Digital Humanities and the Small Cultural Institution

22 Feb

The Center for Ray Bradbury Studies and the Kurt Vonnegut Memorial Library have a lot in common. Both are dedicated to a single author and both attempt to connect their audience to the author by using the author’s personal artifacts and both are relatively new institutions, founded in 2007 and 2011, respectively. However, they have had very different origins and goals, which reflects in their use of digital technology.

The Kurt Vonnegut Memorial Library (KVML) was conceived primarily as a monument to the author, a place where people could gather to pay respects and feel connected to someone that influenced them personally. Its primary exhibit is a recreation of Vonnegut’s library, where brief labels assigned to shelves of books are supplemented with QR codes that provide additional context. The museum also makes good use of video both on site as an introduction to the author and the library and on its website to provide a history of the project. While this use of digital technology does help the library make the best use of limited space and resources, their use of digital technology really shines in social media. The KVML Facebook page has over 35,000 likes and its posts are frequently shared by dozens of users. This involvement on social media extends to a community focused approach in the real world, as the library is frequent sponsor and host to cultural and education events.

In contrast the Center for Ray Bradbury Studies was conceived primarily as an academic resource. It was only the gifts of the Bradbury records, library and office objects in 2013 that expanded the scope of the library to where it is today, hosting a recreation of the author’s 1960s office and an extensive collection of correspondence. In the real world, the library and recreated office are difficult to access, have no set hours and no real system of interpretation aside from a tour from Professor Eller, current director of the Center. Unsurprisingly, while the Center has a website, it has not made great use of digital technology in the delivery or interpretation of Bradbury scholarship. However, like the KVML, the Center has begun to make effective use of social media, posting 360 degree tours of the archive and office exhibit. Considering the Center’s limited resources, this is likely the best use they can make of digital technology, followed by offering a digital library of archival materials. Like the outreach created by social media, the planned processing and publication of a selection of the archive’s contents will help create awareness of and support for the archive moving forward.

While the KVML and CRBS have a lot in common, they do have slightly different goals. While social media requires relatively little investment and can pay dividends for both institutions, the KVML’s focus on the audience prompts the use of digital technology to enhance the onsite user experience, while the top digital priority for the Center is the creation of a scholarly database of Bradbury correspondence.

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