The Museum Computer Network (MCN) 2018 conference, “Humanizing the Digital”, explored how museums can use digital technologies to foster human connection and dialogue, advance accessibility and inclusion, and champion inquiry and knowledge. Over the course of three days and more than one hundred and forty presentations, participants were barraged with examples of how the field continues to rely on the very human qualities of collaboration, creativity, and empathy to do our work, even in the digital work we do. If anything, “humanizing” seemed an even larger presence than “digital.”
After witnessing the presentations, and taking part in some of the rich conversations that arose from them, a group of us came together to explore how best to capture and disseminate some of the learnings that occurred at the conference, to put some of that lightning in a bottle, as it were. The outcome of some intense conversations was a decision to ask the community to reflect on the conference and the ideas it sparked for them and to self-publish them. And given the speed at which our community moves and iterates, we decided it made sense to put the entire book (print and ebook) together in four months and have it ready for the Museums and Web conference in April, 2019. Since none of this would have happened without the conference, we decided to donate any profits to the MCN Scholarship fund.
What is this book? It is not a conference proceedings per se, and not a greatest hits collection. In fact, we were most interested in what happened after all the presentations were completed. What themes emerged in the hallways, how did people respond to what was going on around them? We thought it would be a worthwhile experiment to see if we could produce a book that reflected not what went into making the conference, which is what proceedings usually do, but to capture some of what came out of the conference; the learnings, the little epiphanies, the synthesizing that is rarely collected and preserved.
It is worth noting that we were midway through the process before it occurred to us that it might be a good idea to notify MCN that we were doing this. Thankfully, MCN thought that this kind of community-driven effort was worth embracing. Though unofficial, it is definitely aligned with MCN’s mission of connecting people to ideas and each other. It is also a great example of the kind of community MCN has developed; one that is deeply collegial, true to its grassroots origins, geared toward action, and likely to ask for forgiveness before permission.
It is also worth noting that our editorial process followed (or, at least, tried to follow) those same principles. Editors and authors volunteered their time to this publication, which involved a social-media-based Call For Proposals that was open to anyone willing to put in the time and energy to turn something around within a matter of weeks. We did a bit of peer review for clarity, but relatively little editing of our submissions, so what you are about to read represents the varied voices and styles of the authors. While not every initial proposal ended up in this collection, we heartily thank all the members of the MCN community who shared their thoughts with us.
So that’s how you hold this book, “Humanizing the Digital Museum” in your hand. It is necessarily a fragmentary reflection on a large event, but even in this small, kaleidoscopic view, we think you will find some of the energy and exciting thinking that was happening in Denver. And we look forward to seeing what you do with it to carry the work forward.
Ad Hoc Museum Collective Editorial Team,