Research and cultural institutions

Submitted by Isto Huvila on Tue, 05/29/2012 - 20:37

The Ministry of Culture (of Sweden) arranged a half-day seminar on the cooperation of cultural institutions and research (broadly, including academic institutions and researchers in general). The event was a laudable initiative from the part of the ministry, and with excellent speakers the seminar was highly interesting from multiple points of view. It gave, for sure, insights into how (state) museums are collaborating with research institutions, and how research is integrated in to the operations of the (state) institutions. Even if archives and libraries were mentioned in the call for participation and refered to in the discussions, the programme was rather museum centric, both for good and bad. For good in the sense that the discussion was more focussed and to a degree for bad in that a stronger emphasis of archives and libraries might have provided interesting additional perspectives to the issues raised in the presentations. Such issues might have been, for instance, the role of 'information', collections vs. archives, the notion of users and use and knowledge organisation to mention a few central ALM issues.


Besides giving perspectives to how things are done, the seminar provided a window to how the memory (or cultural) institutions conceptualised 'research' and their role as research institutions, research related institutions, supporting institutions and as a part of an infrastructure for research. Many of the speakers called for increased cooperation and interestingly enough, more or less directly, a better understanding on a number of issues that have been on the agenda of archival, library and information, and museum and cultural heritage studies. At the same time, the explicit references to research were mostly expressed in terms of collections rather than in a broader sense of the implications of the cultural institutions. Even the references to other disciplines outside the humanities were focused on scientific analyses of the collections and the conservation and preservation of the materials. I am not saying that this was bad, because all of these issues are, of course, significant. The seminar did also undoubtedly benefit of a particular manageable perspective, but it is still impossible to not to react to the persistence and implications of some ideas. 


From the point of view of an ALM researcher and educator, it is apparent that an event like this does always have multiple readings. This seminar and similar events are highly necessary as platforms for initiating cooperation between memory institutions and universities, and for bringing together and fostering a dialogue between colleagues from the different sectors. At the same time, however, the event was highly interesting as an exercise of participant observation, it served as a confirmation of the relevance of the some of the issues discussed in archival science, library and infomation, and museum and cultural heritage studies, and as a pointer to several new significant and interesting issues that could be studied in the future and emphasised as a part of the curriculum.