The Nature of Participatory Culture


Our evening session featured discussion and debate on what defines participatory culture. Here are the questions explored from the seminar documents:

The Nature of Participatory Culture: What are the societal changes that are shaping the future of museums and libraries? How do these changes affect and transform their roles in their communities? What are the expectations of their different publics, and how do they create meaningful relationships with them that meet changing needs for knowledge, skills, and information? How do they remove actual or perceived barriers to access and inclusion? What is the definition of “participatory” in this context?

Discussion centered around definitions of participation, and the impact of technology. One key point: has there always been participation in creation and dissemination of knowledge, object and artifacts or is it a result of the new technologies I’ve been writing about here at TTW for a few years?

Greg Hayton, CEO of Cambridge Libraries and Galleries in Canada, shared a story about a library director in Finland moving her office into the public area in a stage-like setting to be more visible to the staff and the public. “Enlightening,” Greg said. I would agree. It takes a certain type of administrator to be that transparent.

Dawn Casey, director of the Powerhouse Museum in Sydney, gave a short talk exploring the nature of participation at her institution. Sharing stories about installations and public programs, Dawn’s remarks bright to mind how important inclusion, transparency can be to administration of institutions. “It’s not just about using digital media, it’s about engaging with everyone: staff, visitors, school children – everyone,” Dawn said.

One very interesting theme that rose to the top was the concept of institutional attitudes toward participation and technology. This is where it becomes more about people and less aout technology or even the institution. The discussion was as diverse as the assembled group, with museum folk taking the lead on the discourse. I would have liked to hear more from my colleagues in libraries as the points played out. There will more time for that over the next three days.

Serhan Ada, head of the Cultural Management Program of Istanbul Biligi University, summed it up the discussion well in a final comment: “Participation occurs when someone welcomed as a guest feels as though they have become a host.”


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.