This month, museums and libraries worldwide have used the Internet and social media to reach virtual audiences everywhere as participants in two online campaigns.
The first, #ColorOurCollections, was spearheaded by the New York Academy of Medicine Library. It officially lasted the week of February 6 through February 10, but the free coloring books from museums and libraries are still available online to download, print, and transform with crayons and markers. All the images come from the institutions’ collections, as they “invit[e] their followers to color and get creative with their collections.”
Everyday artists can use these coloring pages to add hues to two water dragons from a Thai story cloth at the Immigration History Research Center Archives, fill in abstract designs from the Smithsonian Libraries, and bring scenes from Shakespeare plays to life with the Folger Shakespeare Library’s offerings. The images, and our ability to color them as we wish, bring forth human creativity and imagination, as in this decidedly unrealistic illustration below that I colored. Even the scientific images provided by botanic gardens and medical libraries can be distorted from reality with fantastical choice of colors or artistic license in adding one’s own details.
#ColorOurCollections testifies to the role museums, libraries, and other cultural institutions play in drawing audiences into made-up stories and imaginary worlds, with examples such as art, music, and everything in the fiction section. These cultural sites invite visitors to ponder what if, to consider trying their hands at their own creative works, to reap the therapeutic benefits of coloring or of relaxing among art (even while also recognizing the ways that uncomfortable or disturbing art and stories can challenge us to think).
One week later, museums and libraries everywhere again took to social media, this time to contribute to the #DayOfFacts (February 17, 2017) on platforms like Twitter and Instagram. According to the campaign’s mission statement, the purposes of the day were to “show the world that our institutions are still trusted sources for truth and knowledge” and “reaffirm our institutions as welcoming places for everyone.”
The campaign speaks to a particular historical moment in which lies are sold as “alternative facts,” the most powerful leader in the world dismisses the press as “fake news,” and actual examples of fake news are a growing concern online. While museums play an important role in fostering imagination, as in #ColorOurCollections, they are just as vital as sources of historical scholarship and scientific discovery.
In the words of participants themselves: “One of the most important sources of facts in our society is a free and independent press” (Special Collections, Archives, and Rare Books at the University of Missouri Libraries). “A fact is an indisputable observation of a natural or social phenomenon” (The Field Museum). And finally, “facts matter, that information matters, that the open and free exchange of ideas matters” (Gustavus Library).
The facts that emerged on #DayOfFacts were a glorious mix of information pertinent to the debates and misconceptions of our time, data about the benefits of libraries and museums, text about particular objects in collections, and just some fun trivia.
There were no facts about cats serving as naval captains, rescuing other cats from the ocean with life preservers, and getting married. However, there were facts about real cat species along with so many other topics under the sun:
— theNAT (@SDNHM) February 17, 2017
— Nashville Zoo (@NashvilleZoo) February 17, 2017
— DPLA (@dpla) February 17, 2017
— Riverside Art Museum (@RAMriverside) February 17, 2017
— Oakland Museum of CA (@oaklandmuseumca) February 18, 2017
— Hickory Hill (@HHEducation) February 18, 2017
A group of ducks is called a team
A group of caterpillars is an army
A groups of mice is a mischief
A group of otters is a romp#dayoffacts
— UMMusofNatHist (@UMMNH) February 17, 2017