Top of page

MCN 2012, It Was All a Blur

Share this post:

Seattle at dusk (all photos by S. Manus)

So, how far along are we with cloning?  Because I could have really used a clone or two in order to cover the many (sometimes concurrent) interesting sessions at this year’s Museum Computer Network conference in Seattle.  Since this was my first MCN, I’m probably looking at this with more of a beginner’s “gee whiz” outlook, but the presentations were not only interesting and relevant, they were well presented.  And, it was nice to see a community that was so enthusiastic and supportive of the presenters.

I can’t do the conference justice in this short blog post (and, I’m on a deadline!) so I’ll just point out some of the highlights from the sessions I did attend.  And thanks to all the tweets coming out of #mcn2012, this helps to fill in the gaps and provide context.  In general, that’s my favorite use of twitter, anyway – a good way to create some group conference notes.  (For reference, I’ve provided links to the relevant hashtags for the sessions below.)

Ignite Talks (#IgniteMCN)

Koven Smith, Denver Art Museum, during IgniteMCN

This was something a bit different than the usual “lightning talks” from other conferences I’ve seen.  There were nine presenters who used 20 slides in 5 minutes to make their case – certainly, “lightning” enough.  This was a good introduction to the kind of creativity that was to be on display all week.  All these talks (covering topics such as open authority, museum education, etc, but with interesting philosophic angles) were stimulating and thought provoking.  And, it was held at the EMP Museum – how cool is that?

The most unusual talk, and a first for me at any conference, was maybe not so much a talk as a performance from the Smithsonian’s dynamic Michael Edson entitled “Jack the Museum”, done in poetry slam style.  Yes, you read that right.  Here’s an excerpt:

“Network action makes old school broadcast reaction a distraction to this powerful new faction:  6 billion people, connected, on the web.” (That’s just a taste – for more, here’s the whole brilliant thing). As @museum_mash noted on twitter, “Instant classic.”

Keynote Talk (#mcn2012key)

You think YOU’VE got big data?  Microsoft’s Curtis Wong got the main conference off to a great start with his Keynote presentation, “Breaking out of the Box – Interactive Video and the Transformation of Storytelling”.  Wong says he always wanted to be a museum person, and bring the storytelling and interactive together – and to illustrate, he demonstrated some amazing tools in which he did just that.  His project, the World Wide Telescope, enables nothing less than tours of the universe using high resolution images.  He also demonstrated Chronozoom, an interactive timeline of history, going all the way back to the big bang!

Wong also described the stages of what he calls the “information architecture of learning” – first, engagement, then build a mental model, and then validate that model.  He said his ultimate goal was to make things easier to use, and, reusable.  A sample tweet, from @simontanner:  “I think Curtis Wong’s keynote shows benefits of high bandwidth access just when I thought mobile access wld dominate.”

Tales from the Blog  (#mcn2012tale)

Summed up, the reports of blogging’s demise have been greatly exaggerated.  In this lively session, panelists gave first person accounts of their rationale for starting or contributing to museum community blogs.  Panelist Ed Rodley, noting a common reluctance to put it all out there, summed up his philosophy – “feel the fear and do it anyway”.   (Thanks, glad to know I’m not the only one!)   Another panelist, Mike Murawski, says blogs should really be less “look how great I am” and more about testing ideas and theories.  (For a list of blogs from this community, many are noted at #mcn2012tale on twitter.)

All those 1’s and 0’s (#mcn2012dams)

This panel session was focused on standards for large digital media files, and started out with a bit of nostalgia – revisiting the floppies, zip drives, other media from days of old.  This was of course a way to illustrate the growth of data files to what we have today, and what we may end up with in the future.  Mainly, it raised the relevant questions to frame a discussion, such as:

  • what’s the best backup system?
  • what happens when a commercial storage company changes hands, or closes down?
  • how will we support current file formats into the future?
  • how do you identify what’s in those files, once stored?

Other problems such as low bandwidth, and limited staff to tackle all this only adds to the challenges.  This kind of discussion indicates the museum community is indeed thinking about digital preservation, and starting a good dialog to help further these solutions.

Google Art Project on Trial (#mcn2012goog)

Again, the MCN folks came up with an interesting way to have a discussion.  For this session, the Google Art Project was the focus of a mock trial – with panelists volunteering to serve as either defendants or prosecutors, with Michael Edson as moderator and the audience as jury.  And to keep things interesting, Piotr Adamczyk, Google Art Project, Google Cultural Institute was also there (winning the Good Sport award for the conference!)  Many issues were raised in this lively discussion, here’s a sampling of issues presented on both sides:

  • Defense – publishing platform for small museums, democratization of knowledge, institutions choose which art to contribute, GAP is not an art museum.
  • Prosecution – highjacking of culture, google-centric, “top ten” type project, no transparency.

And on it goes (and will go).  This was a valuable discussion to help frame this project within the museum community.

Seattle Art Museum

This is just a mere sampling of the conference content.  Other great sessions I attended included Preserving Digital Art; Value, Sustainability and Disruptive Technology; Preservation of Email, and the closing plenary, which was a nice event wrap up, with highlights presented by way of small group discussions.  Of course, since I’m involved in the digital preservation program here at the Library of Congress, it was great to see that subject represented, not only as the focus of some sessions, but occasionally in general conversations.  It was indeed a topic of interest at the conference.  So, for all those in the museum community eager for more information on this, in addition to the above website, the National Digital Stewardship Alliance is another resource  – membership is free, and provides easy access to discussion with others who are grappling with the same digital preservation challenges.

One of the great things about MCN 2012 was that they provided live webcasts of selected sessions for those who couldn’t attend.  In addition, all the sessions were filmed for viewing later on, and will be available on the MCN Youtube channel in the near future.  I will need this, too, because there was so much, and now it’s all a blur.

In the meantime, any other thoughts from MCN goers???



Comments (6)

  1. A list of the blogs talked about in the blogging session was compiled here:

    It was a great conference! Lots of great, thorough information and lots of great connections with folks. It was good meeting you, Susan!

  2. Nikhil,
    Thanks for providing the list of blogs, this will be useful to have. And nice meeting you too! I hope to see you and others at future conferences.

  3. Hi Susan,

    Thanks for writing this post! I hope you’ll contribute your images from the conference to the MCN Flickr group ( Please use Creative Commons licenses when appropriate.

    There is so much great digital content (blogs, tweets, images, slides, videos, etc.) coming out of this conference! The Roy Rosenzweig Center for History and New Media at George Mason University made a great effort to archive MCN2012 conference output. See Sheila Brennan’s blog post, “Museum as Aggregator and Facilitator for their Publics” (

    What are the possibilities for cultural heritage technology conferences, like the Museum Computer Network, to partner with the Library of Congress to preserve all the born digital materials spread across the web after conferences?

  4. Hi Neil,
    Yes, I requested a membership to the MCN Flickr group, so I’ll certainly add my photos there. And it’s interesting to see the CHNM archiving project for MCN2012, thanks for pointing that out.
    As far as partnering further to archive conference material, the Library is very involved in furthering partnerships and digital preservation projects of all kinds through the NDSA ( For example, there is an NDSA working group focused on “content” ( that might be interested in a project like this. Any MCN related organization can join for free and participate in these working groups. You can also contact me through the “contact us” link ( and I can give you further information.
    Thanks for your comments, this is all good to hear.

  5. Just wanted to drop in and say what a great conversation we had at the SIG luncheon. I came back to my museum armed with new digital preservation info and ready to put it to good use. Nice meeting you!

  6. Hi Jana,
    It was great meeting you too, I really enjoyed the discussion at that luncheon! And I’m glad you found the information useful. I will be in touch later on about other resources, but in the meantime, feel free to contact me through our “contact” link on the NDIIPP program page, ( if you have any further questions.

Add a Comment

This blog is governed by the general rules of respectful civil discourse. You are fully responsible for everything that you post. The content of all comments is released into the public domain unless clearly stated otherwise. The Library of Congress does not control the content posted. Nevertheless, the Library of Congress may monitor any user-generated content as it chooses and reserves the right to remove content for any reason whatever, without consent. Gratuitous links to sites are viewed as spam and may result in removed comments. We further reserve the right, in our sole discretion, to remove a user's privilege to post content on the Library site. Read our Comment and Posting Policy.

Required fields are indicated with an * asterisk.