Title:With All This I.T., Are We Doing Our Job Better?
Authors:Richard Gerrard
Publication:MW98: Museums and the Web 1998

"Too often, the computer is used in the schools, as it is used in other social establishments, as a quick technological fix. It is used to paper over fundamental problems to create the illusion that they are being attacked." [Joesph Weizenbaum, Ph.D., Professor of Computer Science, Massachusetts Institute of Technology, in "Computers and Education", BYTE (June 1984) vol. 9 no. 6, p 225 ] I wish to pose two series of fundamental philosophical questions in this paper. These arise from this statement about computers in education and I will attempt to apply them in examining the relationship between Museums and the Web. The first series deals with the application of this technology to the central mission of museums, "to collect, to preserve and to educate". Many studies have shown that the introduction of Information Technologies (I.T.) has not significantly increased per capita efficiency of companies. In our rush to adopt computer-based communication technologies and restructure our institutions to make use them, do we run the risk of losing more than we might gain? What might be the long-term side effects for museums of "being digital"? The second series of questions are related to the first. In a different economic environment, would we have chosen the web as a primary communication vehicle? Museums have undergone a period of tremendous re-structuring and re-focusing over the last five years. Budget reductions, slashed staff, loss of audience have been widely experienced. In this period of turmoil we have, perhaps paradoxically, seen a huge growth in the use of computer-based information technologies in museums (at all levels of education for that matter). Has this money been well spent, or are we papering over the cracks? The bottom line question I will try to address is simple, with all this I.T. are we doing our job better or not?