8 November 2018


The 2018 Ontario Museum Association Conference had the theme "Collaborating for Impact: Not Business as Usual," and I ventured in prepared to capture as much GLAM collaboration as possible.

I'm not sure whether it was unique to OMA, or common across all conferences, but people sure liked their analogies--with so much great discussion, these three GLAM-related analogies (GLAMalogies?) seemed the best way to organize this post.

Analogy 1: Silos. Source.

Analogy 1: Escaping our GLAM Silos

This first analogy is not new, and describes GLAMs' tendencies to operate only within their own spheres.

In the panel Collapsing Silos, Building Communities: Glam Sector Collaborations, Michael Rikley-Lancaster of the Mississippi Valley Textile Museum, Lisa Snider of the Archives Association of Ontario, and Kerry Badgley of the Ontario Library Association discussed current collaborations between GLAMs, and how fruitful such collaborations can be.

Michael Rikley-Lancaster described how one collaboration can create long-lasting synergy. The Almonte Branch of the Mississippi Mills Public Library had digitized their town's newspaper, but had not done anything with it. In 2012, the library partnered with the Mississippi Valley Textile Museum, who helped give the newspaper an online platform and bring it to public eyes. Rikley-Lancaster noted that the digitized newspaper platform still gets at least 10000 hits a month.

This one collaboration led to future projects: when the library was tight for space, they moved their collection of textile books right into the textile museum, creating more traffic at the museum through visitors coming to use that collection.

Breaking down the silos between our institutions can lead to benefits for both the institutions and their communities, and can create to long-lasting relationships.

Analogy 2: Cats. Source.

Analogy 2: Archives are like Cats

In this same session, Lisa Snider compared archives to cats: on the one hand, as access institutions, archives want people to come visit, but on the other hand, as preservation-focused institutions, they want to keep people at a distance.

Here is another way that GLAM partnerships can be fruitful. While both archives and museums focus on preserving primary, one-of-a-kind materials, archives, unlike museums, often lack the infrastructure for exhibiting and engaging audiences with that material. Collaborations between Archives and GLMs can help make archives visible, bringing their collections to public eyes through institutions that have ample infrastructure in place for such attention.

As Lisa Snider put it, archives can piggyback on what libraries and museums are doing to provide lifelong learning experiences. GLAMs can work together to balance that cat-like temperamental push and pull of preservation versus access.

(I love this analogy. What kind of cat would your favourite archive be?)

Analogy 3: Perfume. Source.

Analogy 3: GLAMs should Market Themselves like Perfume

This analogy comes from keynote speaker Stephen Abram, Executive Director of the Federation of Ontario Public Libraries. Abram pointed out that we do not market Chanel no. 5 by saying it is a smelly yellow liquid--it is the perfume's evocative smell that sets it apart, which advertisers devise clever ways to market to consumers.

Likewise, it is also foolish to market a library by advertising that it has books, to market galleries by advertising that they have art, and to market a museum by advertising that it has exhibits. Abram says that GLAMs have to ask, what is our smell? What do we do on an emotional level?

There was so much other great GLAM discussion that I couldn't fit in this post. During the Plenary GLAM Panel, Shelley Falconer of the Art Gallery of Hamilton, Vickery Bowles of Toronto Public Library, John Roberts of the Archives of Ontario, and Christina Tessier of Ingenium discussed challenges shared across institutions.

I will conclude with some of the excellent, thought-provoking questions they raised:

GLAMs all have a platform to bring topics to public awareness. Do they have a responsibility to harness that space to respond rapidly to current events?

GLAMs all carry a shared privilege of public trust, but what do they do to deserve that trust?

How can GLAMs work together to tackle these questions collaboratively, and arrive at more powerful answers?

Check out #OMAconf2018 for more from the conference!

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