Increasing the Representation of Diverse Populations Online with Digital Collections

Cultural heritage collections can reflect societal biases and sometimes leave out important stories. As studies show visitors invest significant trust in the information cultural organizations provide, it is critical we examine what we share online especially as researchers bring more sophisticated tools to bare. This panel will examine two projects as they work to create a diverse American history online; The Smithsonian American Women’s Initiative and The LGBTQ Digital History Project. In 2017, the ONE Archives Foundation and the Smithsonian’s National Museum of American History (NMAH) launched a partnership to develop an open source digital platform connecting LGBTQ archives and community collections from across the nation, with the ultimate goal of developing a collaborative digital framework for documenting and sharing LGBTQ history. The Smithsonian American Women’s History Initiative (AWHI), launched in 2017, has a key goal of telling a more complete American women’s history to include more stories of women from multiple cultural and gender-identification backgrounds. With the call from U.S. Congress to survey its 155 million collections for women’s history stories, what are the steps it will take to improve representation when only 150,000 of the over 40 million digital records are explicitly tagged with women-related topics?


Unknown Speaker 00:00
Welcome to increasing the representation of diverse populations of digital collections. We are all from the Smithsonian Institution. And we are representing different projects and initiatives that are going on across the Smithsonian, in this regard, but of course, it does not do justice to the many different activities that are going on across the Smithsonian, or, of course, beyond the Smithsonian, in this realm. And hopefully, we'll build upon many other discussions that have already been held today, around collections, collections, data, digitized collections, and different initiatives that better connects users. Is this on? Oh, I'm sure I'll just have my voice be magnified all of a sudden, and it'll be very jarring. But um, and in that, I think we all just want to acknowledge the fact that there's some irony here in the title, and yet all of us are from the same institution and bear a striking resemblance, at least racially. And so, you know, we should acknowledge the fact that there are obviously many layers to this. And so we can engage in the hard work of diversifying collections online. But of course, the online space is not the only space where this occurs. And they have very real connections to, you know, our actual institutions are hiring practices and how we engage in all work around museums on a daily basis. So starting the panel with that acknowledgments and also just inviting you to, you know, offer any critiques you have on that front as well as anything we discussed today. I'm going to let each person introduce themselves. So take it away Fe with

Unknown Speaker 01:33
a mic I have. Oh, yeah. Okay. All right. Hi, everyone. I'm Ray, all speaker that was broken up. Okay. I will turn that off. Mute. Yes. Oh, and Bob needs this for later. Okay. All right, everyone, let's arrive. Um, so I'm going to be talking about the Smithsonian American Women's History initiative. And as things happen in our world as a national institution is there is a lobbying group that decides that we need a new museum of Acts. And one of those groups approached Congress to execute a study on whether or not this museum should exist and whether or not it should be part of the Smithsonian. And we receive a $2 million appropriation a year. For this as we investigate how we may or may not do this, frankly, it takes many years and lots of layers of legislation for this to actually get enacted, or African American History and Culture museum took over 100 years to actually go from the first group of people who advocated for that to open to 2000, not 891 Did it Oh, my gosh, I'm sorry, the last year, President Obama's term we wanted to open before he left office. So that's when it open. So all that to say, one of the challenges that we have, and I hinted at this last night, if you're at Ignite is we do an inadequate job of showing people in our collections. So I used to be at an archive, I was at the Smithsonian Archives. And there were all these figures just beneath the layer of, of the Finding aids, and this didn't shed any light whatsoever on their contributions. So in a lot of ways, this is essentially what is moding, motivating us on the digital side of this work. And this project was launched to under the Smithsonian strategic goal of reaching 1 billion people a year with the digital first strategy, so no pressure, right. But that's like part of the mandate. And whether or not we can do that is still to be proven. So I'm going to be very transparent about trying to do this with very few resources, which is kind of ironic. They're mostly women leading this project. We're all doing this, in addition to our other duties. So there's, there's discussions going on. So this is very hard for me to see. So we spent the first year trying to get some things started, we have leads of education leads of digital leads of curatorial leads of marketing and communications. And one of our goals that go across everything that we're doing is to create to make sure that the role of women in history is well known, accurate, acknowledged and empowering for citizens. We have in addition to the appropriation we've also been fundraising for the initiative, because we realize we have a lot in In our 90 museums and nine research centers are ready, that talk about women, we just need to make that more explicit. So we've brought on four of the nine curators that we've decided to bring on for four year positions. These are across all different disciplines. We have launched internal pool funds to help the different museums and research centers do some of the things they would like to do with this. And we have two major exhibits coming out. So the votes for women portrait of persistence, focusing on the diverse history of American Women's Suffrage is open. And that is that anniversaries and August 2020, for those of you who don't live in the US, and that we like to highlight is not women's suffrage for everyone, right, so Native American women were left out of this picture. African American women, immigrants, the struggle is going on today. So it's really important that we understand that this has been a multi layer history that we're building on right now. And finally, we just released a publication sort of 100 objects highlight with stories of women that came out last week called Smithsonian American women. So for digital, we're I'm doing pretty good fundraising, which is pretty exciting. So I have a Wikipedian in residence for gender equity. on staff, I have a digital audience and content coordinator

Unknown Speaker 06:35
coming on this month, and I'll be hiring a data scientist in a couple of months. So if you're interested, please, please stay tuned. But for so it's a multidisciplinary approach with storytelling, looking at multiple digital tracks, but I'm going to focus on collections as data because we are a good test case, I'd say for trying to do this across all of us, right? We have science museums, we have American history museums, we have art museums, we have every flavor in a lot of ways of us Museum in our complex. So if we can develop processes that do this in our own environment, then I think we can also get other people on board with us as we develop outwards. So I'm going to go through quickly each one of these because you may have heard it last night, but we have one of the four curators on staff right now is a digital curator who's investigating the history of American women in science. She's using our own scientists as a as a test case. And instead of creating exhibits and publications, she's creating unstructured data and online resources. So that one name and a finding aid will now have lots of statements about what she did and what she contributed. And it will also be digital, secondary sources for lots of other people to use and connect to. This whole project started with a conversation with Dr. Vicky funk, who's a botanist, at Natural History Museum, Dr. Funk, when we started talking about bringing on this curator applying for the pool fund, noted that she gained credibility with her young niece who found her Wikipedia page, which was created in one of our past edited thoughts years ago, she got a call from her niece and said, you know, Aunt Vicki, you're on Wikipedia. And she didn't really understand what she studied that much. But to me, that was a moment of just knowing the importance of being acknowledged and being present in a previously absent space. This list is named in honor of her she just passed away. She reached out to people across our organization and asked for the first and second females in every discipline from astronomy all the way to zoology. And now the digital curator that we brought on board has grown that list to over 400 names, we're going to Mass export that to any open platform we can. That I think is an early success. I'm so proud of that work because it involved people. And now we're going to let the machines take off with that data science so I am I am open to this completely failing because we read about the inherent problems with machine learning. And you know, our collections reflect a lot of those biases because our culture was biased at the time that these things were collected. So really what I'm Looking to do and I'm I'm gonna speak on behalf of one of our two data scientists who work across our entire organization. Her name is Rebecca dico. And she's helped form this concept of a digital humanities data scientist. But I think the real value will be analyzing what we have, because there's no way to look across the whole of our digital resources and say what they're saying. So, just to go, you know, back a little bit, we had a data data scientists fellow this summer, and Tiana curry, and she was brought on through a nonprofit that tries to get more diverse people in the field of data science. So this was a really great partnership for us. So this particular case study, there are about 220 plants that were collected by one of our secretaries Charles de Walcott, and his wife, Mary V. Walcott, collected alongside him, she was noted for being an illustrator. Well, when Tiana started digging into the stories, because there wasn't much online, appropriated to Mary Walcott, she found some specimen that were attributed to Charles de Walcott, after he died, how is that possible? Guess what his wife was doing the collecting, but they still were saying Charles Walcott did it because she was never an official employee. There's a law in the US during World War Two, that a man and a woman cannot hold a federal position at the same time. So guess who was in voluntary capacity and not acknowledged for their work? So another area, this is this is topic modeling. So we're going to we're looking at the collections, there are 100,000 of our 14 million records explicitly tagged as related to women right now. Don't get don't even you know, we can't even go beyond that in terms of diversity. So it's, we're in really worse shape than Wikipedia right now. But these topics are what are the topics that are associated with women in our collections, and we can put that across time and start to see what our collections are saying. So we'll let you know how this goes. Once we have a full time staff member they're finally crowdsourcing, this is kind of a no brainer. To me, we're super lucky and that Wikimedia DC is a really active chapter near us. And you probably have seen Andrew Lee around and we've been working with him for a while now. But we also have a transcription platform that a lot of the volunteers there suddenly notice women deepen the collections, and they carry that knowledge, make the connections with other organizations to share what they find, and they write Wikipedia articles. So we're going to be looking at diversifying the tasks, too, that these volunteers are engaged in and also being able to capture, like, Oh, I found someone, how do we bring that back into our collections? So this is an example Shavon lips Leachman, which I'm sure a lot of people have seen her on Twitter. But this is when she noticed in this record that it was Mr. And Mrs. Jan Rose, who were doing the collecting and Jan Rose was much more name known than his wife, Lou Beatrice Sims. So our Wikipedian residents for gender representation is harnessing the scholarship of the for incoming curators as well as inventorying. What we have now we've hosted three edit a thons. My notes are totally not showing as a bummer. But just to give one example, darn. So right now we're working across the Smithsonian. But we have affiliates in every state across the US. So we're developing micro crowdsourcing tests that we're going to be reaching out. And we invite you to because we'll do this with the because of her story hashtag. But give us five names in your collections. Give us your resources. And we'll include you virtually in these editor thoughts as we go across different topics. So we're going to actually be partnering with some of our affiliates in different states around specific topic topics. Like for the anniversary of Charlottesville, we're going to look at African American History and partner African American History and Culture museum with cultural organizations in Charlotte. So, one image Portrait Gallery contributed high res image of Sojourner Truth has been viewed over 60,000 times in her article since April. This totally overshadows what has how much she's been viewed On the National Portrait Gallery's website, so, you know, I feel like to quote Taylor Swift they're so sick of running as fast as they can without getting the acknowledgments and wondering if they would get that acknowledgement if they were a man. Okay, so you got to join me on this. I'm gonna be asking you guys to show up with women on your collections. And that's it. Okay. I didn't introduce myself, you can introduce yourself now.

Unknown Speaker 15:38
Yeah, that's fine. That was Effie cap. Salas. What's your title? No, no, it's okay. Okay, it's okay. It's okay. So how do we want to do this, you want to use that mic, and we are doing a joint presentation, which you know, is always a little bit dicey. So I'm Sherry Berger. I'm the head of digital programs at the National Museum of American History. And this is their and what is your title there.

Unknown Speaker 16:10
And my title is senior digital strategist is not.

Unknown Speaker 16:16
Turn it on, I muted it.

Unknown Speaker 16:22
Hello, yeah, I'm the senior digital strategist at the Smithsonian Center for Learning and Digital Access.

Unknown Speaker 16:29
And so what we're going to talk about today is a project that we are quite literally smack dab in the middle of the project, the first phase of the project took place last week, the second phase of the project is taking place next week, a week from today. And so we're trying our best to kind of communicate to you why we're doing it and our initial results. But you know, we cannot be held accountable if that things change right, as of next week. But this project was funded by the initiative that Effie spoke about the American Women's History initiative, and really seeks to in addition to, you know, generally thinking about our online collections, and incorporating women's history, specifically looks to incorporate undergraduate voices into the description of women's history objects in our online collections catalog. And so it's a partnership between American history, the Center for Learning and Digital Access, and of course, the American Women's History initiative. Right, yes, cool.

Unknown Speaker 17:25
So I'm going to talk a little bit about sort of, I think some of the seeds that brought Sherry and I together to kind of think about this methodology and try to come up with a different way of thinking about collection records. So as I said, I worked for this, the Smithsonian very fortunate, I think, to have a place dedicated specifically to thinking about teachers and learners out of the context of the museum really about what happens in the classrooms, with the content that we digitize, or have digitally available. So the place I work for, has been around for actually more than 40 years, and really, with the mission to serve public education. And to do that, much of what we do is research and evaluation into into how teachers, educators, and learners really interact with the type of digital content that we have available. Most recently, that research really led to the development of a new platform. I've talked about here before, hopefully, maybe you've heard of called the Smithsonian Learning Lab, which is a digital toolkit that really encourages the discovery of about about 4 million digital resources right now. It has a series of tools that encourage the creation of interactive learning experiences based on those resources, and really serves as a platform for publishing and sharing these new approaches. And so we launched in 2016, we've had about a million, a million people use the platform, those are Museum and classroom educators and kind of, to our, to our delight, we have most of the Smithsonian museums, research centers, libraries and archives are now also using this platform to do the development of their educational content. But those users across the globe and ad our institutions have produced 10s of 1000s of new examples of museum digital resources centered educational resources that really range from kind of experiments to really true I think models for for digital learning. One of the really important things that we do and that enables us to achieve our mission is not just working with the educators across the museum's but really working with collection managers with curators to really improve the descriptions of those materials. And I'm going to sort of talk a little bit about some of the research that led to this and, and then Sherry will follow up with a little bit about some of the changes going on at the National Museum of American History that really sort of smashed us together into kind of trying to think about a new way of of getting to this. I think, you know, the project is really probably to say to I think it's sherry. So to this is really kind of probably a first step into us, thinking about how we can have more equitable collections, more usable digital resources. And I think, ultimately, as Effie pointed out, really it's sort of a more relevant Smithsonian In 2018, last year, we published a study in collaboration with University of California, Irvine, called curation of digital museum content. This looked broadly across the first couple years of learning lab usage, and look at all different aspects from professional development to digital content creation. And, and one of the things I think, really relevant to this was really looked at how teachers use a platform like this for search. The majority of users in this study, about 76% of them did find what they were looking for across the millions of digital resources, though, that was often only after repeated visits. And I think, you know, we heard someone say, this morning, about one of the one of the reasons for that, you know, is is sort of Google, you know, the expected the user expectation of search has has become more aligned with search engines that have had 10s, or hundreds of billions of dollars investment and, you know, learning lab, like many of our collection, display systems are pretty basic databases, that search looks at, you know, a fairly simplistic index of that material, and returns results based on you know, a pretty simple measure of relevance. And so there's a disconnect, I think, between user expectation and and what hasn't really is magnified, I think, when you start to look at the material that is being that is being indexed.

Unknown Speaker 21:24
Looking a little bit more deeply in the study at how how teachers discovered and use the concept, we found, we sort of divided up the barriers to success in terms of their use of these materials, looking both at intrinsic and extrinsic challenges. So the intrinsic things are things like, you know, lack of familiarity with visual literacy, the lack of some research strategies, and using Academic Databases by K 12 teachers. But I think more interestingly, or more important, at least for this study is looking at some of the extrinsic challenges that, that focus a lot on an inadequate metadata for their purposes. I mean, there's other things in teachers life, like limited time, and the need for tools and training. But you know, specifically looking at those extrinsic pieces, you know, insufficient content about museum resources, both, I think the descriptive information that describes object, but also that more interpretive layer of information really presents another problem, we found, you know, teachers use resources, or choose resources to use that have richer metadata associated with them. Even with that richer metadata, they can really progress from simply using and sort of finding and assembling these materials in presentation or illustration mode, to really a lot deeper opportunities, such as making observations and analyzing sources and drawing conclusions. And I think, as we begin to see, teachers progress through using the kind of material they use on learning lab to their students using that material, we see a similar trajectory there where students are conducting independent research projects, and they're using resources that have much richer metadata associated with them.

Unknown Speaker 22:59
And so I met one of the units that is providing this not very sufficient metadata to these platforms. Um, right. So at the National Museum of American History, if you've not been, it is located on the mall, it is this very large, kind of like, you know, mid century modern interpretation of a neoclassical building. And we have about 4 million visitors a year. And we have an incredibly large vast amount of collections. Okay, so that big building and additional offsite facilities has an estimated 1.8 million objects, 22,000 Linear square feet of archival material, and it's kept in 31,000 square meters of storage space. And so that encompasses a number of the objects you've seen, you see here, some of which you might be familiar with. The one in the bottom left, right, by the way, is this the first computer bug, there was like, literally a bug in the computer. And so that's why we call it a bug. Yeah, it's like you. But I think what is really important to note is that we have fewer than point 2% of these collections on the floor at any given time. That's not 2%. That is point 2%. So basically, that puts such I would say, given that I'm in the digital world, that puts an onus on us digitally, to see what we can do to expand access to our collections. Because we are really, I mean, talk about the tip of the iceberg that is like the little tiny points at the top right. So we really have to think creatively, and most importantly, at scale about how to reach people with our collections, which I think arguably is at odds with what Darren is describing as a need to describe them much more deeply. Right. So we have this kind of tension between doing it all, but doing it better, right? Couple that with the fact that we are in the midst of a big sea change at my institution in terms of what collections we share online. So what these graphs show is the current picture as of today, right now, we share about 40% of our stuff 40% of our records that we have available in our in our internal database is what we are actually pushing to the web. And then we only share approximately 60% of the images attached to those records, it gets a little confusing where objects have multiple images and stuff like that. But effectively, we have more digitized and we're actually sharing and we have more records than we're actually sharing. In a couple of weeks actually cross your fingers in two weeks, we're actually going to be flipping the switch on our entire objects collection database and bringing that light blue line all the way up to the top and sharing the entirety of our collection, minimal metadata and all. And you know, it's a range of metadata in terms of both quantity and quality. And one of the big questions is how do we make such a large volume of records actually usable and relevant to people that especially the audience's, we want to reach in a very active way, such as the, you know, what we would broadly call non specialists, users, right, people who do not have an incredible amount of background in American history objects, non curators, non professional historians, such as teachers and students and the undergraduate students that we wanted to look at for our project. So let's let's get, let's get a deeper look at some of what I'm talking about here, we're gonna really get into it. So along with all those objects, we have a number of women's history objects, as you might imagine, because we are a National History Museum. But it's not always obvious at first glance that these are in fact, women's history objects. Or ever, you could look at this record for a long time and perhaps never reached that conclusion. Because this is an example of an object from our medicine and science collection. We will be sharing it online soon with this big push. And here are some of the things that you get out of it. The object title is Norplant system Levo Nora, gestural implants calm a resource center. Very provocative. Some intriguing measurements get a little deeper here of a syringe and an artificial forearm. Yes, that seems to be what's depicted it right. But you know, your guess is as good as mine. The object name here is probably the closest we get to even hinting at the fact that it might be about women's history, because you'll see that it says educational materials, comma, contraceptive, right, maybe.

Unknown Speaker 27:23
So you know, I am a proponent of minimal metadata records. This is my job. This is what I would like to see in the world is us being more transparent with our data. So I would never say this is a bad record, right? Like this gives you some information, it certainly lets me know that his thing is called Norplant system it right. I mean, I can retrieve it if it's a known object search. But even I will admit, this is not a particularly effective record, when it comes to actually having real people interpret and find objects on something like women's history. complicate that with the fact that, you know, we have a lot of discussion about the words we use to describe our collections. So I would love, love, love and my museum to move towards more controlled vocabularies to facilitate actually finding these objects, and especially, you know, in this case, women's history objects. But then the question is, what do we standardize to? So you know, this is the Chanel nomenclature, which is arguably like the most general and best historical object, they I see some faces, that's good, tell me what is better, I will go there. But the preferred object name for contraception is prophylactic, which, you know, I'm not convinced is the word your typical undergrad or non specialists would use when conducting women's history research. And then dig a little deeper here, the only specific object types they list under that category are condom diaphragm and sponge. So this is obviously a very limited set of contraceptive objects or approaches. Right. And so we're not even representing like the full spectrum of what in you know, 2019? Actually, contraception contraceptive devices look like? Right? So there are a lot of issues here.

Unknown Speaker 29:06
Yeah, so I think, you know, looking at those issues, and thinking about some of the research that that that came out, looking really at the difficulties and the barriers to usage, really, sort of, I think, became the seeds of this project and really wanted to figure out specifically how can we best describe women's histories, objects within the collection of the National Museum of American History, you know, in a way that incorporates content, contemporary women's history, scholarship, the changing understanding and language surrounding gender. And really, I think most of all the percent the perceptive, excuse me the perspectives of audiences that the Smithsonian is really interested in reaching, you know, teachers and learners and specifically for this research, a sherry mentioned undergraduate students. So we're gonna walk a little bit through the methodology. And as Sherry mentioned, we're sort of right in the middle of this and so we're going to share a little bit of what we've learned and kind of where we're headed. And I think what we hope to really help to Find out. We're really inspired by some work that SF MOMA did a couple of years ago, within the art historical context of trying to add additional tags to, to their work. And so they can be in a series of workshops that use worksheets, like this really kind of Lo Fi approach and suggested some keywords and asked different types of audiences to suggest additional keywords. And so I think what's really interesting here is, you can see on the right some of the commonly suggested tags are things that often aren't included in museums, controlled vocabularies, things like identity, or pride or self. So we did a really early sort of pilot with a fellow this summer to again, kind of look at a question about whether we could extend SF momos Methodology From looking at interpretive ways of thinking about art objects, to a collection of historical objects, and to see if that would kind of work. And we sort of resulted in this kind of thing, which was really great to kind of work shopping of a collection record, to think about how non specialists could really begin to think about describing objects in ways that fall out of the maybe the traditional ways that museums think about describing these objects. And so the sort of stepwise methodical methodology here was to identify students. And so we were really interested in using undergraduates, I think, partially because it's a really important audience focus for the American Women's History initiative. A whole group of us working with Fe workshop, who we thought could be really high value recipients of some of the work we were doing in college students really sort of rose to the top. And so and I think for our project, it really made sense to think about undergraduates as sort of a stand in for people still using these materials in a learning context, but one's not necessarily with it with the background, or the education or the experience to really understand how to use our databases in the way they are now. So we're working with American University in Washington, with undergraduates in women's studies and history courses. Next was select objects, she's going to show you the final objects that we selected, but working through a diversity of objects to to workshop with students. Next was to develop those worksheets. And so building on again off of SF momos model to think about how we can use these objects in their existing records to talk both to staff and to the students. And so the first part was really to work with staff at the National Museum of American History. So we talked to kind of people in sort of Sherry's world sort of collection, folks, but also curators and social media, communicators, and an exhibit educator to also have them reflect on I think this is really kind of an interesting for me, I mean, the senator that I work for, is not embedded within one of the museums at the Smithsonian, and we're not a collective unit. So it was really sort of fascinating for me to, I think, to have Sherry say, you know, most people I work with to don't think these are great records, like this isn't sort of the best work, we understand the deficiencies and that we need to sort of look at these from different perspectives and to provide these additional context. And so what we do is we use those interviews and what we can learn from these varieties of internal perspectives, to enhance the records. And so we took the existing records from our sort of test bank, and came up with some new ways of describing them are some additions to them, that we're guessing maybe will help get us to where we need to go. So that's what we're finishing right now. Almost there. Next week, we're going to be with the students. So we're going to do a series of workshops where the students first will see just the image associated with the test objects. And we'll have a conversation, some interviews around that, they'll then see the existing record. And again, do the same conversation and interviews and then you'll see these enhanced records and sort of see how close we were to the best guess at how

Unknown Speaker 33:47
how these records could be enhanced to be perhaps more useful. And then really, ultimately, the idea is to bring that learning back to help us inform a potential new methodology, I think, to think about how we change the way that we think about these records with with a different different type of user in mind, right.

Unknown Speaker 34:11
So I don't either I have my I have my own Yeah. So these are the objects that we ultimately decided to test with both is there and mentioned the staff and then the students. Um, so clockwise from the top left, that's a what's called a gymnasium suit. It's, I'll like spoiler alert for you. These are the object titles, but I mean, even for me, they're not all that. Representative. I don't always know what they mean. So gymnasium suit was like a, it was also called a bloomer suit. And it was the way women exercise that time in the gym was in full wool. So yeah, the second image is douche powder, and that soy powder that you would mix with water and it was marketed as a contraceptive device, interestingly enough, yep. Right. Yeah. Oops.

Unknown Speaker 34:58
That's, that's, I'm sure a lot of Beautiful. At the top right is, you know, a political garment. It's a rock for rock against Reagan was the name of a punk concert. And this was a t shirt that a Latina punk rocker wore and then you can't see it here, but she actually changed the date, it says a 1984. And then she acts that out. And she said 1985, because like The fight continued, right. The bottom left object is a shadow line pencil a shadow lane is a almost like a Swiss Army knife of the late 19th century that women would wear with all different kinds of tools at their hip. And like almost like a you know, the way you think of like a charm bracelet or something. But all with like very practical tools that your hip. That was a pencil. And then the last one is our favorite, the Norplant Educational Resource Center, which, you know, I just love. And we will get back to that, don't worry, I will tell you more about it. These are the staff findings, like hot off the presses seriously, like synthesized on the plane over here. I think they clustered roughly into three areas. You know, first of all, the staff felt that the object records needed more information, I guess I would say about the objects in history. So their past lives, right? What they are, how they were used, by whom was a big question of the staff is like saying we want to provide donor information, donor information, as at all right. So we tried to incorporate a little that the objects now and their importance to history and the museum. So a lot more about like, why we collected it, what's it doing there? What does it even matter. And then finally, and interestingly to me connections to other objects, because that's where we start to get into controlled vocabularies, and really thinking about how we hook stuff up, right. And here's an example of how we are very much right now in the process of enhancing the record. Going back to this Norplant, a system object, this is so in response to staff beat feedback to test with students in that final object enhancement rounds, after those students had been provided feedback on the more minimal records, right. And we didn't remove any data. But what we're doing rather is layering it on. And I wasn't able to fit the whole thing here. So don't worry, the measurements of the syringe and the artificial arm are still there. But I wanted to show where we added a lot. So the black and the pink here are all things that are already exists in our system. So they're either going online, when we put them on there, or they're very ready sources of descriptions we have and that we could, the purple copy is what our professor historian partner drafted as, as part of kind of her background as a women's studies historian with words specific to women's studies, and that field and the discipline. And the green are controlled vocabularies, mostly out of the Library of Congress subject headings. So we have a range of things there. And I'll just i Oh, I can't actually read it for you. Can you read that this object is so interesting, I didn't know much about the Norplant contraception system. But it's basically like contraception that is implanted small rods that are implanted under the arm. And there was like a lot of controversy surrounding this because it caused terrible side effects. And it was often used by lawmakers to suggest that certain women in this country, namely marginalized, lower income, and African American woman should actually you know, it was pushed basically on them. So this object that was just this, like, very kind of, you know, almost like medical, straight laced all medical nomenclature thing now has this whole other life, right with all of this robust context. So that is going into the record. And additionally, we're pushing it a little bit here with some of the subject headings, and including some that I would be really interested to see what the students will say, things like population control, in addition to birth control, and really pushing the ideas of, you know, where does a museum have a responsibility to, you know, kind of editorialize, and we're, you know, what, where is that line? And so seeing what the undergrads who are in volved in these, like, if this formative time of thinking through these questions, it'll be really interesting what they say about those ideas. And so I'm hoping we get a little bit of that back from them. So cross your fingers, and stay tuned. And then what we wanted to end on, though, was the idea that, you know, just zooming out again, here, I love this generous interface from the New York Public Library. Right. You know, it's regardless of what the findings are for this project, you know, I think our hope for this is that it represents an actual methodology for engaging real people in a physical space with online records. Right. And I think that, you know, as, as a digital collections practitioner, I am guilty too, of espousing this belief that, you know, if we put it online, they will come, you know, we're going to put all of our records online and then the American people will tell us what we should do next session. And you know, like, no, it's been Because the hard work of it comes after, right? And I think everyone in this room knows that, you know, we have to devise active programs of engagement and bring people in in a real way to you know, solicit their feedback and input when we're involved in these projects. So, again, yeah, stay tuned, thank you

Unknown Speaker 40:28
you gonna stand? Is it okay, if I stand, I'm on that metabolic seesaw of caffeine and alcohol. So common to conference going in my blood was starting to settle. So I think it'd be a little better if I'm up on my feet. So thank you. My name is Bob Horton, I'm the Assistant Director for collections and archives at the National Museum of American History. And

Unknown Speaker 40:52
it just worked. And it's just reassures us that we're all in the right place.

Unknown Speaker 40:59
So I've long thought access should drive our digital and digitization initiatives, access was good, more access was better, et cetera, partly because I started in the career as a state archivist. And with that background, I was very interested in transparency, accountability, rights to to make government open to citizens. But there's also a question of demand, I think that needs to be factored into the equation. Whenever I give a tour of the archives or any of the storage areas at the museum. The question I always get is, well, when will all this be online, and I always say never, it'll never all be online. But that's the expectation that it should all be online. And I think this is in expectation is reinforced by the fact that there's so much funding available historically, and even now, for digitization and the access to digital content, enormous amounts of time, energy and resources are devoted to increasing the amount of content available online. So getting that content online has always been complicated by intellectual property rights. And there's long been debates about fair use, etc. And certainly now the process is more and more complicated by the growing concerns about privacy, we're much more aware of of sensitive issues and personally identifiable information than we have perhaps been in the past. And I think this is even more so now as we start to work with diverse in different communities. And as we look forward to the VISTA open access, which is if you can promise us is going to come in February, for the Smithsonian. So there are two strands to what follows one, I'm going to talk a little bit about our plans and proposed digital hub for LGBT collections. And I'm also going to try to work in some information from a recent article by Sonia catchall techno heritage. She's a law professor at UC Berkeley. And I think these will help us explore the larger framework of cultural heritage institutions dealing with technology, and especially with collections going online. So what does it all mean for us? So this is a brief description of, of what we propose for the digital hub. It's a project is a partnership of the Smithsonian's Museum of American History with the one foundation, which is based in Los Angeles and helps support the one archives at now at USC. And we have under gone negotiations, almost interminable negotiations with Stanford libraries, about developing the platform so that they promised to be our digital partner in this. The project started with a meeting to which we invited, you know, all the usual suspects you can think of. And we've then since gone through a variety of iterations of exploring options and ideas through additional meetings and discussions and conversations. In those we've always heard a clear message, nobody wanted a messiah, right. I mean, that the idea was, the Smithsonian wasn't perceived as coming to anybody's rescue with these ideas. That's a variation of we're from the federal government. And we're here to help, I suppose. But everyone we talked to, in the, in the, in this process, had all the ordinary concerns you'd hear about this type of process, distrust of a big, traditional institution that historically had not been documenting LGBTQ, LGBTQ communities, questions about control questions about authority questions about process, just sort of definition of what the benefits were. And I think to a certain extent, cultural heritage institutions that had been working with indigenous peoples had already encountered a lot of these things, and I'll just point out two really wonderful projects.

Unknown Speaker 44:58
Mooka to collect Since management system, and the traditional knowledge labels that I think, really are wonderful models for us to consider. So those are those helped to help us define some of the as I said, some of the ordinary concerns. We also encountered, I think, some extraordinary concerns. And one quite clearly was it wasn't a community we were looking at it was communities, which we heard over and over and over again, not a single and representative group, but many and multiple communities defined by race, by class by gender, sexual orientation, geography, you can you name it. And that was kind of a daunting development process, because each one of those communities represented a certain amount of investment in time resources, conversations, meetings, negotiations, etc. And there's a limit to how much we could do. My immediate sort of response in a self protective way was kind of a reference to Freud's narcissism of minor differences, like how important was this? And I spent long years in Minnesota, were the descendants of Swedes always scoring the descendants of Norwegians. Minneapolis made fun of St. Paul. They're right next to each other. Everyone looked down on Wisconsin. I'm sorry, Matt, I probably should have said North Dakota, anybody here from North Dakota. Okay. So everyone looked down on North Dakota. And this was tempting, I think, but I was really submissive to the fact that these these concerns these distinctions, since these differences were very real and very heartfelt. So we somehow had to address them, and somehow how to account for them in and what we were kind of trying to develop, they really came to the fore though, when we, when then was connected to a digitization, the idea of aggregating metadata into digital hub was far less controversial. That then the prospect which really engendered a lot of serious opposition of real content, digital content becoming part of the hub. And so and that was probably perhaps prophetic. If we get to the second strand of the conversation I wanted to bring forward which is Sonia casuals article techno heritage, she starts with the assumption that things that were once tangible cultural properties have essentially become intangible intellectual properties. And she's referencing to developments, one increased digitization vastly increased availability of collections as images and data, and to the the directions museums are taking in managing that digital content, the response to that, and as a consequence of these, she argues that the framework for defining access could well become less about intellectual property rights, and more about contracts. And how might this look from the perspective of historically repressed in underrepresented communities? So ask you this, if we think intellectual property rights had been defined and encoded by the dominant hegemonic culture, and just think about contracts, what could that offer, it's much more and extraordinarily biased than the form. So cashflows larger concern about the consequences of the digital for the museum really kind of boiled down to I think this is fairly familiar, not controversial, that we have to be aware that the technology is biased is just as much as the law codes.

Unknown Speaker 48:19
Curation can be performed by algorithms, which will read it. But for her, this is not a good thing. Legally, it puts us in a bad position. But more important as collections become increasingly a function of technology, and they are even more effectively dominated by are defined by the biases and presumptions built into the Applications rather than enhanced by them. So I think we need to go back to the concerns raised by my colleagues, and partners in the LGBTQ digital hub project, they're really on to something, our assumptions about professional identities, as cultural heritage professionals, our standards, our best practices, our ideas of sustainable functions, and services, all color, our understanding about the application of technology to our routines, and it's combined with the inertia of how our institutions are structured, and how our resources are allocated. This makes for both practical and epistemic barriers to meaningful and ongoing change. So I'd suggest we do much more to encourage dialogue with communities and consequently change what we do, and how we think before we build our apps, designed our platforms, etc. And the range of possibilities to consider could include post custodial approaches to collections, which would be an extraordinary change for the Smithsonian 1.8 million objects. Do we do we want all those do we need more? We don't get a sherry who has to describe them would say no. But also sharing authority, development of new curatorial skills and areas of expertise. Do we do things or do we share things? Do we facilitate things or, and help people or do we do it all? All ourselves, does it all happen happen? This all have to happen within the four walls of a building on the mall? Nice was it Nayla? And understanding, I think that larger context of interest. So what we can posit so far in our work, is it well, certain conceptual themes broadly applied to such engagements, we'll have a lot of a lot of different variables to consider in just the equation of building these things out, there's a diversity of communities, they're not all the same. There's a diversity of our institutions, we're not all the same. There's a dynamic nature of technology, it's never the same, it's changing and changing outside of our control. And then there's last and always something we talked about, which is almost the the lingua franca of all projects is the availability of resources, or the or the lack thereof. So all that will mean as we move from theory to practice, from great idea, to everyday anxiety, there will always be a wide variety of opportunities for us at the level of implementation. I think it's going to be hard work, and plenty of it. But we do have to, I think, start to change, start to think about changing what we do, and changing what we are in order to address some of the challenges and opportunities ahead of us. Thank you.

Unknown Speaker 51:21
Any questions? We didn't, unfortunately leave that much time. But I think we have seven minutes, seven minutes. Exactly.

Unknown Speaker 51:30
We have a 15 minute buffer in this room. Oh, good.

Unknown Speaker 51:33
So we can stay? Yes.

Unknown Speaker 51:35
Hi, thank you so much. All of his work is fantastic, and really seeing it so important. And I'm really glad that you are all impatient and you're continuing to open it up to be more inclusive and broader. And in all directions. I have a really specific question about the metadata that you are the description data that you displayed in terms of their layering here. How will you be presenting that on to users? And will that represent in the API? Like, what how does that look in terms of the layers of information? Yeah,

Unknown Speaker 52:06
so right now, that's such a great question, because one of the things I've wrestled with the entire time on this project is how closely to try to represent our current realities of our database and how we do things. And actually, our database is pretty flexible. It's just that I have, you know, hundreds of people using it. And so there are like these ways that we use it. And so I haven't quite, I decided to say, Let's go for the ideal, you know, so let's just test with this. Let's see what the students say. And let's see what they come back with. And if we are really looking at a universe where we need to layer descriptive labels or something, which I think we are, then we'll try to figure out how our database and our then systems that take from our database, and the API's actually do that. I was really inspired by one of the earlier talks today about kind of the limitations of collections management systems. I don't know if you're at that, but it's becomes this interesting kind of circular thing where it's like, is the problem your CIS or your CMS? Or is the problem your data model? Or is the problem that you just haven't even imagined what you what your requirements are? You know, and so, so the short story is No, I haven't really figured out I do know that rcis does make it possible to have multiple descriptions for a given object. So I'm hopeful that we could leverage that kind of limited functionality, but then it would be up to us to actually define the rules for how we do that. So we don't just have what we have now, which is like, whatever you want in those descriptive buckets, but more of like guidance to say, Okay, well, this is a material description. And this is a, you know, the way we use it in this exhibit. And then this is, and by the way, the arguments about the metadata, even in this testing phase are about that, because some curators think, well, this is how we describe an object and some say, Well, I collected it for this, but now you're using it in a women's history context. That's different, right? And so I think that we are kind of headed towards this environment where we have no choice but to kind of show them the many lives these objects lead. And we're gonna have to figure out how to like logistically do that, but my thinking was, let's let's tackle the conceptual first to figure out the requirements and then reverse engineer it to how we actually make that work. You know, does that answer your question? Yeah.

Unknown Speaker 54:30
I was curious. So with things like this, where you're listing women who are the first to the second bill, since so much of women's history is as like homemakers and other roles that aren't listed traditionally as professions, how do you represent that whole aspect of human history when there aren't specific needs to give to

Unknown Speaker 54:58
sigh Um, yeah, so we're working on it. I mean, one of the things I love about American histories collection is that it includes that kind of more, you know, what we call less notable history of, of these different roles. But we are something to keep an eye on. We're going to be bringing in people who theorize about, you know, representation and data, who work out processes for tagging things. And they're going to, we're going to basically be defining how to do this with the project. I think that reflecting on what Bob just said, I think that's one of the things we can do as a national museum, and why not make the women's initiative been developing things that can help us do this better? And so yeah, I mean, we're not there yet. Everyone needs a little caffeine, I can see it. And I do want to shout out to Carrie Cacioppo who's in the audience, too, she's a co lead on the education team for the women's initiative. She's also developing, so are three target audience audiences for the women's initiative, and I was pretty strict about just declaring three middle school students, women and girls of color, both in terms of representation and how we serve them and college students. One of the things that Carrie was funded to build is a middle school curriculum to invite that demographic into transcribe documents related to girl history for an upcoming exhibit at the American Women's History initiative. So I love this idea of bringing this history to the girls now and having them reflect on it. So that could be a good guideline for you guys to use. If you do crowdsourcing to bring it down to a new level of audience, Ross, a stupid question for

Unknown Speaker 57:07
coffee. And maybe this is just going to have an open mind. And the second qualifier is apologies if this has already come up in a discussion that ignite or about decolonization already. But when you have those, those amazing days, when you come together, miss it, it's actually exciting to think that you are now going to workshops where as professionals how radical do you get? What What, Where do you allow yourself to go? Because actually, there are incremental backwards already, then you can, you could go there, but actually, you need to strategically and sensibly and pragmatically expediently, let's get there, because that would be revolutionary when it meant within an institution, but in those moments at the very beginning, and very end of the day, where you are being at your most creative and expansive, where where do you allow yourselves to go, because I'm thinking of the work of like the amazing character at UBC, and people like Laura Gibson at King's College London, who've been working in South Africa, with Zuni tribes, and looking at the legacy of the data model in New Zealand and South Africa. And the problem there is not just the algorithm that Scott was loaded into dripping with, with ideology, not just the term list, not even the data model itself, but just database computer carries a whole load of loading baggage with it. So they're challenging us to go back. Now, I'm not suggesting that you stopped using the CMS but you know, the changes you're describing are fantastic changes, but it's still working, isn't it with with with that data model? Where could you work? Where's that radical

Unknown Speaker 58:53
project orientated? Completely different?

Unknown Speaker 58:59
I think I'll just jump in, because it it, we're in the process of developing a new strategic plan with a new secretary and a new director of Museum of American History. And that I think, you have to tie that to basically, resource reallocation is we are, what 100 closing and 175 years old as an institution, everything we do now has a constituency and a group of supporters. And it has embedded investment in terms of staff training and expertise to to something radically different means addressing that foundation, and that we can work to a certain extent on the edges. And we can work towards, I think in incremental steps in a specific direction. But the idea of a radical change at a place that considers itself incredibly successful at what it does now is probably not likely to happen unless If something really drastic or urgent comes along as well,

Unknown Speaker 1:00:05
do you have that conversation? We're having

Unknown Speaker 1:00:07
a conference we saw with the women's initiative we are and actually I, you know, we've had a history of cultural centers that start is that and it's it's very much like the model of a mini museum where there are curators, there's an education person, one digital person. So we're talking about how we can do this differently in light of how most people access what we have. I wouldn't say that's fully formed yet. But I'm also thinking about the network model of museums across the US. And then how can we take that worldwide? So like, instead of just thinking in words all the time? How do we increase that network out? So we can dramatically address some of the challenges that we're seeing? I mean, I thought it was completely stunning that 70% of people mentioned in K 12. curriculum are women. That is 18% of Wikipedia bios are about women. So there's something fundamentally that we're doing that matches what is getting out there as well. And it's, I'm increasingly thinking about the scale challenge of doing of of the need to do this at scale. And for it, not just to be get the 19 museums and non research centers at the Smithsonian, functioning better together. So but it's going to take different and I have more flexibility than bigger organizations right now. So we'll, we'll play that out for a little while.

Unknown Speaker 1:01:45
But where are you asking also about kind of like systems of systems of oppression? Right? Not just I mean, is that what you're getting at? Because I'm not sure I fully understood but like, no, no, no, no, but

Unknown Speaker 1:02:00
I think it rests on what what?

Unknown Speaker 1:02:02
Response? Centers? Yeah. Establishment view, all that formality. And there will

Unknown Speaker 1:02:08
be a conservatism. I'm just wondering, behind the curtain. In those workshops, do you actually allow yourself to think, Okay, we'll get those collections online, we'll change those fields. But wouldn't it be great if we could just ditch the rows and columns, and that that term is done that is source? It'd be great to see Sonia lead the way as I say, isn't a massively different way of conceptualizing it online collections representative.

Unknown Speaker 1:02:34
I mean, I think we're having I have those conversations. I can't speak for everyone, or they like it, you know, broadcast in front of, you know, if everyone tweets this, I don't know what that'll do. I'm a federal employee, you know, but like, Yeah, I think those conversations are happening. And I think that they're happening with increasing frequency and with a lot of kind of self reflection, and you have a lot of folks that are really trying to reconcile that because, you know, we are a federal system. We are, it's very in, it's in it's difficult. I can only speak for being an American history, but you know, we have folks going out to collect on the 2020 election. You know, it's very, the collecting the documentation, all of it, I think is coming into question, and a lot of people are having some pretty, you know, Edge conversations there. But I think the challenge is figuring out how you actually do it to Bob's point. Yeah.

Unknown Speaker 1:03:30
Thank you, everyone.