Archive for July, 2010

Redeveloping Culture Victoria: Simon Sherrin

Culture Victoria relaunched its website earlier this month so that it can be more easily indexed by search engines and viewed on mobile devices. Victorian Cultural Network (VCN) Manager Simon Sherrin shares the redevelopment process with CAN Partners. He offers insights into best practice for putting collections online and makes suggestions on how Victorian organisations can work with Culture Victoria.

What was the main reason you redeveloped the Culture Victoria site?
There were a couple of reasons. A lot of the content of the site was contained within Flash, and it wasn’t possible to directly link to an object within a particular story. For example, you might be browsing the site and Herbert Schmalz’s “Too Late” particularly moving. You can direct a friend straight to that image by sending them the URL. On the old site, if you wanted to share that with a friend, you could only give someone a link to the story, and tell them to click on the images link and look at the 5th, sorry, 6th image in the slideshow.

In addition, the Culture Portal providing our cross-agency search was closing on the 1st of July, giving us a deadline for getting that functionality up and running.

We are also expanding the ways that you can access and explore our content that wouldn’t have fitted with the old design.

What is the benefit of using HTML over Flash?
As a general rule, it’s easier to make content accessible with HTML than Flash. It’s also easier for Google and other search engines to index your content. For example, with the old version of the site, we had 161 pages in Google’s database. While Google hasn’t finished crawling the new version of the site, there are now 3680 entries in Google’s database. By the time it finishes, we’ll have over 4000 distinct entries. The upshot of that is Culture Victoria results will appear in more search results. The ability to directly link to objects will, hopefully, increase the amount of external sites linking to Culture Victoria, which will improve the rank of our pages within search engine results.

How has the collections search been improved?
The previous version of the site didn’t have collection specific search results. Cultural organisations in Victoria are now offering the collection search on their own sites, for example:
NGV Collection,
Museum Victoria Collection,
Geelong Gallery.

Initially we’ve been working with the core Victorian Cultural Network (VCN) partners to provide OpenSearch formatted result sets from these searches. This allows us to query their search engines and display those results as separate to website results. We’ll be adding collection searches from them as their OpenSearch responses come online.

Are there plans to separate the collection search from the web search?
Beyond having collection search results on their own tabs, we don’t have any immediate plans to separate collection search results and web search. That may change as the number of Victorian organisations providing OpenSearch increases.

Do you have any future plans for Google Maps within the site?
Over the next couple of months we’ll be adding geo-location data to our stories and objects. Combined with a Google Map, users will be able to see stories and objects related to particular cities and regions.

How will CV Partners upload content? What type of material will this be?
We have developed online software (story builder) that allows partners to directly upload content. We will moderate uploads initially until we are comfortable with the process. Currently we have 16 metro-regional content partners who are developing an exciting range of stories about their collections and activities. Subject range from Aboriginal culture, Burke and Wills expedition, choral music, RSL collections, textile manufacturing, through to Victoria’s distributed craft collections.

Do you have plans to build an iPhone or iPad application for CV?
We are working on making all the content on the site available on smartphones and other mobile devices. One part of that was re-encoding videos into H.264. We’re also looking at how we can use the location-aware nature of those devices, to highlight near-by organisations for example.

As for plans for a specific iPhone/iPad app, yes, yes we do, but we’re going to play that close to our chest for the moment. ;-)

Do you have any advice for an organisation starting to research putting their own collection online? What are the main issues they would need to take into account?
There are two pieces of advice I’d give to an organisation putting their collection online. The first is that all the data you use should feed out of your collection management system. That’s not to say the website is accessing the collection management system database directly, but rather any change made to an object record should appear automatically in the online collection. Separate systems will get out of sync almost immediately.

The second is that all images/videos of collection items should all be stored at their original resolution, which should be as large as possible. Disk space is getting cheaper and automatic resizing of images for a website is straight forward.

With hindsight, would you do anything differently?
The only thing that I’d do differently would be to have briefed the graphic designers about one or two weeks earlier.

How do you measure web traffic? Do you compare notes with your Partner organisations in terms of how people come into the site?
We use Google Analytics to measure visitation to the site. We also use Google Webmaster tools, which gives more information about who’s linking to the site and also how our pages appear in Google’s search results. We don’t have a problem with comparing notes with our partner organisation if that’s useful to them.


Possum skin cloaks can be found on CAN

Possum skin cloaks offer a vehicle to learn about Aboriginal people’s stories and their connection to country. The Collections Australia Network (CAN) has been building an online database of possum and wallaby skin cloaks and rugs. The designs and motifs etched onto the cloaks pass on stories about a community’s ancestors.

In this video, artist Vicki Couzens explains her designs while telling the story of her grandmother’s country in Victoria’s Western Districts. When Ms Couzens made the cloak, she wanted to connect to the spirits of the Gunditjmara Tribe. She wanted to get to know her ancestor’s land and create an awareness of the unseen. Ms Couzens offers an insight into the culture and meaning behind the possum skin cloak revitalisation project that began in 1999.

Over the last 12 years, five women have worked hard to bring the tradition of making possum skin cloaks back into Aboriginal communities. The work of contemporary Indigenous artists Debra and Vicki Couzens, Lee Darroch and Treahna Hamm have been acquired into public collections — the cloaks have been recognised as artworks that tell stories about their ancestors. Cultural Collections and Community Engagement Manager Amanda Reynolds and Koorie Heritage Trust Curator and artist Maree Clarke have supported the revitalisation project so that communities are able to make their own connections to country.

The Collections Australia Network (CAN) invited the collecting organisations that acquired traditional and contemporary possum skin cloaks to upload the catalogue entries onto CAN. This means that by searching ‘possum skin cloak’ or ‘wallaby skin cloak’, researchers, curators and the general public can discover where the cloaks are cared for and learn more about the cultural stories behind them.

This project evolved while planning a trip to the Albury City LibraryMuseum. Collections Co-ordinator Bridget Guthrie was keenly promoting the four cloaks in the Museum collection by artist Treahna Hamm. Albury has the largest number of cloaks in its collection of any cultural organisation in Australia. This not only reflects the Indigenous tradition in the Riverina area but also the strength of Ms Hamm’s career as a contemporary artist who depicts trade routes in pre-settlement times, as well as sharing country, totem and personal markings.

Possum and wallaby skin cloaks, possum and wallaby skin rugs and a platypus skin cape in collections across Australia on CAN
*AIATSIS – Drawings of the Maiden’s Punt (1853) and Lake Condah (1872) possum skin cloaks not accessible on CAN

*Albury City LibraryMuseum: Four possum skin cloaks made by Treahna Hamm and the Indigenous community

*Australian National Maritime Museum: Treahna Hamm’s Dhungala (Murray River) Creation Story, 2006

*Australian Museum: Possum-skin cloak, Maureen Reyland (Mor Mor), Commonwealth Games revitalisation project, 2006

*Koorie Heritage Trust: Ten possum skin cloaks not accessible on CAN

*Museum Victoria: The original Maiden’s Punt (1853) and Lake Condah (1872) possum skin cloaks and work by Lee Darroch are part of Museum Victoria’s collection not accessible on CAN.

*National Gallery of Australia: William Barak drawings depicting Indigenous people wearing possum skin cloaks in 1824
Badhang (possum skin cloak), Michael McDaniel, 2008

*National Gallery of Victoria: Possum skin cloaks by contemporary artists Euphemia Bostock, Treahna Hamm and Lorraine Northey-Connelly

*National Museum of Australia: Collection of possum skin cloaks and works on paper

*State Library of Victoria: Tuuram gundidj possum skin cloak by artist Vicki Couzens, 2004

*South Australian Museum: Wallaby skin cloak and rug

*University of Ballarat Art and Historical Collections: Possum skin cloak made by university students, 2002. The story is based on Eugene Von Guerard’s painting ‘Barter’ (1854) which depicts the exchange of possum skins between indigenous peoples and white settlers.


Rebranding the State Library of NSW

There has been fierce debate across the globe about the future of libraries in recent months. Fox News recently announced libraries are a waste of money and should be closed and the Chicago Public Library has come out fighting against this claim. There is a long trail of online articles on this issue so the CAN Outreach Blog decided to interview the design agency responsible for rebranding the State Library of New South Wales (SLNSW) to hear their thoughts on the public’s perception of libraries.

Cat Burgess, Frost Design

Vince Frost and Cat Burgess, of Frost Design, believe people are consuming information in new ways and libraries can be part of that. While libraries are in the knowledge business, they offer an experience that search engines cannot. They believe Google cannot replace the physical form. Librarians are enthusiastic and passionate about their ability to facilitate research. When Frost Design was given the brief of redesigning the State Library of NSW’s identity, the first question they asked themselves was – ‘Do they need a rebrand?’.

Vince Frost, Frost Design

Environmetrics were commissioned to carry out qualitative and quantitative research with focus groups of existing and potential users. The psychographic tests came up with two main profiles – academics and researchers who are looking for information and don’t care where it comes from. The library’s branding does not influence this demographic. The other group are culturally motivated, seek out interpretive information like exhibitions and public programs, and so are heavily influenced by the brand. They would like to visit the library but were intimidated and put off by a perception that the library is only a destination for academic pursuits. Once they were actively engaged they found the library welcoming. So the rebrand needed to focus on this second group.

Frost Design’s biggest challenge was not to undermine the strength of the brand while giving it an open, accessible and contemporary feel. Mr Frost came up with the concept of ‘a sense of surprise’ which was conveyed through the logo. Mr Frost believes online does not have the same respect as the onsite experience and so the goal was to encourage discovery in the library.

Links of interest
‘Which Future for Libraries?’,
‘The Future of Libraries’, ABC Radio National, 30 June 2010

Tips for designing library websites


Outreach builds audiences in children’s museum: Jane Cush

After a visit to the Boston Children’s Museum last year, gallery director Jane Cush has decided to target three year olds as the organisation’s new audience. Ms Cush, who runs the Goulburn Regional Art Gallery (GRAG), believes they are the ones who feel the least inhibited in a gallery environment. Older visitors often say they feel alienated by art or do not understand what it means. By inviting young children into the gallery, it has the opportunity to interact with parents. Ms Cush tells children there are no rules in the gallery except not to trip up old ladies or touch the artwork. Often school children tell each other to be quiet in the gallery but she insists that they should feel at home and loves hearing them babble on about something they have discovered in an artwork in the gallery.

Ms Cush brought back a list of ideas on how to build a community after a two-week Museums and Galleries NSW fellowship at the children’s museum last year. Her detailed report about her experience can be found on the MGNSW website.

She arrived home feeling that GRAG needed to engage more with youth. ‘We were just paying lip service really. Now, amongst several strategies to develop audiences, we are looking at how to engage more with mothers and babies. Outreach was already set-up but now we are drilling down.’ Ms Cush said. ‘We have also beefed up the information day for teachers at the start of each semester, and every exhibition now has an interactive children’s programme.

Boston Children’s Museum focuses on supporting marginalised or under-represented groups. It has sensitively developed programs that empower those who participate without drawing attention to the fact that they are in need. For example, the Museum runs a teen ambassador programme which mentors teen students to work with migrant families who visit the museum. The scheme invites bi-lingual teenagers to join the program – looking at the positives rather than focusing on the fact that they themselves usually come from poorer migrant families. If the students stick with the ambassador program for two years, various Boston companies sponsor them with a US$5000 scholarship to go on to college. There is no dedicated children’s museum in Australia but many of Boston’s initiatives can be applied to institutions offering edu-tainment.


Journeys – where history meets geography: Asa Letourneau

My name is Asa Letourneau. I work at Public Record Office Victoria, in the Online Access team. I contribute to the team across a range of initiatives including online exhibitions, social media applications, and website development.

In early May this year I put a call out to all of PROV asking if anyone would like to put together a team for the App My State Hack Day. It was pretty short notice (the Hack day started in 3 days!) but fortunately I got a yes from a colleague, Abigail Belfrage, who works in Online Business Development at PROV.

With some trepidation but buoyed up with a healthy dose of WE CAN DO THIS!! we turned up to Box Hill TAFE for the Hack Day (really a weekend which neither of us could totally commit to because of children and lives etc…). Anyway we teamed up with two complete strangers (web developers/coders) and between the four of us came up with the concept behind Journeys. We wanted to build an app that overlays historic records over a contemporary landscape — bringing the past into the present. The rest is history. We ended up winning the Hack Day and had just enough of a taste of the dizzying heights of minor celebrity status to push on and make a go of it for the main prize — the App My State Open Competition.

What followed over the course of the next 12 days was a lot of blood, sweat, tears, Google waves, Skype calls, Tweets, numerous emails and, God forbid, a face to face catch up with the whole team. We made the competition deadline entering our very BETA BETA app Journeys (which is still so BETA!). Here’s some choice words from Abigail that she wrote for the App My State entry application and the Journeys site respectively.

Journeys is a website devoted to mapping digitised cultural collections such as maps, data and images. Utilising Google Earth functionality, it has a ‘tour’ feature that allows users to virtually fly over landscapes, populated with images or maps relating to that landscape. A user in the site can create a map by layering historical records over the contemporary landscape. People can learn about geography through history, and history through geography and, with the opacity functionality, experience a map merging into the landscape. Journeys can be a powerful research tool for learning about places, communities and individuals around Victoria.

We even gave the team the name Mappster. We are a team that began as strangers (and now are good friends) who busted a mighty move at the App My State Hack Day 8 May 2010, building Journeys in less than 24 hours. Emboldened by Journeys’ win on the day, Mappster resolved to grow the app, and enter it in the App My State competition 12 days later!

Who is Mappster?
Abigail Belfrage, content & design. History and archives nerd, budding geek. Dreams about maps and mapping in her spare time.
Asa Letourneau, content & design. web2.0 junkie
Nguyen Ly, coder & UX junkie who thinks sleep is overrated! By day he’s a professional .Net enterprise applications developer.
Gregor McNish, an old programmer trying to keep up rather than getting sucked into management.

While we didn’t end up winning the App My State Competition, we did learn an awful lot from the experience, met some great people and produced something that we are now going to take further. Even the team is still together! Despite Journeys being a private venture, we have started using the skills and knowledge acquired to promote similar projects back at PROV and feel confident that a culture of mapping historical records will grow from strength to strength.

So there you have it. Journeys: where history meets geography and where people can engage with historical records in a truly interactive way.