Archive for June, 2009

“God is in the house” – Nick Cave mania among museum staff

“God is in the house”, “an artist who refuses to be typecast”, “obsessive, dark, untidy and honest ” paint the persona of one of Australia’s most critically acclaimed musicians. All of these romantic descriptions have been written by Western Australian Museum staff who are dedicated Nick Cave followers.

Following the curatorial process online has become a popular way for museums to promote an exhibition. This time the Blog was more focused on public programs. The Western Australian Museum staff set it up to follow the building of Nick Cave – The Exhibition (23 May – 19 July 2009). Renae Woodhams, Renee Dodds and Trish McDonald set up the Nick Cave Blog as they designed and launched the show. They share their thoughts on Nick Cave’s music, writing and fashion and have given it a different energy to your typical fansite. They even invited poet Kevin Gillam to publish three of his poems celebrating one of the greatest contemporary artists of our time. The Blog will close on 24 July 2009. All posts and comments will remain online. The exhibition will then travel to the National Library of Australia, Canberra from 15 August – 29 November 2009.

The Nick Cave website associated with the exhibition was designed by Perth design studio Equilibrium for the Western Australian Museum. The Arts Centre, Melbourne partnered with the WA Museum in presenting the exhibition, and successfully achieves every bit of the rockstar status a musician like Nick Cave commands. They have even added a page of links for those ‘thirsty for more’.

The museum has avoided any potential issues with the blurring of official and personal opinions by adding a disclaimer at the bottom of the page.

It states: The views expressed on this blog are those of individual post authors and are not the official views of the Western Australian Museum, who accepts no liability for content posted on this site.


Looking for the ‘Irish in Australia’

The word ‘transparency’ has been floating around recently as one way cultural institutions can connect with audiences. The National Museum of Australia is using Flickr as a window that enables us to watch the curatorial process. Curators Richard Reid, Cinnamon Van Reyk and Rebecca Nason are photographing the people they meet, places they visit and objects they see as they research the Irish in Australia exhibition to be opened at the end of the year in Canberra. The Flickr Irish in Australia group is not open to public contributions. This is a different approach from the Australian War Memorial who is using Flickr for exhibition research - inviting the public to upload their own images relating to the ‘Love and War’ exhibition. The NMA curators are scouring the countryside for material. On their travels they have taken pictures of the collection management staff who have shared their knowledge with them so we can watch how the NMA puts an exhibition together.

Frederick McCoy, Museum Victoria

‘Display case featuring material on Frederick McCoy, Museum Victoria’, photograph Rebecca Nason/Flickr

One of their most surprising trips was to Queensland where they were told they would have more success in finding Scottish rather than Irish material. But after visiting the State Library of Queensland, Sisters of Mercy Heritage Centre, Queensland Irish Association, Queensland University of Technology, and the Department of Land Use Mapping, the team struck success.  The public are able to see first-hand what goes in to making an exhibition. Here we can see their progress in Queensland. Moving state-by-state around the country, so far the other Irish in Australia sets are McCoy and Little Londsdale Street, in Victoria and Galong and Boorowa, in NSW.

Sarah Rhodes


CAN Outreach survey: Four MP3 players to be won

Go to Survey Gizmo to fill out the CAN Outreach survey for a chance to win one of four MP3 players.

The 10th, 20th, 30th and 50th person who submits their survey response with their name and contact details will win an MP3 player. They will be able to choose between a device that records and plays audio or a player that just plays video. Survey closes Monday July 13.

We would like to know what resources and services would be useful to you and how we can grow with you. CAN has an important role to play as the national portal for collecting institutions and we would like to ensure we meet our responsibilities within the gallery, library, archive and museum (GLAM) sector.

CAN Outreach survey

CAN Outreach survey


Digital storytelling: “Inside the Vault @ Powerhouse Museum”

Rita Orsini talks about how the Powerhouse Museum is using digital storytelling to bring museum objects to life. Not only are these pieces of the collection rarely seen but their stories have not had the opportunity to be shared in so much detail. Rita is the second guest writer in our series.

Three months ago I was appointed assistant curator in Total Asset Management at the Powerhouse Museum. My role was to research the Collection and upgrade the documentation about the history and significance of objects. This documentation is placed online and available through the Museum’s website.

I saw that a way to increase access to the Collection was to provide an instantaneous and easy point of entry to this documentation through short videos about the objects, a little teaser to whet the appetite, uploaded on You Tube and other relevant sites. This series Inside the Vault @ Powerhouse Museum takes the Powerhouse Museum Collection onto the Internet and unveils extraordinary stories behind objects usually tucked away in the Museum’s vault.

Every object tells a fantastic story. They often also resonate or have direct links with our world today.

Episode 1 – the Transatlantic Cable (Object number B2158)

Go to YouTube to find out the story of the first transatlantic submarine telegraph cable told by Matthew Connell, Curator of Computing and Mathematics. It is a story of grand plans, human folly and triumph, advances in technology and communication. There are strong parallels between these cables, which connected for the first time Europe and America in 1858, and what is happening in the world today with instantaneous global communication and the world wide web.

Episode 2: the Traeger Pedal (Object number B2125)

Head to YouTube to hear the story of the Traeger Pedal told by Curator of Computing and Mathematics, Matthew Connell. The Traeger Pedal, developed by Alfred Traeger in 1928, represents a significant milestone in the history of communication in Australia and was integral to the development and success of the AIM Aerial Medical Service (later known as the Royal Flying Doctor Service). Pedal-power is having a resurgence today and is the subject of research in institutions around the world. The Technical University of Madrid recently won an award for developing a pedal system enabling students to power their laptops while using them. Students at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT) designed a similar pedal-power generator to support the campus energy-saving goals as part of their IT Energy@MIT Initiative.

Episode 3: AWA Microphone and the Sydney Harbour Bridge (Object number 2007/147/1)

On YouTube curator Matthew Connell relates the story of a small block of marble packed with graphite granules. It is in fact the very microphone used at the official opening ceremony of the Sydney Harbour Bridge on 19 March 1932.

What makes the microphone especially significant is that it was signed by ten of the dignitaries officiating at the launch, including the NSW Premier Jack Lang, NSW Governor Philip Game and the Bridge’s Chief Engineer, JJC Bradfield. Thanks to this simple devise we are able to hear their voices today and witness the unveiling of a great Aussie icon, the Sydney Harbour Bridge, which symbolised progress, pride and hope for people at a time of great economic depression. All images courtesy of Mitchell Library, State Library of NSW. Footage courtesy of Collection of the National Film and Sound Archive’ & ‘Australianscreen Online’.

Rita Orsini


Guest writer: Liz Holcombe, Australian War Memorial

We have started to invite writers to regularly contribute to the CAN Outreach blog as we want the discussion forum to be the voice of the community. Our first guest is Australian War Memorial web manager Liz Holcombe who we interviewed last week about the AWM’s social media strategy. Liz uses the analogy of gardening to explain how she builds and maintains the Memorial’s online community.

Liz Holcombe

I like gardening, and really enjoy my vegie patch at home. I get to garden at work too. Here at the Australian War Memorial, we have been using social media in various forms for the last two and half years. Our first major foray was with blogs in late 2006. By early 2008 we had a Facebook page, a YouTube channel, and a presence on Flickr. In November 2008 we joined the Commons on Flickr, and in March 2009, joined Twitter.

One of the key things we have learned from this work is that you need to become a constant gardener, and gardening takes time. Gardening is the term I use to describe the constant activity that needs to happen on social media sites to keep them going. This means paying attention to comments, notes, fans, subscribers, and statistics (because someone will ask sooner or later what sort of result the site is yielding).

I like the word gardening because it is positive, organic and ultimately nourishing. Gardeners are constantly tidying, trimming, planting, weeding, dreaming and designing. Things never stay the same in a garden, and they don’t on the web either. And like in gardens, sometimes the changes are small and numerous and if you aren’t paying attention, you suddenly have a tangled jungle.

We have a few automatic ways of doing some of the gardening. When someone puts a new post on our blog, our Twitter page and our Facebook page automatically publish a link to the post. Comments are automatically emailed to blog authors, so the expert on the topic decides if the comment can be published, and if it needs a response. There is always someone in the web team keeping an eye on activity too, just in case the person who should be dealing with the comments is away.

Each day we spend time gardening on our various sites, looking at what is happening, reading what people say, responding to comments when it is appropriate, recording statistics and telling our colleagues what we learn. The demographic data that comes from Facebook and YouTube is invaluable, and the things that people share with us here have been surprising and sometimes touching. The photos that people take of the Memorial building and grounds and upload to our Flickr group create a unique visitor survey: some were taken in the 1960s. The reaction to the collection images on Flickr Commons has been incredible. One of the images, a striking portrait of an unidentified soldier from the First World War, has attracted particular interest, but no one has yet been able to help us work out who he was.

Unidentified soldier
An unidentified soldier. Do you know who he is?

Of course, there is some gardening that you don’t have to do on external sites that you have to do on your own website. You don’t have to make and manage the user interface. You don’t have to manage users’ emails and passwords or to provide help for people using the site: that is all done for you. On the downside, you have to accept what you find and live with it: if you don’t like the layout, or it does not work exactly the way you would like, you are not able to do much more than complain to the site owners, who are not obliged to do anything about it. It is a little like renting a house with a garden: you can’t really do a great deal to it, aside from maintaining it. If you own the garden though, you can pretty well do what you want. There are risks in using the external sites: is the site viable in the long term? What happens to your data if the site disappears? How do you do your record keeping if the activity if on some else’s server? How much do you need to record anyway?

Social media relies on participation, on two-way conversations: it is not enough to put something up and expect people to come. You have to work at it, keep on gardening, all the time. This is important, as once it was enough to just have the content on the website. Now we need to do more and allow more to happen with our content, largely because people are expecting more because of what they can do on other sites.

The major implication is that you have to work out how much activity you can support. The more care you can put into a site, the greater the return is likely to be, just like in a garden. You have to pick the best approach for the result you want, be prepared to work at varying speeds depending on the time or season, and remember that big things can grow from very small seeds. The trick is picking the seed that will flourish and ultimately bring a change to the garden. Social media is changing the way people use the web and that will inevitably change how museums operate on the web, and how the web is used by museums.

Guest writer Liz Holcombe, web manager, Australian War Memorial


Institutions collaborate to make Google Analytics transparent

The National Gallery of Australia is leading the way in institutional transparency by opening up their Google Analytics results. Web manager Andrew Powrie is setting up a pilot project where the NGA will share their results with other cultural organisations. Google Analytics shows how people are using the site and where traffic comes from. Andrew believes it will be interesting to compare how different institutions’ sites are used. From there web managers will be able to identify common trends and design sites accordingly. He feels the current situation is like ‘working in a bubble’ and there needs to be a higher level of understanding of the usability of cultural institutions’ websites.

National Gallery of Australia web manager Andrew Powrie
National Gallery of Australia web manager Andrew Powrie

Andrew sees this move not only as another level of collaboration where institutions can work together to build audiences. He also sees it as a move toward improving efficiency in the public sector. Andrew says, ‘Government as a whole should be benchmarking all agencies. It should be a major part of the reporting cycle’.

The strength of this pilot project is that Google Analytics is accessible to all institutions, is a standardised form of analytics and is free. If you would like to be part of this project, send Andrew an email.

Sarah Rhodes


Part 5: CAN interviews Australian War Memorial on social media

Those fascinated by the death of the German fighter pilot Red Baron, also known as Manfred von Richthofen, will welcome the Australian War Memorial’s social media program. Web manager Liz Holcombe uploaded the video of the Red Baron’s funeral to the AWM YouTube channel last year and made links between the collection objects relating to this story on AWM blog Who killed the Red Baron? and on their webpage titled 1918 Australia in France. The video has received almost 25,000 views and the comment section is evidence that the public love the opportunity to debate and discuss the fine details of the Red Baron’s death. Canadian pilot, Roy Brown claimed he had shot Germany’s most prized pilot in 21 April 1918 from the ground. While Private Alfred Fowler, with the 40th Australian Battalion, claimed to have seen the bullets shot by the 11th Battalion pierce the cockpit. While it is believed it was Australian soldier killed the Red Baron, the details continue to be debated.

Watch the interview with Liz Holcombe on our collectionsaustralia YouTube channel about her social media strategy. She discusses how she uses Flickr, Facebook, Twitter and YouTube.

German fighter pilot Red Baron, also known as Manfred von Richthofen

Her main focus has been to intertwine all of the social media tools so that people can just be a member of one or two of the sites and not miss anything. For ANZAC Day this year, the AWM paid for ads on Facebook for the first time promoting their activities. They used Twitter to send out notifications on what was happening. Attendance to the actual event in Canberra jumped from about 3500 to 5000 visitors. In this video interview Liz breaks down who her audience is, how she evaluates viewer behaviour and how CAN’s use of social media works to promote the Australian War Memorial’s collection. As seen in our blog last week, the war memorial is using Flickr as an exhibition research tool. They have invited members of the public to share their wartime love stories in the Flickr group Australian War Memorial: Love and War. These images will work to generate interest in the exhibition and possibly unearth value exhibition material.

Liz will start our series of guest blogs this week with a piece on ‘Gardening the Web’.

Sarah Rhodes


Love and War at the Australian War memorial

The Australian War Memorial is canvassing the country for wartime love stories for an exhibition to be held at the end of this year. The material they collect on the “Australian War Memorial: love and war” Flickr group will set a romantic background for the museum’s collection of objects, photographs and artworks.

The wonderful selection of photos in this slideshow already raise questions about how people meet and how they keep a relationship going in spite of separation? And what impact loneliness and conflict have on a relationship long after the war has ended.

If you have any related material in your institution’s collection or even at home, please email web manager Liz Holcombe. Any images or letters you contribute will not be directly part of the exhibition and will not be used without your permission.

Sarah Rhodes


Identify and then target each audience type differently

Audiences need to be identified and targetted differently. UK consulting company Curtis and Cartwright Consulting have published a Guide to Researching Audiences.

It identifies five key questions that need to be asked about audience types when building an online presence:
i. What is the target audience?
ii. What is the actual audience?
iii. Who are they?
iv. What do they want and expect from our service?
v. How are they using the service?

Curtis and Cartwright has also written a briefing paper for the cultural sector.

Publishing collections online provide opportunities to recruit new audiences and reinvigorate existing ones. People interact with galleries, libraries, archives and museums (GLAMs) differently when they are online versus in an exhibition space. Furthermore, the digitial environment attracts a different demographic. Audience segmentation was a common theme at the recent Museums Australia conference. As CAN’s national project manager Ingrid Mason expressed in her conference presentation, GLAMs need to experiment with digital media, make mistakes and re-evaluate strategies as they try to cater for increasingly diverse audiences. Manchester Art Gallery’s Kim Gowland and Jane Wilcox reinforced the need to identify different audiences and target them differently.

Links to audience research resources
Museum Audience Insight Australian Museum Audience Research Centre Lynda Kelly’s Audience Research Blog Australia Council Research Hub Audience Development Museums and the Web 2007 paper: Audiences, Visitors, Users: Reconceptualising Users Of Museum On-line Content and Services, Darren Peacock, University of South Australia; and Jonny Brownbill, Museum Victoria, Australia

Sarah Rhodes


Going online anyone?

At the Museums Australia conference in Newcastle last month I had the privilege of talking freely with colleagues in the museum sector about what was exciting and concerning them about making collection information available online.
Some really important issues and interests arose and I’d like to share some of them in brief with you.
Robert Landsdown, Museum of Human Disease and I spoke about the ethics of making collection information available online. Without much imagination it is clear that the museum Robert works in holds some sensitive collection material and the ethical issues with privileging access to that collection are many.

Robert really provoked my thinking, and I carried on that conversation with a colleague Dion Peita working with the anthropology collection at the Australian Museum this morning over coffee and learned that the museum has gone live today with its new website design – take a look!
Belinda Nemec, Cultural Collections, University of Melbourne and I spoke about how to work through rights issues with collections of digitised materials aggregated for one purpose but with potential for repurposing for an online audience.

Liz Marsden, Victoria Police Museum & Historical Unit and I spoke about looking for opportunities to work across the sector and determine standards for collection description that reflect the curatorial scope of the collections being managed, e.g. law enforcement.

I speculated wildly with Sarah about the potential for historical law enforcement and convict related information to be presented online together reflecting upon Christine Yeates comments in the CAN interview posted on the Outreach blog about the rich historical government resources managed in state archives.
Lastly, a brief chat with Edith Cuffe, Abbey Museum of Art and Archaeology about the realities of collecting organisations going online with their collections that use satellite or dialup and are outside the broadband reach.

There is real potential there to use CAN to make collections available but seems a continued need to lobby for extensive broadband access. Aspects of the ‘digital divide’ are definitely still on the radar in real terms and not just financial terms.
Plenty to think about and plenty of opportunities to learn from each other…


Working together to develop relationships with audiences and stakeholders

Manchester Art Gallery’s Kim Gowland and Jane Wilcox presented a paper on identifying and building audiences at the recent Museums Australia conference in Newcastle last month. The presentation titled Working together to develop relationships with audiences and stakeholders outlines how the gallery worked with the UK government and the North West Museums Hub to attract under represented audiences. This powerpoint presentation is available on our collectionsaustralia Slideshare channel.

In the UK, widening access to culture is central to the national government agenda. Government research into regional museums identified common problems such as declining visitor numbers. This led to the establishment of the ‘Renaissance in the Regions’ program with the aim of increasing visit numbers and attracting a more diverse audience, more representative of the UK population. The key target groups were lower income households, black and minority ethnic people and disabled people.

North West Museum Hub, UK

To achieve this mandate, Gowland and Wilcox at the Manchester Art Gallery needed to understand who their visitors were and what they wanted. The North West Museum Hub employed audience development specialist Morris Hargreaves McIntyre to engage in this research. This involved sharing existing knowledge, meeting quarterly to discuss and analyse the findings and setting up an online group to share information, issues and insights. The group of museums also jointly commissioned new research.

Manchester Art Gallery

Morris Hargreaves McIntyre used dynamic and creative qualitiative and quantitative research tools to identify the different museum audiences. Quantitative research involved surveys within the gallery space while qualitative research used post-it notes to record responses to an exhibition design and content. They also conducted focus group discussions, interviews, audience forums, and vox pops.

The eight audience groups identified were kids-first families, learning families, siteseers, third-spacers, experts, self-developers, afficiondos and sensualists. At the Museums Australia conference, Gowland and Wilcox explained three of the audience groups: third spacers – socially motivated, sensualists – spiritually/emotionally/aesthetically motivated and self developers – intellectually motivated. They believed that while everyone has probably visited a museum for social reasons, they suggested we tend to fall into either the sensualist or self-developer categories. The slides in the Powerpoint presentation were illustrated by Paul Loudon giving us a clear sense of the characteristics of each category type.

In the next CAN Outreach Blog post, we will outline how to identify different audiences. If you would like to subscribe to this blog using our RSS feed, please click on the orange icon at the top right-hand side of this page.

If you would like more information about the Renaissance in the Regions project, email Kim Gowland and Jane Wilcox


Local objects global stories – our Museums Australia conference paper 2009

How do collections and objects “speak” to audiences? How can museums present their collections online in ways that can be resourced and sustained at a local level? Collections Australia Network national project manager Ingrid Mason presented this paper at the 2009 Museums Australia conference to discuss how galleries, libraries, archives and libraries (GLAMs) can bring their collections to life online and engage new audiences. Ingrid’s powerpoint presentation is now available on the collectionsaustralia Slideshare channel for people who could not make it to the conference in Newcastle last month.

It is an inspiring discussion about how the online presence of digitised collections opens up limitless possibilities. By relinquishing control of context, objects can embark on their own journey. Curators, researchers, students and the general public can reinterpret these objects, offering fresh perpectives and contributing valuable information. As Ingrid says in her presentation: ‘New territory… new stories… new practices’.

CAN national project manager Ingrid Mason

An institution must be canny about how it approaches its online strategy. It needs to work within its capacity and in line with its values and mission or mandate – taking into account its funding body’s needs while also establishing who its core audience is.

Museums can hope online collections will add value to current visitor experiences but what about the needs of the unexpected visitors? Little is known about new audiences so the strategy must be continually reassessed.

Shelley Bernstein, at the Brooklyn Museum emphasises that the Digital Media department needs to take risks, try new tactics, make mistakes and re-evaluate. Paula Bray, Visual & Digitisation Services manager at the Powerhouse Museum, has demonstrated that risk-taking can lead to unexpected yet positive results. She applied a no-known copyright restriction to a collection of 19th century glass plate negatives and uploaded them to the photo-sharing website Flickr. The ABC found the Tyrrell Collection on the Flickr Commons and invited the Powerhouse to collaborate on the Sydney Sidetracks project. Sidetracks is an interactive map offering historical stories based on public collections and archives. The Manchester Art Gallery was instructed by the national government to use online collections to reach wider audiences. Not only were visitor numbers falling but sections of the population were under-represented. Kim Gowland and Jane Wilcox invested in extensive audience segmentation analysis through meetings, online forums, surveys and by commissioning research. This enabled them to develop strategies for each audience type from ‘kids-first families’ and ‘learning families’ to ‘lifestylers’ and ‘third-spacers’.

We will be blogging about the Powerhouse Museum Flickr Commons and the Manchester Art Gallery MA conference presentations over the next week so stay tuned. You could even subscribe to our RSS feed by clicking the orange icon at the top right-hand side of the page.

So the most important thing to remember is that the online collection – social media partnership is an ongoing experiment where the only rule is to continually re-evaluate your strategy.

Sarah Rhodes


Telling stories using maps

The first thing Joy Suliman focuses on in the morning is the Alessi kettle sitting on her stove top. The funky Italian design prepares her for a great day. Just looking at the slick lines and quirky details makes her feel good as she pours water into it for her cup of tea. In gratitude to how this beautiful design makes her feel, the former CAN project manager decided her kettle’s story deserved to be told.

Alessi / Michael Graves Kettle with bird whistle 1986

Joy geo-tagged in Google Earth a video of the Michael Graves Blue Kettle with Bird Whistle in her apartment and then created a tag for the Powerhouse Museum’s Inspired! exhibition in Google Earth and included information about the kettle from the Powerhouse Museum’s online collection records. From there we travel to Portland in the United States where architect Michael Graves designed what claims to be the “first postmodern building” and finally to the Italian city which boasts to be the home of the Alessi design studio. Now when Joy watches her birdy sing on the stove she thinks about the global story behind her treasured object.

She presented this story at the Museums Australia conference in Newcastle last month with the aim of motivating her colleagues to start telling stories about their collection through mapping. We have uploaded the video of Joy’s presentation on our collectionsaustralia YouTube channel and the Powerpoint presentation on our collectionsaustralia Slideshare account. A guide to how to geomap your collection will be available in Sector Resources.

Joy says she chose Google Earth rather than Google Maps because it is an application offering animation and a sense of drama. In her new role at the Powerhouse Museum’s Soundhouse Vector Lab, she teaches high school students how to build themed-journeys using Google Earth. Joy has not embedded this kettle project into a website. Instead she has saved it as a KMZ file (which is a zipped keyhole market language file), so she can email it as an attachment to other Google Earth users. If Joy decides to embed it into a website so that other people can geotag their own Alessi kettles, we would be able to see where the little birdy sings around the world.

Geotagging objects in your collection is a good way to give information about them. Whether you embed a map into your own website or use Flickr, you just drag the image to a location on the map. The best example of where geomapping works well is in the Flickr Commons. Institutions and the public are geotagging historic photographs so when you zoom into a place in Google maps you can see 150 years of images comparing then and now.

If you would like to use or embed Google Maps / Earth in your projects, click here for the terms and conditions.

Sarah Rhodes


Transcription services

Transcribing an interview can take hours of your valuable time. Not only do you need to process the information but you need to spend time doing further research. CAN Outreach used a transcription service for its series of interviews last week and found it was an extremely cheap and high quality service. We used Casting Words in the United States. Pricing changes depending on whether you would like a 24 hour, six day or two week turnaround.

There are several companies in Australia that also offer the service.
The Transcription People
Brisbane Transcript Services