In the News

Life happened the past few weeks, but I’m looking forward to getting back into the swing of things here on Cultural Heritage and Information. Today I thought I’d post some interesting stories from around the web that relate to topics here on the blog.

HathiTrust Digital Library Wins Latest Round in Battle With Authors

With new publishing technologies and research practices, the copyright debates will continue to evolve in legal and other settings. The Chronicle of Higher Education posted a summary (by Jennifer Howard) on June 10th about the latest developments in the HathiTrust Digital Library vs. Authors Guild case. Ultimately, the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Second Circuit (in New York) decided for the library. Its decision will allow a searchable, full-text database of the Library’s works under the “fair use” clause, and will also allow dissemination of works in different formats for vision-impaired users.

What happens When Preservation and Innovation Collide?

The National Trust for Historic Preservation reflects on two years of innovation strategy development with EmcArts’ Innovation Lab for Museums. In the post (by Estevan Rael-Galvez), they share their ideas, challenges, and successes. Most interesting, in my opinion, is their idea to transition traditional historic house museums (which I adore), from static contrived experiences to more integrated, immersive experiences that stimulate all the senses of visitors.

Bit Rot: The Limits of Conservation discussed (in a post by Martha Buskirk on June 9) how time affects access and preservation of electronic media. The article supports “lots of copies keep stuff safe” as a general strategy to work toward in preservation and conservation of cultural and art artifacts. It also describes common obstacles, such as getting artists’ input on migration to new technologies, obsolescence of older technologies, copyright issues, determining in what aspects of the works the value lies, and the consequences of benign neglect. Best practice? Awareness and vigilance about what we want to save, and what has value to us.

How difficult can your manuscripts be?

The National Conservation Service in the UK blogged about some challenges that crop up when digitizing manuscripts. Some issues they faced during the digitization process for Khojki manuscripts from the Institute of Ismaili Studies include illegible text located in awkward places (e.g., the gutters), curved and warped pages, and ink degradation.

World Cups

Just for fun, I’m sharing the Horniman Museum and Gardens‘ World Cup tie-in, about a digital exhibit they created on cups from around the world (“world cups”… get it?). Cups from locations such as Burma, China, Japan, Indonesia, and Colombia feature in the exhibit.


As Native American Heritage Month comes to a close…

November is Native American Heritage Month in the States, which I just learned today. Having stumbled across a few thoughtful posts about cultural appropriation and respect, as well as some disturbing comments, I wanted to share this thought-provoking post by Brenna on Worn Through.

On the origins of American Indian sartorial stereotypes

(If you’re interested in the question of military attire as offensive sartorial appropriation or inoffensive fashion choice, see this post.)

Profile of a Cultural Heritage Institution Interlude: The Folger Shakespeare Library

Why the Folger Shakespeare Library?

I had not planned to profile the Folger originally, but I have recently researched it for other purposes, which led to the discovery that it is a unique and interesting cultural heritage institution, and that it would add diversity to my current profiles.

The Basics

Mission: “To preserve and enhance its collections; to render the collections, in appropriate formats, accessible to scholars; and to advance understanding and appreciation of Shakespeare’s writings and of the culture of early modern Europe more generally through various programs designed for all students and for the general public.

The History

  • 1879: Henry Folger was inspired by a lecture given by Ralph Waldo Emerson at Amherst College.
  • Emily Folger, inspired by her husband’s interest, earned a master’s degree from Vassar for a thesis on “The True Text of Shakespeare.”
  • 1932: The Folger is founded by Henry Clay Folger and his wife, Emily Jordan Folger.
  • 1948: The trustees appointed as director Louis B. Wright, who had recently transformed the Huntington Library into a modern research center.
  • 1969: The trustees appointed as director O.B. Hardison, Jr., a professor of English literature at the University of North Carolina, who developed the Folger’s Elizabethan Theatre, into a functioning playhouse for the newly formed Folger Theatre Group.

The Programming

  • Exhibitions – “Very Like a Whale” is the latest, which “showcases the lively world of the Renaissance imagination and the uniquely human ability to interpret a single object in multiple ways.” The title of this exhibit is appropriately taken from a scene in Hamlet, when Hamlet and his advisor Polonius disagree about their different interpretations of cloud shapes. It attempts to answer the question: “What did the the world look like to people during the Renaissance?”
  • Theater – “The Conference of the Birds” is nearing its end. “A theatrical adventure soars in this poignant 12th century Persian fable about the search for the divine”. There is a Pay-What-You-Can night, providing increased access to individuals who may not have the means otherwise. There are Pre- and Post-Show Talks about the show.
  • Lectures – Have included the Elizabethan Garden Tour, DEBORAH HARKNESS! On early modern London, and one on Shakespeare in Kabul.
  • Poetry
  • Education Programs – for primary and secondary schools classes (I remember my trip in either 5th grade or 9th grade), performance workshops and Shakespeare Festivals
  • Family Programs – Shake up your Saturdays! Programs that “provide a morning of history, activity, performance, and fun!”
  • Concerts – Christmas music of Florence in the Trecento! Enchanting. With a free pre-conference discussion.

Collections and Research

  • The Folger is the home of the world’s largest and finest collection of Shakespeare materials and of major collections of other Renaissance books, manuscripts, and works of art.
  • It serves researchers, visitors, teachers, students, families, and theater- and concert-goers.
  • It is a world-renowned research center on Shakespeare and the early modern age in the West.
  • Its conservation lab is a leading innovator in the preservation of rare materials.
  • The collections are meant to be actively used, which indicates a leaning toward access in the tug of war between access and preservation, but the materials’ rarity, age, and fragility are clearly respected.

The Conservation Lab

  • Folger’s conservators collaborate closely with its curators, which is a growing trend but not yet common, according to Dr. Miriam Clavir, who discussed the importance of collaboration between these two groups of professionals in her talk about Conservation and Preserving Cultural Significance.
  • As with most North American institutions, the conservation efforts at Folger are concentrated on stopping further deterioration from occurring, instead of on restoring items to an earlier state, although that is also done in some cases.
  • Folger has an advanced conservation internship program.
  • It pioneers and develops new conservation technologies.
  • One recent project was to conserve the structure of a popular Polish herbal, printed in 1534, to which were added patches in places, which were then written over as readers made notes. Conservation work has included separating the patches, repairing the damaged pages, and then re-adhering the patches on Japanese paper hinges.

The Impact of Changing Technologies and Informatics

  • The online exhibit “Discover Shakespeare” include digitized images of important works, maps, and related materials (on the life of Shakespeare, his works, his theatre, etc.). I have seen more interactive digitized historical and rare materials, but the website does take advantage of the technologies available to present online exhibits.
  • The digital image collection offers online access to 50,000 images, including books, theater memorabilia, manuscripts, art, and more. There appear to be more interactive and usability features in the digital collection than in the “Discover Shakespeare” section, including side-by-side viewing, export thumbnails, the ability to view cataloging information, and even the ability to construct permanent links to images and searches.
  • Digital collections use Luna Insight.
  • Folger Bindings Image Collection (drool)
  • Union First Line Index: a union catalog enabling researchers to search English verse collections of seven prestigious institutions in the US and the UK.
  • Online Catalog named Hamnet.
  • Ask a Librarian – Reference questions online.
  • RSS feeds
  • On every webpage, there is a social media button that allows sharing of the web content on many different social media platforms.

The Summary

Throughout its 80-year history, the Folger Shakespeare Library has benefited from a relatively narrow focus, and from its trustees’ and directors’ dedicated interest in creating a modern research center that provides access to rare materials and scholarly resources.

The Folger Shakespeare Library is unique among cultural heritage institutions for its programming, its conservation lab, and its wide-ranging online and digital offerings. Not many cultural heritage institutions that I am familiar with include a playhouse, a theater group, and iconic publications like the Folger Editions of Shakespeare. I love that their programming is so diverse and yet relevant to the Library’s collections and mission.

All in all the Folger has made very robust use of the technologies that allow institutions to share collections, resources, and programming online. I am very impressed. Although its mission and collections focus on the past, the Folger has incorporated new technologies into its resources to provide access to its historical collections with online exhibits, the union catalog it shares with other similar institutions, and its digital image collection. This cultural heritage institution seems to do very well straddling the responsibilities of preservation of historical cultural heritage and of the provision of access to that heritage for future generations in relevant and meaningful ways.

Lastly, how did I not know about the amazing programming available at the Folger when I last lived in D.C.? There are so many programs I’d like to take advantage of now that I’m moving back to the area.


Folger Shakespeare Library. (n.d.). About us. Retrieved on 13 November 2012 from

Folger Shakespeare Library. (n.d.). The collection. Retrieved on 17 November 2012 from

Folger Shakespeare Library. (n.d.). The Conference of the Birds. Retrieved on 17 November 2012 from

Folger Shakespeare Library. (n.d.). Conservation. Retrieved on 17 November 2012 from

Folger Shakespeare Library. (n.d.). Digital image collection. Retrieved on 17 November 2012 from

Folger Shakespeare Library. (n.d.). Discover Shakespeare. Retrieved on 17 November 2012 from

Folger Shakespeare Library. (n.d.). History of the Folger. Retrieved on 17 November 2012 from

Folger Shakespeare Library. (n.d.). Saving old notes in a Polish herbal. Retrieved on 17 November 2012 from

Folger Shakespeare Library. (n.d.). Use the collection. Retrieved on 17 November 2012 from

Folger Shakespeare Library. (n.d.). Very Like a Whale. Retrieved on 13 November 2012 from

Folger Shakespeare Library. (n.d.). Very Like a Whale (press release). Retrieved on 13 November 2012 from

Profile of a Cultural Heritage Institution: The Museum of Anthropology

Why the Museum of Anthropology?

Honestly, the MOA never really registered on my radar. However, this converged institution featured heavily in the Colloquium talk on Conservation and Preserving Cultural Significance that I recently attended. And it seems like a very interesting place with important cultural initiatives and mandates.

The Basics

Mission: To inspire understanding of and respect for world arts and cultures.

Vision: “MOA will become one of the world’s principle hubs for exhibition, teaching, and research of international visual, intangible, and performative culture, and critical and collaborative museology. It will provide a transformative environment for visitors to learn about themselves and others and to consider contemporary and historical events and issues from multiple perspectives. It will enhance its international profile while working locally, maintaining and strengthening its focus on First Nations peoples of British Columbia as well as diverse cultural communities. It will embrace interdisciplinarity and champion collaboration. it will provide innovative and imaginative exhibits and programs and encourage full academic and student participation while promoting UBC’s values, commitments, and aspirations.”


  • Inspiration
  • Innovation
  • Inclusiveness
  • Community
  • Stewardship
  • Service

Vancouver’s Museum of Anthropology was founded in 1949 in the basement of the Main Library at the  University of British Columbia (UBC).

  • Today it is Canada’s largest teaching museum.
  • Its collections, exhibitions, and programs are renowned for giving access and insight into the cultures of indigenous peoples around the world.
  • Its Multidiversity Galleries offer public access to almost 10,000 objects from around the world.

The Programming, Virtual and Traditional

  • The MOA has programming for all levels of primary and secondary education, including archaeology programs, and cultural, architectural, and artistic educational programs.
  • Educational websites include “The Spirit of Islam,” the Virtual Museum of Canada’s “Respect to Bill Reid Pole” online exhibit, and a virtual exhibit on Musqueam Weavers.
  • Events such as a culinary tour that combined old-world food and a tour of the ceramics gallery have been presented; upcoming is a lecture on the history of 16th and 17th Andean silver mining.
  • The Presentation Circle is a place where visitors can watch family-friendly videos on museum and exhibit-related topics.

The Collections and Research

  • The MOA contains 38,000 ethnographic objects, 535,000 archaeological objects, many of which originate from the northwest coast of BC.
  • The UBC’s Laboratory of Archaeology oversees the archaeological artifacts
  • The MOA includes a library that holds research material that complements the MOA’s collections. Strengths of the library collections are museology, Northwest Coast material culture, and world ceramics and textiles.
  • The Archives at MOA contain records of the museum, including staff and administrative records, as well as records of direct contextual relevance to the artifact collections at the museum. Prominent records include papers, maps, photographs, and audiocassettes of anthropologist Wilson Duff and the Audrey Hawthorn, the museum’s first curator.
  • RRN (Reciprocal Research Network): “an online research environment that provides access to First Nations items from the Northwest Coast and British Columbia. It allows you to search through items from many institutions across the world, all from the same convenient interface. You can create projects and invite other users to work with you.”

The Impact of Changes in Technology and Informatics

The Obvious

  • Online access to the library catalog
  • Virtual exhibits and online curation
  • Blog connected to the MOA website
  • Twitter, Facebook, and Flickr accounts
  • Online database of objects and relevant information/metadata, searchable by keyword, object name, places, cultures, people associated with the objects, categories, subjects, timeline, and location around the globe (via Google Earth)

The Less Obvious

  • MOA’s video demonstrations in the Presentation Circle add new-ish media into the traditional museum exhibit format. Though this is not uncommon in museums, I imagine the Presentation Circle as more of a video library than a theater (having never been, I can’t say for sure).
  • MOA’s in-house Mobile Web Application allows visitors to look up information about objects on (and off) display. The application uses artifact ID numbers to store contextual information.
  • The RRN, the Reciprocal Research Network, takes advantage of the possibilities and opportunities in online collaboration and partnership, and provides exceptional access to a large number of objects and artifacts in collections across the world, increasing users’ ability to draw new conclusions and to create new research projects.

What hasn’t changed

Library materials are not available for borrowing, but are available for copying. The website says nothing about scanning documents or library materials, but I imagine that is included under the “copying” umbrella, since scanning and and reading on the computer are such common research activities these days. Additionally, the Archives are available by appointment only.

The Summary

Special Characteristics and Focus

The MOA’s unique characteristics then, are its size, its position as part of a university, its role as a teaching museum, and its focus on indigenous and First Peoples’ cultures.

Unique Aspects

MOA is also an example of a converged institution, this time within a university. It contains the museum, a library, and an archives.

Perhaps the most unique aspect of this institution is its partnership with institutions around the world to bring users the Reciprocal Research Network. The RRN benefits from recent changes in informatics and technology that allow worldwide online collaboration, and the capabilities of databases which can store surrogates of objects in the form of digital images and records providing metadata and contextual information about the objects.

The MOA is an institution of significant importance in the curation, presentation, and interpretation of cultural heritage. Some of its significance lies in the priority it places on indigenous cultural narratives, and in its worldwide scope. Its focus on multidiversity and interdisciplinarity reflect the globalization of our cultures. The use of technologies is innovative and collaborative.

Up Next: Historic Scotland! UPDATE:  Having just reviewed the original plan for this project, I realize that Historic Scotland would be out of place as the next profile. Thus, I will next profile The British Library!


Appendix: Reciprocal Research Network Introductory Video


MOA. (2010). About the museum. Retrieved on 5 November 2012 from

MOA. (2010). Archives. Retrieved on 12 November 2012 from

MOA. (2010). The collections. Retrieved on 5 November 2012 from

MOA. (2010). Educational websites. Retrieved on 12 November 2012 from

MOA. (2010). History & organization. Retrieved on 5 November 2012 from

MOA. (2010). The library. Retrieved on 12 November 2012 from

MOA. (2012). MOACAT online collections. Retrieved on 12 November 2012 from

MOA. (2010). K-12 School programs. Retrieved on 12 November 2012 from

MOA. (2010). Our mission. Retrieved on 5 November 2012 from

The Reciprocal Research Network. (2012). Welcome. Retrieved on 12 November 2012 from

The Reciprocal Research Network. (2012). Introductory video. Retrieved on 12 November 2012 from

Conservation and Preserving Cultural Significance: Notes from a lecture and 11 questions to think about

Last week I attended a lecture by Dr. Miriam Clavir at the University of Toronto titled, “Conservation and Preserving Cultural Significance.” – A lecture which raised lots of intriguing questions about value, conservation, and cultural heritage.

The following are some of my (spare) notes from the lecture. Do take special note (pun unintended) of the questions at the end of the post – of all my notes, those are the most important (in my humble opinion).

A Conservator’s Perspective

  • Not everything can be preserved
  • Focus on the materiality of artifacts/objects of cultural significance: physical, technical, chemical, and design attributes
  • Focus on materiality brings insight into cultural use, significance, of artifacts
  • Preservation’s purposes are to prevent deterioration and the potential for damage, as well as the potential for cultural misrepresentation/misunderstanding
  • Preservation vs. Access
  • Conservation as a social process, not just a technical process

Trend in “collecting institutions” toward collaborative relationships, especially among conservators and curators.


  • Different dimensions of meaning include:
    evidence of class structure; value aesthetics; materiality/physicality; materials; focus on identity
  • Not just knowledge-based meaning, but also emotional, artistic/formal/tactile, experiential, and identity meanings

Trend toward including considerations of cultural significance in the preservation and treatment of materials/artifacts.


  1. Who decides what is worth preserving?
  2. What is the purpose of conservation?
  3. Why don’t conservators consult with originators or creator societies/groups to ensure accurate treatment according to the values of the creator groups?
  4. Just because an artifact is in a museum, does it need to be preserved by a museum?
  5. How is the meaning or the life of an object conveyed to those removed from its original purpose/use?
  6. How far can conservators go to preserve the life, not just the existence, of an artifact?
  7. What are the tensions between serving a present population vs. a future population? (This was not my question, but I would add serving a past population, as well)
  8. What are the realities (in general terms) regarding relationships between curators and conservators? How would an ideal curator-conservator relationship look?
  9. What are the factors of success and failure in community engagement?
  10. Who owns cultural heritage?
  11. What are you preserving if you remove cultural significance from the equation in determining the value of a cultural artifact?

Interesting Thought

Today we move differently, hold ourselves differently, than our great-grandparents did, making it much easier for us to tear clothing made during our great-grandparents’ day.