skills of librarians and museum professionals. Lead by Dr. David Lankes, Syracuse University, our group adopted this mission statement: “The mission of librarians and museum professionals is to foster conversations that improve society through knowledge exchange & social action.” We developed several curricular topics/skills to frame our work: Management for Participation, Asset Management, Cultural Skills, Knowledge/Learning/Innovation, Technology, and Transformative Social Engagement. The framing statements are reproduced above this post.


  • crowdsourcing / outreach
  • ability to engage and evolve with technology
  • ability to impart tech to community across generation
  • creating and maintaining on effective virtual presence

The technology focus I recently explored in SJSU SLIS’s Student Research Journal ( )includes the ability to engage and evolve with technology, the ability to impart technology to cross-generational communities, and the ability to create and maintain an effective virtual presence. These should already be part of an LIS student’s educational experience. Evolving as technology does afford information professionals the chance to continuously adapt services, access and collections to the information environments of our constituents. Online presence – what you do, what you say within the professional networks – can carry a lot of weight. See “The Role of Mentoring” for more.

Transformative Social Engagement

  • activism
  • social responsibility
  • critical social analysis
  • public programming – fitting to larger agenda
  • advocacy (organizing communities to action-political, policy)
  • sustainability of societal mission
  • conflict management
  • understanding community needs

Another interesting and dynamic section of the proposed curriculum – transformative social engagement – merits further exploration and discussion.  Under this banner, our group selected a series of thematic areas future LIS grads should experience as part of their preparation for future professional positions. The forthcoming report from the seminar and IMLS will include further details, and Lankes explores the curriculum as well in an video at his blog ( These ideas about transforming communities, however, have already illuminated my planning and content for courses and I wanted to share them.

Fluency in critical social analysis, “participating deeply within the community,” as our group defined it, transcends the more simple notions of community outreach and “going where the users are.” Consider the public librarian participating in community planning or development, or the academic librarian housed full time within their assigned liaison department. The potential for enhanced understanding of the needs of those particular communities is enticing. Stressing this need for participation, Lankes posited “Why showcase culture if we are not enabling conversations about that culture?” as part of his remarks during the seminar.

Related is understanding and participating in advocacy efforts. As part of my new faculty orientation at SJSU, I spent a day with other new professors touring various service agencies in the Bay Area. We were introduced to various initiatives, community service organizations and supporting entities. At a lunch and presentation at the Health Trust, a Silicon Valley organization promoting wellness, I had a realization – everywhere we visited could benefit from the skills, ethics and knowledge of an information professional as a means to extend, support and sustain the success of these organizations.

Both of these areas have something in common: the information professional with these skills may spend more time OUTSIDE library walls than within. This shifting paradigm is one that Lankes illustrates well with his emphasis on a positive future for librarians instead of libraries.

I took many good things away from my work at the Salzburg Global Seminar. I have a new appreciation for the work of museum professionals and cultural institutions. The boundary between what we do in libraries and what they do in museums – especially in a technology-enhanced participatory age – has become less blurred. Imagine a mash up library/museum school of the future where transformative social engagement, cultural memory and knowledge creation/curation techniques are cultivated and taught.

There’s much more to the proposed curriculum.  My hope is this curriculum, began in Salzburg, will inform and guide the evolution of educational programs far and wide.

I am off to the ALISE meeting in Dallas today and thought it would be fitting to publish this post on the way.


Seminar Session:

Full text of the Curriculum:



Beyond the Walled Garden – An Essay in SJSU SLIS Student Research Journal

I have an invited contribution in the new issue of SJSU SLIS Student Research Journal:

I recently participated in a meeting convened at the Salzburg Global Seminar in Austria. For five days, over 50 librarians and museum professionals from all over the world gathered to critically examine the impact of participatory culture on library and museum work. The event was sponsored by both the seminar and the Institute of Museum and Library Services. Participatory culture, defined by Henry Jenkins in Confronting the Challenges of Participatory Culture (2006), “is a culture with relatively low barriers to artistic expression and civic engagement, strong support for creating and sharing one’s creations, and some type of informal mentorship whereby what is known by the most experienced is passed along to novices” (p. 3). When barriers fall away, participation is possible.

The seminar included presentations, working groups, and discussions centered around how library and museum service should adapt to an environment in which participation is not only possible, but encouraged. The working group I joined developed curricula for new professionals in both arenas. One aspect we highlighted was the importance of engaging with technology. Within that area were three skills our group strongly believed future professionals should possess: the ability to engage and evolve with technology, the ability to impart technology to cross-generational communities, and the ability to create and maintain an effective virtual presence.

Use the link to read the whole essay.

Citation: Stephens, Michael (2011) “Beyond the Walled Garden: LIS Students in an Era of Participatory Culture,” SLIS Student Research Journal: Vol. 1: Iss. 2, Article 2.
Available at:

Participatory Culture: Cross Cultural Connections in the Age of the Internet

Vishakha Desai, President and CEO, Asia Society, New York, United States, was the keynote speaker this afternoon – as we hurtle toward the end of this incredible experience.

The Asia Society’s Mission:

Asia Society is the leading global and pan-Asian organization working to strengthen relationships and promote understanding among the people, leaders, and institutions of the United States and Asia. We seek to increase knowledge and enhance dialogue, encourage creative expression, and generate new ideas across the fields of arts and culture, policy and business, and education. 

Some key thoughts:

  • The potential of the tools we all hear about is based on a set of assumptions: decentralization, a sense of parity and democratization.
  • Many people who visit museum Web sites are looking to make a physical visit to the museum. The other 30-40% are visiting for different reasons – task-based searches, researchers, sharing, etc.
  • A recent exhibition yielded some interesting outcomes. Online visits to the exhibition exceeded physical attendance. Visitors from Japan demanded an app for the mobile to take the exhibition with them. Another Webcast with the president of Sri Lanka yielded thousands of viewers from Sri Lanka itself.
  • Be prepared for diverse audiences online who are ready to talk back.
  • Our desire that we can control content is no longer possible; we need to create a more open architecture for our visitors.
  • The need for vetted information is as great as the need for co-creation of information.
  • Cross-cultural teams acting online may encounter barriers in effectively working together: culture, language, etc. We need to question our assumptions. Today we live in a world when we are local and global at the same time.
  • Concept of neighborliness: first and foremost we create a sense of curiosity about the new neighbor, then we bring a sense of empathy and try to understand their perspective.
What I’m taking away from this talk is understanding and empathizing with cross-cultural partners within a technological environment is key to success. Technology does not solve the issues that may be present.
Key concept – and this is serious – we need to be nice to each other.
This post is a reflection/response to questions posed at the Salzburg Global Seminar program Libraries and Museums in an Era of Participatory Culture, exploring the challenges, solutions and potential for participatory services within libraries and museums.

Special Thanks to the Salzburg Global Seminar and IMLS for the invitation to participate in this event.