Facilitating Inclusivity: The Politics of Access and Digitisation in a South African and Canadian Museum

By Laura Kate Gibson and Hannah Turner.

Published by The International Journal of the Inclusive Museum

Format Price
Article: Print $US10.00
Article: Electronic $US5.00

This paper draws on current themes of digitisation and access in two specific museum contexts—the Reciprocal Research Network in Vancouver, Canada and the Luthuli Museum in KwaZulu-Natal, South Africa. As museums and cultural heritage projects engage with new digital environments, issues around access for wider communities are raised. We ask what the possibilities of open access permitted by the digital world are, and how can ideas about open access through technology be complicated by existing power structures and geographical limitations in marginalised communities. This paper draws attention to the fact that when online access is implemented, other associated issues are raised. Open access databases and catalogues do not in themselves provide inherent access to knowledge since access to them is mediated by social, economic and historical circumstances. We frame this discussion specifically within issues of the digital divide and technological infrastructure, ownership issues in an open access environment, and the subsequent challenges concerning multiple interpretations.

Keywords: Digitisation, Tangible vs. Intangible Heritage, Access, Ownership, Multiple Interpretations, Virtual Repatriation, Digital Divide, Luthuli Museum, Reciprocal Research Network, RRN

International Journal of the Inclusive Museum, Volume 4, Issue 1, pp.1-14. Article: Print (Spiral Bound). Article: Electronic (PDF File; 727.359KB).

Laura Kate Gibson

Accessioning Officer and Research Assistant, Curatorial Department, Luthuli Museum, Durban, KwaZulu-Natal, South Africa

Laura Gibson manages the Digitisation & Collections Management Project at the Luthuli Museum National Legacy Project, South Africa. She started work at the Luthuli Museum in 2009 as an intern for the Commonwealth Association of Museums. She was subsequently offered a position to design and implement the Luthuli Museum digitisation and collections management project for purposes of preservation and access. Her work builds upon interests and skills developed during her undergraduate degree in History at the University of Durham, (UK), and Master’s degree in African Studies with Public Culture from the University of Cape Town (South Africa), and courses in Museum Studies at the University of Toronto (Canada). As well, she has experience working in the area of collections management at Canada’s Royal Ontario Museum and South Africa’s Iziko South African National Gallery. Her research interest is in the connection between culture, heritage and sustainable development. She writes in a personal capacity; views are not necessarily those of the Luthuli Museum institution.

Hannah Turner

PhD Student, Faculty of Information, University of Toronto, Toronto, Ontario, Canada

Hannah Turner is currently a PhD student in Information Studies at the University of Toronto, Canada. Prior to this, she worked as a research assistant for the Reciprocal Research Network (RRN) at the Museum of Anthropology in Vancouver, BC—a project seeking to connect British Columbia First Nations’ with their cultural heritage online. Her research interests lie in Indigenous issues and digital cultural heritage, with an emphasis on the issue of database development and cultural knowledge as well as repatriation and digital access to museum collections. She also has a broader interest in the connection between digital technologies and social issues globally.


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