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February 1, 2010

Lead, Follow, Or Go Out Of The Way To Visit

In case you decided to be a little crazy today and not check your twitter feed, you may not have noticed that it’s Follow A Museum Day. (It’s also the anniversaries of the Greensboro lunch counter sit-in, Texas’ secession from the Union, and the establishment of the Canadian Royal Mounted Police. See — don’t you feel bad about not checking your tweets now?) To catch you up, Follow A Museum Day is an effort started by Jim Richardson to draw greater attention and support to museums worldwide.

I did my obligatory re-tweet on the topic because, hey! I support museums, and then I easily moved on to seeking out my next bit of information, building out some data collection tool, writing a report, or whatever it is I do to fill my days. But I’ve been mulling over some ideas lately about how to improve advocacy outcomes, about how to move from agreement to action. I’m still working out these thoughts, but I started to feel that this then was the wrong moment for me to not follow through on some of the very concerns that are occupying the back burners of my brain.

So, at least as a start, I began to think more deeply about not just about why supporting museums is generally a good thing (uhm, duh), buy why supporting something specific like their twitter feeds is important. There are plenty of arguments against blogging and micro-blogging and vlogging and whatnot — that they are frivolous, flippant, and generally inferior forms — but still, they reach people with ideas and content that seemed highly inaccessible before the spread of networked distribution systems. I consider myself very lucky to live so close to so many museums in New York City, but it’s still quite an undertaking to get to the Smithsonian museums, and even further afield to make it to the American Jazz Museum in Kansas City, the Walker in Minneapolis, the Archway Museum in Nebraska, or back to the Douglas County Museum of Natural and Cultural History back in my hometown.

I’m sure I’ve written about this before, but I’m a strong believer that online access to cultural materials is an excellent thing and I wholly support it. What we often don’t consider is that the way we can support these efforts further is to utilize them. Funders will look at many aspects of an organization when determining whether to donate or award a grant, and one of those aspects can be use metrics. A Development department may put together reports showing the numbers of website visitors, downloads, newsletter subscriptions, testimonials, Facebook fans, twitter followers. We may not like to think about such things in association with Art or History, but being able to display significant use and consistent growth in use can be an important factor in an institution gaining funding for further development and access.

One of my mantras is a collection of materials is useless if it cannot be accessed, but I could also say that if a collection of materials is not being accessed it appears useless, and a useless seeming project is not going to receive further financial support. So become a fan, a follower, an inveterate site browser. It’s small, but it’s a start to moving from saying, yes, I support Cultural Institutions to performing an action that supports a cultural institution.

Joshua Ranger

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