On 'cultural heritage technologists'

A Requirements Engingeering lecture at uni yesterday discussed 'satisfaction arguments' (a way of relating domain knowledge to the introduction of a new system in an environment), emphasising the importance of domain knowledge in understanding user and system requirements – an excellent argument for the importance of cultural heritage technologists in good project design.  The lecture was a good reminder that I've been meaning to post about 'cultural heritage technologists' for a while. In a report on April's Museums and the Web 2009, I mentioned in passing:

…I also made up a new description for myself as I needed one in a hurry for moo cards: cultural heritage technologist. I felt like a bit of a dag but then the lovely Ryan from the George Eastman House said it was also a title he'd wanted to use and that made me feel better.

I'd expanded further on it for the first Museums Pecha Kucha night in London:

Museum technologists are not merely passive participants in the online publication process. We have skills, expertise and experience that profoundly shape the delivery of services. In Jacob Nielsen's terms, we are double domain experts.  This brings responsibilities on two fronts – for us, and for the museums that employ us.

Nielsen describes 'double usability specialists' or 'double experts' as those with expertise in human-computer interaction and in the relevant domain or sector (e.g. ref).  He found that these double experts were more effective at identifying usability issues, and I've extrapolated from that to understand the role of dual expertise in specifying and developing online and desktop applications.
Commenters in the final session of MW2009 conference described the inability of museums to recognise and benefit from the expertise of their IT or web staff, instead waiting until external gurus pronounced on the way of the future – which turns out to be the same things museum staff had been saying for years.  (Sound familiar?)

So my post-MW2009 'call to arms' said "museums should recognise us (museum technologists) as double domain experts. Don’t bury us like Easter eggs in software/gardens. There’s a lot of expertise in your museum, if you just look. We can save you from mistakes you don't even know you're making. Respect our expertise – anyone can have an opinion about the web but a little knowledge is easily pushed too far".

However, I'm also very aware of our responsibilities. A rough summary might be:

Museum technologists have responsibilities too.  Don’t let recognition as a double domain expert make you arrogant or a ‘know it all’. Be humble. Listen. Try to create those moments of understanding, both yours from conversation with others, and others from conversation with you – and cherish that epiphany.  Break out of the bubble that tech jargon creates around our discussions.  Share your excitement. Explain how a new technology will benefit staff and audiences, show them why it's exciting. Respect the intelligence of others we work with, and consider it part of our job to talk to them in language they understand. Bring other departments of the museum with us instead of trying to drag them along.

Don't get carried away with idea that we are holders of truth; we need to take advantage of the knowledge and research of others. Yes, we have lots of expertise but we need to constantly refresh that by checking back with our audiences and internal stakeholders. We also need to listen to concerns and consider them seriously; to acknowledge and respect their challenges and fears.  Finally, don’t be afraid to call in peers to help with examples, moral support and documentation.

My thoughts on this are still a work in progress, and I'd love to hear what you think.  Is it useful, is it constructive?  Does a label like 'cultural heritage technologist' or 'museum technologist' help others respect your learning and expertise?  Does it matter?

[Update, April 2012: as the term has become more common, its definition has broadened.  I didn't think to include it here, but to me, a technologist ia more than just a digital producer (as important as they are) – while they don't have to be a coder, they do have a technical background. Being a coder also isn't enough to make one a technologist as it's also about a broad range of experience, ideally across analysis, implementation and support.  But enough about me – what's your definition?]

The UK as a knowledge-based economy

Rather off-topic, but I wonder what role cultural heritage organisations might have in a knowledge economy. I would imagine that libraries and archives are already leading in that regard, but also that skills currently regarded as belonging to the 'digital humanities' will become more common.

In less than three years time, more than half of UK GDP will be generated by people who create something from nothing, according to the 2007 Developing the Future (DtF) report launched today at the British Library.

The report, commissioned by Microsoft and co-sponsored by Intellect, the BCS and The City University, London, sets out the key challenges facing the UK as it evolves into a fully-fledged knowledge-based economy. The report also sets out a clear agenda for action to ensure the UK maintains its global competitiveness in the face of serious challenges.

The report identifies a number of significant challenges that the technology industry needs to address if these opportunities are to be grasped. Primarily, these are emerging markets and skills shortages:

  • At current rates of growth China will overtake the UK in five years in the knowledge economy sector.
  • The IT industry faces a potential skills shortage: The UK’s IT industry is growing at five to eight times the national growth average, and around 150,000 entrants to the IT workforce are required each year. But between 2001 and 2006 there was a drop of 43 per cent in the number of students taking A-levels in computing.
  • The IT industry is only 20 per cent female and currently only 17 per cent of those undertaking IT-related degree courses are women. In Scotland, only 15 per cent of the IT workforce is female.

BCS: Developing the future.

The report also suggests that the 'IT industry should look to dramatically increase female recruitment' – I won't comment for now but it will be interesting to see how that issue develops.

File under 'fabulous resources that I doubt I'll ever get time to read properly': the Journal of Universal Computer Science, D-Lib Magazine ('digital library research and development, including but not limited to new technologies, applications, and contextual social and economic issues') and transcripts from the Research Library in the 21st Century symposium.

On the other hand, Introduction to Abject-Oriented Programming is a very quick read, and laugh-out-loud funny (if you're a tragic geek like me).

I came across a mention of 'Digital Object Identifiers' in a paper on digital humanities, and discovered DOI.org:

A DOI name – a digital identifier for any object of intellectual property. A DOI name provides a means of persistently identifying a piece of intellectual property on a digital network and associating it with related current data in a structured extensible way.

A DOI name can apply to any form of intellectual property expressed in any digital environment. DOI names have been called "the bar code for intellectual property": like the physical bar code, they are enabling tools for use all through the supply chain to add value and save cost.

A DOI name differs from commonly used internet pointers to material such as the URL because it identifies an object as a first-class entity, not simply the place where the object is located. The DOI name identifies an entity directly, not some attribute of an object (an address is an attribute of a thing, whereas the thing itself is a first class object).

At some stage I have a big post to write about stable, permanent URIs for museum objects, and I'll be re-visiting this site when I start that.