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Museums and the Web

An annual conference exploring the social, cultural, design, technological, economic, and organizational issues of culture, science and heritage on-line.

Understanding the Distributed Museum: A Creative Visualization of Contemporary Digital Practices


The Distributed Museum Where is the museum for the digital generation?  Our presentation will suggest a way of visualizing the practices that make up the identity of the distributed museum.  We will report on research that examined the ways in which public museums and libraries in the United States offer informal-learning opportunities to the born-digital generation, often as part of a creative network ecology that includes formal learning programs and institutions.  Rather than present a list of “best practices,” we will outline an analytical framework that examines a range of new practices that transcend a number of binaries used to define contemporary digital culture: i.e., the virtual versus the physical, fixed versus mobile, open versus closed systems of creative offerings.

We use the term “the distributed museum” to describe the form that the museum takes as it is part of the creation and movement among new spaces that comprise contemporary networked learning environments.  We know that museums and libraries are important nodes within these networked learning ecologies.  We also know that the museum is no longer considered to be located only in a particular physical space, but due to the development of new practices and services it now extends its presence through all sorts of virtual spaces on the WWW as well as in the transient spaces created through the diverse practices and technologies of mobility.

The distributed museum exists “over” the conceptual divides between physical and the virtual, the fixed and the mobile.  Moreover we consider a third axis of museum offerings that are situated on the continuum of “making practices” and engagements with DIY (do-it-yourself) culture.  Here we map a range of practices that include closed-ended, guided, making activities (interactives), as well as more open-ended exploratory ones (tinkering).  The presentation will take the form of a digital visualization of the creative inventory of practices that comprise the distributed museum.

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ssbautista's picture
Susana Smith Bautista is a Ph.D. candidate and Provost Fellow at the Annenberg School of Communication, University of Southern California, where she also received her Masters degree in Art History/ Museum Studies. Susana has almost twenty years experience in the art world in Los Angeles, New York,...
abalsamo's picture
Anne Balsamo's work focuses on the relationship between the culture and technology. This focus informs her practice as a scholar, researcher, new media designer, and entrepreneur. She is currently a Full Professor of Interactive Media in the School of Cinematic Arts, and of Communications in the...