Office Hours: The Age of Participation

My February column is up at Library Journal:

IT’S THE MUSEUM DIRECTOR’S conundrum. She has six brief seconds to grab the visitor’s attention as they walk past each exhibit. Once they pass the exhibit, they’re gone for good. That thought went through my mind as I stood talking with a museum administrator at a stammtisch [“regular get-­together”] in Berlin in March 2010. Could this brief window of opportunity be maximized by adding a social, participatory component to museum ­exhibitions?

I couldn’t help but think that this is the same problem facing libraries. How can we grab the public’s interest despite the one-click availability of information? How can we compete with the seductive voice of Siri?

I revisited these questions and more at the Salzburg Global Seminar program “Libraries and Museums in an Era of Participatory Culture” (, held October 19–23, 2011, and cosponsored by the Institute of Museum and Library Services. Representatives from over 20 countries gathered for five intensive days of discussion and deliberations about the future of cultural institutions in a time of hyperconnected social ­participation.

Building collections and seeking ways to engage the public and promote curiosity challenge us all. The seminar gave me a newfound appreciation for the work of museum professionals and cultural institutions. The era of participatory culture demands that cultural and information professionals play an active, visible role in our communities. My takeaways were many….