Title:Situated Knowledge and the Virtual Science and Industry Museum: Problems in the Social-Technical Interface
Authors:Terry Hemmings, Colin Divall, Gaby Porter
Publication:MW97: Museums and the Web 1997

The museum is a perspicuous site for analyzing the complex interplay between social, organizational, cultural, and political factors which have relevance to the design and use of \"virtual\" technology. Specifically, the introduction of virtual technologies in museums runs up against the issue of the situated character of information use. Across a number of disciplines (anthropology, sociology, psychology, cognitive science) there is growing recognition of the `situatedness\' of knowledge and its importance for the design and use of technology. This awareness is fostered by the fact that technological developments are often associated with disappointing gains for users. The effective use of technology relies on the degree to which it can be embedded in or made congruent with the `local\' practices of people who are working with it. This paper argues that the value of virtual technologies in museums depends upon the extent to which the design of such technologies takes account of t! he ordinary practices of museum users. Drawing upon field research in two museums of science and technology, both of which are in the process of introducing virtual technologies and exploring the possibilities of on-line access, findings are presented which suggest that the success of such developments will depend on the extent to which they are informed by detailed understanding of practice, both among museum visitors and curatorial and educational professionals.