My outing this past weekend to The Rock and Roll Hall of Fame in Cleveland, Ohio made me think a bit about the extent to which libraries, museums and archives struggle to create relationships among the materials they collect. As I wandered around the hall, I realized how much I’ve been conditioned to consider a museum visit as a structured encounter with objects. In a place like the rock hall the objects aren’t the point, it’s about the music. There are, of course, plenty of objects around – guitars, stage outfits, posters, album covers, etc. – but they’re pretty pedestrian for all but the real fan. (Consider Al Green’s White Leather Jacket with Embroidery. I did for a brief moment.)
So how do you structure a visit around music? Lots of listening stations, films of performances, and edited video clips which get explored side-by-side with the objects. Here again, the object-oriented experience didn’t translate well to the encounter with music. The usual chronological or geographical organizing principles don’t create the relationships that I’d like to experience. Who influenced whom, what musical elements traveled and got transformed, how that happened, what changed over time are the kinds of questions that I’d like to explore but it’s nearly impossible to support and encourage such exploration of material in a physical space.
The Rock Hall web site with a nicely-crafted (almost over-crafted) visual timeline presentation actually does a better job at exploring these relationships.
Having this encounter with materials that weren’t physical made me consider the huge challenges that we face in making audio (and video) easily discoverable, in making it possible to create relationships across that material and in making new research possible. While libraries, museums and archives have always worked to create relationships via bibliographic/curatorial/archival practices it seems pretty clear that in the world of audio and video these approaches will not scale. There’s a research and applied development program in here that we need to approach as a community.
Jim coordinated the OCLC Research office in San Mateo, CA, focusing on relationships with research libraries and work that renovates the library value proposition in the current information environment. He retired in 2016.