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CURATOR

the museum journal

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curator The Museum Journal

Volume 50 · Number 1 January 2007

curator

The Museum Journal

Curator: The Museum Journal seeks timely theoretical and practical articles that explore issues, practices, and policies in the museum profession. We request manuscripts be submitted via e-mail to [email protected], with a copy to [email protected] The file should be saved in Rich Text Format, without additional document formatting, and sent as an attachment to your e-mail message. Please provide mailing addresses (including telephone, fax, and e-mail), as well as title and institutional affiliation for each author. An abstract of no more than 150 words must accompany the manuscript. Bibliographies and references should conform to the style presented in this journal. Authors are encouraged to obtain photographs and artwork to accompany manuscripts but not to submit them until manuscripts are accepted. Captions should include appropriate credits. Authors are responsible for observing the laws of copyright when quoting or reproducing material and for any reproduction fees incurred. Manuscripts submitted to Curator should not be under consideration by any other publishers, nor may the manuscript have been previously published elsewhere. If a manuscript is based on a lecture, reading, or talk, specific details should accompany the submission. Curator: The Museum Journal is a refereed quarterly journal. Submitted manuscripts will undergo blind peer review. Curator: The Museum Journal (ISSN: 0011-3069) is published quarterly by AltaMira Press, A Division of Rowman & Littlefield Publishers, Inc., and the California Academy of Sciences. Copyright © California Academy of Sciences, 2007. All rights reserved. Permission must be obtained from the publisher for reproduction of any material in any form. Curator is a journal of opinion, and the views expressed in its articles are not necessarily those of the publisher or the California Academy of Sciences. Subscriptions and Inquiries: Individuals: $40 for 1 year, $80 for 2 years, $120 for 3 years, $12.50 single issue; Museum Institution: $80 for 1 year, $160 for 2 years, $240 for 3 years, $25 single issue; Institutions: $99 for 1 year, $198 for 2 years, $297 for 3 years, $30 single issue. "Museum Institution" refers to museums, galleries, historical societies, zoos, arboreta, science and technology centers, botanical gardens, historic houses, living history farms and sites and other museum-related fields, and libraries contained within such institutions. All noninstitutional orders must be paid by personal check, VISA, or MasterCard. Make checks payable to AltaMira Press. All subscription inquiries, orders, and renewals must be addressed to Journal Circulation, Curator: The Museum Journal, 15200 NBN Way, Blue Ridge Summit, PA 17214. Phone: (800) 462-6420; email: [email protected] Address all editorial correspondence to [email protected], with a copy to [email protected] Permissions requests should be addressed to Patricia Zline at [email protected] Books for review should be sent to Slover Linett Strategies, Inc., 4147 North Ravenswood Ave., Suite 302, Chicago, IL 60613. Back Issues: Information about availability and prices of back issues may be obtained from the publisher's order department (address above). Periodicals postage paid in Lanham, MD, and additional mailing offices. Indexing: Curator is regularly listed in the International Current Awareness Services. Selected material is indexed in the International Bibliography of the Social Sciences. Claims: Claims for undelivered copies must be made no later than 12 months following the month of publication. The publisher will supply missing copies when losses have been sustained in transit and when the reserve stock will permit. Advertising: Current rates and specifications may be obtained by writing to the Advertising Manager, Curator, 4501 Forbes Blvd., Suite 200, Lanham, MD 20706; phone: (301) 459-3366 x5651; fax: (301) 429-5748; email: [email protected] Change of Address: Six weeks advance notice must be given when notifying of change of address. Please send old address label along with the new address to ensure proper identification. Please specify name of journal. Postmaster: Send all changes of address to Curator, c/o AltaMira Press, 15200 NBN Way, Blue Ridge Summit, PA 17214. Production and Composition: Detta Penna, Penna Design, Abbotsford, BC, Canada. CALIFORNIA ACADEMY OF SCIENCES, San Francisco, CA ALTAMIRA PRESS, A DIVISION OF ROWMAN & LITTLEFIELD PUBLISHERS, INC., Lanham, MD

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ZAHAVA D. DOERINg, EDITOR

CurATor: The Museum Journal Volume 50 Number 1 January 2007

Celebrating 50 Years of Curator: The Museum Journal Prescriptions for Art Museums in the Decade Ahead

MAxWELL L. ANDERSON

Aerospace Museums: A Question of Balance

TOM D. CROUCH

"Let's Go to MY Museum": Inspiring Confident Learners and Museum Explorers at Children's Museums

CAROL ENSEkI

41 55 63 77 87

The Future of Zoos: A New Model for Cultural Institutions

JOHN FRASER AND DAN WHARTON

Fifty Museum Years, and Then Some

TOM L. FREUDENHEIM

The Extraordinary Growth of the Science-Technology Museum

ALAN J. FRIEDMAN

The Authority of objects: From regime Change to Paradigm Shift

HILDE S. HEIN

Hyperconnection: Natural History Museums, Knowledge, and the Evolving Ecology of Community

TOM HENNES

109 123 127 131 135 147 151 159 167

Do Museum Exhibitions Have a Future?

kATHLEEN MCLEAN

Children's Museums as Citizens: Four Inspiring Examples

PEggY MONAHAN

About Face: The rebirth of the Portrait Gallery in the Twenty-first Century

MARC PACHTER

Studying Visitors and Making Museums Better

ANDREW J. PEkARIk

on the uses of Museum Studies Literature: A research Agenda

JAY ROUNDS

Science Centers at 40: Middle-aged Maturity or Mid-life Crisis?

ROB SEMPER

Fifty Years of Changes in America's History Museums

MARTIN E. SULLIVAN

Media in the Museum: A Personal History

SELMA THOMAS

The right Stuff in the right Place: The Institution of Contemporary Art

IAN WEDDE

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ZAHAVA D. DOERINg, Editor kAY LARSON, Managing Editor SAMUEL M. TAYLOR, Editor Emeritus EDITorIAL BoArD EDWARD H. ABLE, JR., President American Association of Museums ADAM BICkFORD Columbia, Missouri MARgARET gOULD BURkE Director and Curator of Education California Academy of Sciences MARLENE CHAMBERS, Editor Emerita Denver Art Museum PEggY RUTH COLE Amherst, Massachusetts JUDY DIAMOND, Professor of Informal Science Education University of Nebraska State Museum, Lincoln ZAHAVA D. DOERINg Senior Social Scientist Smithsonian Institution JOHN H. FALk, President Institute for Learning Innovation Annapolis, Maryland ELSA FEHER, Professor Emerita Center for Research in Mathematics and Science Education San Diego State University JOHN FRASER Director of Interpretive Programs Wildlife Conservation Society, New York TERRENCE M. gOSLINER, Senior Curator California Academy of Sciences MICHAEL gHISELIN Senior Research Fellow California Academy of Sciences MYLES gORDON Vice President for Education American Museum of Natural History DAVID A. gRIMALDI Chairman and Associate Curator Department of Entomology American Museum of Natural History ELAINE HEUMANN gURIAN Arlington, Virginia DAVID M. kAHN, Director Louisiana State Museum, New Orleans WATSON M. LAETSCH, Professor Emeritus Department of Plant Biology University of California at Berkeley NEIL LANDMAN, Chairman and Curator Department of Invertebrates American Museum of Natural History ROSS LOOMIS, Professor Department of Psychology Colorado State University, Fort Collins LAURA MARTIN, Executive Vice-President Phoenix Zoo LORIN I. NEVLINg, Chief Emeritus Illinois Natural History Survey, Champaign ENID SCHILDkROUT, Chairman and Curator, Department of Anthropology American Museum of Natural History ROBERT J. SEMPER Executive Associate Director Exploratorium, San Francisco CAROL B. STAPP, Director Museum Education Program The George Washington University HARRIS H. SHETTEL Rockville, Maryland SAMUEL M. TAYLOR Morristown, New Jersey DANNY WHARTON, Director Central Park Zoo, New York J. WILLARD WHITSON, Vice President Please Touch Museum Philadelphia, Pennsylvania kEN YELLIS Vice President and Museum Director International Tennis Hall of Fame Newport, Rhode Island PETER LINETT, Books Editor kATHLEEN MCLEAN, Exhibitions Editor SELMA THOMAS, Museum Media Editor

CALIForNIA ACADEMY oF SCIENCES golden gate Park, San Francisco, CA 94118 J. PATRICk kOCIOLEk, Executive Director W. RICHARD BINgHAM, Chairman, Board of Trustees ALTAMIrA PrESS 4501 Forbes Boulevard, Suite 200, Lanham, MD 20706

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Celebrating 50 Years of Curator: The Museum Journal ·····

Zahava D. Doering, Editor

This is the first issue of a new journal, entitled CURATOR. It is customary on such occasions to offer an explanation to the reader concerning the origin and the purpose of the new publication, beyond that which is implicit in the nature of the articles contained in the first issue. Such a statement is all the more appropriate in the present instance, since this journal represents a venture unique, we believe, in this country. --Curator 1.1, 1958.

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From its inception at the American Museum of Natural History 50 years ago, Curator: The Museum Journal (as it is now called) has published articles and commentary about the topics that matter to cultural institutions. The Editorial Statement in the first issue, describing the need for such a journal, still resonates with us today. Although present museum problems, general and specific, probably confronted the very first museum ever established, they have, with the time and the expansion of the museum's function, become vastly more varied and complex. The skill and competence now required to organize and administer a modern museum, to plan and prepare exhibits, to serve and deal with the public need for education and knowledge, to use and maintain collections, and to control the manifold interrelations of all these and other things as well, have taken on a highly professional character that reflects both the growing role of the museum in our culture and the high standards of performance that museums have taught the public to expect. As a result of these developments and the steady pursuit of improvement, the varied kinds of dedicated workers who make up the personnel of a museum find themselves facing intricate problems, discovering elegant solutions, contributing to a specialized corpus of knowledge--and with no medium in this country through which to record their experience, to share their triumphs, or to seek the advice or criticism of their colleagues in other institutions. From the first issue (January 1958), and the first article, "On Being a Curator," the journal has published the most thoughtful writing of professional colleagues. Contrary to

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human birthdays, journals are numbered from the first issue and volume, so Curator celebrated its tenth anniversary in 1967 and is honoring its fiftieth in this volume. The next half century begins with this issue. Volume 50, Issue 1, January 2007 is a celebration and an invitation. Eighteen museum and independent professionals--including academic researchers, curators, museum and zoo directors, educators, philosophers, art historians--were asked to revisit the past and present of museums. The assignment was deliberately open-ended. In the original invitation, we encouraged these colleagues to address the strengths and frailties, successes and failures of the type of museum or area of museum work they knew best, and to address the future. They have responded with a marvelous chorus of styles and viewpoints, from scholarship to commentary to personal reflections. All of the articles were peerreviewed in Curator's formal process, which emphasizes factual accuracy but welcomes differences of interpretation. The responses have been as unique as each writer. (For instance, kathy McLean took the initiative to read the first four issues of Curator, and to reflect on what they suggest about the persistence of museum concerns.) Our reluctance to impose an organizational framework or hierarchy on this wealth of viewpoints has led us to alphabetize the issue by authors' surnames. We hope the table of contents encourages browsing and venturing beyond one's specialty. Initially, Curator was oriented to the interests of a natural history museum. However, as the journal expanded its readership and author pool, articles began focusing on other venues, engaging readers in lively debate. In the past five years, the editorial staff has made a concerted effort to solicit interdisciplinary articles from around the world. As will be evident in this volume, Curator now explores the realms of art and science, history and culture. We are happy to include in this issue four art images by artists who use the language, look and technologies of gene research, paleobiology, and other scientific disciplines, from the exhibition The Art and Artifice of Science, Feb. 9­May 20, 2007, at the Museum of Fine Arts in Santa Fe, New Mexico. View these striking visual experiments in the articles by Maxwell Anderson, Tom Hennes, Andrew Pekarik, and Selma Thomas. On the cover and on the next page we show you a historic artifact from Curator Volume 1, Issue 2: A photograph of New York street signs, suggesting, as the accompanying archival text says, that museums have never gone for the easy exit, but have always pointed back to the heart of the city and its culture. We welcome comments on the discussions that follow. In the Editorial Statement of Volume 1, Issue 1, the hope was expressed that Curator would become . . . a vehicle for the expression of opinion, comment, reflection, experience, criticism and suggestions by the various members of its [National Museum of American History] staff on all their activities of museum work. It is meant to serve the publication needs that fall outside its traditional scientific and popular publications. In short, this is to be a professional journal worthy of the skills and standards of modern museology. Curator became that medium of opinion, commentary, reflection, experience, criticism, and suggestions. It did so with the help of hundreds of professionals throughout the world who have contributed articles, reviews, praise, and analysis. I hope that Curator has met your expectations and will continue to do so.

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curator looks at museums . . . and finds that their cartes de visite are often difficult to understand and sometimes quite frayed. Here we see the strange, indecisive hand of municipal authority. At what moment was it discovered that there is no museum to the right?. . . .

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Hyperconnection: Natural History Museums, Knowledge, and the Evolving Ecology of Community ·····

Tom Hennes

Abstract Interviews conducted during the summer of 2006 with people in and around the international museum community suggest that the interests natural history museums share in common with each other and with other kinds of organizations and communities are creating an array of new links across institutional, social and cultural boundaries. These links are active, complex, networked relationships directed toward common purposes. Museums that are taking advantage of this emerging environment are becoming "hyperconnected hubs" across which knowledge is exchanged and action initiated. In forging a multitude of "weak ties" outward at different institutional levels, museums are finding that their shared activity with others brings to themselves new and often unexpected value across the "strong ties" that bind them together internally as institutions. Those natural history museums most able to participate as members of larger, interconnected entities are finding powerful new opportunities to more vigorously engage the world they study and the constituencies they serve. In the process, they are becoming increasingly open, active and relevant.

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Just for a moment, close your eyes and picture a natural history museum. Picture its building, collections, research, and exhibits. Picture its departments, staff, and board. Picture its community. Open your eyes. What you just envisioned are the things that traditionally define natural history museums as distinct entities, bound together by what I will call the strong ties of institutional identity. For over 150 years, natural history museums have been supported by their communities and patrons on the basis of these strong ties and the mission that each museum represents. That is changing. The need to respond to a natural Tom Hennes ([email protected]) is principal of Thinc Design, 435 Hudson Street, eighth floor, New York, NY 10014.

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world in crisis and to compete in the modern landscape of cultural offerings is driving museums--specifically, the divisions, departments, and even smaller pieces that comprise museums--to participate in projects and programs with others outside their organizations, their local communities; even outside the larger community of other museums, in a growing ecosystem of affiliations directed toward shared ends. Some of these affiliations--what I will call weak ties--are enduring and some are temporal. They are growing dramatically in number, importance and value as the networks they enable are extending the mission and reach of their members far beyond what any of them could do alone. Increasingly, the weak ties of participation in shared enterprises drive value--and investment--to the strong ties of institutional identity. Think of the natural history museum as a network of smaller entities, each with its own agency, expertise, and connections to myriad others through projects, programs and associations arising from common purposes and goals. In this networked ecology, participation becomes the primary driver of mission, generator of funding, and measure of success at home and on a global scale. The argument for supporting natural history museums as scientific and cultural entities is increasingly driven not simply by their individual identities but, more importantly, by the way they engage with others in the world to accomplish their individual missions.

Evolution

In 1997, Museum News published a set of short articles entitled "Toward a Natural History Museum for the Twenty-first Century." It captured many themes--collaboration, accountability, connection to issues, activism and technology--that resonate today. It provides a useful snapshot of a culture in transition, just as dot-coms were booming and all of us were scratching our heads over whether things were getting better or getting harder. In either case, the writers--directors and administrators of the leading natural history museums around the country--seemed to suggest that the new natural history museum would be an incremental, updated version of the old. They were impassioned about confronting future challenges, but for the most part also committed to staying the course: essentially the same mission and model, updated with new tools and methods for greater reach. I have been working with natural history museums and related institutions for the past decade as a designer and participant in ongoing strategic planning processes. In my experience with these processes I have almost always encountered a mixture of high aspiration and incremental progress; the field recognizes the opportunity for change but has not yet reached a point where the dimensions of change are well understood. As a result, limited funds tend to be directed toward choices of greater certainty--buildings and exhibitions constructed along more or less familiar lines--rather than profound transformations that require long-term commitment to new staffing, public programs, or technology. On the surface, at least, the perspective of that 1997 Museum News issue still dominates nearly a decade later. When I was asked to write this article, I decided to contact people in and around natural history museums to hear what they are thinking about and doing. At the very

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least, I'd have some interesting conversations. But I thought I might also be able to see new patterns that would get me closer to understanding exactly what's changing and the extent of the change. These discussions were indeed interesting; fascinating, in fact. I was impressed, though not surprised, at the depth of thought and the degree of passion expressed by each of the people with whom I spoke about natural history museums and the world they engage. The report that follows is largely the result of those conversations, which led me to surprising places and brought many scattered ideas together into a more comprehensible landscape. What I heard suggested to me that what we're experiencing is not simply a change of style, a tweaking of mission, a shift in capacity or even in strategy. The picture that has begun to emerge hints at a far more fundamental evolution; I found pieces of it in every conversation. The more I've listened, the more I've come to believe it is the great opportunity of our generation. Natural history museums--for the past century and a half--have studied and exhibited the world through a detached, unselfconscious lens that betrayed little responsibility for that world's condition or future. The science of natural history museums was the science of description, and the versions of nature and culture presented in museum halls were most frequently denatured, detached visions of a distant "other." While many of those halls persist, the institutions themselves have begun to move from a position of detachment to one of connection; from holding themselves apart from the world they once described, to engaging with a world for which they take responsibility. While each individual institution manifests this change to a different degree, all but the most moribund are a part of it. Natural history museums in the nineteenth and twentieth centuries froze the world inside them. Natural history museums in the twenty-first century are beginning to change the world around them. In the process, they are themselves changing, and profoundly.

Learning to Dance

Terry gosliner, the long-time Provost of the California Academy of Sciences who is now returning to the research ranks, has for nearly a decade been one of the significant and passionate voices shaping the Academy's restructuring and rebuilding project currently under construction in golden gate Park. During a phone call, he told me a very interesting story about a donor to the new Academy. The donor, a longtime and enthusiastic supporter of the institution, had heard that the dioramas in the Academy's old Africa Hall were going to be destroyed, and he wanted to know if that were true. gosliner told him they weren't; the dioramas were actually going to be restored in the new hall. "I'm so glad," said the donor, "I never actually come in to look at them, but I always want to know they're here." This is the dilemma, gosliner says, of the natural history museum. People want them to be the same as they've always been, out of nostalgia, and in order to preserve a kind of cross-generational identity with their children and grandchildren. But at the same time they've lost interest in this nostalgic vision. They are looking for a kind of engagement and self-reflection it cannot provide.

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Mary Alexander put it more bluntly. A long-time museum educator and administrator, she's currently in the process of revising Museums in Motion: An Introduction to the History and Functions of Museums, a book originally written by her father, Edward P. Alexander. I caught her at home in Washington, D.C. one Sunday afternoon, and early in the conversation she said that based on the research she's been doing for the book, two kinds of institutions seem to her to be "dead": natural history museums and zoos. Both, she says, are based in nineteenth-century thinking, and they're becoming increasingly fragmented as they try to adapt to new missions. She told me, "The evaluators tell us that the reason people go to zoos is to get the kids out of the house, and zoos want to tell people that the planet is dying." Natural history museums are offering visitors complex menus of experiences that deliver the disconnected equivalent of sound bites. "Maybe the institution can't be monolithic any more. If you take the visitors in the week and break them into clumps, you get moms and kids, European visitors who are there because they know they need to be there, the teenage kid who's fascinated by the fossils. All of those are good reasons to go to the museum, but what do those reasons say about collections, mission, dialogue?" What's happening, she suggests, is that visitors are going for the pieces, not for the big message. "People are going with smaller purposes." Alexander worries that marketing for those smaller purposes--the "Saturday visit"--is driving the agenda more and more and the whole purpose for which these institutions were originally founded--their intellectual underpinning--is becoming increasingly shaky. Those underpinnings were established in the middle of the nineteenth century, the time in which the study of the natural world was exploding. The explorations and collecting that had begun more than a century before were galvanized by Darwin's theories of evolution, and the world's naturalists were busily reconstructing the tree of life. Its branches shaped the disciplines of study, becoming branches of science and defining the organization of the museum's exhibition halls. Peoples around the globe were also subjects for study in this age of empire, and their "exotic" material cultures (and physical remains) were likewise collected and examined. Natural history museums were places in which the natural and cultural world was categorized, described and exhibited for an eager public. Their exhibits were about, in Alexander's words, "showing treasures to the unwashed," helping them "rise above their base instincts." What set natural history museums apart from other museums were their relatively equal and separate functions of research and public edification. What linked those two functions together, however tentatively, were their collections, which had a dual role of display for the public and study for researchers. For a very long time, there was not much pressure to change. Research curators pretty much did their own thing behind the scenes, though a few of them organized the museum's exhibitions. The exhibitions, in turn, brought in huge numbers of the public, who helped sustain the enterprise while the researchers collected more specimens and artifacts, wrote about them, and produced a mounting body of knowledge about the world. There was tinkering at the margins, but all in all, the model worked pretty well. In the latter half of the twentieth century, two big changes started to happen. The first was in the world the museums had studied: The planet's environments were slipping

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into a perceptible decline. Additionally, its non-European peoples were no longer willing to be passive objects of scrutiny--they were finding their own voice and demanding to be heard. This began a process of profound change in the relationship between institutions and the places and cultures they had traditionally studied. The second big change was in museums' visitors. No longer quite so "unwashed," they began to spend their time doing other things, drawn by a diversity of leisure offerings and finding new ways--television, cheap and ubiquitous travel, and eventually the Internet--of seeing and experiencing the worlds that had once been the almost exclusive province of natural history museums. They were becoming increasingly sophisticated, and demanding. In the final third of the twentieth century, museums began to react, haltingly at first but with increasing vigor. To compete with other attractions, exhibitions grew larger, more intricate, more entertaining, and more educational. The blockbuster exhibition came onto the scene with the arrival of king Tut in 1974 (Falk and Sheppard 2006). Meanwhile, museums began to distance curators from exhibitions by a layer of exhibit developers and designers whose expertise was in the translation of scientific concepts into experiences for the public. In many places the educational mission, directed at the general public, and the research and collections mission, directed toward peer science, became increasingly distant from each other. One thing remained the same, though. Jay Rounds touched upon what I think is the fundamental issue when he told me that we have to bear in mind that natural history museums are "not so much about the natural world as about the disciplines that study the natural world." Rounds, a professor of museum studies at the University of Missouri, St. Louis and a prolific writer about museums as evolving social phenomena (see his article in this issue), believes we can only understand the shift that's taking place around us "if we go back to the assumption that the museum is about us rather than about the plants and animals and nature in some presumed natural state." Even if we take a "disinterested position of being for nature, it comes back to working out some kind of issue about humanness," he said, making a passing reference to Neil Postman's comment that all museums are about what it means to be human. The major shift that's going on "has to do with our understanding of our own place in nature and our own assumptions about it." We are in a period of transition between the old, ontologically-driven study representing an ordered natural world we sought to master, and a new, more interdisciplinary study of a disordered, self-organizing natural world in which our species is but one of many co-dependent actors. The evolution our institutions are undergoing--fragmenting but also reorganizing in new ways--reflects our growing awareness of nature. This process of change, influenced by forces outside museums' immediate control, is in tension with our nostalgic preconceptions of limestone-encased institutional order and cohesiveness. There are still important and cohesive understandings to be gained and experiences to be had, but they are no longer solely a reflection of institutional prerogative. Instead, natural history museums are just beginning to learn to dance with their visitors, with the peoples they once considered fit objects of study, and with the natural systems they once were content to categorize and describe. In the process, the dancers--all of them--are being changed by the dance.

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The Case for Diversity

My copy of Thriving in the Knowledge Age (Falk and Sheppard 2006) happened to arrive on the day I had scheduled a phone call with John Falk for this article. I reached him in Corvalis, Oregon, where he and his wife, Lynn Dierking, are jointly taking up a tenured position this year at Oregon State University to start a graduate program in free-choice learning. Falk told me that if you brought a group of natural history museum people together in the mid-twentieth century and asked them what a natural museum should look like, they would have voiced a great deal of consensus based on the size of the institution and the quality of the collection. There was only one model, and bigger was better. Most natural history museums tried, with greater and lesser success, to emulate large institutions like the Smithsonian, the American Museum of Natural History, or the Field. In the twenty-first century, he says, there is no consensus. It's more about the quality and type of educational experiences museums create. "You can and should be able to find a small institution that creates better value for its community than larger institutions." Creating value, he says, "is the game" these days. Museums are competing against all kinds of other public attractions and media. Putting it in evolutionary terms, "it's all well and good to be a large generalist when there's no competition." But as competition increases, bigger isn't necessarily a better strategy. Smaller, and finding a unique niche, may be a better way to go. That niche is a product both of the community an institution serves and its unique capacities, mission and assets. Falk argues that no single answer applies to all natural history museums; how the Smithsonian defines community is very different from how a regional museum might define it. In his terms, the times require every museum to look deeply at the niche it can most fruitfully fill within a community. And, he insists, it's a question that can't be answered in the boardroom with the senior staff around the table; it has to come from the community itself. This is a process that requires a capacity to listen, to reflect, to invent and experiment--and then to be willing to change yet again in response to what is learned. It requires those who run the public side of museums to work closely and persistently with those who visit them. An example that Falk and Sheppard describe is the Buffalo Museum of Science, a once nearly moribund institution which has been engaged in recent years in a thoroughgoing revitalization process in collaboration with its community. The goal, shaped in early workshops with community leaders, is to create a lifelong public science education resource that people will come to routinely, and frequently. I had spoken previously with the former president, David Cheseborough, about the museum's plans; I called Carroll Simon, the acting president and current leader of the revitalization process, to talk about how the shift is progressing. Simon told me that the new model involved a radical move to develop a much more deeply facilitated, personalized range of services that could be swiftly and easily customized to the needs and desires of different groups and individuals. The museum first began to experiment with a special space on the exhibit floor; called Connections, this is a flexible, open collections area that is used for facilitated programs of "the authentic processes and specimens of science." Part of a larger philosophy of "turning the muse-

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um inside out," the space is increasingly used by schools, teacher colleges, camp groups, homeschool families, and a host of others. It enables the institution to experiment with different ways of serving different needs, while helping people--teachers, students, families and individuals--become more confident in the skills of inquiry learning and critical thinking. She says that many kids are coming in on a regular basis, and the museum staff are getting to know them personally. The relationship builds to the point where the staff know their individual users well enough to anticipate a child's difficulty with a project and gather the resources that they think will be needed to help. The idea in Connections is to "coach learning rather than to spew facts." Another initiative was the opening of a satellite facility, the Science Spot, which operates on the same philosophy but in a smaller space distant from the museum. Located in a diverse neighborhood near Buffalo State College, it has become the incubator for a future network of satellites linked to the hub of the main museum. Simon told me that a year into the experiment, they are still trying to understand the value of a resource like this in a neighborhood setting and to learn whether people will use it and build a longterm relationship with it. While it's too early to know the answer, she says that many different groups are beginning to use it regularly, including homeschoolers, many local families and some private schools. The museum staff are currently analyzing the first year and planning their next steps. But the most fundamental change is in the way Buffalo positions science and collections within the institution, moving, in Simon's words, from "a traditional model where science research and the educational programs and exhibits were almost totally independent of one another, to one in which they are integrated." Likewise, the museum no longer relies on traveling exhibits "to strengthen its public profile." Rather, it is "leveraging a brand from its unique core asset, its collections." New research is conceived together with public purpose as the museum's science merges with science education. At the museum's Tifft Nature Preserve, a 264-acre refuge developed on a restored brownfield, new programs engage the public in experiments in aquatic biology and urban archaeology in its marshes, lakes, and woodlands. At the Hiscock Site, 40 miles away, the museum's research on Pleistocene and Holocene vertebrate fossils is being developed into an extensive educational program for middle school students. This "alignment model," she said, is attracting "scientists and educators who are passionate about the process of science and about helping people to learn how to learn." It encourages the staff to take advantage of every opportunity "to do the ideal thing: to turn research into a relevant public experience." On the West Coast, Vanda Vitali is experimenting with a different kind of relevant public experience. Vice president of public programs for the Natural History Museum of Los Angeles County, she is a scientist with a strong cultural awareness and a flair for the untried. On several phone calls wedged into a packed schedule, she told me that she maintains a perspective from at least these three vantage points: the context of Los Angeles, her museum's mission, and the language that makes both the context and the mission engaging and relevant for the public. She acknowledges that Los Angeles "may not be known as a museum-going city." But she claims it is a city interested in experimentation, in part because so many people in L.A. work in the visual arts, music, and

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video, and because there are lots of creative people there to contribute to an innovative undertaking. By experimenting with different visual and musical forms as independent languages distinct from the language of learning about science, she feels the museum has the opportunity to reach out to new populations and improve their experiences. Vitali said she is always looking outside the museum for research and inspiration. In the past two years, the museum has mounted exhibitions like Collapse?, based on Jared Diamond's book, LA: light/motion/dreams--a multimedia experience that uses the museum's collections to create a journey through the different landscapes of Los Angeles--and Conversations: Collections, Artists, Curators, a collaboration between the museum's curators and six local artists who selected elements from the collection to create exhibits from their own perspectives. She believes that exhibits, at their best, can augment the ways people experience the museum and inspire curiosity or passion along the way; for information, she hopes the museum's visitors would turn to other sources as well. Her goal is to provide "linking mechanisms"--including a radio station and an expanded Web site--that can facilitate deeper exploration. She told me that the museum has also developed new programs that include forums for debate, musical performance, dance, and storytelling. Experts and curators speak freely with the public, while performing artists either create new works or perform works that connect in some way to the exhibitions and collections. The aim is to broaden the audience; not just to increase numbers, but to bring in entirely new populations. The strategy, she says, has been particularly effective at bringing in younger people, from in their teens to their thirties. In contrast to Vitali's approach in Los Angeles, the Transvaal Museum in Pretoria, South Africa is building a community around the significance of its collection and its social implications. A colonial institution that was marginalized under apartheid, it houses an important--and local--collection of hominid fossils. Francis Thackeray is its acting director, and in many ways he's having the time of his life. A paleontologist, he is witnessing a flowering of his field after years of working in the shadows of government disfavor. I had previously spent many hours talking with Thackeray in connection with my own work in South Africa, and I called him one evening at home for a conversation about his changing universe. Pressured by the Dutch Reformed Church, Thackeray told me, the apartheid government that existed until Mandela's election in 1994 had suppressed the teaching of evolution in schools and in museums. In spite of the fact that the museum possessed several important fossils of Australopithecus, including the nearly complete skull known as Mrs. Ples, few South Africans were aware of the rich lode of pre-human ancestry beneath South African soil, and fewer still visited the museum. Paleontology was not supported in the country because it was not in the minority government's interest to focus attention on human origins in Africa. All this has changed since 1994. The current administration not only supports research into human origins but it takes an active interest in financing and promoting African paleontology. Thackeray says it has sparked the beginnings of a resurgence in the field and, at the same time, the Transvaal Museum has been able to use its newfound freedom and support to spark public interest in its unique collections. A survey in 1996 showed that 95 percent of the people in the Pretoria metropolitan area had not heard of

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Mrs. Ples; more recently, 80 percent of those surveyed knew of the fossil. This has been accomplished through public programs, exhibitions, educational initiatives, and the distribution of fossil casts to many schools. The result, says Thackeray, is that the fossils have become more of a household name. People are aware of them "in the way that people are aware of the Mona Lisa." Thackeray has channeled his limited resources between continued research and new educational programs that include activities that let students "get their hands dirty." He wants children to be able to touch things that teach them about their ancestry--skeletons, fossils and rocks--and be touched by them. Buffalo, Los Angeles, and the Transvaal Museum could scarcely be more different from each other, and they are using very different methods for leveraging their assets and shaping new identities. But what they share is a broader pattern that is becoming visible to one extent or another in every museum I've encountered. Institutions are forging new links between their unique capabilities and their unique communities. They are intentionally reaching out to their potential users and strengthening the connections that will bind those users to them. For some, the approach has been a matter of fine tuning to stay even with the times. For others, it's more fundamental, and a matter of immediate survival. But each is to one degree or another, and with greater or lesser degrees of awareness, building an ecological network of users around itself by finding a match between what it offers and what its community--or communities--finds useful and important. Within these growing networks of users, the success of any one institution is increasingly going to be dependent on the value of the links it generates and the relevance of those links to the communities that form around them.

resurgence of relevance

In his introduction to the 1997 Museum News articles on the Natural History Museum of the twenty-first century, Ellsworth Brown writes:

It can be argued that universities' diminishing commitment to collections is a natural outcome of focusing on their true mission, which is education. It also can be argued that university scientists see the same world that museum scientists see, understand it as well, and care about it equally. Is the universities' shift a nimble response to scientific need, possible because they were not encumbered by massive physical plants dedicated to the storage of collections? The one subject not tackled [in these articles] was whether the collecting paradigm under which natural history museums began is still valid or has much meaning when set against the massive and practical needs of Earth (1997).

Systematic biology, the study and classification of organisms and their evolutionary relationships to each other, is the founding basis of the world's natural history collections. By the 1970s, it had fallen out of fashion in academic institutions; as a descriptive field it was seen as increasingly irrelevant in the face of molecular biology, and fewer and fewer people sought training in it. Times have changed. The driving urgency to understand what is happening to the world's ecosystems has generated a new need to track changes in biodiversity and under-

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stand ecological relationships. Science has awakened to the storehouse of biodiversity maintained in the millions of specimens stored in natural history museums, and is using this wealth of data to track long term change and support surveys of endangered areas. Terry gosliner says, "Systematic biology is more relevant than it's ever been, because of the way the world has changed. The institutions actively engaged in research and communicating to the public and other constituencies are transforming the way they use data for a much broader audience. In the process, they are going to be seen by the world as something worth being supported." Some scientists and people outside the field suggest that collecting is no longer needed. None of those I spoke to agree. As Joel Cracraft, Lamont Curator in the Department of Ornithology at the American Museum of Natural History, put it: "One way of thinking about it is that over 90 percent of the world's species are still undiscovered. If we are going to have knowledge about species, we have a lot of collecting left to do." He noted, though, that collections grow very slowly, and that in certain fields or areas it's much more difficult to collect than it used to be. Many countries are concerned about their genetic resources, and much more attention is paid to trafficking in animals and making sure collecting permits are in order. Even in the United States, individual states have imposed regulations on organisms like birds. Cracraft says that scientists have become much more attentive to these issues, and have a responsibility to do so. But, he says, `there is still a lot of discovery out in the world." Niles Eldredge, curator in the American Museum of Natural History's Paleontology Department, told me: "Ironically, we're more necessary than before. The nineteenth century is gone and none of the dioramas depict anything that still exists. Collections are useful to see how much mercury was in swordfish in the 1800s. People never dreamt that these things would be important in this way, for studying the environment. In a sense, these nineteenth-century institutions are even more relevant to the twenty-first century than they were when they were founded." Eldredge's metaphor is a library of biodiversity. Like any library, it will "have uses down the road that may be more useful than you can imagine. You keep them just to have them because it'll be needed in generations to come." What most scientists like gosliner, Eldredge, and Cracraft focus on is peer research, the main purpose of which is to advance knowledge. Debra Moskovits, who heads the Field's Division of Environment, Culture and Conservation (ECCo), has more pragmatic objectives. Like similar programs at the American Museum of Natural History and the Smithsonian, ECCo builds multidisciplinary partnerships among institutions, governments, communities and other parties to assess threatened environments and make wellfounded recommendations for action.1 This kind of activity is an easy fit with the research capacity and collections of a large natural history museum like the Field, Moskovits told me. ECCo's work and its recommendations for action are driven by "rapid biological and social inventories," conducted in collaboration with local communities and in-country scientists. The expertise to conduct rapid inventories and the vast natural history collections that can be accessed digitally in the field are "natural, inseparable museum functions," says Moskovits; without the collection, "the work would be impossible." ECCo is "just beginning to scratch

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the surface" of developing new tools for conservation. In many areas of the world, for instance, there are no field guides and little information about what teams are likely to find. "When you have an excellent scan, people in the field can go online and look at these specimens," she says. It saves enormous time, both in the identification of species and in the preparation of field guides to be used for inventory and monitoring. Moskovits can't imagine doing rapid inventories without the reference collections. "The old specimens," she says, "have a new and immediately functional life." This new "functional life" is not limited to biological collections. While traveling in Holland two years ago, I had met Susan Legêne, the historian who heads the curatorial department of Amsterdam's Tropenmuseum and runs its international cultural projects. At the time, we had spoken mostly about changes she was making to the museum's exhibits, but in the course of two extended phone calls for this article, she spoke more about using the material culture in the museum's collections as a medium for developing new modes of discourse with diverse communities. The museum, founded in 1864 by Dutch colonial entrepreneurs, is joined with the Royal Tropical Institute (kIT), an applied research organization that focuses on projects of sustainable development, poverty alleviation, biomedical research, and cultural preservation and exchange. The museum's collections, Legêne and her colleagues have discovered, form a tangible basis for new kinds of dialogue that shape consultancy work of the kIT in the developing world and also increase the museum's cultural knowledge of the artifacts themselves. Source communities' indigenous knowledge--their intangible heritage--provides a "common ground" for looking at the collections, Legêne told me. The collections, in turn, are tangible heritage elements that enable "new conversations to take place." Although the collections contain material culture that was lost generations ago in many communities, "they know things we really don't know," she says. These dialogues help the museum to "get out of art historical and ethnographic knowledge; not that we bring back their indigenous knowledge, but that the tangible heritage" of the museum's collection enables new understandings about "how culture and society are organized." This is not only of academic and cultural value, but also facilitates projects on the ground that benefit both communities. The institute, she says, has a "professional ethic" with source communities to be consultants for capacity building, not "just to make our own story about a society to which we have no responsibility, that we study or show to our community to enjoy." Those dialogues have also helped Legêne to reshape many of the museum's exhibits to more consciously reflect the tension between its colonial past and its evolving role in the international community. "Our colleagues in the institute expect that they can recognize what they are doing in what the museum tells the public in the Netherlands," she says. The kIT today views itself as a consultancy for partners in the developing world rather than the colonial enterprise it was at its founding. The partnership perspective has also affected what is done in the museum. "It is impossible for the museum to fossilize," to be a "museum of a museum." At the American Museum of Natural History, she says, "you see showcases reflecting a kind of view about man and nature, culture and society, based in the 1930s and 1950s. We work in a dynamic applied political context in which such fossilization is impossible and would be fully contrary to the work of our colleagues

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in other departments of the kIT." Not only the collections, but also the exhibits, are directly relevant to the work of the development agency. The institute's public face and its development work influence each other and share responsibility to the communities they serve, both in Holland and abroad. The questions facing natural history museums are changing, and the relevance of their collections--in their storage vaults and on exhibition--is changing with them. These collections, once used principally as a descriptive catalogue of the world's biological and cultural resources, are becoming increasingly connected to the way people in and out of science understand the world and relate to it. This is important not just because it's revitalizing museum science, but also because it enables natural history museums to reposition themselves within the larger context of the world in which they operate. As their collections and research programs participate more fully in the shared concerns of larger and more diverse networks of researchers, organizations, and communities, the connections that link them to those networks increase in importance. At the same time, the value of the natural history museum as a critical part of those networks begins to dramatically exceed its value as a stand-alone entity.

Hyperconnection

In 1998, after nearly 150 years as a museum without public displays, the Dutch National Museum of Natural History (Naturalis) moved into a new building and opened its first major public exhibitions. Until this move, it was in many ways a quintessentially isolated nineteenth-century institution, accessible mainly to scholars, scattered among many different buildings, and virtually invisible to the public. Dirk Houtgraaf led the development effort on the new museum as its project manager, and with the enthusiastic support of Naturalis's then-director, Wim van der Weiden, set out to make Naturalis as accessible and inviting as possible. He had never worked in a museum before, and more than 10 years later, as director for public engagement, he still consciously retains an outsider's eye. When I spoke to him in Los Angeles, where he was working with Vanda Vitali on a collaborative project that would bring some of Los Angeles's temporary exhibitions to the Netherlands, it was no longer the museum itself that most excited him. It was the relationships he and others within it are building outside the museum. Houtgraaf says that the role of natural history museums is no longer the center of importance. Naturalis is connecting with organizations like the National Science Foundation in the Netherlands (NWO), which are doing important scientific work on their own but benefit from access to the museum's collections and from its expertise in communicating with the general public. Much of the new work, he thinks, will happen outside the museum, for instance by creating public health exhibitions in hospitals to get medical information out to the public. Like many museums, Naturalis established twoway communications with classrooms and is conducting regular programs with them, but it is also working to develop joint programs with environmental organizations like the World Wildlife Fund and NEMO, Amsterdam's science center, to build stronger educational programs and new communities. Thus far, the programs include an indepen-

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Alison Carey, Criptolithus and Eumorphoscystic, Ordovidician Period, 440-500 Mya, ambrotype, 2005. From the series "Organic Remains of a Former World." In Art and Artifice, Museum of Fine Arts, New Mexico. Photo courtesy of the artist.

dent educational Web site (www.natuurinformatie.nl) that is attracting 6,000-7,000 visitors per day, and a Dutch biodiversity register (www.nederlandsesoorten.nl) developed with a half-dozen other organizations and many more individual collaborators. Community thinking, he says, is "somewhere in the air." When Naturalis decided to build its digital collections database, it passed over proprietary programs in favor of a Web-based program that is "semi-open source," so that it could be customized and then freely shared in Holland with other collaborating institutions. The collaboration has not been without difficulty--there have been disagreements about ontological organization and hierarchy--but they are being resolved and he thinks the arrangement is to everyone's advantage. Naturalis isn't asking for an immediate return, he told me. Instead, it has chosen to "invest and invest and there will eventually be a return." It's about "long-term collaboration and long-term goals."2 Collaboration isn't limited to the sharing of informational and educational resources. The Field's Debra Moskovits believes that there's "an important and strong role academic institutions can play in converting environmental research into action." The rapid surveys the museum and its collaborators perform are intended to help national and regional governments and communities make informed decisions with regard to environmental preservation and restoration. She said that governments are willing to listen to them because the scientists are perceived to speak objectively, basd on their direct observations. "We couldn't do what we do," she told me, "if we were an NgO, for example. The capacity we have to change conservation on the ground has totally to do with the fact that we are a research museum." The results have surprised even her, particularly governments' willingness to implement recommendations swiftly. She pointed to Parque Nacional Cordillera Azul, an area larger than the state of Connecticut, that was conserved in Peru within eight months of an ECCo survey. "You can have a huge, huge impact. You recognize that as a museum your mission is to reach out and turn science into action." Having both biological and cultural expertise gives ECCo the capacity to make good conservation recommendations that also take the needs of local people into

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account. Moskovits says it's a "huge collaboration, rather than an imposition." Referring to Cordillera Azul, she told me "The social issues run the full spectrum, and the key is to figure out how the people who live in and around the area can become the long-term stewards of the national park." Closer to home and with several Chicago institutions, ECCo has co-developed the Chicago Wilderness program, which engages local communities directly in monitoring, protecting, and restoring habitat in the greater Chicago area. "The response is striking," she said, "whether local or distant." Moskovits's work had first been mentioned to me by Jonathan Haas, in a call earlier in the summer. Haas is a veteran museum anthropologist at the Field who spends his summers these days unearthing the remains of a previously-unknown 5,000-year-old state spread across a thousand sites in three of the four valleys of the Norte Chico region of northern Peru. He had noted near the end of our conversation that one of his team members was working with people in the region on local ecotourism for Peruvians. After speaking to Moskovits, I wanted to pick up that thread again. I reached him just as he was making preparations for a Pachamanca, a feast for about 100 local supporters, friends, and collaborators that included a whole pig, two goats, 30 chickens, 40 guinea pigs, and 50 kilos of potatoes. The program he had told me about previously was started by Angelica Arriola, who had joined the team while working on a master's degree in eco-tourism in the Norte Chico. Arriola had outlined six different tour programs based on the sites in the region, and had completed a registry of natural, cultural and archeological resources in the area. In the course of the work she had had meetings with every community in the area, talking to nearly everyone. He told me her method had simply been to have a meeting in someone's house, put up a blackboard and say, "okay, what do you think you have to offer Peruvian tourists?" Then, he said, she'd ask them what they wanted from tourism and get into dialogues about what was reasonable to offer and reasonable to expect. Virtually everyone had something to offer and "nobody's resources were dismissed." Now, Haas told me, Arriola is working on her doctorate to implement the program, starting with a guide and cookbook of the region. At the same time, his archeological crew is working with the local museum and school system putting together three publications: a map of the archaeological resources in the area, a guidebook, and a teaching guide for local teachers. Their work is catalyzing other activities as well. Haas said they recently hosted a group of people making a video about the work: "It's becoming like an artists' colony." Meanwhile, he is grooming two young Peruvian Ph.D. candidates to be ready to step into the project's lead after he retires in five years. "There's got to be a structure to all this," he told me. Once programs start--and he included ECCo--those who initiated them have to put systems in place to ensure that they continue on their own. That's the only way, he believes, to ensure they become a permanent transformation in natural history museums. Permanent or not, what Houtgraaf, Moskovits and Haas describe are different ways in which they are creating new linkages between the work they do and other individuals and organizations around them who share in it and will ultimately carry it forward. Of equal importance, they are describing instances--like those mentioned by Vanda Vitali in Los Angeles, Caroll Simon in Buffalo, Susan Legêne in Amsterdam and Francis Thackeray

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in Pretoria--in which their work stimulates new kinds of activity and new communities that didn't exist before: communities of museums, and communities around museums that form through common interests and common objectives. Some of these will fail, but others are likely to persist because the social and professional networks that support them in the beginning will have durable value for everyone involved, and because they will have been integrated into the culture of their museums. The links that bind them together will have passed from the node of an individual to the hub of the museum. The idea of a natural history museum as a hub in a network is not new, but the familiar image of a single hub with lots of spokes sticking out of it doesn't begin to account for the degree of connection happening in the field. Instead, museums are joining--and building--more complex and dynamic webs that link them to each other, to their home communities, and to the communities in and around the areas in which they conduct their research. Think of it like this: as little networks around each museum connect to each other they become bigger networks that reach out to still larger communities, all connected by the Internet and by a host of other social, professional and economic networks. The question that arises is whether these network effects--links initiated by museums to each other and to disparate communities--are isolated instances or whether they really constitute the beginning of a larger trend. To gain a perspective from someone who lives and breathes networks, I asked Clay Shirky to have lunch with me in New York. Shirky is a consultant, writer, teacher and guru of the Internet who takes a particular interest in social software--programs that enable people to cluster and work together around common areas of interest. He has written extensively on the growth of the Internet, and he and I have spoken about the relationship between museums and the Web many times before. We met at Bar Six, a noisy but comfortable haunt in the West Village near both our offices. The idea of a museum as a stand-alone attraction is in "direct tension to becoming a hyperconnected hub" that is part of a larger, collective enterprise, Shirky told me. In order for isolated instances of networking to take hold in the field as a whole, there has to be a substantial benefit that outweighs each museum's instinctive desire to continue on an independent course, maintaining complete control of its own agenda and its own identity. He cited the example of the OCLC, a library cooperative that began in 1967 as the Ohio College Library Center. It was founded by the state of Ohio to develop a computerized system to enable its 55 academic libraries to share resources and reduce costs. By 1981, the organization had expanded substantially and was renamed the Online Computer Library Center. According to its Web site, it now has over 55,000 members in the U.S. and 110 other countries, and its online catalogue contains nearly 70 million entries. Shirky told me that the value of participation--shareable resources, expertise and access to each others' collections--was so great that libraries found it more attractive to join the pool than to compete on holdings and systems. The evolution of the OCLC into a wide-ranging global collective followed a pattern that is not unlike what Shirky said is typical of the way networks, technology and new methods of doing business spread in the business world. Trends that take hold generally occur in three significant growth phases:

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1. A handful of relatively secure visionaries not afraid of sharing make the first bold moves. 2. That founding group "jollies new members along" into the collaboration, in a complex process that resembles a trade negotiation. 3. With widening patterns of adoption, it becomes obvious to outsiders that joining is better than staying out. There are many advantages, in Shirky's view, for natural history museums to form networks. Building collective databases is an obvious one--as difficult as some have found it. But more interesting is the possibility of significantly linking systematics with action, or visitors with remote communities around the world. It can't happen all at once, he says, because "you still need to do something where people who come to town for two days can visit and still recognize it as a museum." But the museum can benefit by joining resources and communities together around areas of common interest. "The value of the museum increases for two or more constituents if it increases the value of their meeting." Shirky hypothesized that the answers to three questions would underlie the predictive success of any movement of natural history museums toward larger, broadly-based networked structures and activities: 1. Is there is enough tradition of cooperation to get a few members sharing? 2. Do the early adopters have sufficient moral suasion to bring other museums along? 3. Is there an "800-pound gorilla" big enough to stay out and keep others out? In other words, can anyone afford to stand alone? At some tipping point, Shirky says, "past participation is going to become a predictor of sustainability. It's about crossing the valley between `we own our own users' and `anything that helps all natural history museums also helps us.'" In Shirky's view, we are in a world in which the old ontological connections--the strong ties--are weakening and the weak ties are becoming more valuable. This applies equally to the complex ecological relationships of "tiny shrimp living in rainwater pools in the rainforest canopy" and to the links among institutions and communities. "You have to talk across disciplines, and institutions aren't well set up for this to happen under one roof. This is an opportunity for weak ties." Natural history museums are not on the verge of a widespread cooperative network like the OCLC, but some individuals and some departments have begun to form networks with each other and with many other organizations and communities. They are seeking expertise, resources and public participation that exceeds what their own organizations can provide. Whether these "weak ties" are strong enough to pull institutions as a whole into a more collective undertaking remains to be seen. But the weak ties are beginning to define a movement outward from the community of natural history museums to other, larger social and organizational structures. They will likely generate value

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regardless of whether the whole of the natural history community joins in. Clearly, the movement gains strength from greater participation; keeping the world's collections on a single database is far more powerful than even the largest of the individual collections, to name only the most obvious advantage. I left my lunch with Shirky thinking about his three predictors for broader network structures. My conversations and experience have convinced me that the first--a tradition of cooperation--is sufficiently strong to favor success. For the second question--moral suasion--it is too early to tell, but the success of shared temporary exhibitions and examples like Dirk Houtgraaf's expanding programs and initiatives suggests that it is not likely to be a deal-breaker. The third question is harder. To answer it, I had to talk to the 800-pound gorilla. The Smithsonian has the only natural history museum with enough mass to be able to tip the balance of a web of nascent networks one way or the other. In addition to its sheer scale, the National Museum of Natural History stands out for many reasons: its funding structure supports free admission; it has 6.5 million visitors annually; it has a national scope; it has links to the larger network of other Smithsonian museums, and to the far-larger network of the Federal government, to name a few. The Smithsonian should define hyperconnection. Several people I'd talked to pointed me toward Robert Sullivan, the Smithsonian's associate director for public programs. After a few missed attempts on both sides, he and I arranged to talk by phone one Sunday morning. A discussion with Sullivan, I quickly found out, is a fast-moving journey through an agile mind that leaps across demographics, science, destination culture, Web technology, national agendas, and regional publics. Sullivan told me that he began to speak in 1990 about a transformation in the Smithsonian from the "destination culture" that existed when he arrived, to a "hub in a learning network" that defined the audience as a national and global learning community. Since that time, the Smithsonian has focused more on addressing larger-scale questions around global citizenship and management of the global commons in its exhibition and national outreach programs. During the same period, he said, the audience has changed because of the experiences they're having elsewhere; they expect customization, personalization, interaction, topical and up-to-date information, searchability, and the opportunity to extend an experience both pre- and post-visit. More importantly, Sullivan says, the Smithsonian's audience now expects predictive science, which is not what the institution traditionally does. "If the Smithsonian says `We don't do that,' the visitors are frustrated." The alternative is to collaborate with other institutions and learn to educate the public on ideas the institution is "not always comfortable with." This has increased the need for networking "not only because it makes good programming, but because it's needed for the science" they're producing. "The science requires network collaboration; the questions are not the "identify/quantify" questions of the nineteenth century." Natural science is increasingly "collaborative science." Sullivan used the example of the Smithsonian's upcoming ocean exhibition to illustrate. The exhibition "requires every department of the museum, plus NOAA, NASA, Woods Hole, Scripps, the Monterey Aquarium," both for the Web portal and the educational initiative. This demands networking "on both the public and science side." For the

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Smithsonian, forming national networks "is natural because we can work with national agencies that don't have educational outlets; we act as a clearing house for those agencies and it makes sense for everyone." He added that the public also expects any Web portal the institution produces to take them to all the participants. The goal for the ocean initiative is to reach 300 million people in the first three years. "Ocean literacy is vital to the future of the world, and we've got to get the message out," he said. "It takes a whole community. It's a different scale. In aggregate, you realize aquariums and museums touch hundreds of millions of people each year. We're a powerful network, but we rarely look at our cumulative effect." He went on to the need to re-certify millions of teachers. The problem is so big, he said, that nobody has wanted to take it on. "Taking 30 teachers down the Amazon doesn't do it. Summer workshops don't do it. They don't hit enough numbers." The Smithsonian is working on project-based, object-based interactive online programs. "We've always whined and moaned that we have a better way to teach, and now they're calling our bluff. We have to step up or not be taken seriously. We have a serious obligation in teacher training. We have the materials, the science, the stuff, the networks, university networks-- everything we need. The money is out there. Every teacher has to be recertified in science and technology, reading. We just need to get the materials out there, and it shouldn't just be the Smithsonian doing it alone. It should be a network. The regional organizations can provide regional stuff; a teacher can come to an aquarium and do hands-on learning and the national program can be broadcast through a network of zoos, science centers and natural history museums." In Sullivan's view, natural history museums are "the only ones who know how to do it. We know how to get a group of people--artists, designers, technology people, scientists, educators--together and get them to produce a creative product; universities know how to do talking heads." He says he gets calls from the leisure destination business all the time, like a group in Brazil "that wants to present environmental science in a casino." The opportunities are opening up everywhere "for a product we know how to build," and he adds, "a few of us, anyway." What natural history museums have to offer is a skill set that Sullivan thinks is under-appreciated in the institutions themselves. He told me he plans to spend the next five years focusing on the creation of as many new projects, tending a multidisciplinary, multimodal philosophy until it takes root. "You're not just managing the exhibition," he says. "It's a whole system of opportunities--and that becomes enormous."

The Future of Purpose

Whether the Smithsonian or one of the other large institutions will lead the way or simply participate in an even larger-scale phenomenon driven mainly by smaller-scale institutions is anybody's guess. But by Clay Shirky's metrics, at least, there is nothing standing in the way of a transformation of the entire natural history landscape. Across that landscape, many different natural history museums are using their capacities in exhibition, education--and, even more important, listening--to build new links to their visitors, local and regional communities, and other scientific and outreach organizations. Many are also us-

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ing their capacities for research and systematic collection to link with individuals, communities, NgOs, research organizations, and governments in active, collaborative programs of ecological and cultural stewardship. These links, reaching out from the institutions to the communities and organizations that participate in their exhibitions and public programs, and the communities and organizations that participate in their research and action, form a network with natural history museums acting as hyperconnected hubs across which knowledge is generated and exchanged in increasingly accessible and cohesive ways. Each museum inhabits an important and unique position in such a network, linking to a series of other networks: communities of visitors; educational systems; communities in areas under study, evaluation or protection; NgOs; governments; and other museums. Moreover, the museum links them not only to itself but also to each other. This is important because those links allow new clusters of individuals and organizations within the aggregated network to interact and share their own knowledge independently across it, often in unpredictable, new directions that give the network qualities of selforganization through the interests, motivations and activities of the diverse agents connected through it. The value of such a network increases exponentially--in part because the generation of knowledge and activity is distributed across it rather than arising solely within in a single hub.3 Each natural history museum, positioning itself as a hub in such a network, as many are doing, gains enormous reach and leverage. Not everyone, certainly, is going to be comfortable with a cooperative, networked ecology in which traditional distinctions--among museums and between museums and other types of organizations and social structures--become less sharp and less important than the specific contributions each participant can make to the collective whole. Joining with the new interconnected clusters--each with its own agency and motivations, thought and activity--brings dramatic changes to the authority, autonomy and intellectual seclusion many institutions once enjoyed. Yet those who embrace the tectonic shifts that are occurring beneath them will find extraordinary new opportunities for growth. New niches will open, and those nimble enough to occupy them will gain. I touched on this in a conversation with the Field's president, John McCarter, and he put it into terms of the economics and scale of museums. Also a trustee of the University of Chicago, he pointed out that the Field's $65 million annual budget is tiny in relation to the university's roughly $2 billion. "None of this has viability on its own," he said. "All these institutions in today's mega-world are really small. They really need to partner with other people." He told me the growth of partnership is both essential and "organic." When alliances are formed, "some things fall by the wayside," but others will thrive and museums have to go on building them. His board has given his staff and him "nothing but encouragement" to develop these alliances. "You have to have fiscal responsibility," he said, but he also stressed that research programs, touring exhibitions, outreach to underserved communities, environmental action, all require that the institution partner with others. He likened it to a deal flow in investment banking--the continual stream of proposals that keeps the business alive. "You have to be at the center of these things to flourish as an institution." The purposes for which natural history museums were founded are no longer sufficient to sustain them. It is not that exploration, discovery, and descriptive science

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are no longer useful, or that there is no room for wonder at the natural world, but that these things by themselves no longer constitute sufficient purpose to justify or support public institutions in a time of transition. The world and our relationship to it have changed. The natural history museum that Mary Alexander told me is dead is a solitary, ghostly institution that inhabits the dualistic world of the nineteenth century, dividing itself between research and exhibits, between inside and outside, between science and nature, and between us and them. It is an institution modeled on sharp divisions and solid walls. The new model is a hyperconnected knowledge hub, beginning to coalesce with others into what I believe will become an increasingly dynamic network that links disparate communities together and will enable all of us to better understand the complexity of our world and act more effectively toward shared ends that arise from that understanding. The purposes that drive those ends are extraordinarily varied, and the links that connect them--Shirky's weak ties that bridge across institutional boundaries--are fundamentally changing the way institutions are organized. Their walls are becoming more porous; and as the weak ties that extend outward gain in value, they will create greater value for the strong ties that bind them together as individual entities. Increasingly, the argument for funding and maintaining these institutions will be based less on their intrinsic value as repositories of knowledge and objects than on the importance of their collaborations, programs, community ties, and role in a changing world. This is an environment not of either/or but and/and--intelligent design and evolution. The institutions that thrive in it are most likely going to be those in which topdown management, academic and creative structures are able to adapt themselves to a new ecology of bottom-up self-organization. They will retain and even deepen their individual character by integrating more fully with their communities and contributing to the networks in which they participate precisely those assets--the collections and expertise--that most uniquely define them. And they will gain enormously from the collective commons that the network ecology will make available to them, through joint programs, shared knowledge, digital resources and, most importantly, the enormous energy of the interconnected communities that increasingly redefine them.

Notes

1. For more information about ECCo, see http://www.fieldmuseum.org/research_ collections/ecco.htm. Information on the American Museum of Natural History's Center for Biodiversity and Conservation can be found at http://www.amnh.org/ science/facilities/cbc.php. The National Museum of Natural History has a range of interdisciplinary research projects that can be found at http://www.mnh.si.edu/rc/ inter_disc_res_progs.html. 2. Independently, Francis Thackeray told me later that the Transvaal Museum, which has not yet started digitizing its collections, was considering joining the Dutch collaborative. 3. In his book Smart Mobs: The Next Social Revolution, Howard Rheingold cites

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"Reed's Law," one of several theories governing value in different kinds of networks (Rheingold 2002). According to David Reed, the value of "groupforming networks" (e-Bay was the first successful example), in which individual users are able to form groups with any other users through a coalescence of interests or pursuits, grows exponentially with the number of users. This means each group benefits from the accumulated knowledge and access of each user by generating individual knowledge resources that can be shared. These can be as simple as bookmarks accessed by each user, or as elaborate as detailed information collected by a birdwatching community for the benefit of other birdwatchers. The collective group gains disproportionately through common access to the shared "commons" of the resources.

references

Brown, E. 1997. Catalogue of change. Museum News 76 (6): 39­40. Falk, J. and B. Sheppard. 2006. Thriving in the Knowledge Age: New Business Models for Museums and Other Cultural Institutions. Lanham, MD: AltaMira Press. Rheingold, H. 2002. Smart Mobs: The Next Social Revolution. Cambridge, MA: Basic Books.

People Interviewed

The following individuals generously gave their time in discussion for this article. Any mangling of their words is my own; they have provided me with a window into the current world of the natural history museum far in excess of what I have directly quoted and I'm deeply grateful for their insights. Mary Alexander, Director, Museum Advancement Program, Department of Museum Services, Maryland Historical Trust. Joel Cracraft, Lamont Curator and Curator-in-Charge, Division of Vertebrate Zoology-Ornithology, American Museum of Natural History, New York, NY. Niles Eldredge, Curator, Division of Paleontology, American Museum of Natural History, New York, NY. John Falk, President, Institute for Learning Innovation, Annapolis, MD. Terry gosliner, Senior Curator, Department of Invertebrate Zoology and geology, California Academy of Sciences, San Francisco, CA. Jonathan Haas, Curator, Department of Anthropology, the Field Museum, Chicago, IL. george Hein, President, TERC; Professor Emeritus, Lesley University, Cambridge, MA. Dirk Houtgraaf, Director of Public Engagement, Naturalis, Leiden, the Netherlands.

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Susan Legêne, Head, Curatorial Department, Tropenmuseum, Amsterdam, the Netherlands; part-time professor, Faculty of Humanities, University of Amsterdam. John W. McCarter, Jr., President and CEO, the Field Museum, Chicago, IL. Debra Moskovits, Vice President, Environment, Culture and Conservation; Environmental and Conservation Programs, the Field Museum, Chicago, IL. Jay Rounds, E. Desmond Lee Professor of Museum Studies and Community History, University of Missouri, St. Louis, MO. Enid Schildkrout, Chief Curator, Museum for African Art, New York, NY. Clay Shirky, Adjunct Professor, graduate Interactive Telecommunications Program, New York University, New York, NY. Carroll A. Simon, Acting President, Buffalo Museum of Science, Buffalo, NY. Robert A. Sullivan, Associate Director for Public Programs, National Museum of Natural History, Smithsonian Institution, Washington, DC. Francis Thackeray, Acting Director, Transvaal Museum, Pretoria, South Africa. Vanda Vitali, Vice President of Public Programs, Natural History Museum of Los Angeles County, Los Angeles, CA. In addition, thanks to Mary Alexander, Terry gosliner, george Hein, and Joe MacDonald for their very helpful comments on drafts.

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