Cultural Heritage

A UKOLN Blog for the Cultural Heritage sector (now archived)

Archive for the 'Museums' Category

Searching by Colour at the Hermitage

Posted by Brian Kelly on 7th February 2011

How useful is this approach to finding a book or a piece of art work? It’s not uncommon for people to remember that a book had a red cover or that the woman in the painting wore a blue dress but library catalogues and museum databases haven’t traditionally indexed items in this way.

One museum that is doing this is the Hermitage Museum in St. Petersburg with IBM’s experimental Query By Image Content (QBIC) search technology. You can search by colour – set the colour and the amount of that colour in the painting and click search. I tried specifying yellow as the main colour and got back a variety of portraits with yellow backgrounds. You can also do a Layout Search where you not only specify the colour (I chose pink this time) but also the area of the image in which it occurs and then click search. My three pink ovals, which I thought might bring up some paintings of flowers brought up a variety of pictures with pink in them but no flower paintings.

This reminded me of a presentation at the CILIP Cataloguing and Indexing Group 2006 Conference in Exeter.  ‘Image, shape and multimedia resource discovery‘ by Stefan Ruger was a fascinating exploration of non-verbal ways of searching. The PDF of his slides is available at

If your institution has been experimenting along these lines, either add a comment or why not email me ( about writing a guest post on your experiences for this blog.

Posted in Museums | 1 Comment »

Decoding Art

Posted by Brian Kelly on 10th January 2011

About this Guest Post

Martin Grimes is the Web Manager for Manchester City Galleries. He can be contacted at

Decoding Art: Delivering interpretation about public artworks to mobiles

What’s that weird blocky thing?

A little over two years ago independent consultant Julian Tomlin worked with Manchester Art Gallery to trial the use of QR codes to deliver interpretive content about six objects in the gallery’s Revealing Histories: Remembering Slavery trail.

Image of QR label

QR label

Large QR code labels were placed beside the object labels and each of these linked to a specially created web page which had further text information and in some cases an audio clip about the object. A guide leaflet was produced and Visitor Service staff were briefed about the pilot – mainly so they could answer the frequent question, ‘What’s that weird blocky thing?

There’s little doubt that this pilot was ahead of the curve in terms of public recognition of QR codes in the UK and it’s difficult to say for sure how many of the visits to the web pages were made by gallery visitors and how many were made via links on the technology sites that reviewed the pilot.

Fast-forward two years and the landscape has changed significantly, QR codes are becoming almost mainstream in the UK. With this awareness in mind, at the beginning of this year we re-visited the use of QR codes as a means of delivering interpretive content to mobile phones, but this time out in the public spaces of the city. Building on the work done by gallery placement student Marek Pilny, which used Google Maps to mark the geographical location of most of the public artworks in Manchester Art Gallery’s care ( we again worked with Julian Tomlin to investigate how we might use QR codes or other location based technologies to deliver interpretative material to people’s mobile phones as they came across artworks in the city.

Decoding Art

We embarked on a pilot that aimed to discover:

  • Whether QR codes are a viable method to do this
  • What the practical and technical issues might be
  • How existing online content might need to be adapted or developed
  • Whether new forms of content – audio for instance – are feasible
  • What the take-up will be – are QR codes recognised by a wider public, what content types are most effective?
  • How we can enable users to feedback or contribute to the content
Image of smartphone and QR label

Using a smart phone to get information about an item

Julian conducted research that looked at QR code origination methods, symbol versions, optimum label size, performance of the labels at different locations on the works and in different light levels and label fabrication options. We also did some limited testing with a number of mobile phones with different screen sizes and different operating systems.

Testing also included looking closely at two methods of mounting the labels, adhesion and physical fixing. Each work in the pilot had a unique base and had different types of inscription or information panels, so finding an approach that would work across all has been perhaps the most difficult and time-consuming aspect of the project, involving extensive testing by a conservator and significant consultation with city planning officers.

In some situations it has not been possible to find a suitable mounting point on the work itself so other nearby surfaces have been used. Though we don’t have enough data yet, it seems very likely that people will not immediately see the connection between work and label and this may impact on visits.

Research into suitable materials from which to fabricate the QR labels had to consider that this project was a pilot, so along with aesthetic and effectiveness considerations, cost and permanence were key issues. After considering many options including laser-cut or etched and coloured stainless steel we settled on Traffolyte, a multi layered phenolic plastic which is used to make name badges, signs and labels. The QR code, gallery logo and project title have been laser-etched into the top layer and as objects in themselves they are quite beautiful.

Image of QR label and art object

QR label for Queen Victoria statue

Whilst the research and testing was under way, Beth Courtney, a conservator at the gallery, took the rather dry documentation content that we already had and re-scripted it to suit a mobile-using audience. Instead of listing basic facts and details about the work, Beth divided the content into a series of slightly offbeat and quirky questions or facts and presented just a sentence or two of further detail beneath:

Why does she look so grumpy?

I think the sculptor was probably aiming for stately, but she does look a bit grumpy. For much of her reign Victoria was rather a sad figure because she never recovered from the sudden death of Prince Albert when she was in her early forties. She wore black for the rest of her long life as a sign of mourning for him.

Manchester historian, writer, broadcaster and Blue Badge Guide Jonathan Schofield also recorded two minute reflections on 12 of the works. His approach was similarly quirky, informed but thoroughly engaging and not a little opinionated.

Following further research and costed options from developers, we decided to build and host a website to host the content ourselves using WordPress. We used the Manifest 1.01 theme as it was unfussy, clean and streamlined and the WordPress Mobile Pack plugin ( to help us deliver readable content to the widest range of mobile phones.

Sticky backed plastic

Ongoing issues around the fixing of the QR labels to the works – especially to those with listed building status – eventually lead to a decision to proceed with temporary vinyl labels. The labels were trailed in June and July and we informally launched the pilot at the beginning of August. As well as the QR code, the labels included short code URLs for those users who didn’t have a QR reader installed.

The project had received some advance publicity from Visit Manchester and at the point of launch was promoted through twitter, facebook, our email newsletters and a Manchester City Council email newsletter. As expected, following each promotion, the visit figures increased a little, often though, this was to the desk-top version of the site. A mobile analytics package from Percent Mobile enables us to differentiate between desktop and in-the-street mobile use.

Have we learned anything yet?

We’ve learned that more people than we imagined do know what QR codes are and how to use them. The maximum visits in one day so far were 32 with the daily average being 4.3. We’ve learned that visits go up at weekends and that they go down when people peel off the labels. Currently we have to re-label works in some high traffic areas every two weeks.

Works that are clearly labelled at a reasonable height off the ground and which face high traffic walkways also get more visits. The Christmas Markets which surround 6 works in the pilot have also blocked access to the codes and this has impacted upon visit numbers.

In terms of devices, the iPhone heads the pack followed by the Blackberry 8520, HTC Desire and HTC Nexus One. In detail, we’ve seen:

  • 39 Devices
  • 98.7% WiFi Capable
  • 77.5% Touchscreen
  • 23.5% Full keyboard
  • It’s all about the content

We’ve had some very positive feedback about the interpretive content via twitter, and other equally positive anecdotal feedback. Each work description has a comment option but we’ve not had any responses through these yet. Formal online and offline evaluation will take place early in the new year with the aim of reviewing the technologies and the content. From the feedback so far we think we’ve judged the content well, but we do need qualitative evaluation to confirm this. We are also aware that, despite it’s unfussy and quirky tone, it is still the museum offering interpretation, one or two voices, uni-directional, still didactic. Nancy Proctor , in issue 5 of Museum Identity [1], discusses the idea of the distributed network as a “[...] metaphor to describe new ways of authoring and supporting museum experiences that are:

  • conversational rather than unilateral
  • engaging rather than simply didactic
  • generative of content and open-ended rather than finite and closed

Decoding Art does, we think, engage with the first two of these points, but it is the third that we’d like to explore further and there are already ideas in place about how we might do this.

The desktop version of Decoding Art can be found here:

If you’re in the city with your mobile phone, see if you can spot any of the works included in the pilot and let us know what you think.


  1. Nancy Proctor, 2010, The Museum As Distributed Network, p48, Museum Identity, Issue 5.

Posted in Evaluation, Museums, QR-codes, Technical, Web 2.0 | 2 Comments »

Places still available on Social Web workshops

Posted by Brian Kelly on 4th January 2011

In Spring 2011 UKOLN will be running further workshops for the cultural heritage sector on using the Social Web. Attendance is free. Booking is now open, see links below.

The Social Web: Opportunities in Difficult Times
Ann Chapman will facilitate a 1-day workshop The Social Web: Opportunities in Difficult Times to be held at Discovery Museum, Newcastle upon Tyne on 26th January 2011.

The Social Web: Opportunities in Difficult Times
Ann Chapman will facilitate a 1-day workshop The Social Web: Opportunities in Difficult Times to be held at University of Manchester, Manchester on 3th February 2011.

The Social Web: Opportunities in Difficult Times
Ann Chapman will facilitate a 1-day workshop The Social Web: Opportunities in Difficult Times to be held at Museum Studies Building, School of Museum Studies, University of Leicester, Leicester on 22nd February 2011.

Posted in archives, Blogs, Libraries, Museums, Twitter, Web 2.0 | Comments Off

Brooklyn Museum experiment

Posted by Brian Kelly on 27th December 2010

Worried about what people might do with your images? Well, Brooklyn Museum is running an experiment at the moment to find out just that. They are monitoring who uses their non copyright photos on web sites all over the world. Read more about the experiment and the emerging results at

Posted in copyright, Museums | Comments Off

Blogging, why bother?

Posted by Brian Kelly on 21st December 2010

About this Guest Post

Claire Welsby is the Senior Producer (Digital Media) at Kew Botanic Gardens. You can follow her on twitter [] and contact her at

Blogging, why bother?

Following a couple of recent posts that I’ve written for Kew’s Digital Adventures blog (run by the Digital Media Team), Ann Chapman from UKOLN got in touch to ask if I’d share a little bit more about why we set this blog and what we (the team) get out of it.

Why we set up Digital Adventures

We originally set up the Digital Adventures blog to document the re-launch of Kew’s website and create a space for the Digital Team to write about things that interest them and share information and knowledge with each other and the broader sector.

To date member’s of the team have written behind the scenes posts about trips to the Herbarium and the Queens visit as well as more digital focussed posts that reflect on knowledge sharing events that we’ve attended, such as Top hints and tips for making great audio slide shows for the web (our most popular post to date) and Why open data projects are here to stay.

screenshot of Kew Gardens blog post

Most popular post to date on Kew Gardens blogs

6 reasons to start a team blog

There are many reasons why people get into, and enjoy blogging. The most important thing to remember is the delicate balance at play in terms of blogger motivation. From personal incentive on the one side (what am I getting out of it) and knowledge sharing on the other (what am I giving back). In the context of my work at Kew, here are some of the reasons that I share when talking to people who express an interest in blogging.

Blogging is great because you can:

  • Build interest in your work and inspire others
  • Take part in conversations that are happening online around your area of interest and establish a profile within these communities
  • Invite comments and feedback from readers to increase your awareness of their interests and views
  • Be generous and share knowledge about the things you know so others in your industry can learn and benefit too
  • Provide your peers and interested audiences with unique access to your work, regular updates and exclusive behind-the-scenes insights
  • Use writing as a way of thinking things through and working things out.

Encouraging others to get involved

screenshot of Kew Gardens blog listing

Kew Gardens now has 11 blogs

Over the last year, as well as setting up our own blog, we’ve also developed a growing network of bloggers who represent different areas of Kew’s work. One year on, Kew is now the proud host of 11 blogs spanning the Library Art & Archive, the Tropical Nursery, the Herbarium, the Alpine & Rock Garden and the Economic Botany collection.

If you’re considering starting up a blog network in your organisation, as well as being supportive and encouraging, the three pieces of advice that I can give you when you’re starting out are:

  • Have a strategy, but start small. Be content to grow your blog network over time.
  • Focus your energies on supporting and encouraging colleagues that ‘come to you’ with a proactive interest in blogging – other people and departments will follow in time.
  • Develop shared and agreed guidelines for blogging and dealing with comments as soon as you are able. This helps your colleagues feel more confident in managing their blogs proactively and coming to you for support.

What’s next for blogging at Kew?

There are two (and a half) things that I’m interested in developing in the context of blogs at Kew in 2011. The first of these is growing our blog network to cover even more areas of Kew’s work. The second is improving Kew’s profile online and becoming part of the wider blog network.

In terms of the first point, this is really about extending our reach internally and continuing on with what we’re already doing. I’m happy to say that since we launched Kew blogs, colleagues from around the organisation regularly get in touch with us to open up dialogue about blogging at Kew.

The second aim is much more of a challenge, but one that I’m incredibly excited about.  To raise Kew’s profile across the blogosphere and become part of a wider blog network we need to start extending our reach outside the walls of too – in a more strategic and proactive way. This includes promoting our blogs on other platforms (such as blog aggregation and partner websites) and encouraging bloggers ‘out there’ who write about areas of shared interest (such as gardening, plant science, botanic art, nature photography, biodiversity and conservation) to get to know Kew better and write about our work.

screenshot of Kew Gardens alpine and rock garden blog

Kew's Alpine and Rock Garden blog

And if you’re wondering what ‘the half’ refers to

One of my own little aims for 2011 is to further encourage the Digital Team at Kew to get more consistent in our posting. We really do have interesting stories to tell and useful things to share and it would be great to get to a place where we can genuinely say that we’re leading by example…

Here’s to next year!

Posted in Blogs, Museums, Twitter, Web 2.0 | 2 Comments »

Museums Web 2.0 Round-up

Posted by Brian Kelly on 29th November 2010

There’s a lot of enthusiasm about using Web 2.0 but if you’re new to it, you might want to see what other people are doing. So here are a few things I’ve come across in recent months – ‘in no particular order’ as they say.

Firstly, I often find interesting posts on the Museums Computer Group email list. It’s worth signing up to this list to see what others are doing and to exchange experiences. The first three items below were spotted on this list.

Jerry Weber posted that Northampton Museum and Art Gallery had just set up their new Flickr site because their council website does not yet meet their needs; they will be using Flickr as an alternative. And they went for community collaboration as most of the input has been from volunteers and school work experience pupils.

Linda Ellis wrote about a group of 5 Black Country museum services that now have a blog, Flickr and twitter accounts. They decided not to have a Facebook account initially but think they might have collection-focused Facebook fan pages in the future ‘along the lines of ‘I’m a fossil fan’, ‘I like leather’(!!) or ‘Samauri Swords’ ‘.

Then there was Colin Hynson’s post about the Flickr group UK Museums he created to show good examples of museum displays throughout the country so that other museum professionals to see what others are doing when they are thinking about new displays of their own. This now has 106 images.

I also have a look at various museum web sites now and again and found these ideas.

The V&A Museum now has a range of blogs, from curators, artists in residence an tutors from the Royal College of art. Usefully they also list finished blogs as well as current ones. And I’ve always liked their Things to Do section – the Design a ‘something’ series is fun, you can design anything from a coat of arms to a tartan, a room, a tile or a ring.

The Fashion Museum in Bath has an exhibition of dresses worn by Diana, Princess of Wales running from July 2010 to January 2011. They are encouraging visitor input in several ways. “Included in the exhibition space, is a memory wall where visitors can leave their own memories of Diana. These will be updated on the website here, but you can also upload your own comments on our Facebook discussion page and also on Twitter.

The Sydney Powerhouse museum has several volumes of swatchbooks containing thousands of bright, unfaded samples of fashionable fabric designs, braids and laces ranging from the 1830s to the 1990s. They have now digitised a selection of these to form an electronic swatchbook. You can search the swatchbook by colour using a colour grid or by year (currently five years are available).

On the National Museums Liverpool blog I found a post about their X-Ray Your Toy event (30 July and 25 August 2010), which they are holding to show how they use science to examine their collections. They’ve put up a selection of toys they’ve already x-rayed on Flickr and plan to add more from the events. The blog is part of their Big Art for Little Artists section of the web site.

Posted in Blogs, Museums, Web 2.0 | 2 Comments »

Riverside Museum Blog

Posted by guestblogger on 1st November 2010

About this Guest Post

Colin Campbell is editor at the Riverside Museum Project, a £74 million development creating a new transport museum by the River Clyde in Glasgow, due to open spring 2011. He can be contacted at

Riverside Museum Blog

More than 10,000 people came to bid farewell to Glasgow’s Museum of Transport when it closed its doors for the very last time on Sunday 18th April 2010. While newspapers and magazines paid homage and TV stations ran nostalgic bulletins, people like you and me posted personal tributes on blogs, forums, in Facebook, Twitter and so on.

At the same time, the Riverside Museum Appeal – charged with raising £5million for the new transport museum – launched its public appeal, aided by figures including Robbie Coltrane and Carol Smillie.

Why Blog?

With the huge volume of interest, it was clear that this was the right time to create a blog about the Riverside Museum Project. Its aim was not just to inform interested members of the public; we also wanted a way to update our colleagues in Glasgow Museums and our parent organisation Glasgow Life as well as employees of Glasgow City Council and other partners.

Early posts focused on the work behind the scenes at the Museum of Transport. Photographs revealed subway cars under sheets of polythene, the hugely popular re-created 1930s street being demolished, objects such as the Royal Mail horse-drawn carriage being taken away. Project photographer Iona Shepherd’s excellent photography is a major feature of the site.

Image of subway cars

Subway cars (Photograph by Iona Shepherd, Copyright Glasgow City Council)

While the story of the removal of the museum’s objects made (and continues to make) some excellent news articles and photos, we also wanted posts from a curatorial and conservation point of view. Joining Iona were curator John Messner, conservator Rebecca Jackson and decant technician Lisa Brown. Rebecca’s before-and-after posts look at the conservation of objects ranging from shoes to ship models. John, meanwhile, has revealed the stories behind the objects. Their posts are complemented by Lisa who blogs about their removal. You’ll also find updates about the building’s construction, as well as posts from other departments, such as admin, whose massive archiving project was the focus of a recent blog.

image of locomotive

Locomotive (Photograph by Iona Shepherd, Copyright Glasgow City Council)

Aims, Strategy and Design

As well as guidelines for publishing to WordPress we also created a strategy outlining our aims and hopes for the blog. We considered word length, tone, image size, resources, what content to share and what to hold back. Yes, we wanted to share the project’s behind-the-scenes news, but not at the expense of the Riverside Museum Appeal. In fact, rather than diverting attention from the appeal, the blog has supported it. Thanks to WordPress’s cross-publicising feature, each new blog post automatically creates a status update for the RMA’s Facebook and Twitter streams, bringing in readers from the appeal’s fanbase while at the same time adding to the richness of their own feeds. Though it’s impossible to accurately quantify the numbers – and the financial benefit – the appeal has seen the number of its Facebook and Twitter followers increase since we launched the blog.

How successful has it been?

It’s still early days, and there are teething problems. Issues with access and internet speed continue to dog us. Time is often in short supply, particularly as the demands of the project intensify in the run-up to opening. But we manage. There is plenty of excellent content, and most weeks we manage to publish between three and five posts, including the regular Picture of the Week.

Riverside Museum attracts a lot of comment online. Much of it is positive, but not all. Opinions range from excitement about the Zaha Hadid-designed building (her first major construction to be completed in the UK) to criticism of the decision to relocate Glasgow’s transport collection from Kelvin Hall. And as Riverside Museum moves towards its opening in spring 2011, the comments, status updates and posts will only increase. Thanks to our blog, the Riverside team now has a strong voice that can take part in the online dialogue.

Aerial view

Aerial view (Copyright BAM/Hawkeye)

Posted in Blogs, Guest-blog, Museums, Web 2.0 | 1 Comment »

Help Develop Culture Grid Application Profile

Posted by Brian Kelly on 30th October 2010

This message was posted by Nick Poole on the MCG email list on 19 Oct. 2010.

As you will be aware, the Collections Trust is responsible for developing the Culture Grid as an aggregation/syndication service for museum, archive and library metadata.

The Culture Grid serves object and collections metadata, and works alongside Culture24 as the aggregator of institutional and events data. Collectively, our aim is to maximise museum audiences by increasing the profile of the sector’s digital output through a variety of mainstream digital and mobile channels.

We now need to enlist your help to make some choices about the evolution of the Culture Grid’s Application Profile to ensure that the web services we are offering both increase participation by museums and enhance the value of the services and connectors we can offer to 3rd parties.

Neil Smith of Knowledge Integration (the company that designed, built and now manage the Culture Grid’s technical and operational architecture) has posted a discussion paper on the Museum API Wiki which outlines a number of possible options. Please go to to read and respond to his post.

We need to ensure that the Culture Grid continues to evolve and to add value for museums, so we would hugely value your comments and ideas about the options we are presenting.

If you are interested in making your content available through the Culture Grid, please contact the Grid Manager, Phill Purdy at Also, if you are interested in discussing the future direction of the Culture Grid, you should join the Culture Grid Users Network on Collections Link.

Finally, if you are interested in seeing what you might be able to create using the Culture Grid data, register for the Culture Grid Hack day, 3rd December at the Discovery Museum in Newcastle.

Many thanks for your help!
Nick Poole, Chief Executive, Collections Trust
Follow us on Twitter: @collectiontrust

Posted in archives, Libraries, Museums, Web 2.0 | Comments Off

Spitfire RW388

Posted by guestblogger on 25th October 2010

About this Guest Post

Andrew Dawson is Project Assistant for the Connecting for the Future project based at The Potteries Museum & Art Gallery where he is responsible for helping with the general running of the CftF project, but particularly with the collection and storing of participating museums’ data, the running of The Potteries Museum’s e-newsletter and the maintenance of the project’s microsites & associated Twitter, Flickr, etc. presences. He can be contacted at

Read Andrew’s first post on Connecting for the Future

RW388 and

RW388 is a MkXVI clipped wing Spitfire given to the City of Stoke-on-Trent in 1972 by the RAF. It’s long been one of the most popular exhibits here at the Potteries Museum but due to being exhibited firstly in a sun-drenched and humid glasshouse (before it was brought into a special gallery in the Museum in 1986) a large block of renovation and restoration is needed to stabilise the aircraft in the long term. We decided to tackle this renovation issue by creating a microsite which would celebrate one of the City’s unique exhibits – especially important when its designer, R.J. Mitchell was born locally and was educated in the City – and help raise funds to go towards its eventual renovation.

The microsite, running on a WordPress Multi-Site install, has been designed from the beginning to be light on static content. The “Your Photos” page – where the general public can create their own gallery of RW388-related photographs – and the “Your Memories” page – where people can talk about their memories of RW388’s arrival and time in the City – are the cornerstones of the site, allowing us to capture, store and share what local people think of this unique exhibit which has been part of the City for almost 40 years.

“Your Photos”

The “Your Photos” page contains a gallery of RW388-related photographs created by using the Flickr Mini Gallery plugin and an RW388 Flickr tag. Any Flickr user can upload images of the City’s Spitfire, tag it with RW388 and it will automatically appear in the gallery – clicking on an image brings up a lightbox containing the image, the photo’s title and description and a link to the original Flickr page.

screenshot of lightbox image

Flickr Image displayed in a Lightbox

It’s difficult to say why we chose to use Flickr for our gallery other than “because it’s Flickr” – there are so many reasons to use Flickr, from the excellent hosting and organisation tools to useful little additions such as the ability to add tags to other users’ photographs as well as your own. As The Potteries Museum was already signed up to Flickr we took the opportunity to upgrade to a Pro account – this costs $24.95 per year (around £16 at the current exchange rate) and allows a greater degree of flexibility with, amongst other things, unlimited uploads and storage. To see a more exhaustive list of the benefits of “going Pro” check out What do I get with a Pro Account? on Flickr’s FAQ.

The option to create a gallery from photographs pulled from a Facebook Group also exists thanks to a plugin called Facebook Photo Fetcher. However, as this would have involved creating and monitoring a Spitfire RW388 Facebook Group on top of all the other work to prepare the site for its launch we decided to look at this in the future instead, especially as we were already setting up Flickr to give us a similar end result.

“Your Memories”

To collect people’s memories of RW388 on the “Your Memories” page we decided to use the standard WordPress comments form as it was already well integrated into the frontend of the site, encouraged people to write a manageable amount of text and allowed some HTML for people to link to websites or insert images. The standard admin framework for monitoring comments and being able to grab an RSS feed of these comments/memories were also plus points to using the standard form. WordPress supports paged comments and plugins such as Hikari Featured Comments can be used to highlight particularly interesting memories, but it’s important that the growing number of memories on the site doesn’t become unwieldy and so we’ll watch how the standard paging works as more memories are added.

scrrenshot of comment box

Filling in a “Your Memories” comment on behalf of someone who emailed their thoughts in via our e-Newsletter email address

We’re looking into adding the option to use Audioboo to record audio memories of the Spitfire as well – in a similar way to Flickr’s photos “boos” can be tagged and Audioboo plugins do exist for WordPress, though we’re yet to find out whether they can display lists of tagged boos rather than a list of a particular user’s boos.

We’re also using the comments form in a similar way on the “Your Visit” page to find out what people think of the gallery and what they’d like to see changed, if anything.


We decided to create a standalone Twitter account for RW388 as a way to promote the site in general, tweet RW388-tagged photos or extracts of memories left on the site, and also to broadcast the latest fundraising news and donation totals. Having been lucky enough to speak to a Battle of Britain pilot about his Spitfire experiences we felt we could also take advantage of the #BoB70 hashtag being given so much coverage by Tweeters such as @RAFMUSEUM and @BattleofBritain by promoting our “Pilots’ Memories” page. Officially launching the website on Battle of Britain Day only helped get @RW388s tweets out into the twittersphere all the more!

Since the first flurry of tweets surrounding the website’s launch @RW388 has been a relatively quiet account as we wait for memories and photos – this is difficult as we know how important it is to try and keep content flowing on Twitter, but hopefully as memories and photos begin to be added we can “pick up the pace”, attract a few more followers and use the account a little more proactively.

Powering a site with web services…

An interesting observation and certainly a trap we almost fell into on occasions – especially as we were pushing very hard to meet the September 15th Battle of Britain Day deadline – was that when we were adding our content to services such as Flickr and Vimeo it was important to remind ourselves that the content would not just be accessed from the site but also from within the services itself. Taking the time to add tags, titles, short descriptions (with the microsite URL in of course!) and even geolocating the images before placing them into sets and collection will make a real difference to those browsing our images via Flickr rather than through the website, just as collating our Vimeo videos into an RW388 Channel will help people find all four of our interview clips. It also makes this content look important and cared for, and where’s the harm in that?!

Posted in Guest-blog, Museums, Social Web, Twitter, Web 2.0 | 1 Comment »

Connecting for the Future

Posted by guestblogger on 18th October 2010

About this Guest Post

Andrew Dawson is Project Assistant for the Connecting for the Future project based at The Potteries Museum & Art Gallery where he is responsible for helping with the general running of the CftF project, but particularly with the collection and storing of participating museums’ data, the running of The Potteries Museum’s e-newsletter and the maintenance of the project’s microsites & associated Twitter, Flickr, etc. presences. He can be contacted at

Connecting for the Future

Context is Everything

Describing the various facets of the Connecting for the Future project – of which I am part of – seemed like the easiest way to give you an overview of when, where and how we’re planning (and beginning!) to use social networking and Web 2.0. Please forgive the heavy use of the future tense in parts, but much of the project is still in the concept/building/testing stage – I’m sure that the follow-up post in early 2011, when much of the project will be complete, will flesh out these concepts with the trials and tribulations of bringing Connecting for the Future to completion in March 2011.

The Very Near Future

One of the project’s main goals – and one of two key deliverables – is to create a hub website for all of Staffordshire’s museums and heritage sites. Where this will differ from normal tourist-centric websites such as Visit England or Culture24 is that the Connecting for the Future concept – “My Museum” – plans to add a social networking element to this information which will allow users to personalise their museums and heritage site experience.

Using Buddypress – a social networking platform which began life as a spin off from WordPress – to power the site, we hope to build a place where people create an account and tag (or “Like” if we use a Facebook analogy!) the museums they’re interested in. This will then augment their view of the rest of the site: for example, an Events panels will display events happening at museums they’ve tagged (with further user-defined filtering for different types of event) or an Object of the Day panel will show an object pulled from the collections data of one of their tagged museums. We’re also looking at ways to implement real life tagging by using individually QR-coded tags that people can hang up at a museum or heritage site to proclaim “This is My Museum!”.

The second key deliverable – and the one that will power parts of the My Museums concept such as the Object of the Day – is the creation of a repository of collections data from all the museums taking part in the CftF project. As well as being fully searchable we were also keen that this data be completely open and so anyone can use the API (Application Programming Interface) to create applications, widgets, mashups or even just play around with Yahoo Pipes to create new ways of viewing or interacting with the data (Digital New Zealand is a great example of how data is being used in this way).


A quick test of the API using Yahoo Pipes

The Present

The events, exhibitions and objects held at the Potteries Museum & Art Gallery have proved to be an invaluable resource for the Connecting for the Future project as they have given us the opportunity to experiment with ideas and services which we think other museums and heritage sites may benefit from using.

We’ve already launched, a microsite dedicated to the museum’s Spitfire, and are completing another site to run alongside the City’s Centenary celebrations and an associated temporary exhibition. Both microsites were designed to have only a small amount of static content, instead being given life by memories, photos, audio and video contributed by the public (which I’ll talk about in detail within the context of SpitfireRW388 in a future post). The repository of collections data mentioned earlier is also searchable from each of these websites, and searches can be locked to particular organisations, subjects or any other field or keyword from the data.

Screenshot of draft web site

The under-construction Portrait of the Potteries Microsite

In a similar way to, both of these microsites are run from a single WordPress Multi-Site (originally WordPress MU before it was subsumed into WordPress 3.0) install, giving us the ability to create new microsites or blogs for museum events and exhibitions incredibly easily and quickly. This very flexible and extensible system means that we can offer those partner museums and heritage sites without a web presence an opportunity to create their own blog, microsite or even fully fledged website, or offer a blogging platform to those who already have an established web presence.

Since January 2010 we’ve been using MailChimp as an e-marketing tool to supplement the print advertising and quarterly “What’s On” leaflets produced by The Potteries Museum. Although there are many companies offering e-marketing services we decided to use MailChimp as it’s less corporate feel and user-friendly interface was something that we felt museums & heritage sites just getting to grips with this technology would appreciate (and the chimps of course – everyone loves chimps!).

Screenshot of mailchimp dashboard

The MailChimp dashboard

MailChimp’s “Forever Free” plan is also a great choice for these institutions, as it’s unlikely that they’ll ever reach the 1000 subscriber/6000 emails per month limit, and MailChimp even offers an easily authenticated not-for-profit discount of 15% once that limit is reached. For paying customers their “Social Pro” add-on is also invaluable (and free until March 2011), giving you information about which of your subscribers is on Twitter, Facebook, MySpace, LinkedIn and Flickr, as well as how “influential” each subscriber is on these networks. Any of these pieces of information can be used as a segment, meaning you can email just those subscribers who are on Flickr to tell them about your new photo competition, or just those on Twitter (that don’t follow you – a segment within a segment!) to let them know that you have a Twitter account and what sorts of things you discuss on it.

For the next post in this series I’ll be using our new microsite,, to show you more specific examples of where and how we’re using social networking and Web 2.0 to try and engage with the public and open up new sources of information surrounding the City’s Spitfire.

Posted in Blogs, Guest-blog, Museums, Twitter, Web 2.0 | 2 Comments »

Museum Marketing

Posted by Brian Kelly on 11th October 2010

Just found this blog MuseumNext (previously titled Museum Marketing) written by Jim Richardson, Managing Director of Sumo, a specialist design consultancy working in the arts and cultural sectors.

There are some interesting posts on using social meda to promote your institution and to support your activitues, and while it’s aimed at museums, many of the posts could apply to libraries and archives as well.

Whether it’s Dealing with negative feedback, Follow a Museum day, 10 steps to supercharge your Museums Facebook page, Tips for creating more interesting tweets for your museum or a Step-by-step guide to getting started on YouTube (for Museums) there’s a lot of useful stuff here and well worth a look for ideas.

Posted in Museums, Social Web | 1 Comment »

Web 2.0 or Not Web 2.0? Using Ancestry in Museums

Posted by guestblogger on 13th September 2010

About this Guest Post

Patricia Collins is a curator based in Norfolk working on a freelance basis for museums in the independent sector.  She can be contacted at

Web 2.0 or Not Web 2.0? – Using Ancestry in Museums

Reading Brian Kelly’s recent AIM research paper prompted me to post this about

Ancestry is the market leader in on-line family history. Users can not only research their family trees by accessing databases of census details, parish registers, military record cards and the like, but they can also upload their own trees and make them available to other researchers. Hence the site fosters collaborative working and information sharing; both key components of Web 2.0 technologies. However it is a subscription-only facility whereas Web 2.0 technologies are freely available.

image of Ancestry web page

Screenshot of Web site

What, to my mind, makes ancestry different is that public libraries across the country are subscribers so that anyone with a library ticket can access it and public libraries are (still) always free. This means the user group is huge, non-exclusive and, because the organisation has partners across the world, international.

Web 2.0 or Not Web 2.0, I’ve been using ancestry to create genealogies for people associated with local museums. Museums often have displays, objects and research files relating to the ‘great and good’ of their communities. I put up trees for local heroes such as an archaeologist and a naval commander and all their servants with links to objects and documents in museum and archive collections. When other ancestry genealogists began to interact with the trees, the research went well beyond county or country borders and further back in time than the information held in the local museum.

Image of Wesleyan tea-pot

From Ancestry - Wesleyan tea pot from Robert Robinson archive

An example is Swaffham People – Rev Edmund Outram. Mr Outram was a curate in Swaffham in the 1930s. He had a passion for photography and created a magic lantern slideshow of the town and its inhabitants which he then showed in the local Assembly Rooms. The magic lantern slides became part of the local museum collection. Having put information about Mr Outram and some of his images onto ancestry, I heard from Sussex genealogists that he had made similar slideshows there. From Leicestershire, I received images of graffitti made by Outram’s great grandfather in a church bell tower. We discovered his original magic lantern in West Sussex County archives, his father’s collection of weather records in a Cambridge University collection and encountered someone who had been married by him. This created a far richer portrait of the man and greater understanding of his legacy than we could ever hope to achieve alone in Norfolk. A digital research community had been created.

image of basket making tools

Photo from Ancestry - Oliver Meek basket making tools

My task then became that of site moderator adding the information from ancestry researchers to the Norfolk trees as appropriate. Museums often describe themselves as beseiged by enquiries from family historians and are not always best placed to answer them.

Enquiries can be time consuming and rarely generate any income for the museum. Using ancestry has met some of the industry targets – widened museum user and advocate groups, increased local knowledge and made collections available to a far wider audience. As the digital research communities grow, they take on more of the enquiries thereby taking the weight off museum staff. The enquiries that do come into the museum are often from those wishing to make a visit in person.

Small museums often relate solely to the local geographical community of residents and visitors to a town. By focussing on local great and good on ancestry, museums have engaged many different communities of interest – naval historians, collectors of ceramics, family genealogists and who knows what the next posting will bring.

I would be very happy to hear from others in museums or libraries who are also using ancestry.

Posted in Guest-blog, Libraries, Museums | 1 Comment »

Museums as Social Creatures

Posted by guestblogger on 6th September 2010

About this Guest Post

Shona Carnall studied Museum Studies at Leicester University and since graduating she has been working at Hartlepool Cultural Services for nearly two years as an Education Officer. Shona specialises in e-Learning in a museum context and has added the museum to several social media websites including Twitter, Facebook and Audioboo. She recently wrote a case study for ‘Twitter for Museums: Strategies and Tactics for Success’ and her work on Twitter was mentioned by UKOLN’s Brian Kelly during a Radio 4 programme, ‘Making History’.

Museums as Social Creatures

Museums have always been institutes of learning and communication. A place where history can come alive and you can visit any part of the world. With the invention of the internet and digital media, people can explore the world without leaving the comfort of their own homes. Museums are now trying to find new ways to interact with their audience, and which has started to include going to where your audience is.  Museums are becoming increasingly sociable, participating in conversations already taking place and this is where the internet can help.

Social media has become massive over the past couple of years with Facebook and Twitter becoming increasingly popular with the national and international population. Twitter particularly has grown rapidly from a few followers to over 25 million people registered with the microblogging service as of January 2010. Twitter allows people to get short, up-to the minute messages about what is happening around the world, with some of these messages reaching the general populous before traditional media. For museums, Twitter gives us a unique opportunity to contribute to conversations people are having online by going to them rather than trying to drive traffic towards us.

The Learning Team at the Hartlepool Cultural Services has been on Twitter since May 2009 under the guise of their mascot, Yuffy (@YuffyMOH). The aim of joining Twitter was to increase awareness of the Learning Team’s events particularly family events and to participate in conversations with interested members of the public. With over 1500 followers, and regular communication with followers, the scheme has been a success and one that will hopefully continue. The Learning Team’s presence on Twitter has been used as a case study in ‘Twitter For Museums’ book and mentioned on Radio 4 in the Making History programme.

screenshot of twitter page

Yuffy on twitter

Yuffy tweets about all sorts of topics, with some of his tweets being marketing in tone. However, it was decided from the inset that his tweets should be relevant to his followers and therefore should contribute to the conversations already taking place.  We need to be sociable and not simply broadcast, but create content that will be interesting for all.

How do people use Twitter?

When researching how Twitter is used, there were several examples that struck me as key to how people use and perceive Twitter. The examples below encouraged me to look at Twitter in a new way and influenced how I use Twitter for the museum.

After a nasty election in 2009, the people in the Iranian capital Tehran took to the streets in protest. The government then put a media ban on the protest. No-one was allowed in to the country to report on the protests, where police were imprisoning protesters and even shooting at them. The protesters turned to Twitter to get the message out. People across the globe took up the cause and tweeted safe areas in Tehran for protesters to go and news stations used Twitter to get information and videos to use in their broadcasts. Twitter allowed the protesters and the world to find out about the protest and atrocities happening to the people in an otherwise media blackout.

In May 2008 a massive 7.9 magnitude earthquake hit mainland China. While it was still happening, ordinary people were reporting it. They were texting on their phones, taking pictures and videos, and adding these to Twitter. It was a tweet that announced the quake online, several minutes before the US Geological Survey had anything up online for people to read. Twitter is the newest and fastest news feed the world has ever seen. In fact, the USGS have learnt from the China Earthquake and are piloting a new programme that maps tweets about earthquakes. The more people that tweet about an earthquake in a particular area, the more reliable the information and the USGS can make an announcement. The hope is to increase the alert time for local residents and possibly even save lives.

Twitter has even been used to free someone from jail. In April 2008, James Karl Buck and his translator were arrested by the Egyptian police while covering an anti-government protest in Mahalla. James was only able to tweet one word while being taken away by Egyptian authorities: “Arrested.” Within seconds, colleagues in the United States and his friends in Egypt were notified of his arrest. Eventually this lead to his university hiring a lawyer on his behalf and he was released a day later.  This is proof that one update, no matter how simple, can mobilise people to action and change the course of events.

image of mascot

Yuffy on the high seas

But it’s not just on a national sphere, some tweets are very personal. From marriage proposals to births, people can now tweet at every part of their lives. On May 28th 2010, Max Kiesler asked Emily Chang for her hand in marriage via Twitter. And with a “Yes, I do”,  similarly tweeted she accepted his proposal. This beautiful moment in a couple’s lives was shared by their followers across the globe. In fact there have been at least 3 (successful) marriage proposals.

These examples had thousands of tweets about the topic, or articles written about them.  Tweets no matter how big or small attract the attention of users from all over the world and are commented upon. Learning how people use Twitter enables museums to understand the potential of Twitter and ways we can use the social media platform to communication with our users.

Tapping into the Potential

image of mascot

Yuffy out and about

How can museums then ‘tap into’ this potential community? There are many websites and resources out there giving you advice about how you can use Twitter. I approached this from two places: a museum and an individual. I use Twitter personally and therefore can understand what I want from museum Twitter streams. There are a few simple guidelines I would follow when using Twitter as an organisation.

  1. Be active. What is the point of being on Twitter if you do not update? People follow you on Twitter to read what you are continuing to say. So you need to make sure your stream remains active with tweets happening at least once a day.
  2. Be informal. Nobody wants their Twitter stream filled with automated, impersonal tweets. People go to Twitter to talk to other people, from all sorts of backgrounds, cultures and places. They want REAL conversations with REAL people. So you need to be a real person, who has a name, has a tone of voice and reacts to what they are seeing.
  3. Be a part of it. Don’t just broadcast your message. Although a useful tool for doing so, you will turn away followers who want to engage with you. Talk to your followers.  Ask them for advice or comments, you’ll be surprised by the responses you get.
  4. Be prepared.  Have at least some sort of guidelines in place when you start out.  These will help identify issues and ways to deal with them. But remember, Twitter is constantly changing, so you’re guidelines must be able to change too. I started with a half page guidance for Twitter. Over the past year, this has developed into a 16 page strategy.
  5. Connect. If you run several of accounts on different platforms, it can become a laborious job to update them all. Twitter is useful in that it can be linked to other social media sites like YouTube, Facebook and Audioboo so you only need to add it to one place and it goes to Twitter too! Although make sure you don’t fill your Twitter stream completely with this type of material. You need Twitter-only created content too.
  6. Have fun! The last thing you want is to feel dread at the thought of writing a tweet. It needs to flow freely. So remember to have a little fun with your tweets. If you’re having fun and enjoying what you are writing, your followers will be too.

Don’t be afraid to join

Museums are only just starting to realise the potential of Twitter and how it can extend the reach of your message.  You can converse with people on their terms, where they feel comfortable. This can be scary for organisations who are more accustomed to presenting information than having conversations with people.  But people are already talking about your museum online. They are telling people about the experiences they had (good or bad) and stories they know about objects and the museum. Twitter allows you to take part in these conversations and part the knowledge we have about our museums in a new way.

Museums should not be frightened about going on Twitter and listening to what people are saying about your organisation. Remember people are already having these conversations so why not participate too?

Posted in Guest-blog, Museums, Twitter | 1 Comment »

Making History

Posted by Brian Kelly on 20th July 2010

Brian Kelly of UKOLN took part in in a programme in the “Making History” strand on Radio 4, broadcast at 15.00 on Tuesday 6 July 2010.

The focus of the programme was the future of museums in the context of cuts in the sector. Brian explained the importance of networked technologies and provided some examples of the benefits of the online environment (e.g. use of Flickr, YouTube, etc.)

The programme is available for a short period as a podcast via the link on the programme Web page, which includes a selection of useful links including one to the Cultural Heritage blog.

Posted in Museums, Web 2.0 | 1 Comment »

ISKO-UK New Technologies for Cultural Heritage and Europeana

Posted by guestblogger on 19th July 2010

About this Guest Post

Stella Dextre Clarke writes about two events she attended recently.

Stella is an independent consultant who specialises in controlled vocabularies. She also chairs the Programme Committee of ISKO-UK. She can be contacted at

ISKO-UK New Technologies for Cultural Heritage and Europeana

Ann Chapman’s post of 10th June noted the excellent value for money offered by recent events for info pros in the Cultural Heritage sector.  I attended just two of them, and can confirm the benefits.

ISKO-UK meeting on 9th June 2010
Free for members of ISKO and only twenty pounds for non-members, the afternoon seminar “Seeing is Believing: New Technologies for Cultural Heritage” <> proved a very popular event, attracting over 90 participants. Even if you missed it, you can still listen to the audio recordings as you watch the slides, all now available on the ISKO-UK website.

In summary, the main technologies discussed were 3-D imaging of museum objects, QR codes (for attaching “memories” to objects), Crowdsourcing in a digitisation context, and federated search for museum buffs. Probably it was the idea of attaching memories to everyday objects that most tickled the audience, although I wonder how many of us really warm to the idea that a tee-shirt you pick up in Oxfam might talk to you about its previous owner. Whether you count yourself among the enthusiasts or the sceptics, see more about the project “Tales of things” at

tales of things home page

Tales of Things home page

And all the talks pointed to practical applications with real benefits.  While 3-D imaging is admittedly still costly, David Arnold showed us some convincing cases of effective exploitation. For example we  can still view in three dimensions those amazing Buddha statues in the Bamiyan Valley that were blown up by the Taliban – they have been pieced together from hundreds of photographs taken from all angles by visitors in the past.

In these days of shrinking budgets, crowdsourcing can be an attractive option for accumulating masses of data. Why would ordinary people willingly give up their time to help with the donkey work of transcribing the handwritten text of the 18th-century philosopher Jeremy Bentham? The answer is just as mysterious as why train-spotters are regularly found lurking on the footbridge at Didcot railway station, but the reality is that they do, and their cumulative efforts are building an extensive archive for philosophical research. Melissa Terras gave us a good overview of the potential and limitations of crowdsourcing, and Fiona Romeo reinforced her message with examples of how it is used at the National Maritime Museum. Do listen to her presentation to pick up more ideas for cost-effective applications of digital technology for museum visitors.

And finally the eMuseum Network assembled by Gallery Systems enables museums to share their catalogues in a federated system with powerful search and export features. The next step, said Sascha Curzon, will be to adapt it for Linked Data applications… but to hear more about Linked Data, you really must attend the next ISKO-UK meeting, an all-day event on 14 September. See for details.

Europeana meeting on 28 June 2010
This was another free meeting (well, free to participants but not to the taxpayer who backs all EC-funded projects) providing inspirations on what can be achieved if you put together the holdings of hundreds of museums, galleries, libraries and other collections. It was accompanied downstairs by the (again free) Collect Exhibition, showing everything a museum could want, from security glazing and identification of death watch beetles to collection management software.

The Europeana portal ( by now provides access to 9 million records, expected to become 10 million with the Danube release later in 2010. (Each successive release has a name such as “Rhine”, “Danube” etc. Inspired by the floods of data?)

Europeana home page

Europeana home page

Metadata management is all important in Europeana, because the aim is not to suck in whole collections, but to direct users to the websites of participating institutions. For each object, museums contribute just a link to a thumbnail image plus metadata complying with the ESE (Europeana Set of Elements) – an application profile of Dublin Core.

For the big national collections, metadata is something we take in our stride, and adding the ESE export format to all the others routinely required may not be a big deal. But for the hundreds and thousands of small museums in diverse communities across Europe, the M word is quite intimidating. Hence the importance of EuropeanaLocal, one of the many satellite projects attached to the main programme. EuropeanaLocal has had great success in helping local and regional libraries, museums, archives and audio-visual archives to sort out and contribute their metadata, sometimes via intermediary aggregators.

Other key projects described at this meeting were:
- CARARE (Connecting ARchaeology and ARchitecture in Europeana)
- Judaica Europeana
- MIMO (Musical Instrument Museums Online)
- ICON (profiting from 3-D digitising)
- the UK Culture Grid

In a panel session at the end, questions were asked about sustainability  - for how long the EC funding would continue and how would the portal be maintained after that? Remarkably (at this time when cuts in national budgets are dominating the news) the panel members sounded quite optimistic. Let us hope that when the digitisation and catalogue rejuvenation enabled by the current programme have been accomplished, exploitation of the products will contribute enough revenue to support their maintenance.

Questions were asked too about multilingual access and plans for exploiting controlled vocabularies. Somewhere in the Europeana family of projects, both these topics are being addressed, but not by any of the speakers at this meeting. With at least 26 languages in Europe to be accommodated, plainly the multilingual challenge still offers plenty of scope for hard work and imaginative solutions.

Links to the presentations can be found in the Collections Trust blog entry:

Posted in Guest-blog, Libraries, Museums | 1 Comment »

How to Run a Community Collection Online

Posted by Brian Kelly on 24th June 2010

Spotted on the Museums Computer Group email list – sounds an interesting event so here are the details as posted by Alun Edwards, Manager of RunCoCo.

Registration is now open for the free RunCoCo/Culturenet Cymru workshop: How to Run a Community Collection Online, which will take place on Tues 27 July 2010 at the National Library of Wales in Aberystwyth.

Community collections help to harness the collective resources of a wider community and spread the costs of creating and contributing to a collection across the education and public sectors. These include The Great War Archive and Community Archives Wales. A community can also be harnessed to enrich an existing collection with tags or comments (like Galaxy Zoo). The organisers would like to invite anyone from the education/public sector who is interested in such projects to take part in this free RunCoCo workshop. As a taster, presentations from previous workshops held by RunCoCo are available online.

The RunCoCo workshop has a number of purposes:

  • This is a chance for managers and others from community collection projects to share best practice and exchange knowledge
  • This will be an opportunity for projects with some shared interests to meet face-to-face. The JISC-funded project, RunCoCo, has also launched an online ‘community of interest’ for those involved in community collection or working to harness a community to enrich an existing collection with tags or comments ( – follow the link on the right of that Web page to Join This Group)
  • Be an opportunity to hear from a number of projects such as Galaxy Zoo and Community Archives Wales, as well as Culturenet Cymru and new initiatives like Citizen Science and The People’s Collection.
  • RunCoCo will disseminate the processes, CoCoCo open-source software and results of the Great War Archive, a pilot community collection.

Places are limited, and similar events in Oxford have been over-subscribed. Please register at no later than 1200pm on 12 July 2010. We will confirm your place as soon as possible.

Posted in archives, Events, Libraries, Museums, Web 2.0 | Comments Off

Local authorities and digital continuity

Posted by Brian Kelly on 21st June 2010

Working with local authority IT departments is often cited as a problem by libraries, archives and museums wanting to use Web 2.0 tools and services, so here is a timely report.

The press release states:

Archives Sector Development at The National Archives has recently published a report on the digital continuity risks of large local authorities in England, accessible from:

Digital Continuity requires strategic alignment, senior understanding and commitment and effective working relationships between Senior Information Risk Owners, ICT Managers, information assurance and governance officers and those responsible for business processes as well as records and information management.  This report is not part of the central government-funded Digital Continuity project but was commissioned to provide an evidential basis for future dissemination of that project’s findings to the wider public sector.

The main findings are:

  • Varying degrees of senior engagement exist in the authorities concerned;
  • A few authorities have information management strategies capable of delivering continuity but only one of the 35 respondents appeared to be addressing it at the strategic, board level;
  • Many information management programmes are partial and disconnected, indicating significant continuity risk; and
  • Many authorities appear to be struggling with coordinating the main internal players in information management.

The underlying survey, analysis and report writing were conducted by our contractors, Richard Jeffrey-Cook of In-form Consult and Philip Lord of the Digital Archiving Consultancy.

In addition to our contractors, we’d like to thank Socitm, the Records Management Society and the Association of Chief Archivists in Local Government (now part of the Archives and Records Association [UK & Ireland]) for their cooperation and facilitation in running the survey.  We hope that the report will be useful not just to us but also in providing levers for local authority information managers to influence their senior management.

Please address any comments or queries to:

Malcolm Todd
Digital Archives Advice Manager

Archives Sector Development
020 8392 5330 ext. 2192

Posted in Addressing Barriers, archives, Libraries, Museums, Web 2.0 | 1 Comment »

The Commons on Flickr

Posted by Brian Kelly on 2nd June 2010

Many collections have photographs of unidentified places and people and have thought that they had little chance of ever getting the information needed about specific images.   Now the Flickr Commons initiative offers a place to show these images from public photograph archives; people can then comment on the photographs, perhaps identifying locations and people, as well as adding their own photographs. So that seems a good idea, but how is it going?

Several UK institutions – the National Library of Wales, the National Galleries of Scotland, the National Archives UK, the Imperial War Museum and the National Maritime Museum – have uploaded images to the Commons.

So how are they doing? They are getting comments – but it seems not the useful ones they had hoped for.  One of the NMM images is titled ‘Cat on Steam Yacht ‘Morning‘ – although it’s had three responses, no-one has provided any further information. And that seems to be the case with the other images I looked at.

Are we expecting too much from these initiatives? Is it that the people who did have the knowledge are now dead? Recently I’ve been working my way through some unlabelled family photographs dating back to 1890 to 1930 and all the people in my family who would have known the details are no longer around. Would uploading these to Flickr achieve anything?

If your institution has uploaded images to Flickr Commons, please add a comment to let us know what you put up and what response you’ve had.

Posted in archives, Libraries, Museums | 1 Comment »

What’s Happening? ss Great Britain Trust and Twitter

Posted by Brian Kelly on 12th May 2010

About this guest post

In this guest blog post, Rhian Tritton writes about the ss Great Britain Trust’s use of Twitter as part of it’s Incredible Journey project. Rhian is Director of Museum & Educational Services for the Trust.

What’s happening? ss Great Britain Trust and Twitter

ss Great Britain Trust is an independent museum and visitor attraction, welcoming 150,000 visitors a year. As Director of Museum & Educational Services for the Trust  I’m responsible for the curatorial function, the education function and all interpretation on site. The Trust’s newest project is the Brunel Institute for conservation and learning which will contain a new visitor centre, state-of-the-art stores for the Trust’s archives and a publicly accessible library, all housed in a £35 million development next to the ship herself.

I’ve been at ss Great Britain for just under two years and am still, after over 20 years in the museum business, passionate about museum objects and the stories they can tell. Recently I have become increasingly interested in using Web 2.0 as an interpretation tool. This has been sparked partly by a personal interest in all new forms of technology; I tweet regularly about my cake-baking hobby. I also believe firmly that museums have to adapt constantly their ways of communicating with their audiences in order to stay fresh and current.

Web 2.0 – how to use it?

In the summer of 2009 I heard Brian Kelly’s presentation at the Association of Independent Museums conference, which confirmed my view that Web 2.0 was a hugely exciting area in which ss Great Britain Trust could develop. I started to investigate how other museums were using Web 2.0. I found plenty of examples but sometimes they felt like your dad dancing at the PTA disco – a toe-curlingly embarrassing attempt to be trendy. The most interesting examples came from Twitter, such as Historic Royal Palaces’ “I am Henry VIII” campaign, or the tweets from the whale on the ceiling of the Natural History Museum in New York (yes, really). These two examples both used Twitter as an interpretation tool, and the creative and impressionistic nature of the tweets
seemed to me to foster a sense of imaginative engagement in readers. This was very exciting, and chimed exactly with the aims of ss Great Britain’s interpretation aims;  on the site the objective is to educate and delight visitors. At this point I began to use Twitter myself; my hobby is baking and I tweeted regularly about my cakes.

There was still some work to do to convince the rest of the organisation that the Trust should embrace Web 2.0. Though no-one at first shared my fascination with its possibilities, the Trust prides itself on taking calculated risks and constantly refreshing its offer, and there were clearly potential benefits of using the web in a new way. It was decided to develop a Web 2.0 strategy first, to ensure a coherent approach, but before that could happen, in autumn 2009 a clear opportunity to use Twitter presented itself,  in the shape of The Incredible Journey oral history project.

Dipping a toe in the water of Web 2.0: ss Great Britain tweets

This HLF-funded project celebrates the fortieth anniversary in 1970 of ss Great Britain’s heroic salvage from the Falklands and subsequent return to the Bristol dock  in which she was built. Surviving members of the salvage team were interviewed, and some of the 150,000 Bristolians who lined the bank of the Avon to see the ship return also shared their memories via Memory Collection Boxes. As the oral history recordings started to come in I was stunned by how deeply the memories of the salvage still resonated with those involved; more than one was moved to tears during the recording. The nature of oral history recordings (which is a function of the disjointed way in which memory itself works) meant that the stops and starts and idiosyncratic cadences of individual speech were captured beautifully, resulting in some vivid phrasing. Suddenly the Trust’s first foray into Web 2.0 was clear: a Twitter campaign using fragments of the oral history interviews. I wanted the tweets to be deliberately fragmentary, a little like overhearing a really interesting bit of a conversation on a bus. This also fitted with the aim of The Incredible Journey project, to collect a host of often quite small memories which would build to create a mosaic of the collective experience of those who remembered the salvage.

ss Great Britain in Sparrow Cove

ss Great Britain in Sparrow Cove, in position over the submerged pontoon which then floated up with the ship on top of it. The pontoon then carried the ship 8,000 miles across the Atlantic.(photo Malcolm Macleod)

Tweets could also drive visitors to the Incredible Journey pages on ss Great Britain’s website. The salvage operation started on 25 March 1970 with the attempt to raise ss Great Britain from the bottom of Sparrow Cove in the Falkland Islands, included her epic journey 8,000 miles across the Atlantic on the back of a pontoon, and finished on 19 July when she triumphantly returned to the Great Western Dock in Bristol where she now sits. Each day during this period a new “real time” update was to appear on the website, taken from the detailed and vivid diaries kept by the salvage team during the operation, and using photographs from the Trust’s archive. The philosophy behind this, that daily updates would help create a sense of excitement about ss Great Britain’s fortieth anniversary on 19 July, also married well with the immediacy of Twitter.

ss Great Britain being towed up river Avon

Over 100,000 people watched ss Great Britain towed up the Avon

With the help of the Web Marketing & Content Officer the campaign was launched, with the username 1970Salvage. The tweets have been deliberately impressionistic, using phrases from the oral history interviews and memories submitted via the Memory Collection Boxes. Examples include “Day 21 – With local help we had to clean the ship off …tons and tons of mussels” and “Day 5 – We couldn’t walk anywhere, it was extremely dangerous, all the decks were totally rotten”. So far over 200 people are following the tweets, and the campaign has garnered the Trust good local publicity. Other benefits have been development for the staff immediately involved, and increased awareness of Web 2.0 amongst other staff and trustees. The next task is to develop a Web 2.0 strategy that builds on the Twitter experience and sets out a methodology for using Web 2.0 as a tool for interpretation as well as marketing and listings information. And though I won’t be tweeting about the Web 2.0 strategy (that would be like James Joyce’s Ulysses meets Blade Runner), expect to see more light-touch use of Twitter by the Trust in the future.

Posted in Museums, Web 2.0 | 2 Comments »

UK Museums Win 2010 Web Awards

Posted by Brian Kelly on 4th May 2010

I see that UK museums are among the winners of  the Best of the Web awards at the Museums at the Web 2010 event – I spotted this announcement in a message on the Museums Computer Group email list.

So congratulations to:


Posted in Museums | 1 Comment »