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Expanding the Knowledge Base Managing Extended Knowledge at the National Museum of the American Indian

TitleExpanding the Knowledge Base Managing Extended Knowledge at the National Museum of the American Indian
Publication TypeConference Paper
Year of Publication2005
AuthorsSledge, J., & Vulpe M.
Secondary TitleMuseums and the Web 2005: Proceedings
Conference Start DateApril 13-16
PublisherArchives & Museum Informatics
Place PublishedVancouver, British Columbia, Canada
EditorTrant, J., & Bearman D.
Keywordscollaborative content, knowledge management, metadata, xml

A Native American basketmaker was hired to teach a college class in Indian crafts. Each day she began and ended her class by having her students sing songs she had taught them, until some of the students began to complain that they would never learn basket making at that rate. So the teacher said, "Now we'll collect the materials for making baskets" -- but it turned out that in order to do that she had to teach them still more songs, and the students became frustrated again. Finally, after they had collected all the materials and returned to the studio the teacher announced that she would now have to teach them still more songs in order to make the baskets. At this the students rebelled and demanded to know how to make baskets instead. To which the teacher replied, "Don't you know that the basket only represents the song, and that the songs are really the tradition that you need to make baskets? For a basket is only a visual representation of a song." Web technologies have the potential to expand the depth and scope of the knowledge base by including other, often underrepresented, sources of knowledge. This paper explores a project underway at the National Museum of the American Indian (NMAI) that uses Web technologies to reach out to Native American communities and enables them to be active participants in the development of the knowledge base and in the sensitive care of Native American collections. The strategy goes beyond the simple 'feedback' forms on Web pages and relates directly to NMAI's mission to advance, in consultation, collaboration and cooperation with Natives, knowledge and understanding of Native cultures. The NMAI is testing a suite of Web infrastructure tools that offers Native communities opportunities to represent themselves in the knowledge base and locally manage knowledge about NMAI objects, media, and documents and related objects often stewarded by others. Focusing on technical aspects, this paper will discuss the importance of a metadata server that provides a data front end to a virtual content aggregator to bring together previously unconnected collections databases. The metadata server, which can normalize an unlimited number of metadata namespaces, is front-ended by knowledge organization applications such as XML word processors and e-learning visual studios. It allows users to create and manipulate personalized metadata driven points of view (POV) on the aggregated collections. NMAI is testing the application of these tools in its collections research, public programs, and community services activities. NMAI hopes that, by extending a level playing field using Web technologies, the knowledge base at the NMAI will serve as a public and educational resource that enables appreciation for the multiplicity of POVs of all subject matter experts.