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Separating Digital out from IT/Web

  • 1.  Separating Digital out from IT/Web

    Posted 07-23-2019 09:33 PM
    I am just curious why when you look at most Museums, digital is still folded under IT/Web.  From my perspective Digital is something different.  To me IT specifically covers technology infrastructure and systems.  Web is finite too in that it focuses on web-related activities.  To me Digital is a wholly different arena.  It covers digital collections, digital media/experience focuses more on the production of content in all of its manifestations (digital) and how it can be disseminated, purposed, and archived. Maybe web can fall under digital but most institutions look at web as the function or the tool and not a platform. Is it me?  Or does digital really fall under IT/Web?

    Richard Bradway
    Director of Digital Learning and Engagement
    Norman Rockwell Museum
    Stockbridge MA

  • 2.  RE: Separating Digital out from IT/Web

    Posted 07-24-2019 05:40 AM
    The Newberry has had a Digital Initiatives and Services department, separate from IT, for several years.

    Karen Christianson PhD
    Director of Public Engagement
    Newberry Library
    Chicago IL

  • 3.  RE: Separating Digital out from IT/Web

    Posted 07-25-2019 07:24 AM
    We have a Digital Engagement Dept in the Marketing division that leads all web, social, and digital interactive initiatives. Separate from IT/ Business Applications Dept in the Operations division. Those depts do work closely together.

    Sent from my iPad

  • 4.  RE: Separating Digital out from IT/Web

    Posted 07-24-2019 08:18 AM
    Edited by Katherine Greif 07-24-2019 10:43 AM
    I agree completely that IT and Digital are drastically different things. (The web and Digital are related, web content and production are part of digital.) Years ago we moved core digital functions -- web, email and social media -- out from under IT and positioned them under Marketing, which they clearly belong to. 

    Our digital issue now is related to experiences such as virtual reality, augmented reality and the like. Those are where we struggle with finding a specific specialist within the museum. We just don't have resources to independently cover these areas so we blend them and wear multiple hats. It's not ideal, bc specialists in each area would offer more, but you work with what you have.

    As we all get more sophisticated with digital, I am sure things will change. What I hope to see is a time when Curatorial and Education areas are more skilled in digital - and thus managing digital projects on their own. I could see a digital specialist falling under an Education department.

    Katherine Greif
    Salvador Dali Museum
    Saint Petersburg FL

  • 5.  RE: Separating Digital out from IT/Web

    Posted 07-24-2019 08:32 AM
    I think it is very problematic to lump any content generative process with IT.  IT can be (is often) highly focused on security, policy, and restrictions (for the sake of security).  It is responsible for keeping our systems running and healthy.  Because of the job, they will be cautious and safe.  That behavior is directly opposed to innovation and the willingness to take risk needed for more content generative work.

    Jeni O'Malley
    Sr. Exhibit Designer
    Minnesota Historical Society
    Saint Paul MN

  • 6.  RE: Separating Digital out from IT/Web

    Posted 07-24-2019 09:17 AM
    Interesting question. As part of its new strategic plan, the Library of Virginia has recently decided to break off its digital section from IT for precisely the reasons you state. We will now have a Digital Initiatives and Web Presence Division separate from IT.

    Barbara C. Batson
    Exhibitions Coordinator
    The Library of Virginia
    Richmond, VA

  • 7.  RE: Separating Digital out from IT/Web

    Posted 07-24-2019 11:01 AM
    I think its more nuanced than either/or and speaks to the level of "digital maturity" within an organisation. If digital is new or emergent, it needs a place to incubate. IT/Web is normally the "go to" place, because its about technology, right? Hmm... However, as digital becomes better understood by an organisation, there's a recognition that it is its own thing and different from IT/Web.

    My distinction is, IT versus Digital is like:

    Application versus Data
    Platform versus Message
    Device versus Content

    When websites were new (remember that?), the question was always, where should the web person/department live? The answer depends on what you want for your website: is it primarily about Education, Collections, Marketing?

    My 2c.

    Nik Honeysett | Director and CEO
     (805) 402-3326 E
    1549 El Prado Suite #8, San Diego, CA 92101

    Connecting Audiences to art, science and culture
     |  Collaborative |


  • 8.  RE: Separating Digital out from IT/Web

    Posted 07-24-2019 12:47 PM
    Oh my! Flashback to the 90s. Are we still having this conversation?

    As museums, we have a variety of tools that we use to provide a variety of experiences. Historically, both tools and experiences have been physical. Collections are tools for preserving cultural heritage for the future. Exhibits are tools for education/inspiring visitors. Programs are tools for providing richer engagement with collections and ideas. (To vastly oversimplify what we do....)

    We can add the word "digital" in front of any of the tools, but that just changes the way we deliver the experiences and who we can reach. Change Richard's title from "Director of Digital Learning and Engagement" to "Director of Learning and Engagement" and the way he does his job will change, but the fundamental nature of what he is trying to achieve will stay the same.

    At this point, IT's role, is to provide and support powerful, consistent, and reliable tools that enable all kinds of digital initiatives--from word processing, to collection management, to Augmented Reality. The best analog is the facilities department. They keep the lights on, the water running, the air conditioned, and the roof tight so that everyone else can do their jobs and not have to think about the infrastructure.

    The exception comes, perhaps, with new technologies. IT might be intrigued by your digital experiments, or not want to be bothered by them until someone suggests that there is a new tool that is essential to the museum's mission or operations.

    That said, as a lapsed (reformed?) museum IT director, I know how hard it is, still, to draw a clear line. Ultimately, the answer is still "It depends" on the specific situation and what is going to be most effective in getting the job done.


    Guy Hermann
    Museum Insights
    Master Planning for Museums

  • 9.  RE: Separating Digital out from IT/Web

    Posted 07-27-2019 01:48 PM
    As someone who has worked at and with smaller museums for a long time, I suspect this discussion of separate  IT and Digital "departments" may be missing the mark for the vast majority of museums in the US.   In these smaller museums (over 75% of museums)  there is often only one or two peole who have the training/interest/experience beyond the standard MIcrosoft Office programs and basic social media platforms.   It often doesn't matter what that person's job title is; they become the go-to person when there is a technology issue.   I know of one state-wide museum organization that for many years relied on its Curator of Geology to provide all social media support (and content).    This is also the likely reason that more of these museums than we would care to admit still use Excel for their "database" needs, including collections and membership.

    In many other instances smaller museums - or even some larger ones - that are part of a large entity, like a university or state/city/county government, must clear all technology use through that entity's IT department, no matter what the purpose.    Endless numbers of "IT guys" have made the installation of even some of the commonly used museum-specific programs on "their" servers a series of hoops that must be jumped through.   (Raise your hand if you've had to fight to get your parent entity to buy Past Perfect).

    As Guy points out "digital" is a way of utilizing/enhancing museum tools.   For most of us, It may be more useful to discuss the various roles and functions that we need to consider relating to technology in museums, and issues like innovation versus security, accessibility to new programs and platforms, and training, than where staff is on the organizational chart.

    Janice Klein

    Tempe AZ

  • 10.  RE: Separating Digital out from IT/Web

    Posted 07-24-2019 01:36 PM

    Makes no sense to me.  Our digital collections/exhibits have nothing to do with IT.  Perhaps because we're a "smaller" museum and outsource some of our IT work (like running the network).




    Bryn Athyn Historic District Archives

    Glencairn Museum


    Sent from Mail for Windows 10


  • 11.  RE: Separating Digital out from IT/Web

    Posted 07-25-2019 04:40 AM
    A lot of interesting replies from different perspectives...

    Here's mine, from a freelance "exhibit designer's" perspective:

    I do "front-end" web design (and do NOT consider myself to be a "web designer", despite a certificate therefor). When I recommend an HTML5 approach to augmenting an existing exhibit with interactivity, or building an exhibit from scratch, I first want to figure out if that approach offers something otherwise unattainable through other means.

    If this is true, I look to the W3C standards of web design to see if I have the tools available to provide interactivity in a platform-independent, mainstream technological format that avoids "proprietary" technologies, but which applies current web standards and APIs (Application Program interfaces - ex. Google Maps) and offers upgradability as web technology evolves.

    In that vein, I have used HTML5, CSS3, and to a limited extent, Javascript to build independent "web sites" hosted on a dedicated, local computer (Raspberry Pi to Windows mini-computer to Android tablets) to provide interactive displays for a variety of exhibits. In most cases, this has been done independently from the museum's IT Department.

    The IT department becomes an integral factor when the end-user wants to either update the "web sites" remotely, or if the local computer (integral to the exhibit) is connected to the IT department's "network". If the end user (exhibit maintainer) wants to take the time, manual updates via "thumb drive" do not require the involvement of IT. However if the end-user wants the advantage of having a CMS (Content Management System - like WordPress) or the ability to link a database, or the ability to update the exhibit content "remotely", IT becomes an essential partner in the process.

    Obviously, good communications between the different museum entities is important to maintaining a balance of good security and accessibility (to staff) in any such endeavor.

    I hope this is also a helpful perspective.

    Randal Powell
    Multimedia Artist/Developer
    San Diego CA