Archive for August, 2009
National Portrait Gallery online manager Gillian Raymond talks about using digital storytelling in the redesign of the gallery’s website.
The National Portrait Gallery is kind of an interesting institution, because it sits somewhere between a museum and a gallery. What we are fundamentally interested in is identity and people’s stories. This makes us a little bit different from an art gallery, who might be concerned with the authenticity of an art object, or a museum that may be just interested in the story that an artifact may tell but not necessarily the artistic or aesthetic merit of that particular object. We sit somewhere between the two.
The best portraits are often done by artists, because they are experts in seeing people and bringing something of their personality to the forefront. But in terms of the online program, we have the opportunity to go further than an actual physical object to an artwork, and we can start to delve into the stories behind the lives of the sitters and the lives of the artists who may bring something interesting to that particular story.
So obviously, people react strongly to faces. Ever since we’re born, we develop very quickly our ability to recognise a human face and to identify with our parents or people around us. And we wanted to bring that kind of idea to the website design, because, while we would like to get as much data and information to people, we also wanted people to be able to hop onto the site and browse, not just the artworks but also a lot of thumbnails or sort of images of faces.
If someone is looking for a particular person in our collection, chances are, whilst word searches will bring back a result, it’s nice for people to actually flick through the images of the portraits and identify with the particular person they are interested in learning something about. That was our main focus when we were looking at redeveloping the site.
We also wanted to open with a punchy splash screen, which I think we’ve done pretty successfully. We’ve brought images from the collection, cropped quite a few of them down to almost-life-size faces. So, that’s the first thing that people see when they enter the site and I think it conveys our message pretty strongly and effectively.
Obviously, it has its own issues in terms of access, but I think we should facilitate access for every person that we possibly can. People’s connections are getting faster, people are getting used to Flash content. So, I think a site that works well with both of those ideas and philosophies is probably quite a successful site.
Could you explain a little bit about the Portrait Stories element of the site?
Portrait Stories was a major part of the site redevelopment. We didn’t have them before we relaunched the site last December.
The Portrait Stories project developed out of an idea that we wanted to have an audio-visual tour, as seems to be expected from most galleries. But we wanted to take that a little bit further than your standard audio-visual tour that people may be used to. We saw that it presented us with quite a lot of opportunities in terms of what content we deliver to the public.
So, we basically went away and researched 60 works in the collection, found some interesting stories. The brief was that we had to discover a story, or a few stories, about the particular person that weren’t already written up in a label or weren’t already written up in the description about the artwork on the website. Something else, something different to the usual information that people can get about biographical information about people’s lives. So, we worked with a production company to develop these stories.
The great opportunity that the Portrait Stories project presented was the fact that we actually could get lots of video content. There were two aspects to that. We went away and researched all of the collections around Australia and overseas that may have artifacts, photographs, letters, old oral recordings. The collection at the National Library was fantastic. We approached all of those collections to get copyright permission to have those particular bits and pieces into our story, and then we wove those together into what we call a Portrait Story.
I think the most successful ones are the ones that have a little bit of the sitter’s voice involved. So, whether it is an oral recording, we interviewed a lot of subjects who were overseas, so we basically just did phone interviews. Andy Thomas spoke to us from the States. Chrissie Amphlett spoke to us from the UK. We basically just spliced those in with photographs from their lives, to illustrate the story. But we also managed to get some good video interviews with people, like Frank Fenner, who is now in his 90s, and it was a fantastic opportunity to get him to tell us a bit about his life.
I think that the dimension that this adds when people are standing in front of the artworks in the building with the eye touches that we’re using, when they can actually have that portrait speak through another medium, such as the Portrait Stories, I think there’s another layer, or another dimension, that our audiences can actually experience from our artworks.
Obviously, we went into the project with the idea that it was not just going to be an audio-visual tour for people who managed to make it to the Portrait Gallery. One of the key focuses was that all content should be able to be re-purposed across multiple platforms. So we have all of the Portrait Stories streaming on our website. But we’re also undertaking a project to syndicate them to YouTube and various other platforms, Facebook and various other areas that we are sort of trying to move into at the moment, albeit a bit slowly.
You are developing very valuable content behind these artworks. Has copyright been an issue to organise.
In order to syndicate the stories across multiple platforms, it was a little bit of a learning curve for us, and we did learn some valuable lessons in terms of copyright. And we made some interesting mistakes in terms of copyright as well. But the project is continuing, and I think we will approach the copyright in a very different way in the next couple of incarnations of the Portrait Stories.
When we initially licensed for the Portrait Stories, we licensed for our website and for display in the gallery, which was a big mistake in terms of actually not having permission to then display those stories on any other website.
So, we’re now investigating the Creative Commons licensing scheme, which we’ll build into our licensing for all Portrait Stories in the future. We will restrict things to ‘share-alike’. That is the most restrictive Creative Commons license, which will be more of a viral license, but we’re hoping that that will give us the flexibility that we need to send our content out to various different platforms.
We have a set of iTouches that people can borrow. They’re free of charge at the moment. We’re still developing them. We initially went into the entire project, our director, Andrew Sayers, is very supportive of the online program and very interested in technology.
We originally went into the whole redevelopment of all the development of the audio-visual guides with the idea that, actually, people would be using their own phones to download our stories, and that, coming into the gallery, they could accept a Bluetooth message from the gallery and they could download the content and use their own devices. We investigated that for quite a few months. And it actually turned out that whilst the technology is there, the telecommunication companies weren’t actually coming to the party, in terms of content delivery.
It would just be prohibitive in terms of costs for our public to pay for it. And if we were to enter into a sponsorship arrangement with one particular telco, then that isolates everyone else who happens to be on a different plan with a different company. So, unfortunately, it wasn’t quite at the stage in Australia yet where we could move towards that. But we have built the stories with the idea that that’s what will happen as soon as that kind of problem is sorted out.
You are the only one on the web team. You have done an amazing job planning and developing the strategy for the site.
I see my role as more of a project manager, designer sort of role. I do bring a lot of my design philosophy to the website. But we outsource all of the technology. So, while I would love to learn a little bit more about programming, I know that I’m never going to have the skills that are required, or, if I do manage to get them, be able to keep them up to the standard that we expect.
The real problem, I think, with our resourcing at the moment is the fact that we don’t have a copy editor, which I would absolutely love to have, because that’s very time-consuming in itself, collecting copy and rewriting it and re-purposing for the website. We’re just starting to move towards that now, which will make life a lot easier, and also mean that we can really start getting our message out there a lot more, if we have somebody in that role.
I think we will never move away from the outsourcing model. We have quite a few companies that we work very closely with that we have a good working relationship with, and has proven to be really successful for us.
Do you think that there will be a move in museums, generally, to outsource different sections, like photography, production, IT, building exhibitions?
I think so. I mean, I think that that kind of move already seems to have happened. For us here at the Portrait Gallery, we’re a staff of 52. Whilst our gallery is a lot more modest than the National Gallery of Australia across the road, I mean, the staff difference is phenomenal. They’re sort of sitting at around 250, I think, at the moment. Our output is actually quite similar in terms of programs.
We have outsourced conservation, for example. We’ve outsourced our photography. A lot of the core business has moved towards that outsourcing model. The way we have it set up seems to be working quite well for us at the moment. It would be interesting to do a cost-benefit analysis at some point. The skill that we’ve managed to get from outsourcing is the key thing for us.
You are very progressive in terms of how you’re doing things. Do many other museums operate in a similar way?
I think if it is progressive, it was forced upon us. Most other cultural institutions are statutory authorities, and we still sit very firmly within the Department of Environment, Water, Heritage and the Arts. Most were hoping to move to a statutory authority, which may change our entire operating basis in terms of whether we do continue to outsource or not.
It was sort of a model that was thrust upon us, and we’ve had to work within those parameters, but I think it’s worked quite well for the portrait gallery, we certainly have a high quality of output and a great following from the public, which is great for us.
Email Gillian to learn more on building digital stories about your collection.
In a recent blog about archival know-how I mentioned that I’d come back to collection level description. The vision driving the development of CAN and other data aggregator services is the provision of coordinated access to the collection information held nationally. Collecting organisations face two major issues in getting collections online.
1. The resources required to make collection data available at item level
2. The rights issues over the content, i.e. moral and intellectual property rights
So where does collection level description fit in? It offers insight into what constitutes the collection and gives researchers an idea of what kinds of items might lie within the collection. In the CAN organisation data that CAN Partners supply there is a field called “description” that Partners are encouraged to provide a summary description of the collection held by the CAN Partner organisation. I encourage CAN Partners to think about enhancing those statements and/or looking at the merits of developing a collection level description for their organisation based on standards. Why? Right now, I’m looking at the CAN data model along with my colleagues to make room for developing collection level description and I’m looking with keen interest at the standard being used by the Australian National Data Service: RIF-CS/ISO2146 and attempting to draw insight from an article from dLib: Semantic Integration of Collection Description by Lourdi, Papatheodorou and Doerr.
What is the benefit of creating collection level description?
ACCESS - a high level of intellectual access to aid with resource discovery
VALUE - demonstrates the intrinsic value of aggregate items, i.e. groups of items, because of the conceptual, physical or provenance relationships between the items
SCOPE - reflects the framework in which collections emerge and how collections are developed
Statements about collections, whether descriptive, interpretive or analytical offer value in different ways. For example, statements of significance (see: Significance 2.0) can be written at both item and collection level.
How does collection level description relate to item level description?
There are diagrams that explain this structuring of description much better than I could poke a stick at – take a look at page 8 of a report written by Michael Heaney, UKOLN: An Analytical Model of Collections and their Catalogues. I think Michael captures the value of collection level description well in page 3 of this report well.
1.1 The information landscape can be seen as a contour map in which there are mountains, hillocks, valleys, plains and plateaux. A large general collection of information – say a research library – can
be seen as a plateau, raised above the surrounding plain. A specialized collection of particular importance is like a sharp peak. Upon a plateau there might be undulations representing strengths
1.2 The scholar surveying this landscape is looking for the high points. A high point represents an area where the potential for gleaning desired information by visiting that spot (physically or by remote means) is greater than that of other areas. To continue the analogy, the scholar is concerned at the initial survey to identify areas rather than specific features – to identify rainforest rather than to retrieve an analysis of the canopy fauna of the Amazon basin.
Guest writer Desmond Kennard believes small museums need to better utilise their community’s resources. Desmond has held various senior positions in several major Australian museums since the 1970s, such as executive director of Sovereign Hill, Deputy Director of the Museums of Applied Arts and Sciences (Powerhouse Museum), director of the Australian Bicentennial Exhibition and CEO of the Sydney Maritime Museum. Now he is sharing his experience with institutions who manage with limited resources.
All communities have a pool of talent that small collecting organisations can tap into. Accountants, journalists, builders – just to name a few. Small institutions often cry: “We just do not have the resources!” but if institutions take a community approach to the tasks that need to be done, not only will they get things done but the institution will become a dynamic cultural heritage centre.
Many small galleries, libraries, archives and museums (GLAM) do not set out clearly defined objectives and take a reactive “steady as she goes” approach to their problems. I find that often there is a lack of interest in establishing long term goals. With a planning process in place, major achievements can be made through a series of small steps.
While I accept that most, if not all, small museums need additional funds, within most communities there will a wealth of resources ready to be mined. Whether they are retirees with a lifetime of experience or the employed able to cater for specific tasks.
The list of occupations where the skills and experiences might be of value to a small museum are almost unlimited.
• Journalist: publicity, label writing and editing publications.
• Builder: carpentry, building maintenance, aspects of exhibition design and display case construction.
• Electrician: track lighting, wiring, particularly for exhibitions.
• Artist: illustrations in publications, exhibitions and wall graphics.
• Clock and watchmaker: advice on clocks and watches in the collection, maintenance of any
model requiring cleaning or repairs.
• Legal: this can cover contracts, copyright issues, even occupational health and safety.
Architect, accountant, photographer, computer expert – there are many other occupations that could be added.
While those members of the community who have their own businesses or work for someone else may be less enthusiastic about offering their services without payment, I suggest that a simple approach by a one of the volunteers with an offer to become an honorary museum associate in exchange for advice on projects is likely to lead to a close association. Often there will be a willingness to undertake small tasks without charge.
The small museum should always acknowledge this kind of assistance. The name of the honorary associate and details of the contribution made should be:
• included in the annual report under an appropriate heading.
• appear on an acknowledgement board near the museum entrance.
• thanked at an annual function for all volunteers, preferably hosted by the local mayor.
• sent a personal letter with or without an appreciation certificate, after each major contribution.
I should like to emphasise that we all like to be thanked for our voluntary work, but a contribution by an honorary associate can fulfil a need that would otherwise not be possible without payment.
To discuss the ideas around utilising local resources in a community, email Desmond Kennard.
Librarian Kaye Dimmack has been working hard to launch part of the Queen Victoria Museum and Art Gallery collection online. In the next couple of weeks, photographs from the Community History Rooms will be searchable on the QVMAG website. Maps, books, engineering and architectural drawings will be next to go online. Listen to Kaye’s tips on how to approach this type of project and the benefits she sees for the museum and art gallery in the future.
Listen to interview
Tell me about the launch of part of your collection online?
In the next few weeks we will be launching the first of our collections online, which will be part of the community history collections. So photos and data will go up with the aim of getting some other collections up progressively over the next few months.
Why did you choose the community history as the first part of the collection to go online?
Community history collections were obviously the collections which had the most public access. There were lots of requests for photographs and historically those collections have also been the ones that have had the most public access. So they lent themselves really to going online. They also were very well documented so that is important when you are trying to get the data.
What do you think it will mean to the museum having your collection online?
I think it will allow us to re-engage with our community. We have had to limit physical access because we’ve had some staff reductions within the community history section.
I think it will re-engage us quite well again with the community in those collections. It will give people an idea of the sorts of things we do have because we are actually a regional museum. We have quite a large collection so I think people will be surprised tp see the extent of the collection.
I am sure photo reproduction orders will come through, as well as just a general increased access to the collections. It will stimulate other projects, I suspect, which often happens when you open collections to other students, researchers, and just interested members of the public.
What advice would you have for a regional museum of a similar size as yours if they wanted to embark in putting their collection online?
I guess my advice for other museums putting anything online would be to not do what we did which is wait so long to actually bite the bullet and get something up.
I think we have tried to aim too high. We have tried to make sure that the data, and whatever we are putting up, is so accurately defined and so on that we have actually really ended up doing not very much for a while. So I think, be brave enough to accept that there may be some errors in what you put up and I am sure people will tell us. Which isn’t necessarily a bad thing because it means they are actually looking at what you put up.
I do think if you can actually look at a few small projects to try and get online rather than trying to get everything up at once. Try to get some smaller projects you can bite off easily and then demonstrate what you can do. And then, I guess, get staff on board because that’s been one of our issues, too.
We need everyone to come on board with this project. So tackle small projects rather than put it off and put it off.
Email Kaye if you would like to talk about how to start preparing your collection for the web.
CAN has been engaging in community consultation to establish the needs of its community and to help plan future outreach activities. Feedback from more than 300 respondents who filled out the CAN Outreach Survey has helped to shape the next year’s strategic plan. This blog post offers a brief summary of the survey report sent to the Department of Environment, Water, Heritage and the Arts. A full report can be found on the CAN website.
The CAN website is mainly used as a tool to find out what was happening in the sector. People are looking to CAN to create networking opportunities to facilitate learning. The search function was overwhelmingly the biggest issue with the site’s function. The CAN outreach online is widely used to retrieve relevant work-related information. The respondents to the CAN survey already use CAN website and outreach services and they want CAN to continue to provide training and to create networking opportunities to facilitate their learning.
The majority of respondents feel comfortable with technology but are limited in their ability to exploit it effectively, either through internet access issues or lack of skills. If the use of CAN outreach services was limited for respondents, it was because the respondents were not clear on the outreach services offers or because they were financially restricted.
Social media training is in the biggest demand. This response is noteworthy – given that these same respondents report that only 2% of their collections are online and digitised and there is a perceived low capacity within organisations to use these technologies. There is also significant interest in tutorials on how to photograph objects, digitise collections, use metadata, keywords and write catalogue descriptions.
Overall the satisfaction levels with the CAN website and outreach services is high. Demand for support also remains high, so sector needs and expectations persist. CAN is required to enable and further advance the collecting sector’s ability to make their collections available online.
A copy of the survey can be found on the CAN website. For more information about the survey results, email the CAN national project manager Ingrid Mason.
TEN TIPS FOR WRITING A SUCCESSFUL GRANT APPLICATION
Writing applications is a game. It is a game that I want to win so that my organisation, the Australian Country Music Foundation, receives grant money to prepare statements of significance and carry out preservation. There are rules the funding board sets out for you and then there are the rules you make for yourself.
1. Learn their rules, ie instructions for writing the application. Read them very carefully. Break them and you are probably out in the first round, eg if they limit the application to x pages, do not send x + 1 pages.
2. Draw on the skills of your team. Some are good compiling statistics and finding out about expenditure/income, while others chase up information on the Net.
3. Put the application together is the task of one person. That’s the person who finds out who the judges are, and who won the funds last year. This is the person who finds out about the history of the award/grant.
4. There is no point having a ’standard’ response. The same question may be asked in every application: ‘What is the main feature of your museum/gallery?’ But your answer should vary in each application.
5. Adopt an approach to encourage the judges to read your whole application (that’s a must). Make them enjoy it, be convinced by it and have a positive feeling about your organisation, that it is ’special’?
What makes your place important to your members and locals may not have the same impact on those judging applications from all over Australia. They may not have heard of your community or know where it is. So ensure they provide that information in a subtle way.
Sell but don’t oversell your museum/gallery. The judges are probably good at detecting any outlandish claims.
6. You never really know how much attention is given to all the attachments that may be requested. Assume they are all read word for word. You need to ensure that the attachments do not contradict what is claimed in the application itself.
7. Ensure all those involved in using the grant money are supportive of the application. It is not good to win the grant and then have no enthusiasm for the funded project.
8. Keep good records of the material you collect to write a grant – from the figures of visitor numbers to the support letter from your local MP.
9. Make some preliminary arrangements to have press releases and interviews with the local paper and radio/TV people when the winning bids are announced. Have an announcement prepared in draft ready for release. (This is both presumptious and cheeky but helpful!)
10. If you don’t win this time, find out who did and ask them for a copy of their application. Even if you don’t win, make losing a learning experience.
For more advice on how to apply for grants, email Barrie Brennan
Tips+Tricks: Dianne Diahlitz takes over from Erin Stephens in the running of the Community Heritage Grant program. They both give CAN tips on how to successfully apply for the National Library of Australia grant.
Dianne: Hello, I’m Dianne Diahlitz. My new role is to be the Community Heritage Grants coordinator here at the National Library of Australia.
Erin: My name is Erin Stephens, and I’ve been working on Community Heritage Grants as the coordinator for the past two years. I’m moving onto a different role in the library, so I’m handing over to Dianne.
Erin: To be eligible for a Community Heritage Grant, basically your organisation needs to be not-for-profit. You must have a collection that’s available to the public in some way, and your collection has to be of national significance.
We give out grants of up to $15,000. They’re generally for preservation-type projects. It’s a bit of a step-by-step process, but because of that we do encourage repeat applications from organisations.
First off, we’d offer a significance assessment and then a preservation needs assessment or your collection. After that, we’ll help you fund any preservation activities that have been recommended by those surveys.
But outside of that step-by-step process, you can also apply for training projects or collection management software.
Dianne: Application forms are on our website from the opening day in early March. We usually allow about three months for applications to come in. We advise people not to leave it to the last day because we have to be very strict about taking late ones in. After that, we have an assessment panel that processes and assesses each application individually, the ones that have been accepted as meeting all the criteria. And after that, the successful applicants are notified.
Dianne: People who are applying do need to apply for (a specific) amount. They have to know how much they’ll need for what they want to do.
Erin: Firstly, we offer a significance assessment and then a preservation needs assessment of your collection. After that, we’ll help you fund any preservation activities that have been recommended by those surveys.
The significance assessment we offer is actually to employ an external consultant to come and do that assessment for you. So it’s actually quite important that you do get an independent external assessor. You might know that you have a really important collection, but having someone independent confirm that for you gives you a lot more weight when you’re applying for other grants, and basically more funding and things from your local council and governments both. The independent assessment is very important.
Dianne: The rounds start in March each year. We have online promotion and information about the grants. You can apply online and we also take a hard copy application. Application forms are on the library’s website, available in early March.
Erin: My tip would be have a budget that outlines exactly what you need the money for. Your budget should be supported by quotes. Your budget should also match your project description, which is where you tell us exactly what you’re going to do with the money that you acquire.
Dianne: Seek advice if you get halfway through the application form and you’re not quite sure what should go there. You can always ring the office here in the National Library for some advice how to actually proceed with the application.
Erin: I don’t necessarily want people to spend lots of money on a consultant to help them with form. I’d much prefer that they call us. But if people do feel like they need assistance, there’s lots of people around that can help them, like regional museum advisors or Museums Australia and various state bodies that help with grants applications. If you can’t call us, there will be someone around who can help you.
Erin: People also assume that because they’re applying for a significance assessment that they don’t have to complete section six, which is your significance statement. But actually, because national significance is an eligibility requirement of our grants and that needs to be assessed. You have to complete that question even if you’re applying for a significance assessment.
A lot of people actually say that even if they’re unsuccessful the first time that they apply, that the process of digging through their collection and finding what they’ve actually got and forcing themselves to list it all out and examine it properly is a really worthwhile process.
Our significance assessor has to know what’s in your collection. It’s also really useful for you in terms of getting a better understanding of what you actually hold. So it’ll help you a lot in the future, not just for ours, but other grant applications as well.
You might need to research a little bit in terms of knowing what other collections are around that are similar to yours. We had an application from someone recently who had a large printing press, and it’s really useful to know whether there are others in the country or whether yours is really rare and unique, because that does help the significance assessor determine how important it is.
Do some basic online research that helps you research other collections, but really you know better than anyone else what’s in you collection. So if you tell us as best you can what you have and why you think it’s important, then that should be enough for our significance assessor to do the proper assessment themselves.
Dianne: If it’s their first time that they’ve actually been awarded a grant, they’re invited to come to the library for a three-day workshop, usually in November.
Erin: We’ve had a few really good repeat applications who’ve managed to complete the significance assessment and the preservation needs and are now doing fantastic preservation work on their collections.
But there’s also been a few really good stories of people getting grants and their significance assessment leading to recognition from their local council or their state government.
In 2008, the West Coast Heritage Limited received a significance assessment from us, but because of that significance assessment, their local council actually realised that they had this amazing collection and have now offered them $50,000 to redevelop their building and their storage.
So, yes, there are success stories that come out of it.
Research librarian Philippa Rossiter talks about the idiosyncracies that can develop when books are acquired around a museum’s collection and exhibition program. The Powerhouse Museum and Research Library have grown in tandem since 1880. In that time, the library has formed a wonderfully eclectic range of books, catalogued to facilitate interesting connections.
Connections and calibration: Climbing Muellers Peak, Summer, Tyrrell Photographic Collection, Powerhouse Museum.
The Powerhouse Museum Research Library collection has been developed in parallel with the Museum object collection to reflect what and how the Museum collects. With a content that underpins exhibitions and programmes, the Library principally supports curatorial research. It also supports the corporate objectives of Museum management.
Aeronautical history, design, antiques, ceramics/pottery, costume and costume history, technology and society, numismatics, philately, textile crafts, textile making, music, interior decoration, jewellery, photography, physics, glass, graphics, fashion design, furniture, museology … the diversity of subject areas makes it hard to describe the Powerhouse Museum Research Library’s collection. Perhaps it’s best summed up as eclectic: technology and decorative arts intersecting within a social history context.
Over the last 129 years, it has been growing steadily through a combination of purchases and donations. There is virtually no weeding, as older publications are indispensible in providing a record (ie snapshot) of a particular era. Thus the Research Library’s collection presently consists of approximately 40,000 items that include books, serials, and audiovisual material. These are catalogued to the third (and highest) level of description within AACR2, using the Dewey and LCSH classification systems.
The aim is for browsability, which suits our internal clients. Even when Dewey numbers have changed, we’ve retained the earlier sequence because it is easier for our users. Some numbers within the museology subject area have been re-located, but we retain the older classification as it enhances browsability of the museology collection. In common with many special library collections, idiosyncrasies and in-house conventions are maintained. For instance, following the request of curatorial staff many years ago, books on pottery and porcelain are arranged by country rather than by material or forms.
This style of cataloguing has resulted in a vibrant collection that is highly accessible. The detailed descriptions allow for intricate calibrations that result in rich returns when searching. As a reference librarian, I am constantly surprised and delighted by unexpected connections in subject areas. For the Library staff, our years of experience as users and interpreters of the Research Library’s resources have provided us with an instinct for knowing what fits the collection and what does not. We are fortunate to be able to say that the Library collection is a joy to work with.
Email Philippa for more on cataloguing special library collections.
Can money be made by giving content away for free or are these two ideologically opposed ideas? Should galleries, libraries, archives and museums (GLAM) be less dependant on government funding?
Seb Chan held a forum to discuss these questions at last week’s GLAM Wikimedia conference in Canberra. The answers were varied but surprisingly came back to the idea that the cultural sector should unite to successfully lobby for more government funding. People articulated Wired magazine editor Chris Anderson’s theory that giving content away for free allows for its true non-monetary cultural value to become evident. But does this mean the cultural sector will be increasingly reliant on government support?
Seb has written a blog post today titled Some clarifications on our experience with free content. He discusses how the Powerhouse Museum plans to leverage revenue from giving its images away on Flickr Commons.
At the same time, we can now build other relationships with those clients – rather than seeing them only in the context of image sales. This might be through physical visitation, corporate venue hire, membership, or donations.
Likewise, we know that the exposure of our public domain images is leading to significant offers of other photographic collections to the Museum alongside other commercial opportunities around digitisation and preservation services. Notably we have also been trying to collapse and flatten the organisation so that business units and silos aren’t in negative competition internally – so we can actually see a 360 degree view of a visitor/patron/consumer/citizen.
Seb’s argument works on a similar premise as Wired magazine editor Chris Anderson’s book Free: The Future of a Radical Price released last month. Income can be generated by using a vertically integrated business model. But Chris also believes cultural value is just as important as monetary value.
Malcom Gladwell’s review of Free in the New York Times argues that this business model does not support the owners or producers of content. ‘It would be nice to know, as well, just how a business goes about reorganising itself around getting people to work for “non-monetary rewards. .. Why are the self-interested motives of powerful companies being elevated to a philosophical principle?’ He has a point because the GLAM sector is looking to government to increasingly subsidise their existence.
Cory Doctorow argues in the Guardian, UK that Free and capitalism are ideologically opposed concepts.
Push Ball Scrimmage, Columbia, Bain News Service, 1910-1915, George Grantham Bain Collection, Flickr Commons / Library of Congress.
So can money be made by giving something away for Free?
Chris says, “In the digital realm you can try to keep Free at bay with laws and locks, but eventually the force of economic gravity will win.”
And he is probably right. The ball has started rolling and it shows no sign of losing momentum. The GLAM sector needs to start thinking creatively about how to make this work for them. Collections are comprised of material with moral and commercial rights so even if the GLAM sector decides to go down this path, rights and licences need to be individually negotiated.
Wiki on how to make money from free content
Chris Anderson on YouTube
Artbank’s Digital Officer David Hickling talks through the simple steps of putting your collection online. Our guest writer brings clarity to what previously seemed to be a daunting task.
OK, so you’ve managed to research and plan your digitising project. Not only that but you actually had your budget approved, well some of it, and then you managed either to find someone to actually do it or you probably did it yourself. So how can you get your collection online so people can see it?
Artbank uses a Collection Management System from KE Software – EMu. It is a very good system but probably outside the budget of smaller organisations.
EMu (Electronic Museum) has an inbuilt web-based search tool. It has generic search and display pages which can be redesigned to suit the look of your organisation. This requires some knowledge of (x)html and CSS to get the look to match your branding. Its programming language is PHP so if you want to change search terms you would also need to know some PHP code. It is handy to use as an intranet but it of course still requires a web server to make it public. This can cause problems with security if, like Artbank, you are connected to a large network. Artbank is a program of the Australian Government Department of Environment, Water, Heritage and the Arts. Understandably, the Department is a bit particular about who has access to the network so the web server must be separate to the network and needs to be placed in what is known (in IT speak) as a De-militarized Zone. Sounds scary…
For smaller organisations there are easier and much cheaper options. Enter the world of Open Source. You might have heard of the operating system Linux or the web browser Mozilla Firefox. These are both Open Source and free to use. There is a difference. Free Software and Open Source are parallel concepts. Open Source is usually but not necessarily free.
Take advantage of Open Source software. Many Open Source products have matured into great, stable options. Good examples of free software which can be used to get your collection online are the website Content Management System – Joomla! (yes, unfortunately it has an exclamation mark) and the blogging tool – Wordpress – which can also be used as a CMS. Most, if not all organisations already have a website but it might be useful, if you are not the web manager or designer, to demystify the process a little.
To get a website up and running inexpensively from scratch there are three steps.
1) You need a domain name e.g. www.mygallery.com.au
You probably already have one registered. It should cost no more than AU$50 for two years registration for a .com.au or a .org domain name. If you are paying more than this then it’s time to look around for a new registrant.
2) A website hosting company
There are some very good companies which provide unlimited bandwidth and unlimited space and a good control panel from which you can add databases, configure email, see your files etc.
You should be able to get all this for around AU$120 for a shared server. Again, if they charge much more than this and it’s time to shop around. If you needed a dedicated server – which might be more secure, you would pay something like AU$500-$1000. You could then configure the server as you wanted, although a good company will have the servers up to date with the most recent versions of MySQL, PHP etc.
3) A website!
As mentioned if you need or prefer a blog style site then a good Open Source option is Wordpress. It can be easily configured and is easily extended with plugins.
If you need a complete Content Management System for Free then use Joomla!. This has reached a stable and mature stage and it too is complemented by extra components such as image galleries, newsletter components, calendars etcetera. One component for Joomla! which would be useful for displaying images is an photo gallery called MorfeoShow. It has a function where you can upload a number of images at once and it has numerous options for configuring the way images are displayed.
Just to note it is possible to run more than one system on the same web hosting account – sometimes it might be a good idea to use, say, your current website for your main site and use specialist types of web software for particular purposes e.g. Wordpress for blogging or user generated content. The designs – “look and feel” – can made identical so the different sites can be seamlessly integrated.
Open Source software can be an agile and inexpensive option to showcase your hard won images to the world.
For more information on building your own inexpensive collection management system, email David Hickling at Artbank.
Hop on a bicycle and meander through the Riverina as part of Bush bikes, pedal power. Stop for a picnic on the banks of the Murrumbidgee River. Bush bikes, pedal power is a program run by the museums of Hay, its community radio station and high school to encourage tourism and to develop a cultural understanding of the region. Cycling across the Hay Plains – one of the flattest terrains in the world, sounds delightful – not to mention quite easy. Guest writer and Shear Outback museum director Annette Smith talks about how Riverina museums and the community are working together to interwine heritage collections into tourism and education.
Shear Outback museum director Annette Smith
Cycling around the countryside on the traditional mode of transport used by shearers at the turn of last century is a romantic way of linking tourism with cultural heritage. Travellers will have audio guides provided by Shear Outback and the other four Hay museums involved in the project.
“A modern Australian shearer”, photographer unknown, circa 1900, Tyrrell Photographic Collection, Powerhouse Museum/Flickr Commons.
The project has been initiated in response to visitor enquiry regarding the availability of bicycle hire within the community and is the outcome of the ongoing networking and partnership with the Hay Museums Committee (Section 355 committee of council). The project will benefit Hay’s five volunteer-run museums, develop skills for the Hay War Memorial High School, make use of recording resources within the town and will generally assist the community’s economy by encouraging visitors to stay longer within our community.
“A shearer moving camp”, 1906, photographer unknown, John Oxley Library, State Library of Queensland/Flickr Commons.
Each of Hay’s five museums have committed to an in-kind contribution to the project. Hay Shire Council has recently committed to completing the bike path that will link the two museums situated in South Hay safely to the centre of Hay and, as such, makes a significant in-kind contribution to the project. The community radio station has offered use of recording facilities and the high school has indicated strong interest in students participating in the research and technological aspects of the project.
Shear Outback has committed both in kind and a cash contribution to Bush Bikes covering purchase of bikes, associated safety gear, water bottles and bike stands, MP3 players to record an audio tour, the development of maps and interpretive material for the tour and promotional signage. Funding has only been sought from the Foundation for Rural & Regional Renewal in Australia.
The Hay Plains, famous for its flat, treeless landscape, covers an expanse of 4.4 million hectares. It is situated at the intersection of three major highways, the Sturt, Mid- Western and Cobb and also on the Murrumbidgee River. Traditionally a rural economy with agriculture as the main supporter of the local economy, Hay has experienced the worst drought on record over the last decade. Resilient as always, the Hay community with a population of 3822, battles on – working together to establish community enterprise and ensure community harmony and spirit.
For more information, please contact:
Tel: 02 69934000
Fax: 02 69934915
Photograph conservator at the National Archives of Australia, Cheryl Jackson, offers CAN Partners four steps to caring for photographic collections. She also illustrates how an image can be conserved by hand compared with one preserved digitally using a photograph from her family album. Cheryl is a practicing photo conservator and also teaches at Australia’s leading photographic conservation course at the University of Melbourne. This guide to preserving photographs can be downloaded from Sector Resources on the CAN website.
Photo before treatment. It may not look like a photo, but it was just heavily overpainted as was the fashion of the time.
Step 1 Recognise and assess the more vulnerable forms of photographs
The earlier processes of “printing out” are the most vulnerable to light and most at risk when exhibited. This is when the image appears directly from exposure to light; for example albumen prints, gelatin printing out papers, blue prints, salted paper prints. These type of prints were made up until the early 1900s and tend to have a sepia tone.
“Developing out papers” became popular from the 1900s onwards. This process is less vulnerable to light. They have a true black and white or slightly cool tone. There was a significant crossover in the 1900-1910 with “developing out” techniques and albumen prints so a print cannot necessarily be assessed by its date.
Step 2 Care for the most vulnerable photographs first
Prints on display
• Restrict visible light – no direct sunlight, close the curtains, use low UV emitting lights.
• Put photographs in display case rather than on a bookshelf to filter the light.
• Preferably display digital copies and store originals.
• Do not write on the back of photographs with pen.
• Do not put pins through the prints.
Photo after treatment – no photoshopping
• Store in a cool, dry area.
• Treat in the same way as organic materials, like books and textiles.
• Silver gelatin emulsion is a perfect food source for mould. Once it is damaged, it becomes water soluble – once mould appears on a print, the staining in irreversible.
• Buy photographic archive storage containers that have passed the Photographic Activity Test.
• Images should be stored in individual enclosures to ensure mould do not spread or the chemicals in the image do not react against each other.
• It can be as simple as photo pockets in a ring binder, as long as the images are stored in good quality materials.
Step 3 Digitise and store images electronically
Scan and electronically store your most vulnerable images first to ensure there is always a copy. It is a good idea to archivally store the originals and exhibit the duplicate.
Scan prints at the highest resolution possible. When deciding on how large the file size should be, assess how much storage space is available and the end use. A preservation scan of a black and white image can be as large as 100MB while smaller institutions may save files at between 5MB and 20MB. If the end use is poster size for the backdrop of a display, the file will need to be closer to 100MB. If it will only ever be printed at 1:1 then a smaller size is fine. Scans of colour images will be three times as large.
Storing electronic files
Images should be saved in two to three sizes – thumbnails, low resolution and high resolution. Low resolution files are easier to handle. If there is limited storage capacity and time, just store the low (2MB) jpeg and high resolution TIFF files (5MB-100MB) and do not worry about the thumbnails.
Electronic files should be saved onto two hard drives that are synced so if one breaks, there is still another copy. Do not rely on one type of back-up.
A third copy should be kept remotely.
• A data storage website. If the photo collection is small Flickr or Google’s Picasa offer free photo library storage. If the collection is comprehensive, a company like Jungledisk uses Amazon web services for remote backup. http://www.productwiki.com/jungledisk/
• Keep a second set of hard drives at an affiliated collecting institution or DVDs.
• CDs and DVDs need to be stored away from sunlight. They should only be used to move images from on eplace to another as they deteriorate over time. Archival DVDs are available.
Before treatment image photoshopped. It has only been photoshopped, not treated then photoshopped.
Step 4 Digitally restoring photographs
Photoshop is an excellent way to digitally restore images. There will always be a copy if the original deteriorates. Most community colleges offer Photoshop classes. Using Photoshop is an accessible way for the general public to preserve images when a photography conservator is not available.
The three basic tools are for contrast, colour correction and removing stains.
• Levels and curves manipulate the contrast
Go to “Image” > “Adjustment” > “Levels” or “Curves”
• Curves corrects colour and tone
Go to “Image” > “Adjustment” > “Curves”
• Cloning tool removes staining, mould or dust
In the toolbar. The icon looks like a rubber stamp.
Preservation–related fact sheets
National Archives of Australia
Advice on how to “Secure, store and preserve”
Australian War Memorial
AWM curator Mel Hunt has written a blog post about how the multimedia department digitally preserved a photograph from Gallipoli by scanning and photoshopping it.
AWM conservation and preservation advice
The Institute of Conservation
How to care for photographs
How to conserve a photograph (download pdf)
Magazine article on the mistakes to avoid
Top Ten mistakes when preserving photographs
Photographic archive suppliers
Postgraduate Certificate in Arts (Photographic Conservation) can be taken as a short course rather than formal study. The course offers a format that suits community access.
The program emphasises the scientific and technical aspects of photographic materials deterioration and conservation. It draws on the combined expertise of staff of the Centre for Cultural Materials Conservation and internationally recognised leaders in the field. Cheryl Jackson teaches one of the four elements of the course – “Conservation of Photographs”.
For more information on photo preservation, email Cheryl.
Congratulations to the four CAN Partners for winning an MP3 player. More than 300 people filled out the CAN Outreach survey. Thank you to all of those people who supported CAN Outreach and provided valuable feedback.
The prizewinners have been given the choice of an MP3 player that plays video and a device that just records. Those who have chosen the recording function will be able to make podcasts and audio slideshows. Hopefully the prizewinners will upload stories to the CAN Outreach Blog so we can fully appreciate the tremendous value of regional collections.
Community Museums Project Officer, Department of Planning and Community Development, Ballarat, Victoria
Karlie is the community museums project officer for Ballarat’s Planning and Commuity Development Department. She works with community institutions, like the Creswick Museum, in helping them preserve and interpret the town’s history. The Museum identified Jack Sewell’s wealth of knowledge as one of their most valuable assets and so Karlie is helping them capture his story.
Jack Sewell is one of Creswick’s treasures. He is a local historian who takes bus tours around the district – telling stories about the Australasian Mine Disaster and the characters involved. No-one else has the depth of knowledge he has of the township. It is Karlie Hawking’s job to help the Creswick Museum, document his experiences for the preservation of the community. As part of the interpretation plan she is working on with the community, she is building podcasts that can be downloaded onto iPods and mobile phones. That way the bus tours with Jack’s voice can be heard forever.
The Community Museums Pilot Program is a joint initiative between Department of Planning and Community Development and Arts Victoria. For more information about the Community Museums Pilot Program, email Karlie.
Manager, Discover Eumundi Heritage & Visitor Centre, Sunshine Coast. Queensland
Body art carnivales are a far cry from the social history collection of first settler families the Eumundi Museum is famous for. Museum manager Wendy Birrell believes reflecting contemporary society will ensure the gallery stays relevant to its community. Wendy organised for the Australian Body Art Carnivale to be recorded, made into a DVD and posted on YouTube. Along with interviews collected during the festival, she sourced material from the local newspapers, professional cameramen and photographer’s work and even took her own camera onto the streets. ‘We covered the carnivale strongly because we want to focus on yesterday’s history,’ Wendy said.
Eumundi has famously focused on the first settler families in south-east Queensland. It set itself up as an information centre for genealogists and researchers – promoting its collection of 3000 photographs. The excellent quality of images can be attributed to the keen amateur photographers who lived in the area between 1890 and the 1940s. While Eumundi is one of the smallest museums on the Sunshine Coast, it is one of the most visited. Wendy intends to maintain the growth in visitor numbers by keeping the museum contemporary.
Email Wendy if you would like to discuss how small museums can stay relevant to their community.
Secretary, Scout Heritage Centre of Western Australia
As the Scout Heritage Centre of Western Australia catalogues its wonderful paraphenalia associated with boys-own adventures, it receive more donations. This involves provenance checks of beautifully handwritten logbooks with cartoons drawn in pen. Accessioning the newly designed scarf that represents another scout group that was recently set up in WA. Keeping up with history is secretary Fiona Graham’s main priority and she desperately needs the support of experienced volunteers. ‘People are forever donating historical artefacts. We are trying to record scout life as it happens but we are just catching up on the past,’ Fiona said.
The heritage centre does promote its collection through displays at libraries, councils and most recently at the Fremantle Arts Centre. Like many organisations across Australia, it has not had the resources to invest in technology. They need to upgrade old software, buy new computers and digitise photographs. In the meantime the MP3 player they won will be the perfect device to record oral histories of those people who drew the cartoons in the logbook.
Email Fiona to volunteer or support the Scout Heritage Centre of WA.
Board member and volunteer, Australian Country Music Foundation, Tamworth, NSW
Country music fans often come into Tamworth’s Australian Country Music Foundation offering their memorabilia and photographs. The NSW foundation has had to teach the country music community how to be collectors and how to care for their own objects as there is too much material to be ingested into their collection. They have also started collecting oral histories from country music fans. So the MP3 player Barrie Brennan won on behalf of the organisation for being the 50th person to fill out the CAN Outreach survey, will be the ideal device to collect these visitor stories.
‘We see our role in encouraging people. Helping other people collect and save. We are trying to use our own museum staff and visitors to be a resource. We have this incredible network of people who have these links,’ Barrie said. ‘We ask them to share their story about the first Buddy Williams concert. What it was like watching Slim Dusty sing live.’
The country music foundation’s next major project is to digitise their photography collection. They hope there will be the potential to have access to major collections of photographs as part of that deal, such as Fairfax Media’s collection of country music photographs from The Northern Daily Leader. The foundation is relying on their current Community Heritage Grant submission to fund this proposal. They are optimistic as they have been awarded a CHG for significance and conservation in the past. Not bad for a 100% volunteer-run organisation.
Email Barrie if you would like to know how the Community Heritage Grants benefit the Australian Country Music Foundation.
Australian War Memorial Liz Holcombe talks about blogtrails and the infinite possibilities in exploring online collections. Liz is one of the CAN Outreach Blog regular contributors. On Mondays guest writers from galleries, libraries, archives and museums share their experiences, challenges, triumphs and ideas with the CAN community. If you would like to submit an article to the Outreach Blog, please email CAN Outreach.
Fiona Hooton’s post two weeks ago about ‘trail blazing’ got me thinking about how museum blogs can carry out a similar role. They can create paths into and through collections, putting together things in – sometimes – wholly unexpected ways. While blogs are not the only way to do this, they do have advantages over some more traditional methods: they do not take as long to create as an exhibition or even an article in print publication, they can focus on one small object or brief story, and, perhaps most appealing of all, can be about whatever the writer is passionate about and/or working on. They have other advantages too: they can group together things from different collecting organisations, and the writing of them can fit in with the work the writer is already doing.
‘Group portrait of the Victorian Navy Band’, HMVS Cerberus and the naval bridge, Naval Historical Collection, National Maritime Museum, 1898.
A terrific example of this trail blazing is a post by Dave Earl on the Australian National Maritime Museum’s blog. Dave starts his post, which is called On and off the HMVS Cerberus explaining that he has been “researching the museum’s collection of naval small arms. One of the attractions of this project has been following the lives and careers of the seamen who owned used the objects I’ve been examining.” Dave uses images from the Australian War Memorial, the National Archives of Australia, the Australian National Maritime Museum, the State Library of Victoria and a satellite image from Google to tell his stories of some of the men and objects associated with HMVS Cerberus. The post demonstrates beautifully not only the work that Dave is doing, but the sources he uses, the collections that hold relevant objects and images, and we hear Dave’s own voice in the process.
There are some excellent examples too in the Australian War Memorial’s blog. A recent post by Paul Taylor shows very elegantly how one little object, not especially significant in and of itself, can be a marker on a trail with many branches. His post is called The girl on the badge, and in it, he connects Government employment policy in the Second World War, CSIR (now CSIRO), food preservation, Miss Plunkett (I wish there was more about her), Miss Joan Sutherland, and the Australian Electrical and Mechanical Engineers, and uses images to illustrate his post. Paul, like Dave, was making his work public: he was doing this work anyway, and was so interested in the story that he shared it. Perhaps one day the badge will appear in an exhibition, but it is not likely that the entire story will be included.
AWM’s Di Rutherford regularly shares the work she is undertaking. Recent examples are the second of the two part series on the German camouflage tree, called Can’t see the tree for the wood… part II, the Baumbeobachter and one on flying boots called These boots are made for walking. In both posts Di makes use of images she has taken, as well as collection images, to illustrate her post, and the results provide an unusual and fascinating perspective of objects we would normally not see in this sort of detail (in fact, it is fair to say that the primary intention of both was to not be seen).
There are two more posts on our blog that I would like to mention, as they show another way of shedding light on collections and the interests of curators. Annette Gaykema wrote a post called Making a silk postcard, in which she not only demonstrates how she made the card, but what she learnt from the experience. Di Rutherford’s post called How to make a POW escape map, gives us step-by-step instructions to create a map, like those made by World War II prisoners in Europe, using stuff you can find in your kitchen. Both posts use collection items as the starting point, and both demonstrate ways of learning more about them.
‘Australia For Ever’, Embroidered silk postcard made in France during the First World War, 1914-1918.
Two other Australian museum blogs have caught my eye recently. One is From the loft… from the Justice and Police Museum. The post from 26 June called The Loft really appealed to me, as it shows just what many collecting organisations deal with. The images of the collection stored in the loft in 2006 on towering wooden shelves, with dim lighting, made me remember being excited and overwhelmed when confronted with a large mass of material that needs caring for. The before images contrast wonderfully with the after, and a little part of me secretly prefers the wooden shelving for its romance. The larger and more practical side of me much prefers the new loft, with its proper shelving, light and decent working space which keeps the collection and staff safe. The other I have noticed is about the care of living collections at the Melbourne Museum. It is called Live Exhibits Blog. The posts point to some of the challenges faced by those looking after animals and plants: finding the correct sized branches for the chameleon, walking the line between letting the bower bird build a display and protecting the plants he favours, and how the museum is playing its part in keeping a plant from going extinct.
All of the posts mentioned here talk about the collection that their writers care for and research. They provide views of objects and ideas that may not otherwise see the light of day, but which are nonetheless interesting, and not just to me: the comments show that others agree. They can fit in with work already underway, and they do not have to be about big, bold projects. Small and simple – better sized sticks for ageing reptiles – can be just as appealing. The best thing about all the posts I have mentioned here is that they show how trails can be made to highlight collections and how disparate things can be fashioned into great stories.
If you would like to share other interesting blogs with the CAN community, post a comment. Email Liz Holcombe, if you would like to chat with her about social networking around online collections.