Why are most museum professionals so controlling? Perhaps it is because we fear that if we give some of this control to the public then they will no longer have a need for museums, or perhaps we fear that shared authority may provide for a less professional exhibit. In any case, we’ve been doing it wrong. The articles in Letting Go? Sharing Historical Authority in a User-Generated World certainly agree, and so does Erin Richardson; Collections Manager for the Farmers’ Museum, and mastermind of the Plowline project.
In my interview with Erin she discussed that museums have less faith in people. They don’t believe that their visitors are intelligent enough to grasp certain concepts, and they don’t have enough faith in them to share authority with them. In her attempt to share authority, Erin has been working on collecting oral histories to provide historical background for the images presented in the online Plowline project. In my opinion, sharing authority by presenting the oral histories does quite the opposite of loosing professionalism, it enhances it. It provides a sensory experience that will stay with the visitor much longer than just the object and a text label could ever do. Who better to give something authority than someone who experienced it? I’m not saying to entirely let go of our control issues (that would take FAR more than a 250 word blog post), but I think we must consider opening our minds to balancing our “professionalism” with shared authority in order to keep in step with this fast-paced, user-generated world that needs our museums.