Posting to the THATCamp blog *so* late has allowed me to change the focus of my proposed session and to consider my very most recent project. For reference (and perhaps post-conference follow-up), I’m posting a description of my original THATCamp proposal, in addition to some thoughts about a possible session about searching of museum records:
My original proposal involved a project called “The Qualities of Enduring Publications” that I developed at The Metropolitan Museum of Art during the financial crisis that followed the 9/11 attacks. Faced with a deficit budget resulting from severely diminished attendance, the museum planned to implement radical budget cuts, including significant cutbacks in publishing. In light of these cutbacks, I was interested in examining the essential nature of the publications (for 2002, read: books and print journals) that the discipline was producing and reading, and in thinking about what gives an art history publication enduring value. The question was examined through a personal prism, in a series of small workshops (ca. 10 participants each) at the Met and at museums around the country. Participants came to the workshop having selected one or two publications that had had enduring value for them in their professional lives–books that they had consulted regularly, had cited frequently, or had used as models for their own publications. A few minutes at the start of the workshop were spent sharing the books, after which I (as workshop chair), began the discussion, which centered around a series of simple scripted questions, to which answers were responded for later analysis. The questions asked whether titles had been selected for (for example) the fidelity of the reproductions, for the lucidity of the prose, for the multiplicity of voices, for the well-researched bibliography, and so on. The workshops were fascinating, not just for the results they produced (the publications most valued by art historians had relatively little in common with the gigantic multi-authored exhibition catalogues produced by museums during that time frame), but also for the lively conversation and debate that they engendered amongst museum authors and future authors.
I have recently been encouraged to expand the workshop scope to include participants and titles from all humanities disciplines, as well as to consider the impact of electronic publishing and distribution on an individual’s choices. Staging the new version of the workshop will require the recruitment of workshop chairs from across the country and throughout the humanities, and the drafting of a series of additional questions about the ways in which electronic publishing might impact a participant’s thinking about his or her enduring publications. I had hoped to use THATCamp as an opportunity to identify potential workshop chairs in humanities disciplines other than art history, to discuss examine the existing workshop discussion template and to work on the questions to be added on e-publishing, and to think about ways to analyze a (much larger) body of responses, perhaps considering some bibliometric analysis techniques.
Though I’m still interested in speaking informally with ANY THATCamp participant who might be interested in participating in the expanded “Qualities of Enduring Publications” workshops, I’m actually focused right now on a newer project for which some preliminary discussion is needed to seed the project wiki. Along with colleagues at ARTstor and the Museum Computer Network, I’ll be organizing a team that will examine the user behaviors (particularly search) in repositories that aggregate museum records. The project, which will take place during the six weeks before the Museum Computer Network conference in November, 2009, will involve analysis of the data logs of ARTstor, the museum community’s key scholarly resource for aggregated museum records, as well as logs from other libraries of museum collection information, including (we hope) CAMIO and AMICA. A group of recruited participants will consider the logs, which will be released about six weeks before the November conference, articulate questions that might be answered by interrogating the data, and write and run queries. We’ll also think about ways to establish and express some useful ways to query and analyze an individual museum’s search logs, and will use these methods to look at the logs of participants’ museums, as a baseline for comparison with the ARTstor, CAMIO, and AMICA records. At an all-day meeting during MCN, we’ll gather to examine the results of the preliminary results; discuss, modify and re-run the queries, and work together to formulate some conclusions. In the eight weeks after the meeting, ARTstor staff and/or graduate student volunteers will produce a draft white paper, which will circulate to the meeting participants before being released to the community at large. Although the project is limited in scope (we have not yet figured out how to get any useful information about how users of Google look for museum content), we hope that it will help museums to begin to think about how their content is accessed by users in the networked environment using real evidence; at present, very little quantitative information about user behaviors (including which terms/types of terms are used to search, whether searches are successful, which objects are sought) is available. Results could have lasting impact on museum practice, as organizations prioritize digitization and cataloguing activities, and consider what content to contribute to networked information resources. I hope that a discussion at THATCamp might provide some seed content for the project wiki, which serve as the nexus of discussion about what questions we will ask, and about what methods will be used to answer them.