What is a 21st Century Curator?

By: Jaime Clifton, Research Curator

As I delve deeper and deeper into the subject of sustainability, I continually come across the concepts of climate apathy and grief. Climate change is often communicated to the public with doom and gloom, causing many to disengage and not take action. An article published in Universe Today explores this complex issue and suggests that people relate more to information that is consistent with their existing values rather than information that counters them. But perhaps what’s missing from these conversations is the human element—something to help people make personal connections. This idea made me think about the differences between social media channels featuring cultural heritage versus climate change and sustainability. In my experience, it’s much easier to engage people with stories on family heritage discoveries than melting ice caps in the arctic. 

So how can content have high social currency? This article suggests that it has to make people look good, make an emotional impact, or be entertaining, current, and authentic. Just look at the success of the Ice Bucket Challenge campaign, the Solar Freakin’ Roadways video, or the campaign for Lego to end its partnership with Shell. The social engagement instigated by Leonardo Dicaprio’s acceptance speech at the 88th Academy Awards is also pretty remarkable. Tweets containing “global warming” and “climate change” increased by 636% (250,000 tweets) following his speech. There was also a 261% spike in Google search terms closely linked to the content he discussed. Read the full stats in this article published on the “Dicaprio effect” last week in PLOS ONE Journal.

There’s no standard formula for curating web content and mobilizing research through social media. We don't all have a pal like Lil’ BUB cat or Leo to act as spokespersons for our cause, but what we can do is meet people where they convene and talk on their terms. We can find existing digital communities, “learn the local accent” (as coined by museum guru Nancy Proctor), and add value to these communities.


Perito Moreno Glacier in Patagonia, Argentina, by Luca Galuzzi, via Wikimedia Commons


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