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published: April, 2002

Archives & Museum Informatics, 2002.
Creative Commons Attribution-Noncommercial-No Derivative Works 3.0  License

speakers

The Museum: A Building Type in Transition
William Mitchell, Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT), USA

Session: Opening Plenary

The museums that flourished in the nineteenth century focused on the accumulation, annotation, and arrangement of artifacts within special-purpose museum buildings. Today, digital technology is supporting new ways of putting together artifacts, physical space, and information. The artifacts may be digital rather than physical -- digital images rather than photographs on paper, for example. Annotations may be multimedia rather than textual, they may be much more extensive than in the past, and they can potentially do a much better job of contextualizing exhibits. Arrangements of digital artifacts may be dynamic -- sorted and searched in a wide variety of ways -- rather than static, as in a traditional gallery. The display space may be dispersed rather than clustered in a central location, and it may be established by location-sensitive navigation systems rather than gallery walls. And acquisition of an artifact may mean gaining digital access rights rather than purchasing or negotiating a loan then transporting a physical artifact. All this adds up to a major transformation of the museum building type. In this talk I shall briefly survey the history of museum buildings, explore the forces driving current transformations, and suggest some future directions.