Which end of the tunnel do you start digging from? Do you start off with digitising your collection, or designing a user experience first?
Two of our clients are taking very different approaches to this problem. In an ideal world of course, you'd do both at the same time and the tunnelers would meet up and shake hands. But most institutions aren't blessed with the budget, staff or energy to do that.
I asked the question from the floor at a conference a while ago, and addressed it to a body who were digitising 3,000 books a day. "What are you working on around user experience, or surfacing all this content?" The answer was "We haven't really got there yet". I see this a lot. The imperative is to scan, users often come a distant second.
Last week G. Wayne Smith, Secretary of the Smithsonian said:
"I worry about museums becoming less relevant to society... I think we need to take a major step. Can we work with outside entities to create a place, for example, where we might demonstrate cutting-edge technologies to use to reach out to school systems all over the country? I think we can do that."
This echoes the BL/JISC report earlier this year on the researcher of the future:
"The library profession desperately needs leadership to develop a new vision for the 21st century and reverse its declining profile and influence. This should start with effecting that shift from a content-orientation to a user-facing perspective."
I love Apple products - I have done since using an Apple Mac 256K in maybe 1985. Are Apple successful because they're cool, or are they cool because they are one of the only computer vendors to successfully integrate great content (eg music/movies) and great software and hardware (iTunes/iPod)? Put these together and you get a great user experience.
So who's going to be the Apple of the library or museum world. Could be the Smithsonian...