Marlene works freelance and looks after communication, websites and social media at the German Museum Burg Posterstein. She blogs on digitalisation and social media in cultural organisations. Right now she is curating the exhibition project #SalonEuropa for Museum Burg Posterstein – a big online and analogue interactive experiment.
At the beginning of September, the German Library Association invited me as a culture blogger to visit libraries in Latvia and Lithuania. We wanted to explore how digitisation works in the Baltic countries, which are famous for their ambitious digitisation projects. Many of the Baltic cultural heritage collections are open for everyone and are public domain marked. But what does that mean for the future of cultural institutions?
When cultural heritage is digital, do we still need museums?
It was one of the journalists, also invited along for the journey, who discussed this question with me. His arguments were: When cultural heritage is fully digitised and you can access it from wherever you are, why should you visit a museum to see the original? Mostly, you are not allowed to touch the originals and you can only see them behind glass. You cannot zoom in or see them from different sides.
We do not know what future technologies will achieve, but most likely, we are going to see high definition virtual reality versions of cultural heritage items. Perhaps we can see more items than museums can put on display today. And of course, we can look at digital items 24 hours a day. Visit many different museums at the same time. For free. Maybe future technologies will imitate reality so perfectly that it will feel as if we were in the real museum – or even better. So, why should society still have real museums
What is a museum anyway?
Here is the International Council Of Museums’ definition:
‘A museum is a non-profit, permanent institution in the service of society and its development, open to the public, which acquires, conserves, researches, communicates and exhibits the tangible and intangible heritage of humanity and its environment for the purposes of education, study and enjoyment.’
It seems to me that public domain marked cultural heritage perfectly fits into that definition of ‘museum’. Perhaps then the thing that will change for future museums is the day-to-day work they undertake.
The definition is so open that the tasks of a museum can be fulfilled digitally as well. Of course, there will still be a need for depot spaces, both analogue and digital conservation, acquirements and staff. In addition, there will still be a need for research, analogue and digital exhibitions and education projects and the related communications.
Whether or not museums should charge an admission fee is discussed again and again. Museums are administrating society’s heritage, they are financed by society and they should be open for everyone. With OpenGLAM, this openness can only become wider and include everyone in the whole world. Digital exhibitions can even be more interactive and involve more partners and researches. Europeana Collections exhibitions give an idea of the way future museum exhibitions could evolve.
Open attitudes to OpenGLAM in Latvia
In Latvia, I was impressed by the openness towards OpenGLAM of all the people we were talking to. For them – librarians, politicians, cultural workers – it was common sense that digitisation included open access to cultural heritage for everyone. Nobody was fearing that GLAMs would not survive digitisation. Nobody was questioning that GLAMs are important for a society to administrate cultural heritage. Nobody was questioning that cultural heritage is important for society.
At the Latvian National Library in Riga we talked to Uldis Zariņš, Deputy State Secretary at the Ministry of Culture, Europeana Network Association Members Councillor and former Director of Development at the National Library of Latvia. His hope is that digitisation can help to unify the Latvian cultural heritage which is spread over archives, libraries and museums in different countries. The Latvian government is planning that in future, only the digitisation projects that make cultural heritage open to everyone will be supported by the state. In my eyes, that’s a big statement and a remarkable step towards a democratic use of cultural heritage.
The future is digital and analogue at the same time
We will see how digitalisation changes cultural institutions’ daily work. But I am sure, digitalisation will not be the end of museums, archives and libraries as a physical place. Perhaps they will be a meeting place for future culture lovers, too.