Archive for January, 2010

Podcasts on museum entry experience

There has been some interest on the can-talk listserv in podcasts on the museum entry experience. We have had a little dig around and come up with a starting point for further investigations in this field, including a YouTube search. When making a list of interesting videos from YouTube, CAN imagined some of the issues the current redevelopment of the Tasmanian Museum and Art Gallery might be considering.

Podcasts and videos on museum entry experience



1. Experienceology
2. Museum Mobile
3. “Innovation in Museum Design” [Redesigning the Louvre and Museum of Modern Art (MOMA)] Part I
“Innovation in Museum Design” [Redesigning the Louvre and Museum of Modern Art (MOMA)] Part II
“Innovation in Museum Design” [Redesigning the Louvre and Museum of Modern Art (MOMA)] Part III”
4. Broad Contemporary Art Museum LA with architect Renzo Piano: YouTube
5. Designing a museum experience: YouTube

CAN Partners also sent through links to resources on how to make podcasts and vodcasts. David Milne, at Queensland Museum, sent through an excellent link to Apple’s Guide to Making a Podcast and tips on how to make them rank highly in searches. Apple also offers a guide to finding your favourite podcast.

Here is the link to a list of museum podcasts CAN published in its Outreach Blog early last year. NSW-based museum consultant Desmond Kennard sent through museum pods 2008 list of top ten podcasts. It also hosts podcasts as an alternative or complement to iTunes.

Sarah Rhodes

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Radiology collection online and on-site

Archivist Nyree Morrison talks about how she built a display to celebrate the 60th anniversary of the Royal Australian and New Zealand College of Radiologists and then made the material accessible to researchers online. Ms Morrison worked with the Collections Australia Network (CAN) to put the archives relating to the formation of the radiologists college on the national heritage collections database.

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Nyree Morrison, reference archivist, RANZCR

The Royal Australian and New Zealand College of Radiologists celebrate its 60th anniversary this year. However, the College was originally an association and known as the Australian and New Zealand Association of Radiology (1935-1942), and the Australian and New Zealand Association of Radiologists (1942-1949). The College has undergone three further name changes since it became the College of Radiologists (Australia and New Zealand) in 1949. For this anniversary, a small display was planned for the Combined Scientific Meeting (CSM) to be held in Brisbane in October this year. I would put the exhibition together but would not go to Brisbane to stage it. I was therefore relying on someone else to put the display together.

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Telegram sent by Dr Nisbet to Dr John O’Sullivan on the occasion of the inauguration of the College, 5 October 1949. Dr O’Sullivan was the last president of the ANZAR. Drs Nisbet and O’Sullivan were instrumental in the establishment of the College. Telegram conveyed by Commonwealth of Australia Post-Master General’s Department.

Before it was decided what to display, I had to find out what the facilities were at the convention centre. We were given display panels which were 2 metres in width and just less than 1 metre high. The College does not have that many aesthetically pleasing items and I was very conscious that as the exhibition would be small, it had to be as eye catching as possible. In liaison with the College’s Communications and Membership Team who is responsible for organising the annual meetings, I would show them the layout of the display and we would photograph it so that it could be put up by them in the same chronological order.

I decided to display College documents that chart its history since becoming a College over the past 60 years, with brief captions underneath. Eleven documents, ranging from A4 to A5-6 in size were taken to a professional high street copying firm. They were all individually encased in mylar, with one also being wrapped in acid-free paper and strict instructions were given that they be handled with care. The copies were ready to be picked up the next day, and I must admit I did have a moment of fear when I was handed a plastic document holder and saw the documents in them. It was then I realised they were the copies – they were that well done. For less than $50 we had copy documents and a disc containing the scanned images. We already had a colour copy of the College’s Armorial Bearings and so I decided to use that too.

I printed off a copy of the documents so that I could handle them and measured out an area on one of the Archive walls (actually the cupboards as they were the only part of the Archive with nothing on them that I could use!) to the dimensions of the display board so I could move the documents about as much as I wanted. I also needed a banner for the display board so I used the same company that I used for the documents, and within five hours had a banner made to my requirements for $90.

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I decided to use only seven of the copied documents and the image of the armorial bearings. I numbered the captions and noted what item they correlated to and drew a plan of the display. The display was photographed and I handed over all the material to the Communications and Membership Team, which was couriered to Brisbane a week before the College staff arrived.

The display was mounted with no problems what so ever and was placed in an area of the concourse outside the exhibition hall that everyone had to walk by to attend their various seminars. I was assured that a good number of people stopped and had a look.

I have to admit that putting on this very small exhibition was time consuming as I only work one day a week. Searching to find interesting relevant material was trying, but I feel that it all worked together and was relevant. As the display was of a small scale, there were no obviously no problems encountered in putting it up. Yes it did cost under $150, however the results were excellent and the copied documents are being framed and put on display in the College offices.

For more information, email Nyree Morrison

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MONA: “a subversive Disneyland for adults”

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David Walsh played ping-pong in the wharf that hosted his Festival of Music and Art (MOFO), wearing a t-shirt with: ‘I am listening to bands that don’t even exist yet’ written across his chest. This conjures an image of a man connected with his community and with the contemporary art scene. Mr Walsh invited Brian Ritchie, formerly the frontman of the Violent Femmes, to curate the annual festival exploring how art and music inform each other. International artists flew in from Serbia, Germany, the US and UK to perform, including eighties hip-hop artist Grand Master Flash for one of Hobart’s biggest concerts of the year. Even after 3000 people registered for the free event, there was still enough demand for people to colour photocopy the wristbands so they could watch the master of the turntables. Money could not buy a ticket to the event. The city felt a little tired on Friday. Many were hanging out in the Princes Wharf (PW1) resting easy on big pink beanbags watching video art from the Venice Biennale, enjoying a wine tasting comparing international wines with his Moorilla winery’s cloth label 2000 pinot noir or watching a cooking demonstration by the head chef at Moorilla’s award-winning restaurant. Whatever the activity – it was all free – accessible to everyone. But the cost of a one way ticket to Hobart last week was $450.

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FOMA is the beginning of a major injection of art and culture into Tasmania. The goal is to make people to think. The Museum of Old and New Art (MONA) is currently being built with the launch date to coincide with the third MOFO festival in January 2011. The museum’s name does not let it be categorised beyond being a museum of art. Walsh is often heard saying, one of our philosophies is to have no philosophy. If people walk away hating it, at least they have talked about it and have formed an opinion. The Hobart businessman who has made his fortune by gambling online has turned his efforts into building one of the most exciting art and cultural environments in Australia. MOFO is attracting cool crowds. Some looking to understand the link between music and art, others starved of live music and the rest just wanting to be part of the energetic vibe emanating from Princes Wharf (PW1), the site of the Taste of Tasmania, on Salamanca.

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Mr Walsh likes to challenge conventions and demands those who work for him to do the same. His staff must research and interrogate how things are done in the cultural sector nationally and internationally, as well as in other domains. H4, the web development company hired to build MONA’s web presence, has never built a museum website before. With one year the until launch date, they have put all of their clients on hold so they can give MONA 100 per cent of their attention. They are building the online collection and linking their web presence to the visitor experience in very exciting ways. Librarian and Information Manager Mary Lijnzaad described the process of developing the website as a partnership. It is a collaborative process, looking at what other people are doing and extrapolating that out.

Mona4

Just to illustrate the extent Mr Walsh will go to challenge ideas, he has hired architect Nonda Katsalidis, known for Australia’s tallest building Eureka Tower to design the museum underground. Most museums command attention, they are monuments to themselves. Ms Lijnzaad said, Mr Walsh wants the public to feel underwhelmed when they arrive at MONA. Taking the lift down to the lower levels symbolises going down into the subconscious. The museum’s floorplan has been designed so that it is easy to lose yourself, creating an environment so that people are open to new ideas and experiences. He wants it to be a subversive Disneyland for adults, Lijnzaad said.

Sarah Rhodes

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‘From the Archives’ streams live on Hobart FM

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Lindsay McCarthy took his career as a commercial radio disc jockey into retirement by setting up and running one of Australia’s finest sound equipment collections (apparently rivalling part of the National Film and Sound Archive). He has proved age is no barrier – uploading part of the radio and record player collection online. The president of the Sound Preservation Association of Tasmania (SPAT) is also running a oral history program to record the stories of his peers. The sound preservation library has recorded noises particular to Hobart from street chatter, gatherings at market places and people singing in the street, to children at play and traffic noises.

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SPAT’s archives are not sitting in the Bellerive’s Old Post Office to gather dust either – they are being used as content for Mr McCarthy’s radio programme ‘From the Archives’. The Hobart FM show is streamed live on the Internet on Tuesdays from 2- 3pm. He plays old pieces from the SPAT collection of 30,000 records – most of which is out of copyright.

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When McCarthy was visiting Launceston recently, an old friend gave him the 1954 ‘Australian Amateur Hour’ recordings – a 1950s version of talent show Australian idol. He took the recordings home and re-recorded them onto mini-disc for “From the Archives’. Someone else brought in a box of tapes of recordings from when the Inkspots played in City Hall in 1955. After a bit of editing on his sound system at home, they were ready for the public to enjoy a little journey down memory lane.

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Sarah Rhodes

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Long Tails: Why Participate Online?

While pondering the few gem-like comments on the CAN blog some questions arose about the type of action, participation and commentators (and commentary) is out there in the Australian collecting sector via social media. There are guidelines aplenty online to help people to establish and participate in social networks using social media tools – see Darragh Doyle’s how to comment on a blog and Caroline Middlebrook’s blog commenting strategy as just two examples. There are blog lists relating to the Australian collecting sector I’ve scooped up as a small sample (e.g. archives, museums, libraries) to reflect the diversity in a part of the Australian collecting blogosphere. There are also some useful guidelines readily available online aimed at particular collecting domains or organisation types — see the blog about a social media manual being developed in the UK by Jim Richardson which appears to be drawing upon these institutional policy documents and guides for the museum sector.
The Long Tail and Learning

 

What seems to be missing is the discussion of the ‘why would I/we?’ factor and what those motivations and (in)actions reveal about the participants and the wider community. Nina Simon discusses this question at the tail end of a blog on the use of social media by museums and some interesting debate crops up in the comments on this blogpost. There are different questions to ask of oneself about what the motivations and benefits are in establishing or participating online and using social media, for work, or as a citizen. Noticeably (and impressively) there has been strong online feedback on the Australian National Cultural Policy (dialogue open until 1 Feb 2010). Glancing over the open feedback gives an immediate sense that these open online commentators are confident in their thoughts about policy direction and in using social media as citizens in a democratic manner. It would seem unusual to have anything but strong feedback in any case (perhaps worth remembering the polarised nature of public comment or feedback on issues of public interest is about asserting ones views rather than about neutrality and acquiescence). It is though useful to be reminded that what is openly available is not the total picture of the feedback offered and the open commentary may at this point have a certain characteristics of its own by comparison with feedback not published online.
The Long Tail of Fans

 

The larger questions potentially are: how much of Australian digital/social activity is through social media technologies per se and how much is happening through the collecting organisations, the practitioners and the interested public to make for thriving onsite and online communities? An allied question is how big are Australians on offering opinions and dialogue – and is that rate and type of commentary different and/or similar to other cultures? There are theses to be written no doubt in time on that front (if not already written or in process) on patterns particular to Australian participants. A search on Google and then on the Australian Digital Theses Program reveals a doctoral thesis developed at Griffith University by Gordon Fletcher about the cultural significance of web exchange through analysing popular search terms. To quote from Gordon Fletcher’s thesis abstract:

 

“Critical analysis of these higher order categories reveals six cultural traits that predominant in the apparently wide array of search terms; freeness, participation, do-it-yourself/customisation, anonymity/privacy, perversion and information richness. The thesis argues that these traits are part of a cultural complex that directly reflects the underlying motivations of contemporary western mainstream culture.”.

 

There are very good practical reasons to examine the resources committed to onsite and online priorities. Necessarily those priorities are linked to the strategic objectives of organisations and less formally so the aims of individuals. There are also cultural reasons for people to be quick or slow to comment, happy with openness or privacy in offering commentary, and desire and/or comfort levels with particular levels of openness or privacy. In terms of balance I am reminded of the value of perceiving consensus (some kind of peak in the bell curve or cluster of opinion) and the value of diversity, that is, what the long tail of commentating and commentary, and diversity in commentators, online can offer.

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Tips+Tricks: Photographing collections

Powerhouse Museum Photography Manager Geoff Friend offers tips+tricks on how to photograph heritage collections. Geoff has worked at the Powerhouse Museum for 26 years and in that time has built a photographic studio that would make any organisation envious. But in this article he offers suggestions on how to make-do with limited resources. It can also be downloaded from Sector Resources on the CAN website.

“Necessity is the mother of all invention” – Thorstein Veblen

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Powerhouse Museum Photography Manager Geoff Friend

Camera
Ideally images should be taken with a digital SLR as they have better noise processing; which means the pixels do not appear rough when shooting in low light conditions. The digital SLR should have a full-frame sensor. A non-full-frame sensor has a multiplying effect so a 35mm wide-angle lens becomes a 52mm lens.
(Geoff uses a Canon 1DS Mk3 and Canon 5D)

If the budget only allows for a compact camera, it should have at least 10 megapixels to ensure high resolution images. These cameras are good for photographing events and exhibitions for the organisation.
(Geoff uses a Canon G10)

Most digital cameras have video capture which is great for the web.

Use a low ISO (film speed) such as ISO 100 to achieve the finest resolution.

Lighting
Lighting_setup Lighting set-up to photograph the chair pictured below

The Powerhouse Museum uses professional electronic studio flash equipment – Broncolour floor packs with separate flash heads. The team uses a 1m x 1m softbox with a diffusion screen placed 50cm from the flash head to create a soft yet directional light source.

chair

When using lighting equipment, avoid bare heads pointing at the object. Pulling the light source back from the object reduces the intensity of the light so that the detail is not burnt out. Angle the light so that it picks up the texture and pattern on the object if desired.

When photographing two-dimensional objects, make sure the light source is even. For example, place two lights on either side of the item at 45 degrees. Make sure the plane of the camera lens is perfectly parallel with the object.

If an artwork is behind glass, it is preferable to remove it from the frame. If it is too difficult, then cut a small hole in a piece of black velvet and shoot through the hole.

If the organisation cannot afford sophisticated lighting equipment, then it is a good idea to use natural light with the camera on a tripod. In this case a cable release cord or self-timer function on the camera should be used so there is no camera shake causing blurry photos. Avoid using the tripod’s centre column extension because it is unstable.

Please email Geoff Friend at the Powerhouse Museum for any technical questions.

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aMUSine, an ezine: Lyn Hicks

aMUSine is a monthly ezine exploring the ideas and controversies in the Australian art world, as well as sharing campus life in the Macquarie University Museum Studies faculty. Online magazine editor and PhD student Lyn Hicks offers CAN readers a step-by-step guide to setting up an ezine. aMUSine is an excellent example of how an organisation can use digital publishing to take its audience beyond the institution and look at broader issues that relate to its core business.

I’d love to say that editing and producing the first issue of ‘aMUSine’, the ezine from the Museum Studies Program at Macquarie University was a horrifying experience … but I’d be so wrong! It was certainly a challenge, but at the end of the day it turned out to be a fun (and often hilarious) project that pulled academics, undergraduate and postgraduate students together and really bonded our Program with the museums and galleries on campus as well as with numerous readers from ‘museum world’ off-campus. The experience might almost qualify as a case study for my PhD which is looking at how volunteers in museums and galleries contribute to the evolution of social capital such was its capacity for producing social cohesion in our little corner of the world.

Lyn Hicks
Lyn Hicks, aMUSine editor and Museum Studies PhD student at Macquarie University

So much was happening in Museum Studies at Macquarie; we needed a regular, interesting and entertaining medium through which to share this news and invite participation from our students, other Faculties within the university and our professional partners outside the university. We were also keen to raise the profile of the Museum Studies Program generally, to attract more students to our degrees and units and to showcase our splendid university museums.

When the idea for a ‘newsletter’ was first raised at one of our regular ‘coffee meetings’ down at the Union café I must say that I rolled my eyes. After many years in the corporate world I had seen many paper-based newsletters come onto my desk and eventually leave my desk without so much as being opened. Over the next few days however the idea of an online magazine, with a different theme each issue and lots of edgy interesting ideas and visuals started to form in my mind. I was hooked!

Despite being keen to contribute there was quite a bit of ‘feet-dragging’ until I put together a rough layout of the creative theme (in Microsoft Word), the ‘front cover’ and the template for news and regular features. Once the idea took on a tangible form the ezine itself rapidly evolved. The difficulties (for me anyway) came in the technology and in deciding how to deliver it, particularly as the university had recently adopted a ‘corporate image’ for official material that was quite a bit different to the look and feel we were trying to achieve.

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Front cover of first edition of aMUSine launched in late November. The third edition will be online in February

As this was a student initiated publication we felt that if we hosted the ezine site off-campus and emailed a teaser image of the ‘front cover’ to our own contact list (managed by Dr Andrew Simpson, Director of the Museum Studies Program) with a click through to the off-campus website once the first issue was up online, we would may be able to follow the lead of ‘grapeshot’, the official university student publication and be a bit ‘different’.

Eventually, after lots of clicking around the web, I found that Yahoo hosted ‘small business’ websites for less than $15 a month and supplied a free domain and a free design template. In a fit of ‘let’s get this thing done’, over one weekend I organised the domain name through Yahoo, purchased three months worth of web hosting, designed and published the ezine. The following week Andrew and Gina (who is our techno-whiz) consolidated an expanded contact list and ‘aMUSine’ was launched to the world!

For more information on the ins-and-outs of setting up an ezine, email Lyn Hicks

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The experience of building the Virtual Museum of the Pacific: Peter Eklund

Professor Peter Eklund talks about the development of the Virtual Museum of the Pacific – one of the first projects run out of the recently established the Centre for Digital Ecosystems, at the University of Wollongong. He and Peter Goodall built the website using Web 2.0 principles so that people of the Pacific could access their own cultural heritage collected by the Australian Museum since its inception in 1845. In this article, Professor Eklund gives CAN readers an insight into the technical issues that had to be considered and some of the challenges the virtual museum will face in the future.

Late 2006, I pitched the idea of a Virtual Museum of the Pacific to the Australian Museum. I had been working for many years developing a navigation paradigm using concept lattices. My PhD student Jon Ducrou and I had developed and evaluated several prototypes but what we needed was a real collection to work on. Australian Museum Director Frank Howarth and then Deputy Director Les Christidis were keen to do something “experimental” in the Museum and Web space, over and above their existing corporate Web-site efforts that are themselves innovative.



We applied for a University of Wollongong new partnership grant which paid for a DHTML prototype and allowed us to encounter first hand some of the issues that would later become central to the successful development of the Virtual Museum of the Pacific. On the back of this, in the following year 2008, we finally received backing from the Australian Research Council (ARC) for the Virtual Museum project.


I decided that we needed a very experienced hand to manage the project so I hired Peter Goodall who had nearly 30 years experience in the IT industry, Peter had worked in start-ups in Silicon Valley, for IBM in the US and most recently at Objective Corporation. Peter’s job was to work in the Museum on the project using an “insourcing” model of customer engagement. It allowed the Virtual Museum to be owned by the Australian Museum – not driven by outsiders.

An early issue for the Australian Museum (AM) and the research team was what would be in the Virtual Museum? The Pacific collection seemed a good starting point for a number of reasons but the collection was vast, containing nearly 60,000 objects of which only a small subset could be sampled.

Peter and I decided on an early increment that would get the content ball rolling. We proposed to sample 10% of the objects (about 40 objects) before Christmas 2008, we argued that this would be used to measure the overall time cost to the museum for processing 400 pacific objects. It also started the object selection process. The first 40 objects were from diverse locations, made of many different materials and represented a broad range of domestic and cultural objects. This was ideal for navigation using concept lattices. Melanie Van Olffen, our collaborating anthropologist at the Australian Museum, established this selection pattern and it continued to the project conclusion with great success.

Another piece of detective work for the research team involved understanding the corporate taxonomy used by the Australian Museum to classify their collections. The metadata used by the Virtual Museum for navigation and discovery within the collection is imported from the Australian Museum’s collection management system. The current collection management system is the Museum’s third generation of systems computerising its records of the Pacific collection.

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To understand the evolution of the Pacific collection’s metadata we give an overview of the typical life cycle of their records. The Australian Museum acquired the objects in its Pacific collection from many sources over 150 years. The process of adding an object to the collection is reasonably uniform and easy to illustrate by example. The ‘fish hook’ was entered into the Australian Museum’s ‘Register of Ethnology’ on September 22, 1971. This entry is the first association of collection metadata with the object, and allocates its registration number. At some later point an index card was created which included the object’s provenance, and more detailed descriptive text, and (on its reverse-side) the object’s physical dimensions.

Later, as objects are added to the content management system, they are further described, and have a simple, practical corporate taxonomy applied to them. The spreadsheet documenting the Museum’s taxonomy presents the ‘organisational warrant’ for the metadata, the normalized way of describing things at the Museum. The Australian Museum’s “Archaeology and Anthropology” taxonomy is two-level, with 27 categories and 709 object types distributed across those categories. The development of the current taxonomy for the cultural and archaeological collections was developed by the Australian Museum’s Stan Florek, as an alternative to large general systems which tend to ‘lose’ objects in their many alternate paths.

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From information collected during preparation of an initial 400 objects for the prototype of the Virtual Museum, we estimate that only about 45-50 percent of the objects in the collection have an entry in the electronic collection management system, a common problem with all large historical collections. Nearly all objects need metadata “scrubbing” to bring them up to a uniform exhibition standard.

Scrubbing involves normalising spelling and thesaurus checking, for instance testing whether “mother of pearl” or “pearl shell’ should be used or whether a “dagger” should be a tag or whether “knife” is preferred. The Virtual Museum project revealed that an average of one hour’s effort per object is required for basic metadata entry and scrubbing, and another hour to write an interpretive label (reminiscent of the descriptive card in a museum exhibition case).

So, while the metadata and photography adds enormously to the value of an object for research and Web-based exploration, there is a significant cost involved in establishing an adequate information base for it.

In reality there is very little ‘overhead’ in preparing objects for publishing using the current Virtual Museum infrastructure. Nearly all the museum’s effort goes directly to improving the documentation of the collection – which is its core business. Also, the fact that this improved information can be immediately published to the Web without a lot of intervention by technologists, rather than lying relatively hidden in the collection management system, is a great motivation for the museum staff.

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In short, a key finding of the Virtual Museum of the Pacific is that the completeness of the metadata for the Pacific collection is enormously variable and therefore considerable work has to be done by the Museum and its staff beyond that performed by the Virtual Museum developers. We expect that this observation applies equally to other museum collection content and is an important consideration in developing Web-based Virtual Museums.

Peter Eklund

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