Wayne Clough, Secretary of the Smithsonian Institution, asks “How can we prepare ourselves to reach the generation of digital natives who bring a huge appetite—and aptitude—for the digital world?” He explains how the Smithsonian is tackling this issue in Best of Both Worlds: Museums, Libraries, and Archives in a Digital Age.
Libraries and archives have already made many documents available through the Internet. The digital world presents a bigger challenge for museums; producing images of 3D objects is more complicated, and collections are built with exhibitions in mind rather than open access on computers.
In 2009, the Smithsonian began digitizing its vast collections to make them accessible to the millions of people who do not visit the museums in person. “Digital access can provide limitless opportunities for engagement and lifelong learning.” Clough sees museums gradually moving beyond showcasing collections to engaging the public online so “visitors” can access the objects they find most interesting.
Education has always been at the core of the Smithsonian. Today, the Smithsonian offers materials and lesson plans that meet state standards for K–12 curricula; online summits on many diverse subjects; the Collections Search Center website; and apps. The Smithsonian’s website, www.seriouslyamazing.com, draws people in with fun questions and then takes them deeper into the subject. The question “What European colonizer is still invading the U.S. today?” reveals not only the answer—earthworms—but also in-depth info on worms from environmental researchers.
Clough concludes with this thought: “While digital technology poses great challenges, it also offers great possibilities.”
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About the Author
Wayne Clough is the 12th Secretary of the Smithsonian Institution. Clough has launched a new era at the Institution, expanding the Smithsonian’s global relevance and helping the nation shape its future through research, education and scientific discovery on major topics of the day.
One of his first initiatives led to a new strategic plan that speaks to four grand challenges that will bring together the diverse resources of the Smithsonian’s museums and science centers through interdisciplinary approaches.
Ensuring that the Institution’s vast collection is accessible and available to everyone is a priority for Clough and the new strategic plan. Efforts are underway to digitize millions of objects in the collection.
In February 2012, Clough joined President Barack Obama and First Lady Michelle Obama, founding Director Lonnie Bunch and many key contributors for the groundbreaking of the National Museum of African American History and Culture, scheduled to open in 2015. In April, Clough oversaw Space Shuttle Discovery's dramatic flyover around Washington and final landing in its new home at the Smithsonian's Steven F. Udvar-Hazy Center near Dulles Airport.
Since Clough began as Secretary in July 2008, he has overseen several major openings at the Smithsonian, including the reopening of the National Museum of American History, the David H. Koch Hall of Human Origins and Sant Ocean Hall at the National Museum of Natural History.
Before his appointment to the Smithsonian, Clough was president of the Georgia Institute of Technology for 14 years. He received his bachelor’s and master’s degrees in civil engineering from Georgia Tech in 1964 and 1965 and a doctorate in 1969 in civil engineering from the University of California, Berkeley.