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Overview of MW98: Why you should attend MW98 Learn new skills to enhance your museum site Explore issues and controversies facing Museums and the Web Experts featured at MW98 Commercial products and services to enhance your web site Organizations supporting MW98: Online interchange regarding the virtual museum experience Juried awards to best web sites in 5 categories

Archives & Museum Informatics

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published April 1998
updated Nov. 2010


Harvesting New Mexico's Cultural Resources

Alex Traube, Executive Director, New Mexico CultureNet, USA


This paper is about a museum's digitizing project. In a larger sense, it is about telecommunications, and its potential to capture, shape, and deliver cultural information and, in doing so, address a number of social, educational, and economic needs of my state, New Mexico. It is my contention that the time is right for grassroots, bottom-up change in these areas.

The Museum Project: In 1997, The Palace of The Governors, New Mexico's State History Museum, began working on a digitization pilot project with two educational institutions in Santa Fe. Only a few museum projects of this kind had been completed previously in New Mexico, none involving the kind of partnership described here. The partners in this project, along with the Palace, were the SER Academy, an alternative Santa Fe high school for at-risk, predominantly Hispanic youth, and Santa Fe Community College.

The focus of this School-To-Work project, as it has become pegged, is a brief but significant episode of the Civil War that took place in New Mexico. Photographs, manuscripts, books, and artifacts associated with the Civil War in New Mexico were photographed, digitized, and catalogued by the teenage Academy students. The same students used the digitized materials to create a Civil War In New Mexico web site. The site will be available on publicly accessible computers at The Palace of The Governors, in Santa Fe, and on the World Wide Web.

The roles of the partners in the collaboration were pretty straightforward: The Palace of The Governors provided physical materials (artifacts and photographs), intellectual content (scholarly articles), career mentoring from staff, and library resources where the students were taught to do genealogical research. The Academy selected the student-workers and provided daily instruction for them in various subjects, including software and hardware-related skill development. The community college contributed technological leadership, including a course in HTML for the students; the college also provided a clearly delineated educational path for the Academy students for after high school. It was my role as project coordinator to bring the partners to the table, make sure the agreements were clear, and oversee the completion of the project within the framework of agreed upon goals.



About ten months before this project began, the director of the Palace of The Governors, Dr. Tom Chávez, asked me what would be a reasonable starting point for his museum to consider the issues inherent in digitizing its considerable collections. My answer was, start with a small, narrowly focused pilot project that would both stimulate public interest and create staff buy-in. Such a project, we understood, would cause the beginning of a sea change for the museum, disrupting people's routines, causing staff the discomfort of having to learn new skills and ways of working, and perhaps most significantly, would force staffers to act more collaboratively, compelling them to relinquish some dominion over areas which had been theirs alone for years, even decades. It should be noted that virtually all of the Palace of The Governors staff is close to retirement age and are reluctant to learn new ways of doing things at this point in their professional lives Fortunately, Dr. Chávez is passionate about the changes which implementation of technology at the museum will bring to scholarship and to education.

Dr. Chávez and his colleagues decided that the Civil War represented what was needed for a pilot project: a goodly amount (but not too many) artifacts, photographs, maps, as well as original, in-house scholarship. Two of the teachers at the Academy saw in this project an opportunity to get funding via a Technology Literacy Grant from the New Mexico State Department of Education. They were successful and, within a fairly short period of time, we were able to begin planning the project. So, a unique partnership formed between a museum, an "alternative" high school, and a college. A picture of complementary needs began to emerge.



The Museum: The Palace of The Governors recognized that it needed to make more of its collections accessible to the public and thus reach a wider audience. After all, it is the state history museum, which in theory, means that its purview is supposed to be statewide. Outreach, however, is not easy in a sparsely populated, geographically large (fifth in the union), poor state. New Mexico's culture, though widely celebrated, is woefully underfunded.

In addition to the clearly perceived imperative to extend the museum's reach, the director understands that research ought to be integrated, not discrete and determined by curatorial fiefdoms. Why shouldn't one be able to search through photographs, books, maps, artifacts, and paintings, all at the same time? A good question indeed.

The High School: The Academy, as the high school is called, uses computers extensively for self-paced learning. In addition, the school staff see computers as relating directly to the world of work. Programs like the one with the Palace of The Governors tie in with a well funded but underutilized School To Work initiative in the Santa Fe Public School District. This project also was viewed as a grant magnet, something which proved to be correct.

Employment for young people, along with a 40+% high school drop out rate (higher for Hispanics), is a major concern in Santa Fe. There are few opportunities outside of state government (Santa Fe is the state capital) or tourism-related service industries for employment. There is a crying need for meaningful, sustained, professional level jobs in Santa Fe, in all of New Mexico, really. Education and work-directed training are essential requirements for improvement of this scenario.

The Community College: Santa Fe Community College was founded about ten years ago and immediately became one of the cherished institutions of Santa Fe. The college campus is pretty, modern, and clean; tuition is an incredible $17 a credit hour, with complete tuition waivers for any Santa Fe high school graduate who wants to continue his or her education. Santa Fe Community College is highly proactive to the poor and underserved in a community which often only caters to the rich and well connected.

In addition to providing post secondary and lifelong educational opportunities to the people of this community, SFCC is a designated New Media Center, one of only 400 such sites worldwide. This designation means that the college has an obligation to use technology in the service of cultural preservation.


Increased Access to Our Cultural Patrimony

There is a wealth of cultural resources in New Mexico waiting to be harvested and processed. Museum, archival, library, and individual collections need to be translated into electronic forms which people can access, independent of location- in their homes, classrooms, and other public facilities. To cite one example of an underutilized, almost inaccessible collection, the Palace of The Governors has the best collection of historical photographs in the United States, west of the Mississippi. Its Photographic Archives contains over 530,000 images, which are not even in a database, let alone digitized.

Other examples of material awaiting digitization and electronic publication are: Indian languages which are oral only, manuscripts which are too fragile to be handled, sites too remote for most people to get to (e.g., El Morro State Park, the site of the Inscription Rock, with the carved names of early Spanish settlers to New Mexico), murals, buildings, furniture, and writing done by WPA writers, etc., etc.

Creating Economic Opportunities

Am I being naive or is there a gigantic opportunity inherent in the Information Age in New Mexico? Why is no one in our state talking about INFORMATION as a generator of economic growth? We have the raw materials. Shouldn't we be able to create jobs with the generations-long tasks which lie ahead of us? Are we not at the beginning of a long, long process of using technology in service of building "Cultural Pyramids," new information structures? We contend that these new information structures can turn the economy of New Mexico around.

The huge quantity of materials that need to be digitally captured (via still cameras, scanners, video cameras, tape recorders, etc.), shaped (into databases, web sites, curricula, etc.), and published (on the web, over public access television, on radio, on videotape, and, even, on paper) present us with critically needed opportunities to train young people for meaningful work and, in doing so, make the process our own. We need to own the process!

Education & Training As The Keys To Success

Without rigorous education and training, all the meaningful jobs in the world don't mean a thing for citizens of New Mexico. These jobs will go to transplants from California or Chicago. This would be yet another form of colonization that we can't afford. We need to look at the Information Age in New Mexico as the mechanism to foster education, ethnic knowledge and pride, career training, cultural preservation, and equalized access to publicly owned information. Commitment to education is the key to capitalizing on the opportunities presented by technology's capability to deliver information and images of our culture to people who need them the most.

Avoiding Cultural Colonization

New Mexico is more than a destination point or a style. It is a cultural confluence, a counterpoint to the history of the United States as it is told in most history books. We need to tell our own history and add it to the fabric of our nation's identity. If we do not, we face the real possibility that, once again, others will come to New Mexico and will do the job for us-at a cost. They will claim to be respectful and objective, but they will not know how to be so. They will mainly know how to profit from our heritage, our patrimony.

There is the real possibility that no new jobs will be created, save those of support staff. There is the possibility that corporate outsiders will re-write our culture. There is the chance that we will come to a point where we no longer know who we are, who we were, or who we could have been. This must not happen!




New Mexico CultureNet's focus is very similar to the project described above. We feel it is a model for delivery of the kind of information found in The Civil War in New Mexico project. Furthermore, New Mexico CultureNet is about creating access to cultural information. It is about collaboration, inclusiveness, and ethnic pride.

New Mexico CultureNet is a web site, an online "Mother Index," dedicated to providing cultural and educational information on the World Wide Web for New Mexicans and others who are interested in New Mexico. The site hosts cultural and educational calendars, provides directories of various kinds, develops or adapts articles, features, curricula, etc.

New Mexico CultureNet is also a human web of people willing to work outside the box. The following are some of the focal points of this unique initiative:

Focus of New Mexico CultureNet

  • New Mexico CultureNet reflects the need of people in New Mexico to have increased and equal access to cultural information. Much of the information in museums, libraries, archives, and universities has been funded by taxpayer dollars; those same taxpayers, we feel, should have greater access than they now do.
  • New Mexico CultureNet reflects the need for young people to participate in their community's cultural life, not only as visitors, but an salaried employees. Current staff are approaching retirement age, this as audiences are becoming overwhelmingly gray.
  • New Mexico CultureNet reflects the need to create economic development and employment opportunities in New Mexico, particularly for youth. We see culture as the great untapped, clean resource which can drive economic development, create jobs, and allow people to remain in rural communities.
  • New Mexico CultureNet reflects the need to integrate the arts up and down and across the curriculum in education. We provide resources which can be easily found and used by people of all ages, including teachers and students.
  • New Mexico CultureNet reflects the need to encourage participation in and enjoyment of the arts. Clear data exist which demonstrate that technology training alone is not enough to produce workers capable of handling the demands of jobs in this Information Age. We must train the imaginative, the articulate, and the collaborative sides of people's brains in order for them succeed in this New World.
  • New Mexico CultureNet reflects the need to learn more about the cultures and history of New Mexico in order to cultivate pride, understanding, and tolerance. We are at risk of becoming peoples without culture, without a sense of who we are, but filled with prejudices built on ignorance. Our strategy is to create information resources which are objective and multicultural.



While the following observations may not seem to directly relate to cultural information and economic development, they pertain to the partnerships which foster such development.

  • Slowness: Dealing with bureaucracies can sometimes be maddening; dealing with schools is worse.
  • Cooperation: Educators, bureaucrats, museum professionals all can be like hens guarding their nests. Refocusing agreed upon goals and objectives at regular intervals is imperative.
  • Funding: One has to be crystal clear about who gets how much for what.
  • Independence vs. Interdependence: The current wisdom is, collaborate or die! Make sure that each and every partner gets and receives; win/win is critical to successful partnerships.
  • What Is Needed vs. What is Wanted: Someone said at a meeting last summer, "Anyone can give a client what they need; the trick is to give them what they want." We need to remember this daily, particularly in the education and cultural communities. Of course, the real trick is to get people to want what they need.
  • Who Really Does the Work: Map out tasks as much as possible, the clearer the better.
  • Scalability: Make sure you can reuse your project on a larger scale. Also make sure you can hand off the collaboration as a model to other similar organizations; this is what the TIIAP folks call interoperability.

Last modified: March 19, 1998. This file can be found below http://www.archimuse.com/mw98/
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