Posts Tagged ‘Ingrid Mason’

Emerging technologies. Immaterial Matters?


A tweet from Lorcan Dempsey @lorcanD caught my eye this morning – it referenced an Ariadne article ‘Emerging Technologies in Academic Libraries (emtacl10)’ a new international conference for academic libraries held in April this year in Trondheim, Norway. The article is in fact a report from Andrew Walsh an academic librarian from the University of Huddersfield, England. Then I saw another tweet from @DigitalKoans about the value academic libraries offer to researchers being analysed to ascertain how what libraries do is beneficial to the research process.

Strikes me the word “research” itself implies that the researcher (party) has explored research materials (collection material) that are made usefully available (a library) to the researcher. This research was (I’m surmising) a means of exploring “how much” value academic libraries generate and therefore increase the potential and therefore value (tangible and intangible) of new research. Lastly I spotted a reference to ways to learning how to write good grant applications from Richard Urban @Musebrarian that I thought “ah ha!” and quickly retweeted the reference.

What struck me about the information in this Ariadne article was the radical changes occurring (impact and issues arising) at one part of the collecting sector and how different the working experience is in the other parts of the collecting sector. On occasion I have been asked to give a sense of what I think is happening in the collecting sector in Australia and I’m going to attempt to do so more here. I’ll come back to the second and third references on value and grant writing further along.

Image provided with a Creative Commons Licence from Jurvetson on Flickr

I’m going to break radical change (and issues) down into bite-sized chunks and use scenarios to think more broadly about the collecting sector and emerging technologies. The collecting sector is a very complex field to be working in and the word collecting is so widely applicable. To make distinctions in work practice and approaches it can therefore be important to see in what context collecting occurs and why.


Organisation Size

>> Small local volunteer supported collecting organisations

These collecting organisations can be found ALL over Australia and may have a library collection, an archive of primary materials, historic buildings, native or exotic trees, specimens, artworks or made objects. These organisations might be known as an historical society, a visitor centre, a cultural centre or a museum. Rather than focus on the name or type of the organisation I focus in on what is being collected and my thoughts wander back to why – what is driving this? Then I look at the scale, any public infrastructure, resources available (staff, recurrent budget or grant opportunities) and the services provided. Many issues are faced by volunteer based organisations, to name a few: secure and appropriate premises for keeping collection material, technical expertise to enable digitisation and practice guidance. Outreach supports are crucial for these types of organisations and good advice and support at critical times can mean the world of difference in terms of making progress and continuity.

The notion of emerging technologies might seem incongruent to talk about when organisations like this are faced with these bottom line issues. But… I have to say, I have been enormously impressed by the positive thinking, commitment and power to surprise of the volunteer workforce. In my limited experience working across the GLAMs I’m constantly staggered at the careful attention to core issues and the ability to clear some head space and explore social media.


>> Medium-large sized organisations with paid professional staff

These collecting organisations are established as regional, state and national entities often. The organisations may have a primary collecting domain but will often have adjunct and diverse other collections, e.g. a museum that has a library and an archive. It would be disingenuous to say that the same issues faced by volunteer organisations are the same for these medium to large sized collecting organisations. So to qualify this statement I’d say the issues may be similar but the capacity to resolve them and address the risks is greater in these organisations. This capacity arises from the fact that the organisations have been formalised as publicly funded entities, there is recurrent funding and people are specifically trained to undertake core collecting tasks.

The notion of emerging technologies doesn’t seem incongruent at all to talk about in the context of these organisations. What I really like about the collecting community though is that innovation, nimbleness and curiosity – isn’t – the preserve of the paid workforce and social media is increasingly a means of collecting practitioners in organisations large and small establishing new peer networks and drawing upon each others’ know-how (and ventures forth).


The Why: Sustainability and Relevance

In the base social/economic sense collecting organisations collect to provide resources for their community to exploit. When that idea is dug into a little more there are very specific reasons that collecting organisations collect and make their collections publicly accessible. What is behind this is the relevance to the community (there is an interest in accessing the collection) and that interest is sustained, i.e there is continued desire/need and therefore expectation.

This is where I’d like to draw attention to the second article – and that is the ability (and necessity in many cases) to be able to continue to demonstrate the sustained interest (desire/need) and relevance of maintaining a collection and providing access to it. It seemed extraordinary to me that after 20 years of working in this field I am still seeing reports like this emerging and I’m still inclined to respond with intensity when articulating and asserting the value I know so well that is generated through collecting.


Technology and Value

Image provides with a Creative Commons Licence from theplanetdotcom via Flickr

Australia currently has a hung parliament, one of the issues being debated was the National Broadband Network (NBN). Whatever comes out of the negotiations between the political parties here in Australia will be important for collecting organisations large and small in the longer term. The demand for online content (and by extension it is assumed virtual access to collections) isn’t showing any signs of going away. Opportunities for organisations large and small to secure funding and advice to digitise their collections is a prime means of making the most of this community desire/need to access content online. The pace and level at which this happens is where the sticking point is when the situation of these two collecting organisations is considered. I don’t have ready answers inexcept that I point back to: The Why and How. To sustain collecting and maintain relevance to audiences and user communities is about having a good understanding of what those audiences and communities desire/need and therefore will support with people power and/or $. Which brings me to the last tweet I mentioned with a link to the Institute of Museum and Library Services (IMLS) in the US – which i explored a little and found some good sample grant applications to look at. While these resources are focused on the IMLS grants and US organisations, much of the same information required by the IMLS is the kind of information required by grant bodies here in Australia.


Allsorts Online 09 on the Web

The Collections Australia Network (CAN) has posted six videos from the Allsorts Online 09 Forum in Adelaide for the benefit of those people who were not able to travel the distance. Science communicator Susannah Elliot talks about how cultural institutions can use history to look at contemporary issues. Gavin Artz explains how the arts can benefit from the disruptive digital revolution from the perspective of the Australian Network for Art and Technology (ANAT). Gavin Bannerman offers wild and entertaining stories about a mobile hairdressing salon in Cape York from the State Library’s Q150 digital storytelling project.

The presentations are a snapshot into some of the innovative projects happening in the sector. The panel discussion at the end of the forum was a terrific debate as to where the sector is going. It questioned whether institutions should become broadcasters or whether their role should remain as collectors and preservers of history. This is an issue the National Film and Sound Archive now faces as it relaunches its website Australian Screen Online. Allsorts Online 09 was hosted in collaboration with the State Library of South Australia and the Australian Network for Art and Technology (ANAT). Here are some photos on Flickr of the event. State Library of NSW’s Ellen Forsyth uses Twitter as a note-taking device. The Twitter hashtag for the forum was #Allsorts09.

AusStage: Collective Intelligence and Data Visualisation for Performing Arts eResearch

Dr Jonathan Bollen: Senior Lecturer, School of Humanities, Flinders University
AusStage is the Australian hub for research on live performance, linking researchers in universities, industry and government. It stimulates smart information use, promotes collaboration on innovative methodologies, and integrates access to collections. AusStage is extending its infrastructure to harness collective intelligence, to visualise the knowledge embedded in the AusStage database, and to deliver next-generation tools and services for information analysis, while continuing to populate the database with comprehensive coverage of live performance in Australia.

Jonathan plays a leading role in coordinating research for the AusStage project, with particular interests in data visualisation. He is co-author of Men at Play: Masculinities in Australian Theatre since the 1950s (with Adrian Kiernander and Bruce Parr, Rodopi 2008). His research on gender, sexuality and performance has been published in The Drama Review, Social Semiotics and Australasian Drama Studies.

Disruptive Digital

Gavin Artz, CEO, Australian Network for Arts and Technology (ANAT)
Gavin Artz’s experience in business management ranges from multi-national companies, to not-forprofit community organisations. His diverse background spans arts and commerce – with a BA in Politics; Double Bass and Composition Studies at the Sydney Conservatorium of Music; a Graduate Certificate in Business Management; and he is now completing his MBA. After working as a professional musician for many years, Gavin is currently pursuing creativity in business management with a focus on governance and strategy.

Digital Storytelling: Storylines – Q150 Digital Stories

Gavin Bannerman: Oral History and Digital Storytelling Coordinator, State Library of Queensland
Storylines is the State Library of Queensland’s digital storytelling project to capture the people, places and events that make up Queensland in its 150th year. Hear about the challenges of interviewing aboard moving steam trains, trying to contact travelling hairdressers in Cape York and making the outcomes accessible to the public.

Gavin has commissioned, created, acquired, registered, documented and made accessible oral histories and digital stories that relate to SLQ’s strategic objective of capturing “Queensland Memory.” Gavin is trained as an archivist, receiving a Graduate Diploma in Records Management and Archives from Curtin University. He has been involved with arranging and describing archival material, training cultural organisation staff in image digitisation, and consulting with Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander communities regarding cultural clearance for images in SLQ’s collection.

Open Access: Conquering Copyright

Jessica Coates, Project Manager, Creative Commons Australia and the Creative Commons Clinic, Queensland University of Technology
Navigating the ins and out of copyright law can often be the most costly and difficult part of providing open access to a collection. Jessica will talk about what can and is being done by collecting institutions worldwide to share their collections and engage with audiences in the digital era – legally.

Jessica examines the legal mechanisms that encourage innovation in the creative industries, and promote and track the implementation of the international open content licensing movement, Creative Commons, in Australia. Prior to working for the Clinic, Jessica spent most of the last decade as a copyright and communications policy officer with the Commonwealth Department of Communications, Information Technology and the Arts (DCITA).

Web 2.0 and Social Media: Collections, Flickr and the Media

Jenny Scott, Content Services Librarian, State Library of South Australia
In her presentation Jenny describes the process by which she brought a small private collection to the attention of a nation. The collection of photos and documents that could have easily been lost or discarded over the previous 60 years became the foundation of a Web 2.0 project that gained front page media attention.

Jenny is implementing the State Library’s presence on Flickr. After completing an Associate Diploma in Photography in the early 1980s Jenny operated her own commercial photography business at Port Adelaide. In 1993 she graduated BA in History and Politics from Adelaide University and in 1994 Graduate Diploma in Library and Information Management from the University of South Australia. After three years as an archivist with State Records of South Australia in 2000 she moved to the State Library of South Australia to take up the position of Curator Pictorial Collection.

Building Relationships with Media to Promote Research

Susannah Elliot, CEO Science Media Centre, Adelaide
Mention the word science to a senior editor and you’ll see them shift uncomfortably and look around for an excuse to get away from you. But talk to them about the dust storms in Sydney, why there are more mosquitoes this year, the science of Taser guns or even the bizarre mating habits of redback spiders and you’ll have their interest.

The reason for this is that those outside the realm of science and research still see it as an academic pursuit of little relevance to their daily lives. This talk is about making research the topic of media interest by making it relevant to the current debates and the breaking news with which we’re all consumed.

Susannah works with the news media to inject more evidence-based science into public discourse. Prior to this she spent more than five years in Stockholm, Sweden, as director of communications for the International Geosphere-Biosphere Programme (IGBP), an international network of scientists studying global environmental change. In the 1990s Susannah managed the Centre for Science Communication at UTS, where she helped establish the successful Horizons of Science series of media roundtables and was involved in numerous other initiatives such as Science in the Pub and Science in the Bush.


Allsorts09: Collecting sector and media partnerships

Commercialising publicly-owned content. Feeding cultural heritage collections into the news cycle. Profiling the eccentricities of curators. Sharing collections with ABC Online. Cultural collectors as producers and broadcasters. The ideas discussed in the Allsorts Online 09 panel discussion, in Adelaide last week, challenged conventions and offered new perspectives on how the cultural sector operates. Allsorts09 drew on different media, arts and academic practices to start thinking about the future of the collecting sector in new ways. The sector will be able to contribute to Australia’s National Cultural Policy through the Government’s current public consultation process.

Chris Winter (ABC Innovation), Sandra McEwen (Powerhouse Museum) and Angelina Russo (Swinburne University). Photography by Tasmanian Museum and Art Gallery Social Media Co-ordinator Brent Blackburn

Swinburne University academic Angelina Russo opened the discussion on the future of cultural institutions by focusing on the connections between broadcasters and the collecting sector. She suggested the future of the museum will be as publisher and broadcaster. Curators will become commissioning editors. Ms Russo cited four examples where relationships have been built between media organisations and cultural organisations.

*Smithsonian Channel set up with an online television channel with Showtime Networks to capitalise on it extensive collection.
*Who Do You Think You Are? BBC and SBS broadcast archival material into living rooms about the family history of celebrities. This brought amateur genealogists back into the collecting sector as they researched their own histories. Who Do You Think You Are? strengthened the relationship between museums, archives, the offical sponsor and the BBC and SBS.
*Origins of Australian Football website looked at the history of AFL using the State Library of Victoria collection. The library used a major celebrity (AFL) to push content out and then drew on people’s curiosities to bring the audience back in.
*Te Papa and the Colossal Squid. Te Papa filmed the public defrosting of the squid donated to the museum frozen using a web cam. Discovery Channel was invited to make a documentary and TV journalists were also present. Te Papa web team blogged, tweeted answering an active respoionse from the international scientist community. This built strong public interest in the lead-up to the exhibition over the next six months. The exhibition was tied in with public lectures, a children’s programme and an online 3-D game involving building your own squid.

The Allsorts09 panellists were: Susannah Elliot from the Science Media Centre suggested a Sarah Keith (SBS), Ingrid Mason (Collections Australia Network), Sandra McEwen (Powerhouse Museum), Fee Plumley (Australia Council), Angelina Russo (Swinburne University) and Chris Winter (ABC Innovation).

ABC Innovation Manager New Services Chris Winter has been actively working to remove the boundaries between the collecting sector and the national broadcaster. He believes collecting institutions like the Powerhouse Museum and State Library of NSW see the ABC as an attractive platform to showcase its material through projects like Sydney Sidetracks. Mr Winter also looked at the changing way broadcasters present stories. Four Corners, for example, airs its documentary on ABC1 while repackaging it for the web with timelines, maps, edits and behind-the-scenes interviews. These different formats attract different age groups. Ms Russo agreed that broadcasters and the collecting sector are natural partners. They need to support each other but do not necessarily need to collaborate. She also identified republishing and repurposing as the next point of tension.

SBS National Manager Client Solutions Sarah Keith agreed with Mr Winter that broadcasters have become a content delivery business and can no longer afford to look at themselves as producing television and web material separately. SBS focuses on content and audience as an overall brand approach. SBS no longer has a Director of Television and a Director of Online but it has a Director of Content. This wholistic approach operates in the advertising department where the SBS sales team sells across platforms. They look at which audiences SBS needs to connect with and who they want to partner with.

The cultural sector is going through an identity crisis, says Collections Australia Network National Project Manager Ingrid Mason, who believes cultural institutions need to ‘get to grips with what they are actually supposed to be doing’ onsite and online. They should be drawing on skills used in the media, the arts and academia to achieve its core function. The blurring lines between these sectors is a necessary function for success, Ms Mason says.

The role of Web 2.0 in the collecting sector has increasingly significant in the last few years. Creative Commons Clinic Project Manager Jessica Coates remembered only a couple of years ago people were worried that posted comments would undermine a curator’s authority. Now conversation has come a long way. A speaker in the audience articulated the importance of museums positioning themselves as an authorative figure in the education system as students needed trusted sources.

Arts Council Digital Programs Officer Fee Plumley stressed that people find their own trusted sources. ‘We find an aggregator that provides reliable information. We are all experts in something. The didactic approach of only one expert is outmoded. It is great that we all get to be experts in one field,’ Ms Plumely said. She also emphasised that as more people participate in the online environment, traditional sources will be more highly valued. People will want to pay for high resolution photographs as more low resolution photographs are seen on the Internet.

Museums take authority very seriously, says the Powerhouse Museum’s Prinicpal Curator Sandra McEwen. There is a need to maintain boundaries yet museums realise people are learning in different ways and so they need to deliver truth in an entertaining way. The ABC has come to realise the way news has to be delivered is based on social capital. There is tension between social capital and maintaining the brand, says Mr Winter.

Science Media Centre Chief Executive Officer Susannah Elliot’s is wary of the blurring lines and news services maintaining credibility. Lobby groups infiltrating the news broadcast process. Ms Elliot stressed the need to ensure separation between lobby and evidence-based information.

Allsorts Online 09 ended with some exciting possibilties for future partnerships and collaborations with the collecting sector and the media. Both entities need to have a conversation with its audiences and both draw on archives to share and preserve cultural heritage. Web 2.0 has made way for an exciting future and a new way of looking at collections.

Sarah Rhodes

Top image caption: High heeled shoe on tricycle, `Liquorice Allsorts’, designed by Ross Wallace, used in `Parade of Icons’ Sydney 2000 Olympic Games Closing Ceremony, Sydney 2000. Collection: Powerhouse Museum, Sydney. Part of the Sydney 2000 Games Collection. Gift of the New South Wales Government, 2001.


Calculating the impact of your online collection: Ingrid Mason (CAN)

How do you calculate the impact of your collection online? CAN’s National Project Manager Ingrid Mason will be discussing this topic at the Allsorts Online Masterclasses in Adelaide on December 2. This YouTube video offers a little taste of what is to come.

A series of masterclasses for curators, writers, artists, online producers and education specialists to learn and share insights and skills for work on the Web. The masterclasses cater for professionals from the collecting sector, academia, the arts, and media who want an injection of knowledge and inspiration in making collection material publicly accessible and usable and to build up community interest and participation in digital ventures. Please register now.

Session 1: Arts as a Living Culture (Gavin Artz, ANAT and Fee Plumley, Australia Council)
Session 2: Cultural Digital Storytelling (Gavin Bannerman, SLQ)
Session 3: Community Building with Social Media Tools (Ellen Forsyth, SLNSW)
Session 4: Collections Online: Ideas and Issues (Ingrid Mason, CAN)

Event: Allsorts Online Masterclasses
Date: December 2
Venue: Australian Network for Art and Technology (ANAT) and the Royal Institution of Australia (RiAus)
Cost: $250 per 3-hour session
Time: 9am – Noon, 1pm – 4pm

Registration: Register now
For more information, click here


‘Not So Innocent Objects’ bring new collections to CAN

The Collections Australia Network is successfully building its national collection database through the development of thematic online stories. The first project, Not So Innocent Objects, has been made into a two-part series and uploaded onto YouTube. The Not So Innocent Objects video was shown during the National Public Galleries Summit, in Townsville last month, to demonstrate how online collections can facilitate relationships across the sector. The connection between the glass plate negative of the crime scene where 12 year-old Alma Tirtschke was murdered, and Charles Blackman’s ‘Fleeing Schoolgirl’ is a perfect example of how galleries, libraries, archives and museums can work together to tell a story.

Forensic glass plate negative showing where 12-year-old Alma Tirtschke was murdered in Gun Alley, near Little Collins Street in 1921, Victoria Police Museum.

Charles Blackman, ‘Fleeing Schoolgirl’, Print, planographic, 1953, National Gallery of Australia. The ‘Schoolgirl’ series was inspired by the murder of Alma Tirtschke.

Goulburn Regional Art Gallery director Jane Cush approached Ingrid Mason immediately after the viewing asking how the gallery’s collection could be uploaded to CAN. Since then we have collected their catalogue and uploaded it to our database. More about that next week.

While the project inspired many collecting institutions to upload part of their collection to CAN for the first time, Zac Lambert uploaded the second stage of The Rocks Discovery Museum collection. It now has more than 4000 objects online and is only accessible through CAN. State Records NSW also built on its existing collection.

Please welcome the following collections to the CAN online database:
Mackay Regional Library, Queensland
Victoria Police Museum, Victoria
Justice and Police Museum, Sydney, New South Wales
Australian Federal Police Museum, Australian Capital Territory
Queen Victoria Museum and Art Gallery, Launceston, Tasmania
(These collections cannot be accessed online anywhere else except through CAN.)

Take a look at the CAN Partners who have built on their existing collections:
The Rocks Discovery Museum, Sydney, NSW
State Records NSW, Sydney, NSW

Email Sarah Rhodes if you would like to take part in a thematic story project.


‘Sticking your neck out: leaders in different fields’ – Ingrid Mason

Last week Sarah Rhodes and I attended the Fourth National Public Galleries Summit Raise Your Voice organised by Museum and Gallery Services, Queensland in partnership with industry bodies from Australia and New Zealand. I understand that recordings from the sessions will become available online soon on the M&GSQ website – which is a great move. In conversation with some of the attendees and through listening to the presentations on regional projects it became clear that leadership in the galleries sector is thriving, particularly at a regional level. Leadership can be an individual, it can often take just one person to make a difference, leadership can also be a group of driven practitioners. The galleries sector in Queensland are demonstrating the power of collaboration and this cohesiveness is reflected in part in the development of a travelling exhibition – Twelve Degrees of Latitude.

Toowoomba Regional Art Gallery.

Alasdair MACINTYRE. The artist in society 1.01, 2004. Polymer clay, plastic, rubber, cardboard, wood, paper and synthetic polymer paint. 140.0 x 46.0 x 28.0 cm. Collection: Toowoomba Regional Art Gallery.


An initiative of Museum and Gallery Services Queensland, this landmark exhibition was launched at Perc Tucker Regional Gallery in Townsville as a part of the Summit and celebrations for Queensland’s 150th year. Curated by Bettina MacAulay and Brett Adlington it features artworks from 27 regional and university galleries across Queensland. The power of shared interest, the careful planning and problem solving is fuelled by the shared enthusiasm of the participants in making it happen; in the exhibition itself, its travelling programme and the array of artworks. The gallery visitors who take in the exhibition and attend gallery events and/or educational programmes will draw all kinds of value from this: art for art’s sake, art as a means of accessing history, art representing the diverse gallery collections, art as a stimulus for creativity, galleries as cultural spaces, etc.

Lisa Sassella, National Gallery of Victoria

Lisa Sassella, National Gallery of Victoria


A Summit workshop I attended was run by Lisa Sassella from the National Gallery of Victoria. Lisa talked about the market segmentation of visitors and participants in gallery exhibitions and events and shared her knowledge of the NGV’s audience. What was fabulous about this session was the openness and interest Lisa showed in sharing information and in talking about her understanding of the breakdown of a gallery audience (the NGV’s that is) and how that may, or may not, differ to that of a museum, or another gallery. CAN hopes to profile Lisa at some point – Lisa’s an active and interested practitioner in the galleries sector and in her own way a leader in her field. This is what I mean about leadership coming in many forms and clusters in the field; by development officers, outreach coordinators, curators and marketing managers… and that’s just those that work in or allied to public access galleries. Leadership may be professionally related, that is, exploring new concepts or theories, or phenomena in a domain… or… it may be about stimulating social change and/or breaking with convention or patterns of the past.

CAN website put through the Shredder 1.0

CAN website put through the Shredder 1.0


On the afternoon session of day two chaired by David Cranswick from d/Lux/MediaArts, four new media artists talked about their works and what challenges and issues arise from working in galleries and being new media artists. All of the artists talked about taking risks with their work and how important it was to leave themselves open to their own discovery processes and to work in collaboration with galleries when they were installing their works. These artists were frank about their concerns about relinquishing care and control of their artworks and how their artworks were experienced. Mari Velonaki talked about a work of hers that required people to eat apples in front of an art work and how much to her surprise exhibition goers didn’t eat the apples but took them away instead. I wondered why that might have been and mused that perhaps the long held traditions of “NO FOOD” in galleries might have been one reason – and – that there are good reasons not to eat apples or, in the case of Stella Brennan, take a spa, in traditional gallery spaces but that doesn’t mean you can’t break with convention and take a few risks.


Leadership is about sticking your neck(s) out, taking risks and seeing what happens. What I came away from the Summit with was a very good understanding that the gallery sector has an incredible level of talent and expertise in visual literacy and I look forward to seeing that energy and enthusiasm reflected in more gallery collections going up online.


What about collection level description?: Ingrid Mason

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

The water... is one resource!!!!


2. The rights issues over the content, i.e. moral and intellectual property rights

All Rights Reserved


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
and weaknesses.

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.


Identify and then target each audience type differently

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

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

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

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

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

Sarah Rhodes


Local objects global stories – our Museums Australia conference paper 2009

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

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

CAN national project manager Ingrid Mason

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

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

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

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

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

Sarah Rhodes


Kia ora, Greetings..

Ingrid Mason: CAN National Project Manager



I started last week as the national project manger for CAN. I decided it would be good to put a face to a name, and I look forward to meeting some of the CAN Partners at the Museums Australia conference in Newcastle in a couple of weeks (16-20 May) in Newcastle, NSW.


As you know, CAN is posited in the Powerhouse Museum, Sydney and CAN service reach out across Australia and beyond. The Powerhouse Museum is familiar territory for me – I worked here as a web content editor and reference librarian about six years ago.  The rest of the community out there however are a big ‘unknown’ and I hope to become better acquainted with you.. and to learn some more ways of saying ‘hi’.  My latest acquisitions are ‘buongiorno’ and ‘privet’ thanks to Italian and Russian colleagues at University of Sydney (where I’ve just been working). The greetings above though, along with talofa lava, malo e lelei, kia orana, are a means of giving you all a hint that I’m from Aotearoa – New Zealand and I am an Australian citizen, with a soft spot for Pacific culture, and a love of diversity, different cultures, and things digital.


Work-wise, gladly, I am in very good hands: Seb Chan from the Powerhouse Museum is briefing me on where CAN is at strategically, Joy Suliman (now in the SoundHouse Vector Lab at the Powerhouse Museum, Sydney) is in the process of handing over CAN operations to me, Luke Dearnley is slowly acquainting me with things technical and Sarah Rhodes is easing me into the CAN website and blog.

Professional Background

To give you a bit of professional information about me: my background is in library and information management and I have interests in technology and research and a background digital cultural heritage and business development.  Prior to taking up this role I worked as the special projects manager (Digital Innovation Unit) at the University of Sydney.  In previous roles I have: managed a university digital repository, lead a web archiving team, and contributed to developing the requirements for the National Digital Heritage Archive in New Zealand.  So… I have a bit of cross-sector experience.. and I’m keen for more…and I look forward to working with the CAN community and across sectors.