Participatory Culture: Demonstrating Public Value

The last thematic area started our morning. Each panelist shared success stories and insights about demonstrating public value for libraries and museums.

Gary Vikan, Director, The Walters Art Museum, Baltimore, United States, detailed the history of the Walters collection and shared with us the mission of the museum, updated in the year 2000: Bring art and people together for enjoyment, discovery and learning. “Everything we do should be measured by the benefit of the public,” he said. Another focus of the Waters museum staff is “Always be learning.” The museum also eliminated the admission fee in 2006 and attendance went up 45%. Access to staff is also a priority, instead of a glass wall that only allows visitors to see staff at work, the glass window opens for interaction with the curators. ( I think the librarians could take some of these ideas an utilize them as well.)

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Richard Atuti, Director, National Library Service, Nairobi, Kenya, presented interesting ways his library had engaged the community.He stated that the libraries aim to “walk the talk” when it comes to demonstrating public value. For example, during the “Festival of the Book,” the library utilized song and dance to promote reading and literacy and as a way to promote visibility of the library. Rebranding was part of the process: creating a modern look for the logo, identifying with target communities and reaching the unreached. Richard shared some photos of mobile libraries – including libraries carried on the back of camels or pulled by two donkeys. Another library service is the addition of a fish pond to the library grounds for demonstration purposes. Richard shared a user comment thanking the library for bringing a “lake” and information about fishing to the community.

Johannes Vogel, Keeper of Botany, Natural History Museum, London, United Kingdom; Director-Designate, Natural History Museum, Berlin, Germany, discussed the emphasis on participation at his museum. “A place for learning, discover and dialogue,” he said – within the four walls and within the web site. Johannes discussed some initiatives that take the museum out to people who want to know more about nature – he referred to this as “Citizen Science.” Great example: the museum took nature exhibits, naturalists, educators and hands on activities out to London parks in cooperation with the BBC to teach over 8,000 people.

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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.