Posts Tagged ‘Australian Museum’

Museum3 – from network to not-for-profit!

Museums 3 Ning Logo 2010

Post by Associate Professor Angelina Russo.

It’s been just over two and a half years since we established Museum3.0. What started as an idea for connecting cultural professionals online, has grown to a network of over 2500 members and is still going strong!

Earlier this year, the network provider (Ning) announced changes to it’s structure. While these changes didn’t make a huge difference to us (we already paid for premium services) they came at the same time as we were realising that the network was now larger than we could have ever anticipated. With so many members, Lynda Kelly and I put our heads together to try and come up with a structure which would enable the network to grow and give us some entity through which to manage and sustain this growth.

The upshot?
We decided to incorporate as a not-for-profit organisation! This gives us a legal entity through which to advocate, create and develop new knowledge, projects and collaborations. It also means we can do simple things like book venues for conferences!!

With an initial executive board made up of the members of our current research project (Timothy Hart, Melbourne Museum; Sebastian Chan, Powerhouse Museum, Lynda Kelly, Australian Museum and myself, RMIT University) we are currently finalising the constitution so that we can establish ourselves in the next few weeks.

Why now?
To begin with, Museum3 was supported by our current collaborative research project Engaging with Social Media in Museums. This project explored the impact of social media on museum learning and communication. The project supported Lynda and my time to explore the potential of the network. As the project nears its end, neither of us would have a remit through which to maintain the network. By establishing as a not-for-profit, we are able to demonstrate an outcome of the project which, while unexpected, has benefits well beyond the academic papers which were written throughout the three year research program.

What came out of Museum3
Throughout the past 2 1/2 years a number of groups have formed on the network, enabling like-minded professionals to contribute to discussions surrounding the changes in the sector. Additionally, two specialised groups were formed by students to share their research and to create a global network of up and coming museum professionals. We are particularly proud of this outcome and hope to be able to support it further within the new organisation.

What’s next?
Earlier this week we published the ‘objects’ or aims of the organisation which will become part of our constitution. We asked the network for their thoughts and received terrific feedback which has enabled us to hone the objects to meet the needs of our network. It is this type of participation which is of particular interest to me as it demonstrates a dedicated, supportive and critical discourse within which to evolve.

We’re currently trialling the new graphics and establishing new features which will include tiered membership (an issue which we also posted to our network for feedback), our inaugural conference and first AGM (14 – 15 April 2011, Melbourne) and specialist research workspaces.

In the future we want to develop webinars, podcasts and teaching resources.

We’re very excited about these developments and are particularly proud of the thoughtful contributions we have received all the way along.

So, in the next few weeks, this is what we will become:

Museum3 –

Museum3 is a global network for those interested in the future of museums, galleries, science centres, libraries & archives. It seeks to:

(a) Develop and maintain an engaged, creative and connected community of global cultural institution professionals and advocates; encouraging innovation through knowledge exchange, networking, research, design development and outreach activities.

(b) Provide an environment that promotes the evolutionary development of the cultural institution sector fostering the exchange of innovative online and onsite practices in a critical and supportive space.

(c) Develop positive perceptions by members, visitors and the broader community about the cultural sector’s role in inspirational and sustainable programs of communication, both onsite and online.

(d) Enhance and effectively share knowledge, ideas, skills and innovations about the cultural institution sector (libraries, museums, galleries, archives and broadcasters) by promoting movable cultural heritage.

(e) Provide advocacy and support to the cultural institution sector to develop and maintain partnerships with media, business, government and other cultural services organizations to facilitate cross-fertilisation of ideas, information exchange and joint projects to the benefit of heritage collections and places.

In the meantime, you can find us at

All thoughts and comments greatly appreciated!

Associate Professor Angelina Russo, PhD
RMIT University
School of Media and Communication
Building 9, Level 2, Room 4

Phone +613 99252753


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.


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.


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.


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.


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


Virtual Museum of the Pacific pilot launched

The Virtual Museum of the Pacific was launched for community consultation at the “Access to Cultural Collections” seminar yesterday. Pacific Islander arts and community development representatives met at the Australian Museum to offer feedback on how they will use the website and whether it suits the Pacific Islander way of approaching navigation.

Australian Museum Director Frank Howarth opened the “Access to Cultural Collections” seminar by saying that the future of cultural institutions lay in ‘facilitating debate’ and ‘connecting with communities’. He stressed the importance of taking these objects back to their communities virtually. “The knowledge and power in these objects is immense”and they have the potential to enrich lives. The Museum has been collaborating with the Juvenile Justice Department to help make connections with cultural identity. Welfare workers were keen to take laptops into jails and community centres so that the Virtual Museum of the Pacific could help revive knowledge, skills and reconnect to cultural beliefs.

The interface of the Virtual Museum of the Pacific. Photographer: E Furno © Australian Museum

With the help of an Australian Research Council (ARC) linkage grant, the Australian Museum (Vinod Daniel, Melanie Van Olffen, Dion Peita) and University of Wollongong (Prof Amanda Lawson, Prof Peter Eklund, Prof Peter Goodall, Dr Brogan Bunt) started designing and building the website in December 2008. The first step was to build a prototype site displaying 427 of the Museum’s 60,000 objects in its Pacific Collection. They used high quality images and well-researched collection item descriptions.

It is well-known that museums are moving away from just displaying objects and are actively trying to capture people’s attention online. The Virtual Museum was designed so that the Australian Museum would use its traditional categories alongside user-generated tags, in different languages and specific to different regions. Information about the objects is available through a variety of mediums from catalogue descriptions and wiki annotations, to audio interviews, transcripts and video so that all of the ways a user communicates are met. Mr Howarth hopes in the future there will be the ability to search for objects using motifs or designs and move away from the reliance on language.

Detail of a record in the VMP of a Solomon Island comb with basic metadata and tags. Photographer: E Furno © Australian Museum

The biggest issue that came out of yesterday’s community consultation was the navigation of the website. Canberra academic Siosiua Lafitani descibed the Pacific view of space and time as circular – everything has a relationship. While the Western concept of space and time is linear. Hyerpace allows people to connect past and present knowledge remotely in a circular way but the design of the navigation tools would need to enable this.

Museums are finding themselves asking the eternal question: How can museums provide access to collections while respecting traditional owners and uses? How can the rights and needs of creators and preservers be balanced? Chief Marcellin Abong, from the Vanuatu Cultural Centre, reinforced that under Pacific Law both the object and the spirits associated with the objects need to be respected. In the complex traditional rights system used in the Pacific, copyright is paid with respect. Spiritual law would need to be understood before the consultation period is finished and more objects were uploaded onto the site.

Over the next three months there will be extensive community consultation and feedback before the project moves to the next phase of development. It is also starting to looking for future funding streams as the ARC grant finishes in December 2010.


Myth and reality (social media sites/networks): Ingrid Mason


The reasons for not using social media sites/networks in collecting organisations to engage visitors or new audiences range: a perception that digital technology and social media sites/networks are for young people (myth); the thought that putting time into social media sites/networks is time “wasted” when there are “real people” to engage with in “real spaces” (the time spent on these sites/networks can also pay off in dividends); social media sites/networks are perceived as “entertainment” rather than as a means of “community engagement” (which is a key goal) and internet access from work computers to these networks/sites is blocked; a level of unfamiliarity with social media sites/networks is inhibiting and doing research is in the “too hard basket” (a good reason to learn from others’ efforts); and the idea that going online is “risky” and social media sites/networks (that’s why testing it out is such a good idea).


It isn’t easy to dispel myths and change organisational policies on internet use. The only way to address myth is to provide evidence to the contrary – see Seb Chan’s blogs on Australian internet use and the generational myth. I encourage those in the sector working under conditions of internet restrictions to contest this issue with their organisational IT sections by developing and providing a business case to validate the requirement for access to specific social media sites/networks. The logic being these sites/networks are working tools and spaces and widen access to the collection, provide relevant and practical ways to communicate with current and new audiences and in short — deliver value to the organisation. The question “What is the cost/benefit of using social media sites/networks?” needs to be thought through and answered well so that the reason to change policy is clear.


Sector participants are whole-heartedly encouraged to mull the examples in this blog; to venture into these spaces and look around and find out: what the social networking/media sites are; what people “do” in these places; and why people spend time on and contribute content to social networking and media sites this. It is better to take a look at this with one’s own eyes. In the interim, the short answers are, people participate in social media sites/networks because it gives them satisfaction (otherwise they wouldn’t use these sites or resources) and a sense of community (engagement and interaction is what makes these spaces and resources social!). Doesn’t sound too radically different to why people like to visit collecting organisations and volunteer in them does it?


As a brief starting point, what people do – in a quick summary – is:

Blog — reflect, absorb, write and comment e.g. Blogspot, WordPress, LiveJournal, etc including microblogging — leave (in brief) notes, messages, comments e.g. Twitter, Posterous, etc

Network — debate, advise, share, comment and send notices e.g. Facebook, Ning, MySpace, etc

Generate content — upload content to share with others, comment or tag or reuse the content e.g. YouTube, Vimeo, Flickr, Slideshare

If using these sites/networks is suitable then the next step is to look at implementing these technologies/working spaces in phases, that is: do research, undertake a pilot, evaluate the pilot (lessons learned and potential value), consider implementing their use in business-as-usual, and then conduct periodic reviews.


Finally some real examples to draw from:

ArtBabble: Indianapolis Museum of Art
“ArtBabble was created so others will join in spreading the world of art through video.”

Be Heard Forever: National Library of New Zealand “By sending your music to the National Library’s Legal Deposit team, you guarantee it will be looked after, stored properly, and available to future generations of New Zealanders long after you’re gone.”

Tyrell Collection on Flickr Commons: Powerhouse Museum “The Museum is uploading photographs from its large collections of glass plate negatives. These images go up without alteration or cropping. We continue to add new images every week and, where possible, we are mapping them too! We need your help – if you know more about the locations or people in these photos, or can help tag them, it would be great!”

Library Labs: National Library of Australia “Over the next few weeks and on 27 March itself, National Library staff will be twittering, flickring, podcasting, vodcasting and blogging in an attempt to discover what significance social networking might have for us.”

Museum 3.0: Australian Museum “Museum 3.0: a network for those interested in the future of cultural institutions such as museums, galleries, science centres and other collecting bodies.”