The Digital Museum

Meet Me at the BarCamp


Museum professionals love conferences. It seems like every month there are a handful of acronym-heavy conferences to attend: AAM, ASTC, ACM, MCN, etc. These gatherings, like most conferences in the world, typically share some of the following attributes:

  • A schedule of keynote speeches and panels are released a head of time.
  • Limited question time after the speeches.
  • They’re expensive.
  • Attendance tends to be limited to industry professionals.
  • Who speaks at the conference is chosen by a small group of organizers.

Now, don’t get me wrong. I’m not anti-conference. I attended last year’s Web Wise conference in D.C., and found it entertaining, informative, and worthwhile. However, I think some new options should be considered.

Museum conferences have embraced some new ideas in recent years. With conference back channels that encourage dialogue before, during, and after the event, live feeds of panel discussions so that those unable to attend can still reap some benefit, and inviting speakers not directly involved in the museum world to diversify perspectives: the museum conference experience has been enhanced. But, I say we go one step further.

Let’s have a museum unconference, or BarCamp as it is better known.

BarCamp started as a reaction to Tim O’Reilly’s annual invitation-only, participant-driven conference: Foo Camp. BarCamp’s aim was to be the opposite of an exclusive, expensive, somewhat elitist conference. They accomplish this in the following ways:

  • If you attend, you participate. Give a talk about something you’re working on, donate food or time, get a discussion started, etc.
  • The schedule for the conference is decided the day of. There is a white board for participants to sign up.
  • The organization of the event is entirely public, conducted through a wiki.
  • There is a BarCamp backchannel to keep the conversation going.
  • It’s free.
  • You don’t have to be a member of any group or organization, no invite necessary.

Since 2005, BarCamps and related unconferences have been held in over 350 cities around the world. Participants have given talks on any number of topics, including “Storm Chasing with Social Media” at BarCamp Charleston, “Death of Advertising” at BarCamp Austin 4, and “Presentation Kung Fu” at BarCamp Nashville. Essentially anything goes.

While BarCamps’ have traditionally been technology community focused and driven, I think that they could serve the needs of the museum community just as well. Can you just imagine the line-up of sessions at a Museum BarCamp…

  • 10:30 Participation Orientation, BarCamp-Style by Nina Simon
  • 11:00 Why the Smithsonian Is Better Than You and How You Can Change That by Michael Edson
  • 11:00 Everything I Need to Know, I Learned in Museum Studies Class with A Museum Studies Grad Student
  • 12:00 Getting Social with Beth Kanter
  • 12:00 Constituent Relationship Management – Yep, You Could Use Some Help with Blackbaud
  • 1:00 Using Open Source Tools to Make Your Museum More Effective on the Web with Matt Mullenweg, founder of WordPress
  • 1:00 Why I Chose to Adopt a Polar Bear with a Zoo Supporter
  • 2:00 Exhibit Design from a Non-Museum Employee Perspective with A Local User-Interface Designer
  • 2:00 Your Gala, Why It’s More Than Just Getting Butts in the Seats with an Event Planner
  • 3:00 Managing Millenials in Museums by An Entry-Level Employee
  • 3:00 10 Museums Not to Miss on Your Next Round The World Trip with Your Friendly Neighborhood Travel Agent
  • 3:00 What The Museum Doesn’t Show You with An Archivist
  • 4:00 We May Be Dead, But We’re Still Twitter Rockstars with @NatHistoryWhale and @SUETheTRex
  • 4:00 Ask A Curator Q&A Session

Of course, these sessions are all fictional, but they do show you all of the topics we could cover and all of the new perspectives we could embrace.

So, if your interest is piqued, let’s get the discussion going. I’d love to hear your ideas in the comments.

4 Responses to “Meet Me at the BarCamp”

  1. Richard on November 14th, 2009

    I’d start by talking with the folks at the Center for History and New Media that run I had the chance to attend this year and it was a great complement to more formal conferences.

    I’ve pitched the idea of a Museum BarCamp sponsored by MCN, perhaps at the opposite end of the year from the conference. But I think we’d need more people behind the idea to get it off the ground. And some seed money would also be helpful (Mellon are you listening?)

  2. David Klevan on December 5th, 2009

    In about three hours, the US. Holocaust Memorial Museum and GMUs Center for history and New Media will open the Conscience UnConference on using social media for social good.

    This s something totally new for the museum, and there’s a lot of excitement. Folks can follow the sessions and chatter via Twitter at #conconf.

  3. David Klevan on December 5th, 2009

    Forgot to mention… of course we’d be happy to share what we learn from the experience!

  4. Museumist on December 5th, 2009

    Thanks David! Would love to hear how it goes. I’ll be checking in on Twitter today.

Leave a Reply