Posts Tagged ‘Powerhouse 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


GLAM Transmedia

A story becomes richer when it is experienced in multiple platforms. This is the underlying principle behind transmedia production — a technique increasingly being used by publishing, broadcasters, the advertising industry and now the cultural sector to promote a product, like an exhibition. Marketing and publicity are relying less on the traditional forms of advertising and are using stories to promote an idea. Museums and other collecting institutions have an advantage in using this strategy because they do not have to invent a strong narrative — history has already written the script.

The CAN Outreach Blog has asked the directors of two production companies specialising in this area how cultural organisations can adopt this communication style on a budget – Nathan Anderson, of Envelop Entertainment, and Jennifer Wilson, of The Project Factory. Ms Wilson says the key to a successful transmedia strategy is to ensure messages on both platforms are consistent but not interdependent. One of the most recent projects she has worked on in this field is designing a game for the ABC’s animation series The gradual demise of Phillipa Finch by artist Emma Magenta. The game is designed to be played on all smartphone devices. Ms Wilson says the player does not need to have watched the television show to play the game and vice versa.

There are exciting possibilities for museums to develop transmedia stories within the exhibition space using a mix of mobile devices, print media and public programmes. Ms Wilson suggests institutions could develop their exhibitions by integrating apps into the experience — using augmented reality to contextualise the object, offering more information about its history through collection access and to transform the artefact into the subject of interactive games.

Augmented reality applications are readily available to download for free on smartphones and can be used to enhance the museum viewer experience. Mobile augmented reality browsers Junaio and Layar take the museum experience into the virtual space. Sydney-based mobile and online innovation company, MOB Labs, has been experimenting with the Powerhouse Museum’s historic photographs using Layar. Ms Wilson is excited by the possibilities Junaio offers. Reality can be augmented by altering the longitude, latitude and altitude points in the mobile phone. For example, holding the phone up to view an Egyptian mummy in a museum can transport the viewer to a pyramid outside Cairo.

Mr Anderson set-up a transmedia production company and studio in early 2009 to meet this growing trend of cross-platform entertainment. Game development is particularly significant in television and film industries, with soap operas starting to use online games. Museums, galleries and libraries are increasingly needing to compete with mainstream leisure activities, like sporting matches and television, so they are turning to developing games to deepen the audience’s experience with the story or product. This has meant games are flooding the market making it a highly competitive medium.

The Tate Britain developed iPhone game Tate Trumps that encourages players to think about its art collection from a different perspective. Players build a deck of cards from the Tate’s collection of artworks. Players can choose to play one of three games – mood, battle and collector – using the principles of ‘paper, scissors, rock’ to see which artwork out plays the other. Viewers can play the game in the gallery or at home. Mr Anderson says the game met two main principles of a successful campaign – crossing over into the real world and creating a social experience.

Museums could adopt a similar campaign to that of the History Channel / foursquare partnership. Using the principles of play, foursquare takes participants to the site of the Gettysburg address. Mr Anderson believes this is more powerful than the documentary screened on television. On the flip-side, foursquare may not have enough participants in Australia to support this type of project unless it became part of a specific school program.

The ABC has recently experimented with alternate reality games which sit on the boundary between education and entertainment. Sam Doust developed a web-based documentary and game based on a leading atmospheric science researcher who whistleblows on the philanthropic project Bluebird. This project was viewed as having limited success as there were a small number of viewers but each one was highly engaged.

For those interested in this field, there is a site with a collection of blog posts on transmedia production.


Powerhouse Museum Object Name Thesaurus live: Susan Davidson


The Powerhouse Museum has recently put its Object Name Thesaurus onto its website. So it is now finally available for everyone to easily access and use. We hope it can be as valuable a tool for other collecting institutions to use in the management of their collection information, as it is for us here at the Powerhouse.

The Powerhouse first developed this thesaurus back in the early 1990s to standardise the terminology used to describe its own collection. With a collection of around 400,000 objects we saw the need for an effective way to organise information in our database to make searching for objects easy and precise. The Thesaurus was first published in 1995 as the Powerhouse Museum Collection Thesaurus, but has been out of print for many years. We are finally able to provide this updated PDF version of the thesaurus in its alphabetical format via our website.

The purpose of the Powerhouse Museum Object Name Thesaurus is to provide object name terms within an Australian context, for indexing museum collections. It also provides a controlled vocabulary that facilitates easier searching of collection databases for specific object types.

One of the strengths of the thesaurus is its Australian focus. While it does include terminology from around the world, it specifically includes object name terms in common use in Australia. The Powerhouse Museum Object Name Thesaurus is the only thesaurus for object names that recognises Australian usage and spelling.

There are currently about 8,600 terms in the thesaurus that name or categorise object types. It can aid searching for objects across your collection database by ensuring that the same term is used consistently to describe similar objects. It formally organises relationships between terms in a hierarchical structure so that the relationships are explicit.

Another advantage of using a thesaurus is that it can assist in the general understanding of a subject area. A thesaurus can provide a ‘semantic map’ by showing the inter-relationship between objects and help to provide definitions of terms. This is particularly true for the Powerhouse Museum Object Name Thesaurus which can provide a greater understanding of an object and the relationships between different types of objects.

The Object Name Thesaurus is an intrinsic part of the Powerhouse collection database. The thesaurus is maintained within our collection database and so is a ‘living document’ constantly being updated with new terms added and old terms reorganised as we continue in the perpetual task of documenting our collection.

Recently we entered into an agreement with the National Museum of Australia (NMA) to provide an electronic version of the thesaurus, which they now use within their EMu database. This has benefited the thesaurus by the addition of a number of terms to match objects in the NMA collection. It is possible for any institution to obtain an electronic, text-based version of the thesaurus which also provides the hierarchical structure of the thesaurus. To discuss possibilities for your institution to use the Powerhouse thesaurus, or if you would just like more information about the thesaurus, please contact me via email: Susan Davidson.


‘Object of the Week’ blog at the Powerhouse Museum: Melanie Pitkin

Beavering away behind-the-scenes of any museum are collections focused staff (curators, registrars and conservators) working on lively projects, exhibitions, object acquisitions and research papers. Much of this work is only ever experienced by audiences as an end product, as a display in the museum; a publication or event. In light of this and the fact that museums’ only ever have 3-5% of their collection on public display at any one time, the Powerhouse Museum has turned to collections blogging as a way of improving access, dialogue and transparency in museum practice.

Approaching our one year anniversary, the blog was initially setup by Erika Dicker (science and industry guru extraordinaire!) in March, 2009, before I joined her as co-manager a few months later. We post three times a week on all aspects of the Museum’s collection (organised by theme) including architecture, fashion, space, transport, decorative arts, health and medicine and design, along with some other quirky and insightful categories like the mystery object, meet the curator and boring looking objects that tell amazing stories! We’ve also recently started a thread with guest bloggers and curators. In other words, anything goes!

Earoscope, metal/wood, [USA], 1893, © Powerhouse Museum all rights reserved
Earoscope, 1893, USA, Powerhouse Museum, © all rights reserved

But, not only do we seek to expose our collections; it is also an opportunity for us to discover and share in the personal stories and associations our readers have had with these, and similar, objects. By blogging on our collections, we’ve already identified previously unidentified curiosities (the Earoscope), established more detailed ownership histories (the Dior suit) and fired up heated discussions (the Centenary of Powered Flight debate) thanks to the comments we receive from readers! ‘Object of the Week’ is a rich soup of objects, history, nostalgia, eccentricities and ideas.

Email Design & Society Curator Melanie Pitkin or Erika Dicker for any more information about setting up a blog.


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.


Finding Common Ground between the web and the museum: Powerhouse Museum

Finding common ground between the visceral and the virtual is the next challenge for cultural institutions as they work hard to engage new audiences and meet the needs of existing ones. As curators, public program developers and web teams collaborate on innovative projects, institutions are finding themselves participating with communities in a way they never have before.

Common Ground at the Powerhouse Museum, digitally altered, courtesy of the Powerhouse Museum

In one of the most exciting applications of social media to date, cultural institutions across three continents are joining forces to project the Flickr Commons community’s favourite images in one worldwide outdoor event. The Powerhouse Museum and the State Library of New South Wales will work together to invite their online communities to the front steps of the Powerhouse. The State Library of Queensland and the Australian War Memorial will be hosting their own Common Ground. In the United States, George Eastman House, State Library and Archives of Florida, the Oregon State University Archives and the Brooklyn Museum are taking part. The Swedish National Heritage Board, is representing Europe. The festival of photography will happen simultaneously across the US, Australia and Scandinavia (according to the timezone, October 3 @ 6.30pm).

Election night crowd, Wellington, 1931, William Hall Raine, Alexander Turnbull Library, Flickr Commons / National Library NZ

Dubbed as a community-curated event, photography-lovers will congregate on the Harris St forecourt to watch their favourite images projected onto the Powerhouse Museum’s façade. There will be talks by curators and the Museum’s Flickr community. Principal Curator Matthew Connell will tell the stories behind some of his favourite images while Assistant Curator Geoff Barker will explain how to look after an historic photography collection. Bob Meade will talk about how his involvement in Flickr has turned him into a detective or citizen journalist. National Library of Australia web developer Paul Hagon will discuss his project that enables the community to geo-tag contemporary images alongside historic images on Google Streetview.

Participatory experience researcher Nina Simon wrote in her blog Museum 2.0 that there is ‘a problem of making the visceral as relevant, dynamic, and interesting as the virtual. If you do fabulous things online and not onsite, your online audiences will show up and be disappointed. They will feel deceived’. She used the Powerhouse and Brooklyn museums as examples. ‘You join the Brooklyn Museum’s posse. You tag your brains out on the Powerhouse online collection database. And then you show up in person and feel jilted.’ Institutions worldwide are uniting tomorrow night to find Common Ground.

Take a look at the images from the Common Ground event on the Flickr Commons discussion board or the Indicommons Blog next week.


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.”


Not So Innocent Objects: a digital story

Not So Innocent Objects is a five-minute video threading stories about seemingly ordinary objects together to reveal their dark and often emotionally-charged nature. The Collections Australia Network invited Victoria Police Museum Public Programs Curator Kate Spinks to develop a concept based on the theme of ‘crime and punishment’. She came up with the concept Not So Innocent Objects to illustrate that collections often comprise of unremarkable objects with intriguing stories.



CAN Outreach wanted to start a project that actively worked with institutions of all sizes to upload their collections to the national heritage collection database. Once Kate sent through the working concept and five objects from the Victoria Police Museum collection, CAN invited nine other institutions to submit material. This project enabled CAN to collaborate with galleries, libraries, archives and museums. The video showcases a small selection of the 50 items sourced from the ten organisations. A Google Earth tour will also be made over the next few days to explore the full collection of the not so innocent objects uploaded to CAN. It can be seen on the collectionsaustralia YouTube channel.


The participating institutions are the Justice and Police Museum (Sydney), State Records NSW (Sydney), The Rocks Discovery Museum (Sydney), Mackay Regional Library (Queensland), Queen Victoria Museum and Art Gallery (Launceston), National Gallery of Australia (Canberra), Australian Federal Police Museum (Canberra), Museum of Old and New Art (Hobart), National Museum of Australia (Canberra) and the Victoria Police Museum (Melbourne).


CAN made this movie using the free software – iMovie and Google Earth. The Powerhouse Museum’s creative media training suite Thinkspace recorded the voiceover but this can be also done using the free software Audacity and the microphone on your computer.


CAN is now working with the National Museum of Australia senior curator Richard Reid in sourcing success stories about Irish professionals in Australia. This project will help the National Museum of Australia source material for its Irish in Australia exhibition to open on St Patrick’s Day 2010. More importantly, it will help institutions of all sizes to promote their own collections. Once the Irish professionals story has been posted on YouTube in early October, institutions participating in the project will be able to embed the video into their own websites or play it in their exhibition space alongside the items they have submitted to CAN.


For more information on how to be part of the CAN digital stories projects, email Sarah Rhodes.


Connections and calibrations: Philippa Rossiter

Research librarian Philippa Rossiter talks about the idiosyncracies that can develop when books are acquired around a museum’s collection and exhibition program. The Powerhouse Museum and Research Library have grown in tandem since 1880. In that time, the library has formed a wonderfully eclectic range of books, catalogued to facilitate interesting connections.

Connections and calibration: Climbing Muellers Peak, Summer, Tyrrell Photographic Collection, Powerhouse Museum.

The Powerhouse Museum Research Library collection has been developed in parallel with the Museum object collection to reflect what and how the Museum collects. With a content that underpins exhibitions and programmes, the Library principally supports curatorial research. It also supports the corporate objectives of Museum management.

Aeronautical history, design, antiques, ceramics/pottery, costume and costume history, technology and society, numismatics, philately, textile crafts, textile making, music, interior decoration, jewellery, photography, physics, glass, graphics, fashion design, furniture, museology … the diversity of subject areas makes it hard to describe the Powerhouse Museum Research Library’s collection. Perhaps it’s best summed up as eclectic: technology and decorative arts intersecting within a social history context.

Over the last 129 years, it has been growing steadily through a combination of purchases and donations. There is virtually no weeding, as older publications are indispensible in providing a record (ie snapshot) of a particular era. Thus the Research Library’s collection presently consists of approximately 40,000 items that include books, serials, and audiovisual material. These are catalogued to the third (and highest) level of description within AACR2, using the Dewey and LCSH classification systems.

The aim is for browsability, which suits our internal clients. Even when Dewey numbers have changed, we’ve retained the earlier sequence because it is easier for our users. Some numbers within the museology subject area have been re-located, but we retain the older classification as it enhances browsability of the museology collection. In common with many special library collections, idiosyncrasies and in-house conventions are maintained. For instance, following the request of curatorial staff many years ago, books on pottery and porcelain are arranged by country rather than by material or forms.

This style of cataloguing has resulted in a vibrant collection that is highly accessible. The detailed descriptions allow for intricate calibrations that result in rich returns when searching. As a reference librarian, I am constantly surprised and delighted by unexpected connections in subject areas. For the Library staff, our years of experience as users and interpreters of the Research Library’s resources have provided us with an instinct for knowing what fits the collection and what does not. We are fortunate to be able to say that the Library collection is a joy to work with.

Email Philippa for more on cataloguing special library collections.


Links: a blog directory for librarians

The national and state libraries across the country are producing some excellent blogs that are worth subscribing to. In particular, that National Library of Australia discusses the ‘Michael Jackson Effect’ in its Library labs Blog. It focuses on the same questions discussed in last week’s CAN Outreach Blog about whether the cultural sector should be reacting to international events to attract audiences. The State Library of Queensland engages in an active and dynamic dialogue between its library and exhibition space and its community. The John Oxley Library Blog is very connected with its community, focusing on social history. At Our Table publishes recipes and stories from the people of Queensland. There is a childrens book club and exhibitions blog.

Links: Film star Helen Twelvetrees on an elephant, Taronga Park Zoo, Sydney, 1936-7, photograph by Sam Hood, Flickr Commons/ State Library of NSW

Here is a list of the blogs from their peers around the country
National Library of Australia
State Library of Queensland
State Library of Victoria
State Library of Western Australia
State Library of New South Wales has embarked on their blog sites with limited enthusiasm. A successful exhibition promotion used a blog to promote Andrew Zuckerman’s Wisdom by running a competition for the person who could submit the best ‘words of wisdom’. The entries can still be read online. My favourite is: ‘Wisdom is a measure of how much you know you do not yet know’. Posted by: Austin Caffin, 18 October 2008 12:55.

As an aside, I thought I would publish two wiki library blog directories. Blog Without a Library is an international wiki for public libraries. It breaks down the blogs into categories: academic, public, school, special libraries which includes corporate and government or anything that is not part of the former libraries listed. There is a list of blogs for internal staff communication within a library, library associations and library directors.

There is also the Australian public library blog directory Aussie Library Blogs: Libraries Interact. Many of these blogs have not been updated for a while but it is interesting to see how individual librarians are using Web 2.0 compared with public institutions. While this article focuses on cultural institutions Lorcan Dempsey’s blog is highly regarded and has pride of place on the CAN Outreach Blogroll.


Michael Jackson exhibit turned into a shrine at the Powerhouse Museum

Many people are talking about dynamic and progressive ways of bringing objects to life on the Web. But there is often a disparity between what is happening online and on the floor of the galleries, libraries, archives and museums (GLAM). When visitors come to a cultural institution they often say- ‘I expected a dynamic and energised museum, more like its website’.

The Powerhouse Museum has recognised this issue and has taken steps to be responsive to its community. Within five hours of the announcement of Michael Jackson’s death, the official crew jacket from the ‘Bad’ tour in 1987 was put out on display in the main foyer as a tribute to the “King of Pop”. The monogrammed jacket was donated by the Museum’s staff member Adam Takesce – it was given to him during the ‘Bad’ tour while he worked for CBS records. This was part of the Museum’s display set up in the star’s honour which included a Michael Jackson doll, swap cards, the Thriller album cover and a condolence book for visitors to write messages in. The marketing department sent out a press release attracting instant media attention, from extensive national coverage on the ABC, TV channels 7, 9, and 10 and Peter Cox gave five radio interviews that linked to the forthcoming 80s exhibition. The display has been turned into a shrine by fans who, in just a week, have nearly filled the book with messages and have left flowers and a card. Online supported the Museum exhibit with Erika Dicker’s Object of the Week blog publishing a piece about Jackson.

The Powerhouse Museum’s actions were inspired by ‘agent for change’ Elaine Gurian – author of the book The Blue Ocean Museum. Elaine describes ‘museums as soup kitchens’ that need to serve the needs of their community. She suggested the GLAM sector needs to find a balance between thinking like a media agency (reacting to events in society) and behaving like a social commentator (interpreting these events from a distance). This way people will look up to GLAMs in times of change. They will remain experts. Not through top-down instruction but through facilitation, interpretation and community building. Nina Simon has discussed this idea in further detail on her Museum 2.0 blog.


Digital storytelling: “Inside the Vault @ Powerhouse Museum”

Rita Orsini talks about how the Powerhouse Museum is using digital storytelling to bring museum objects to life. Not only are these pieces of the collection rarely seen but their stories have not had the opportunity to be shared in so much detail. Rita is the second guest writer in our series.

Three months ago I was appointed assistant curator in Total Asset Management at the Powerhouse Museum. My role was to research the Collection and upgrade the documentation about the history and significance of objects. This documentation is placed online and available through the Museum’s website.

I saw that a way to increase access to the Collection was to provide an instantaneous and easy point of entry to this documentation through short videos about the objects, a little teaser to whet the appetite, uploaded on You Tube and other relevant sites. This series Inside the Vault @ Powerhouse Museum takes the Powerhouse Museum Collection onto the Internet and unveils extraordinary stories behind objects usually tucked away in the Museum’s vault.

Every object tells a fantastic story. They often also resonate or have direct links with our world today.

Episode 1 – the Transatlantic Cable (Object number B2158)

Go to YouTube to find out the story of the first transatlantic submarine telegraph cable told by Matthew Connell, Curator of Computing and Mathematics. It is a story of grand plans, human folly and triumph, advances in technology and communication. There are strong parallels between these cables, which connected for the first time Europe and America in 1858, and what is happening in the world today with instantaneous global communication and the world wide web.

Episode 2: the Traeger Pedal (Object number B2125)

Head to YouTube to hear the story of the Traeger Pedal told by Curator of Computing and Mathematics, Matthew Connell. The Traeger Pedal, developed by Alfred Traeger in 1928, represents a significant milestone in the history of communication in Australia and was integral to the development and success of the AIM Aerial Medical Service (later known as the Royal Flying Doctor Service). Pedal-power is having a resurgence today and is the subject of research in institutions around the world. The Technical University of Madrid recently won an award for developing a pedal system enabling students to power their laptops while using them. Students at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT) designed a similar pedal-power generator to support the campus energy-saving goals as part of their IT Energy@MIT Initiative.

Episode 3: AWA Microphone and the Sydney Harbour Bridge (Object number 2007/147/1)

On YouTube curator Matthew Connell relates the story of a small block of marble packed with graphite granules. It is in fact the very microphone used at the official opening ceremony of the Sydney Harbour Bridge on 19 March 1932.

What makes the microphone especially significant is that it was signed by ten of the dignitaries officiating at the launch, including the NSW Premier Jack Lang, NSW Governor Philip Game and the Bridge’s Chief Engineer, JJC Bradfield. Thanks to this simple devise we are able to hear their voices today and witness the unveiling of a great Aussie icon, the Sydney Harbour Bridge, which symbolised progress, pride and hope for people at a time of great economic depression. All images courtesy of Mitchell Library, State Library of NSW. Footage courtesy of Collection of the National Film and Sound Archive’ & ‘Australianscreen Online’.

Rita Orsini


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


Geo-tagging and mapping

Geo-tagging and mapping historical photographs makes photography collections more accessible to the general public. It opens up opportunities for people to research the locations and content of images which can be then ingested back into the institutions’ database.

Photo-sharing website Flickr runs The Commons for cultural institutions to upload their historical photography collections under a Creative Commons licence. Once the images are in The Commons, it is easy to locate these images on Google Maps. Paul Hagon has used a Google Street View mash-up to compare ‘then’ and ‘now’ photographs from the Powerhouse Museum’s Tyrrell Today Collection. Indicommons has published a wrap-up of institutions around the world exploring this idea.

Wired magazine goes into greater detail about what technology you can use to achieve successful geo-tagging and mapping.

Sarah Rhodes