About The Author

David Grabitske

David Grabitske is the manager of outreach services at the Minnesota Historical Society in St. Paul, Minnesota.

In Relevant Warehousesthe blog looked at the experience of libraries having to address the concern of virtual collections, instant downloads, and worry over relevance of place-based warehouses. Comments addressed the digital divide between tech-haves and tech-have-nots, as well as reminders that tangible evidence is important. Things have to reside somewhere, and sometimes people want to go where the stuff is.

Adding to the story of increasing placelessness, Richfield MN-based Best Buy announced on Thursday April 14, 2011 that it would be shrinking its overall footprint by closing some stores, subletting and reconfiguring space in others, concentrating more on web sales, and placing smaller-more-nimble stores in malls. Critics of Best Buy over the few years have thought that the company’s drive to continue building big box stores indicated it was out of touch with the modern, mobile-connected society.

Thus with libraries struggling to stay connected to a public that expects to interface with collections from just about anywhere and not necessarily in a library, and with big box retailers like Best Buy shrinking its footprint in order to align its product with intended users, it seems as though both could be lessons for local history museums to consider.

And yet, place still matters. The National Trust for Historic Preservation’s This Place Matters campaign shows people connecting with physical places. The key seems to be that the people connecting to these places have a personal connection that matters to them. The disconnect often comes between a place that matters to someone who doesn’t live there, and the choices that person made about where they have to live.

Another sign that place matters is the number of construction projects underway to add space to cultural institutions. Investments in new museums or additions have been significant.

In Museums Cost How Much?, the American Association of Museums reported on the addition of 5.9 million square feet from 2003-2010. Numerous additions not reported abound in Minnesota with the aggregate not known, from recently completed additions to the Winona County Historical Society’s 12,000-square-foot addition to the historic Winona Armory, to projects nearing completion like the Pine Island Area Historical Society’s 1,000-square-foot addition to the Collins-Glam House, to projects just underway such as the Steele County Historical Society’s new 16,000-square-foot building in Owatonna, to the Washington County Historical Society’s proposed reuse of a 27,000 square foot former furniture store. Just these alone represent 69,000 square feet of additional capacity.

However, based on the reduction in space for Best Buy or the new expectations in the age of spacelessness, one would have to ask if museums in general might run into some of the same issues as the race for more space continues seemingly with no end in sight.

Is there a balance between necessity of place and increasing placelessness that local history museums might strike? Presuming a certain amount of expansion over time will be necessary (for server room alone?), how might that need be evaluated? What pace of space consumption might be sustainable?

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2 Responses to Balancing Space and Placelessness

  1. Karen Schlenker says:

    As an “expat” from the east, I’m loving the growing volume of information available to me for personal research through the internet, but as I do my research, I carry the context of the places I’ve visited, where this history has played out. To me, the places and the physical environment (topography, buildings, artifacts) are integral to understanding all the digitized information–and the response of many of our museum visitors confirms that others share this need for context. Our historical society is not considering any expansion of space (crowded as we are), but we are definitely always working on expansion and enhancement of the stories we tell with our building and with our collection. Better exhibits, better outreach and better access are key as we move forward (as well as better focus in our collecting). I think people will continue to need these resources even in this mobile/digitized age.


  2. David Grabitske says:

    Here’s an online conference about placelessness and what that means:

    Place and Placelessness – October 7-8, 2011 (online) The New Scholars group of the Network in Canadian History and Environment (http://niche-canada.org/new-scholars) would like to invite submissions for the 2nd annual Place and Placelessness Online Workshop, taking place October 7-8, 2011.
    This online symposium is intended for graduate students and recently graduated scholars from all disciplines that seek to better understand the complex relationships between nature and culture. The workshop attempts to replicate the collegiate atmosphere of a shared-space meeting by using a variety of internet tools, including WordPress, Skype, Google Maps, Youtube, Facebook and Twitter to share ideas and participate in engaged discussion. This model should appeal especially to those who are eager for academic gatherings without the cost or carbon footprint of in-person meetings.
    Although the expectation is that most submissions will come in the form of in-progress pieces of writing, the organizers welcome submissions of alternative multi-media projects that utilize online tools to stimulate arguments about our relationship with local, regional, and transnational environments. All interested contributors should submit a CV, as well as a 200-300 word abstract outlining their topic, what format their contribution will take, and how their paper or project aims to broaden, illustrate or complicate the notion of ‘seasons’.
    This theme is loosely defined, and may include perspectives on:
    -the four seasons (spring, summer, fall, winter) -hunting and fishing seasons -seasonal migration -sporting or fashion seasons -seasoned timber/food -or any other creative sub-category

    The organizers would also like to invite others not submitting papers/projects to ‘attend’ the workshop as participants. This two-day event will take place entirely online, using Skype to communicate, and the website (http://virtualeh.wordpress.com) to provide access to the program, papers, presentations, blog posts, feedback, and links to relevant websites. All participants will receive a FREE Skype headset.
    The workshop has no registration fee, but only limited space, so sign up early.
    If you would like to contribute a paper or project, or would like to simply participate in the discussions, please register by sending emails to workshop co-chair, Andrew Watson (awatson[no spam]@yorku.ca). A full schedule will be announced August 29, 2011.
    Please also take a look at our Call for Short Films. Films will eventually be uploaded to Youtube a few days before the workshop, and will form the content for the plenary discussion. The films will be viewed by workshop participants prior to the plenary discussion on the last day.
    Any questions can be directed to awatson[no spam]@yorku.ca

    Source: National Council on Public History, H-PUBLIC listserv


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