This week I was unable to attend class as I was visiting the Adirondack Museum to meet with my boss, Elise DeAndrea, to complete some of my internship duties in the museum instead of from home as I have been doing for most of this semester. For twelve weeks, I am a photo archiving intern at the museum, and I have been working to catalog and research a huge collection of images from Frederick A. Hodges, an employee of the museum and Adirondack folklorist who traveled the region from 1900-1960 photographing daily life and the environment.
It has been a huge honor to work with the collection as the Adirondacks hold a very special place in my heart. My family began going to the region when I was four years old, and we spent every summer renting a large lodge that we deemed the “Long House” with our aunts, uncles, and cousins. At times the kids out numbered the adults, and the general rule was that our parents only saw us for meals. I have been to the museum many times, and it was a huge factor in my desire to go back to school for museums and archival studies.
Thanks Sara, for including that little shout out to the museum in Din and Crows Museums Unfixed in Place and Time! Being in that space all week definitely got me thinking about the wealth of knowledge that the museum holds, and how so few people are actually able to visit the museum.The Adirondack Museum is located in Blue Mountain Lake, NY (about five hours from New York City, if you’re lucky) There are no trains that run up there, your best bet it to take a train to Utica and rent a car. It is only open from Memorial Day through the first or second week of October. (which is probably for the best as we got almost six inches of snow when I was there just last week) How many other facilities exist with similar problems? I spend most days thinking about how much I want to go to the Tate, but a place ticket to London is definitely not in my near future. How important it is to make museums accessible! What is the correct line of accessibility to walk? At what point is there too much information available? Give them enough to leave them wanting more, right?
The Adirondack Museum’s website gives virtual visitors a fairly good idea of what to expect when they visit the museum. There is an extensive map of the grounds and many images of the collection are peppered throughout the website.
The trick to uncovering more of the museums collection comes from pretending that you are a researcher, or at least viewing the website through a researcher’s eye. I wish that they made this option a little more obvious as you have to hunt a little for it, but once you get there a majority of the museum’s collection is available to be viewed online through a program that they use called Past Perfect. This allows each part of the collection to be photographed and cataloged, and it allows researchers to request access to those documents from the archival and library staff.
The records are updated in real time, so as information is added to the Past Perfect program it is made available online, they also directly mimic the information that is stored by the curators and archivists at the museum (just like at the Met). The information is then also transferred to the NY Heritage site and is stored under a specific heading for the Adirondack Museum.
This access is really incredible, and the archivists and librarians at the museum are very familiar with the area, so things are well labeled and researched. It’s a fascinating place to go to geek out about packbaskets regardless of whether you are trying to write a paper about them.
The readings discuss a few different examples and varying degrees of opinions about digital access to museums. I found the piece on the International Museum of Women to be most interesting because it discussed the relatively new phenomenon of a solely digital museum. The International Museum of Women (IMOW) does not exist in a physical space. It first began in 1985 and traveled from space to space around its base in San Francisco and internationally to hold site specific shows and gallery openings. In 2005 when plans to move into a physical space fell through the museum revamped their process, mission, and future. The museum now refers to itself as a “museum with walls” and uses its web platform and social media to disperse information and invite collaboration among women in all countries. I think of this as an incredible example of the beneficial powers of the internet. The types of community building and learning exercises that can occur in this format seem almost limitless. The only major caveat that I see is that IMOW does not have to worry about access to museum information online limiting the number of people that then chose to come to the physical space. IMOW has no physical space to worry about filling. While their organization might not technically fit the definition of “museum” as we have discussed in other classes, I agree with Catherine King when she says, “Just as institutions and models change, the definition of museum has not been static— it has evolved as the role of museums has evolved over the years. The International Council of Museums definition demonstrates significant and expansive change over time.” (Long & King, Is a “Virtual” Museum Still “Real”?, 2011)