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A new GLAM Incubator supports its first seedling projects

Submitted on Wednesday, July 20, 2022

The Faculty of Information’s new GLAM Incubator offers support to innovative seedling projects initiated in the Galleries, Libraries, Archives, and Museums (GLAM) sector. Photo by Markus Spiske at Unsplash

The Faculty of Information’s GLAM incubator aims to connect Galleries, Libraries, Archives, and Museums (GLAM is the acronym used in the trade) with industry partners, cutting-edge technologies, and university researchers. A collaboration between the Faculty and the Knowledge Media Design Institute, the new incubator is part research hub and part seed fund. It can provide everything from technical support to research expertise to workspace.

As of the spring of 2022, four projects had been given the go-ahead. Dean Wendy Duff, KMDI DIrector Sara Grimes, and the Incubator’s Interim Director, Associate Professor Patrick Keilty, initially sought out projects with a Faculty connection that would benefit cultural heritage institutions, industry, and the research and teaching goals of universities worldwide.

The most advanced of these seedling projects is a visitor’s app being created as a collaboration between the Royal Ontario Museum (ROM) and the Bonham Centre for Sexual Diversity Studies, where Keilty is a faculty member and Archives Director. The app’s “Queering Museums” team is working with students, museum curators, scholars, and museum goers to extend the ROM’s existing mobile tours app to navigate queer stories within the museum’s permanent exhibit.

The GLAM Incubator is also providing support and assistance in running and creating a “Printing Community” exhibition and a bookmaking workshop for a pilot partnership between the Uxbridge Historical Centre and the Faculty of Information Assistant Professor Claire Battershill. Both activities are set to take place in the fall.

Two incubator projects still in their very early stages include Associate Professor Cara Krmpotich’s Digilab 2.0, which seeks to build on a collaboration between UofT Museums Studies students and professors with researchers at universities and museums in Manchester, England. Participants have proposed using the GLAM Incubator to develop digital pedagogical strategies and resources for graduate students as well as professional development focused on questions of equity, empathy, and ethics within digital cultural heritage practices and research.

The second early-stage project is a collaboration between Professor Nadia Caidi and several public library systems aimed at Francophone young people in Ontario. Its goal is to create opportunities for this so called “official language minority community” to engage with GLAM, through reading-related projects and by empowering them “to take initiative and get creative in LAM spaces by conveying the idea that LAM are ‘theirs.’”

Keilty is especially pleased with the range of these first GLAM incubator projects, which include partners ranging from the giant ROM to a smaller community organization like the Uxbridge Historical Society. Similarly, while some of the projects are high tech, the Printing Community project showcases an older technology. In future, he hopes to expand the range of projects that receive funding, particularly in collaboration with archives.

“We definitely hope that cultural heritage institutions – even little community ones – come to us with a project they’re working on, where they think that we can help operationalize, or experiment or prototype some aspect of it, enhance some aspects of it,” Keilty says.

“We want them to think there’s something we can contribute. A usability lab or expertise, or we can connect them with colleagues at other another institution,” he explains. “We could help facilitate knowledge mobilization, or help facilitate tech equipment that they need, or space that they need. In some cases, limited cash can be provided too, or we can support Research Assistants with a passion for the topic.”

The brainchild of Faculty of Information Associate Professor Sara Grimes, the GLAM Incubator had its launch delayed by the pandemic. “We’re just sort of taking it one year at a time for now,” says Keilty, noting that the initial call for projects was kept within the Faculty of Information so that the inevitable start-up problems could be kept in-house as well, but future calls will be far more public, involving alumni and other partners across the country.

Keilty’s involvement in the ROM app project, which received some $60,000 in funding from the Bonham Centre over three years, is also giving him insights into how the GLAM Incubator can help make things happen. Among other things, the Bonham funds have paid for students to help develop a best practices report for its app design as well as surveys of similar projects that have been done in other museums.

Keilty expects the GLAM incubator to provide usability lab expertise from within the Faculty of Information as well as space for a research assistant and possibly a project manager.

The GLAM Incubator will share space with KMDI in the Robarts Library building and might also have a physical presence in the Faculty of Information’s Bissell Building depending on how things evolve.