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The MMWC Newsletter and Other Infrastructure: Building our Bazaar

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The Mathers Museum of World Cultures (MMWC) has a new newsletter. The cover for MMWC #1 is shown above. Clicking on it should take you to the whole issue as it appears on the online publishing platform Issuu. To add the newsletter to your hoard of PDFs, you can download it from the MMWC website download it here. For the long haul, we will soon add the newsletter to the museum’s “community” in the IUScholarWorks Repository.

Before talking about the newsletter as infrastructure, I want to thank MMWC Assistant Director Judy Kirk for her great work getting it edited and launched. This is a small summer issue that recaps some recent MMWC developments. A forward-looking fall issue will follow it very soon. While thanking Judy, I want to also thank the whole MMWC community–staff, volunteers, students, researchers, advisory board members, donors–for the work that we begin reporting in this first issue of the newsletter.

One of the museum’s accomplishments of the first half of 2013 was the establishment of an ambitious strategic plan. One thread running through that plan is work aimed at putting into place a range of kinds of museum “infrastructure.” Some of this will be very visible to the museum’s friends and supporters, other kinds of infrastructure will help the museum do its behind-the-scenes work more effectively. As I can, I will try to tell the story of our infrastructure work here. I have found the public reporting of my colleagues and of peer-institutions extremely helpful and my aim here is to reciprocate in appreciation for what I have learned from them. (For a recent example, consider this great account of the building of a teaching lab at the Penn Museum.)

Our new newsletter represents a beginning, a first start. We know that it will mature and change over time. In software-speak, it will be in perpetual beta. One aspect of this status, is that the newsletter’s users will be “co-developers” and the newsletter will respond to not only institutional need but also to the needs of its community.

One element of the environment out of which the new newsletter has arisen is the beginnings of a comprehensive branding effort at Indiana University. As an Indiana University unit, the museum wants to both contribute to the success of the university as a whole and to benefit from the institution’s overall success. Advancing, and aligning with, the university’s branding work is part of this. The new newsletter’s fonts are the university’s new fonts. Its colors are drawn from the university’s new palettes. The museum’s wordmark is our official instance from the university’s wordmark and signature system. As these things go, our timing was very lucky. When a new enterprise branding system rolls out, there are always plenty of units who have legacy graphics, templates, and content in place. The move to a unified brand system is always painful for such units, both in terms of work and sunk costs. For the museum, our bringing a newsletter into existence just after the release of the new brand system is an incredibly lucky break.

A museum newsletter staple is acknowledging donors (financial, collections, and in-kind). Saying thanks in diverse ways is a crucial part of museum stewardship. Our new newsletter contributes to this work. (Thanks again MMWC donors!). It also includes a link to another new piece of MMWC infrastructure. This is what is called, in IU-speak, our “give now” button. This is a direct link to the Indiana University Foundation, where prospective donors can quickly and easily make financial contributions to advance the museum’s mission. (While you are thinking about it, why not give it a try and see for yourself how easy it is! If you need to find it, the give now button is also always accessible from the museum’s homepage.) The museum’s strategic agenda will require additional financial support and, for this reason, a growing portion of my time is being spent connecting with donors, prospective donors, and university (and foundation) administrators laying the groundwork for new development work. The newsletter and the give now button are both key elements for this effort.

Developing a social media strategy is another related kind of infrastructure work. This is a rapidly changing sector, but we now have a working plan in place. The museum is connecting via a number of platforms. The distinctive ways that we intend to (try to) use each of them would make for a post of its own, but I can note here that the MMWC can be found on Facebook, on Twitter, on Google+, on Pinterest, and on Flickr. If you are using one of these services, I hope that you will follow (like, etc.) the MMWC there. We are eager to keep up with you and to help you keep up with all that is happening at the museum and in the larger worlds in which the museum works. (The museum does not yet have a blog, but this space can serve that function for the time being.)

As noted above, we are trying out Issuu for a fancy and social media-friendly presentation of the newsletter. (As Wikipedia describes it: Issuu is an “online service that allows for realistic and customizable viewing of digitally uploaded material, such as portfolios, books, magazine issues, newspapers, and other print media.)” As those consulting our newsletter there will discover, Issuu is presently very popular with American museums, who (like we are) use it to share their newsletters and magazines. “But these services come and go!” you say. “What about preservation for the future?” you rightly ask. Here is where our partnerships with the IU Bloomington Library are crucial. As noted above, the newsletter will be placed into the IUScholarWorks Repository. While it is not there yet (give us a bit of time to make sure that there are no bugs in the new newsletter), you can find some recent MMWC content there. As my example, I invite you to check out the small book that we recently published on the occasion of the Treasures of the Mathers Museum exhibition. (Kudos to its author, MMWC Curator Ellen Sieber.) We are presently digitizing the museum’s publications archive and making these older works accessible in IUScholarWorks. In this form, they have stable URIs and will be looked after digitally by the awesome folks at the library.

I could keep going along these lines, but let me close with a behind-the-scenes example. This past week, Ellen Sieber finalized work on internal protocols and strategies for our enterprise use of Zotero, the award winning research tool for “collecting, organizing, citing, and sharing” research sources. We are already making great use of this tool as we pursue research and planning work together as a staff and community. Our student practicum students have been valued colleagues in getting this piece of our infrastructure up and running. In our strategic plan, we identify building  a research collaboratory as a key goal. Our getting going with Zotero as an enterprise system is a good step forward on this goal. (Thanks Ellen!)

As will be suggested by this partial accounting of our recent infrastructure building (/choosing) work, we are already on a bazaar-like path (after Eric Raymond’s contrastive image of the cathedral and the bazaar), splicing together a range of basic off-the-rack tools and strategies (rather than waiting and building a large customized multipurpose tool and approach). This strategy is familiar to me from my work on Open Folklore.

Please join us in this work. Share your good ideas and your experiences. Let us know what is working and what isn’t.

Update: @MateoTimateo kindly noted that the PDF link wasn’t working. The problem seems to be with WP, which does not want to let me link directly to a .pdf download on the MMWC website. A workaround is now here, I have uploaded the file to this site for all the PDF collectors.

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