Wayne Clough, Secretary of the Smithsonian Institution, asks “How can we prepare ourselves to reach the generation of digital natives who bring a huge appetite—and aptitude—for the digital world?” He explains how the Smithsonian is tackling this issue in Best of Both Worlds: Museums, Libraries, and Archives in a Digital Age.
Libraries and archives have already made many documents available through the Internet. The digital world presents a bigger challenge for museums; producing images of 3D objects is more complicated, and collections are built with exhibitions in mind rather than open access on computers.
In 2009, the Smithsonian began digitizing its vast collections to make them accessible to the millions of people who do not visit the museums in person. “Digital access can provide limitless opportunities for engagement and lifelong learning.” Clough sees museums gradually moving beyond showcasing collections to engaging the public online so “visitors” can access the objects they find most interesting.
Education has always been at the core of the Smithsonian. Today, the Smithsonian offers materials and lesson plans that meet state standards for K–12 curricula; online summits on many diverse subjects; the Collections Search Center website; and apps. The Smithsonian’s website, www.seriouslyamazing.com, draws people in with fun questions and then takes them deeper into the subject. The question “What European colonizer is still invading the U.S. today?” reveals not only the answer—earthworms—but also in-depth info on worms from environmental researchers.
Clough concludes with this thought: “While digital technology poses great challenges, it also offers great possibilities.”