Standing at the unique intersection of “curation,” old and new

Two weeks ago, I was among a small group that previewed Margot Bloomstein’s SXSW 2011 talk, “Creation, Curation, and the Ethics of Content Strategy.” Getting a sneak peek of Margot’s talk was a real treat, right down to her famous chocolate chip cookies.

Given the lively discussion that has transpired in the content strategy world around the word “curation,” it’s no surprise that Margot’s presentation — particularly her insights from actual museum curators — kickstarted some furious scribbling in my Moleskine.

As a Web content manager for a museum, I’ve watched the “curation” debate with a careful eye, and I’m often faced with a unique ethical challenge. With new exhibit listings, I’m charged to create the online representation of something that has been carefully curated, taking my cues from the exhibit content developers (note that they are not called “curators”) in the hopes that I carry their message through to our online audience. Over my four years in this position, I’ve learned that it’s important to gain the trust of these developers, to show that I can successfully convey their message online.

This is not necessarily pure “curation” as Web content managers know it; although I am pulling together different pieces of content to tell a story, I am also trying to translate just enough of the exhibit experience online to entice a visitor to come, without giving so much away that they feel as though they don’t need to.

This can be as simple as a photo selection or as complicated as conference call and subsequent, days-long email chains. It often sets the tone for further distribution via enews and social media, so my work is but one part of a marketing plan that originates with that single white board doodle down in the exhibits department. It’s curation that is traditional in neither the museum nor CS realm, but at the end of the day, it does reflect a point of view, which, as Margot eloquently explained, is something about which my colleagues and I must be cognizant.

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