In the future, libraries and museums probably will collaborate more than they have in the past. Both types are revered cultural institutions, but the times, they are a-changing. Earlier this month, I got another inkling of things to come during the “The Future is Now: Libraries and Museums in Virtual Worlds” (FIN10) conference that was held in Second Life and in OPAL (http://www.opal-online.org/finindex.htm). The conference was organized by the ALA VCL MIG (Virtual Communities and Libraries, Member Initiative Group), the ACRL VWIG (Virtual Worlds Interest Group), the Alliance Library System, and my little company, TAP Information Services.
Abbey Zenith gave a tour of the sobering Human Trafficking exhibit, and I experienced another in a series of epiphanies I’ve been having about how exhibits – a point of commonality between museums and libraries – are becoming very powerful, moving, and informative experiences in virtual worlds.
The Human Trafficking Exhibit and Experience opened on January 11th (National Human Trafficking Awareness Day) (http://humantrafficking.change.org/blog/view/national_human_trafficking_awareness_day_events_near_you) and closed on March 6th. It was created by Abbey Zenith, Rolig Loon, and a team of avatars. Although the exhibit itself has been dismantled, the resource list (http://infoisland.org/human-trafficking-exhibt-experience/) compiled for the exhibit is still available, and HVX Silverstar made a short machinima (http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=T5u3EaHT8-E) that captures the eerily surreal feel of these real-world human trafficking horrors. While the subject of this exhibit is very gritty, the experience of the exhibit itself was also exhilarating, because it pointed the way toward a new type of interactive, immersive exhibit experience that pulls together the best of what libraries, museums, and even theme parks have to offer.
Theme parks? Yes. I think the designers of theme parks have much to contribute to future collaborative efforts involving libraries and museums. As far as I know, I’ve never met a theme park architect or a member of a theme park ride design team, but I imagine they think long and hard about the complete experience, from the time you enter the parking lot through the day of rides, food, and amusements, and back to the parking lot and the trip home. The rides themselves are complete, immersive experiences, carefully timed and planned to achieve the desired effect on the participant.
Designers of library and museum experiences (reading and other cultural experiences) are also thinking about these experiences as complete, immersive entities. Rest assured that the designers of the Kindle and iPad think in terms of the complete experience. When it comes to libraries, helping people to find and access documents will continue to be part of these complete, immersive information experiences, but only part.
IMLS, the Institute of Museum and Library Services, also has shown interest in fostering discussion about the future of libraries and museums. In March they started UpNext, a wiki-based set of discussions (http://imlsupnext.wikispaces.com/). Discussion #1, about Changing Roles, is open now, and there has been some talk about the convergence of libraries and museums. Alas, my search of the wiki for “theme parks” turned up lots of themes but no parks, and my search for “amusement” yielded nothing. Guess I better contribute my half-baked idea. Discussion #6 (New Collaborations) will begin soon. The first sentence of the lead-in paragraph to that discussion notes, “As collaboration, collocation, and the blending of services continue, the boundaries between museum and library will likely be less distinct.” (http://imlsupnext.wikispaces.com/Theme+6-+New+Models+%26+Structures+for+Collaboration). If you want to experience some of that blending and blurring, get thee to all the interesting exhibits in Second Life.
If my pet theory that the best of museums, libraries, and theme parks will converge in the future to create a fascinating new type of cultural institution and immersive cultural experience proves to have any semblance to future reality, perhaps IMLS will be renamed IMLSTP, the Institute of Museums, Library Services, and Theme Parks. We’ll let museums keep top billing. IMLSTP will foster and facilitate a new type of immersive cultural experience that draws on the best that museums, libraries, and theme parks have to offer, not theme parks with museum and library themes interwoven. I doubt that a theme park with rides like the Edvard Munch Screamroller, the wild west ride in which you encounter Ranganathan’s Five Outlaws, and the Bas-Relief Water Slide, as well as comestibles such as Cotton Dana Candy, Pointillist Futuristic Ice Cream, and Chick Lit on a Stick would attract many vacationers, unless the park were situated near NYC and offered a package weekend with lodging at the Library Hotel on Madison Avenue at 41st Street (http://www.libraryhotel.com/). Mmmmm, I hear Coney Island is being redeveloped.