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Thursday, May 16 • 2:00pm - 2:30pm
(New Technologies Meet Timeless Conservation Problems) Smartsourced Conservation: Overcoming the Limitations of Smartphone Technologies

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The potential of smartphones has inspired a huge volume of optimistic discourse in the academic literature of a broad range of disciplines. Except, that is, heritage conservation. Why this disparity? Despite this much touted promise, are smartphones simply ill-suited to conservation activities? This dearth is certainly indicative of either an industry-wide reluctance or some kind of barrier inherent in the technology itself. However, given conservation’s willingness to adapt new tools and utilize all available resources, the latter seems much more probable. Despite some publicized one-off projects (which have been almost entirely abandoned), the widespread adoption of smartphones in heritage conservation is stymied by both ‘hard’ and ‘soft’ components. Mobile handsets are composite objects that consist of numerous independent devices manufactured by different makers under a heavy cloak of industry secrecy. Furthermore, mobile software is a state of near constant flux as developers attempt to stay current and compatible with the full range of new systems and structures. All this fluidity means that broad stroke recommendations are virtually impossible. However, this does not completely preclude the use of smartphones in heritage conservation, it merely requires that we resituate our understanding of what kind of tool a smartphone is. The short presentation will outline the inherent limitations which are currently preventing a unilateral set of recommendations for the use of smartphones in various heritage activities before suggesting a new approach to resolve many of these challenges. In this model, a mobile handset is not only a tool to be wielded, it is a ubiquitous platform that enables a large number of people to work collectively. This is a shift in the ideation of what a smartphone is, decentralizing it and reimagining it in terms of what it makes possible rather than what it can do. This model, smartsourcing, employs the ubiquity of mobile handsets in the service of specific projects utilizing the labor of many participants. In this context, the smartphone is the technological architecture that makes such interventions possible. The approach is then illustrated with a case study of the ‘softpack’ project undertaken in April 2016 at the International Museum of Surgical Science in Chicago, Illinois, where over the course of six hours, fourteen volunteers assessed, catalogued, wrapped, and digitized the title pages of over 150 books. By drawing on the long history of museum volunteerism and supplementing it with powerful digital tools, smartsourcing enables large scale projects that would otherwise be impossible.

avatar for Laura Chaillie

Laura Chaillie

Recent Graduate (Autumn 2018), University College London
Laura Chaillie is a recent graduate from the object conservation training process at University College London, where she focussed on the care of contemporary and historic organic materials within ethnographic and natural history collections. Her research reflects a keen interest... Read More →

Thursday May 16, 2019 2:00pm - 2:30pm EDT
Salon B1, Uncas Ballroom
  General Session, New Technologies Meet Timeless Conservation Problems
  • Ticketed Included in Main Registration
  • Authors in Publication Order Laura Chaillie
  • Abstract ID 18451
  • Tags smartphones,apps,crowdsourcing,outreach