Museums take a page from the American Library Association's book

I recently attended my first conference of the American Library Association (ALA). The conference was held in Washington, D.C., and we’re exploring ways we could promote and expand the museum’s online OurStory program, so I packed up my business cards and headed to the convention center.

National Library Symbol  OurStory logo 

I wasn’t surprised to find myself an unusual attendee, since I was neither associated with a library nor a book publisher. But whenever I introduced myself to any other attendee, the first thing she said was “cool!” and then she never asked why a museum educator would attend the ALA conference. The more time I spent listening to the speakers and chatting with attendees, the clearer our commonalities became. Here are a few of the interesting overlaps I saw:

  • We both have a public responsibility to preserve the history of our communities through books, papers, and other material culture. More than that, we both spend time as educators trying to encourage people to think critically and research carefully. I was excited to hear “information literacy” specialists share ideas about how to encourage learners to judge the credibility of their sources and ethically use the intellectual creations of others. These are skills we seek to reinforce in many of our lesson plans for educators, too.
  • We both encourage lifelong learning! I was especially interested in hearing about programming ideas for elementary school students and pre-service educators, but the conference sessions spanned from studying the brain activity of 6-month-old babies to learning opportunities for graduate students, recent immigrants, and the incarcerated—all the way to senior adults.
  • Museums and libraries are both exploring ways to make the most of the Internet. The conference had its own Twitter hashtag (#ala10) and had a wifi-enabled blogging corner, but the sessions also explored some of the benefits and challenges to working with a public on the Web—how would our professionals change if we trained them online? If our Web sites are too good, will our visitors stop coming to our buildings? As an educator who works almost exclusively online, I hope our mastery of technology instead helps us reach new audiences and build meaningful relationships with people.

What do you think? How should museums and libraries be working together? Also, if you’re working with early elementary school students, let me know what you think of our OurStory program.

Jenny Wei is an education specialist who loves meeting new people and can’t pass up opportunities to share OurStory.

Editor’s Note: The Center for the Future of Museums features some intriguing posts on their blog about museum and library collaborations. Also check out the many resources on partnerships and digital futures of museums and libraries from the Institute of Museum and Library services (IMLS).