As part of George Mason University’s graduate certificate in Digital Public Humanities, I am currently working as a virtual intern for the Smithsonian Institution’s Cultural Heritage Rescue Initiative. I am also the Arts & Architecture Librarian at the University of North Carolina at Charlotte, and until last year I served as the Art & Art History Librarian at George Mason. Our intern group from Mason was tasked with documenting museums and other cultural sites in the Caribbean, and my daily work as a librarian has proved helpful.
Our assignment became time sensitive because of the damage caused by Hurricanes Maria and Irma. Some islands we are researching received more damage than others did. For instance, Aruba and St. Kitts and Nevis are currently open to tourists, but many areas of Puerto Rico were destroyed. This devastation and subsequent lack of power made locating and verifying museums and cultural sites especially difficult. Since many of their sites are not listed in De Gruyter’s Museums of the World directory, I had to utilize the advice I give to students when conducting research and evaluating online information.
Implementing the standards of information literacy from the American Library Association became essential to finding and evaluating potential cultural sites. It is imperative that we think critically about the information we are consuming. My first step in identifying sites was to evaluate the information sources themselves. Some information came from government websites and a few from universities and colleges. However, many sources were tourist websites. These website required additional steps in the evaluation process. I chose to ask a combination of the following questions from the University of Maryland Libraries. Questions 6 and 7 gained added importance because of the hurricane damage.
1. What are the qualifications of the author or group that created the site?
2. What is the purpose of the web page or site?
3. What kind of information does the web site provide?
4. Does the web site provide any contact information?
5. When was the web site last updated?
6. Is the site well maintained?
7. In your opinion, how does the web site appear overall?
Once identified, evaluating potential sites required additional questions. For instance, I tried to determine if the sites were not-for- profit or for-profit. I also researched the mission of the museum/site and possible staff when available. Of course, the power outages meant that many of these websites were not available. Some museums were easy to identify, like the National Museum and Art Gallery on the island of Trinidad, while another turned out to be a small bird sanctuary in someone’s backyard because of a personal hobby. However, many institutions fell somewhere in between. Whether we use terms like information literacy, historical thinking, or critical thinking, evaluating information sources has been an essential part of this process.