Susan is a researcher and consultant to cultural heritage organizations. She specializes in publishing; intellectual property policy and open content initiatives; information management; visualization; advanced search strategies; and multilingual content development and management. She leads several multi-institutional research and development projects in the museum and library community: She is a co-founder and project lead for Steve: The Museum Social Tagging Project and program director for Project Audience. She researches, writes, teaches, and lectures regularly on museum publishing, intellectual property policy, open content initiatives, information management and cataloguing, search and access, and social software. Starting in 2012, she is a visiting scholar at the Smithsonian Institution in Washington, DC, researching information visualization and museum practice for a Smithsonian Fellowship in Museum Practice.In her career as a museum professional, she’s worked for and with museums of all sizes and sorts, including fifteen years at the Metropolitan Museum of Art, where, until 2007, she was General Manager for Collections Information Planning in the Office of the Director. She has also worked at the Asia Society, the Philadelphia Museum of Art, and Alfred A. Knopf.
Her specialties include information and IP planning for museums, search and access strategies, multilingual content creation and management, collection documentation and visualization, and print and electronic publishing.
The Steve Social Tagging Project
The steve social tagging project began at the Metropolitan Museum of Art as Susan began to check search logs, and realized that 50% of searches yielded no results. This phenomenon sparked the question of, “How can the museum promote visibility and access on the site?” The thought of using “regular people” to help describe the collections came about shortly after because it was thought that their descriptions would be closer to the terms that people were using (unsuccessfully) to search the museum’s collections.
After some discussion of the steve project implementation, acceptance and results, Susan explained that the steve project is now dormant. The project left the museum community with two major lessons. 1) Steve was the first large scale quantitative research project produced by a museum without the help of an academic institution, proving that museums could produce their own research studies. 2) The museum was left with a great number of terms that gave the museum an excellent idea of what their visitors take away from the artwork. Erroneous tags can be used to create “teachable moments.” As Susan said, “We don’t know what they don’t know.”
What’s next for Online Museum Collections?
Museums will need to accept that the public will increasingly expect online access to a museum’s collections – and not only through the silo of an individual museum’s website, but through large scale aggregations such as ArtStore or linked through other websites such as Wikipedia. Museums should make their content “linkable and accessible.”
To conclude, Susan discussed her current research on the potential of information visualization for museum practice. She hopes to be able to show how a museum may inform their decisions by being show data as a visual instead of attempting to digest large data sets. Its use with Museum Collections, for example, could more easily show gaps in collections metadata. The museum could then steer their visitors toward search fields that would provide them with a higher volume of records for their searches.
Listen to the interview
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