Tuesday, 11 November 2008

Integrating cultural agencies

Back in September I posted an article about the Charlotte and Mecklenburg Public Library Imaginon centre. As I said at the time, Imaginon is kind of like ScienceWorks and ACMI rolled in together with a public library and a youth theatre.

We are seeing a convergence of technology, so why not a convergence of information centres and cultural agencies? Actually, the merging of cultural agencies is not new. Back in the 1850s when they were created, what is now the State Library of Victoria, Museum Victoria, and the National Gallery of Victoria were all under one roof.

The Imaginon web site brings things together, but this is easier because all the bits belong to together and are under one roof. This is harder if the discovery centre, library, and youth theatre are located in very separate spaces, and belong to very different cultural organisations.

A few years ago the Victorian Government looked at introducing shared management services for the state's cultural agencies. It also launched the Culture Victoria web site. But is putting a fancy flash discovery layer over the top of a number of collections giving users what they want? Does it offer true Google like searching across these many collections and web sites? Is there consistent meta data in place to facilitate searching across these agencies? If you find something from one agency e.g. a book about Ned Kelly; does it give you an Amazon type of experience and suggest you check out photos of Ned Kelly from one of the other agencies?

Certainly the main Victoria culture agencies (the State Library, the Museum, and the Gallery) don't feature the Culture Victoria URL or indeed its existence from their respective web sites; so what's the point of having it? Interestingly, there does not appear to be much about the Culture Victoria portal on the Arts Victoria web site. This includes any reporting of usage statistics. I suspect the usage stats are so low they will never see the light of day. Then again, the Arts Victoria web site is so badly designed, and looks as though it was last redesigned in the mid 1990s, that you would be lucky to find anything useful on this site.

Don't get me wrong, I love the idea of setting up integrated and content rich portal to help people find things - but they have to work. They also have to give the target audience what they want. The problem with the Cultural Victoria web site is that it looks like it was designed to appeal to arts apparatchiks who run the show rather than the end user out there on the street. Is it any wonder that users by pass fancy smancy flash laden cultural web portals and just go to Google to find what they are looking for.

By the way, if I didn't care about these cultural agencies I wouldn't bother with this post.

No comments: