It’s the end of the world…

This week, New Curator made a troubling post about the future of the curator, and made a comparison between it and the fate of many journalists.  To summarize, he (Pete) believes that social technology and the use of polls/ratings will make the curator obsolete, much like youtube and online news sources have wounded the role of the journalist.  Pete writes, “Crowdsourcing the curatorial decisions of an exhibition. The process of museums has been brought to the lowest common denominator, pitched somewhere between reality TV and youtube’s most-viewed list. My point is about individualism in museums is entirely proved.”

Groundswell deals a lot with crowdsourcing, especially in chapter 9, “embracing the groundswell.”  Li and Bernoff explain that crowdsourcing can be useful for marketing, but cannot replace the professional; the marketing team takes suggestions from the customer to make the product better in a fraction of the time it took before, if the marketers listened to the customer at all before the rise of the groundswell.  This makes the company more responsive to the needs of the customer, and therefore more competative and probably more successful.

I think what might bother people like curators, and maybe journalists, is the idea of being humble enough to allow others a stake or a decision in their job.  Curators study like mad to become incredibly knowledgeable about their field and often become very territorial, so it’s no wonder they might feel threatened by the uprising of the common blogger/viewer.  Li and Bernoff write “muster up the humility to listen and tap into the skill to take what you’ve heard and make improvements.”

No one wants the death of the curator; we need their expertise to understand works of art and objects, and to present them to viewers.  No one is trying to replace a curator with, I’ll say it, Joe-six-pack.  In class we discussed the clear labeling of news reports verse public opinion on the NYTimes website which aides readers in their search for “objective” reporting; readers want to know when they’re reading an article written by a reporter because they can trust it more than a blog post from a critic.  Museum-goers can trust an interpretive panel because they know that a lot of thought and studying has gone into that content.

I find it surprising that someone who writes a blog, twitters, etc, would feel so negatively about the groundswell and basic web 2.0.  I would hope that Pete understands the opportunity curators have today; so many more artists to meet and things to learn. And I don’t think it’s wrong to ask curators to step into a new world that includes blogs, tweets, and tags.  Everyone else has to change something in their profession, too.  What’s the big deal?  The groundswell is really not the apocalypse. It can make us more successful at our job, sharing and preserving history and culture, if we choose to use it wisely.

Maybe this all just relates back to museums being a place of informal learning that doesn’t have to come from a teacher or a book; learning in a museum can come from a curator, an educator, a friend, or a stranger.  Now that we have such a huge wealth of knowledge why not take advantage of it and appreciate it?