Rob Stein is currently the Deputy Director of Research, Technology, and Engagement at the Indianapolis Museum of Art. With a history of computer science and computer engineering, Rob initially set out working in the field of computer graphics and human-computer interface. As the Deputy Director of Research, Technology, and Engagement Rob oversees technology, software, and web for the museum, as well as working with the museums audience engagement and education, publishing and media conservation, and conservation science areas.
The Indianapolis Museum of Art is at the forefront of museum openness, and in more ways than just their famous Dashboard. The software developed through the IMA is made publicly available as open source software, giving other institutions the opportunity to be open as well. The important point to take away from Rob’s talk on this topic is that museums’ don’t have a competitive advantage against each other that is like the competitive advantage you need to succeed as a business. Collaboration amongst institutions, giving away solutions in order to get back improvements on those solutions in the future, is an important strategy.
Collaboration isn’t without its challenges though. Complications can arise whenever there are large groups of people involved, as Rob puts it, “people are real people, they’re not theoretical. They’re driven by different requirements; they find themselves in different circumstances.” The benefits achieved though, having different perspectives and allowing others’ expertise, is the payoff.
In regards to openness of the collection and the public, Rob feels that museums “need to take an approach that advocates the free scholarly use of objects in the collection, provide hi-resolution and accurate documentation of those objects, while still respecting copyright holders’ rights.” Copyright is not a black and white issue, and there will be times when there is conflict from copyright holders. Rob suggests museums taking a stand and asserting some liberties on fair use. Rob feels that when not used for commercial means, museums should take an aggressive stand on providing this material for free.
Despite the collaborative qualities of these projects, there still needs to be governance in place. For ArtBabble, this is accomplished through the Advisory Committee. Collaboration allows sites like ArtBabble to reflect broader viewpoints, due to the numerous partners, but still needs to be run on a daily basis by the IMA. The Advisory Committee shares input on how ArtBabble should evolve, and whether new partners should be included or not. These types of decisions, on new partners and new content, shouldn’t be made by a single individual.
When it comes to recording performance, the IMA uses its infamous Dashboard. Rob explains it almost as a journal for staff to record in, a way for people to view the metrics that the IMA feels are important. The Dashboard provides motivation for the IMA to improve its operations, and is geared more towards those interested in getting a behind the scenes perspective on operations and efficiency at the IMA.
Listen to the interview
Listen to the streaming audio above or download the mp3 file.