Cultural Heritage

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Voices for the Library and social media

Posted by guestblogger on 7th March 2011

About this Guest Post

Bethan Ruddock works as Content Development Officer for Library and Archival Services for Mimas at the University of Manchester.

Bethan has a strong interest in professional development and supporting new professionals.  She is a member of the SLA Europe board, and a Chartered member of CILIP.  She is editor of the LIS New Professionals’ Toolkit, to be published by Facet in 2012.

You can find Bethan on Twitter as @bethanar, where she tweets from conferences and events, takes part in professional discussions, and drinks a lot of tea.  She blogs at, and you can email her at

What is Voices for the Library?

Voices for the Library is a place for anyone who loves and values libraries to share their experiences and stories about what libraries mean to them.  The campaign was set up in September 2010 by a group of information professionals who were concerned about the negative and inaccurate coverage of libraries in the media.

Voices started out as a way to provide accurate and impartial information about UK public libraries.  But not all of this information was to come from librarians!  The name ‘Voices for the Library’ was chosen carefully – we wanted it to be a place where anyone who cares about libraries can make their voices heard.  Much of our content comes from library users, who want to share their stories about how libraries have affected their lives.

There are stories from librarians as well.  Some are examples of the kind of work they do, to show the range and depth of what trained library staff do, and to illustrate that it’s not all stamping books and shushing!  And some are more theoretical debates, about the philosophy of public libraries.

Why do we use social media?

So, how did we gather these stories from users, these thoughtful pieces from librarians?

Through social media.  We’ve relied heavily on social media right from the start of the campaign – not just for dissemination, but for collaboration too.  We faced a number of challenges, for which social media was – not just the best, but often the only – solution.

Firstly, we’re geographically dispersed.  This means that meeting face-to-face has been basically out of the question.  We’d never all been in one room together until the campaign had been running for over 6 months. This means that everything that had been done in those 6 months – all the planning, work, collaboration etc, had been done purely virtually and remotely.

Our second challenge was that we have no budget, which meant our tools had to be free.  Thanks to some generous sponsors, we now do have a budget – but it’s very easy to find vital things to spend it on! This means that we have to carry on finding free solutions – and most of these come from social media.

The third challenge?  Time!  We have even less time than we have money.  The VftL team are all volunteers, doing what we can for the campaign in the time we have available.  This means that we quite simply don’t have the time to spend on a tool that doesn’t work, quickly and easily.  We need to be putting all of our effort into what we’re doing, not the tools we’re using to do it.  Of course, some things require more time than others – the website, for instance – so our key concept here is return for time spent.

The final challenge is that of trying to connect to a huge demographic. Public libraries in the UK are designed to serve the whole community, from babies to pensioners, and often the only thing they have in common is that they use libraries.

Social media is really the only way we currently have of being able to communicate with these disparate groups of people.

What social media do we use?

We do most of our communicating within the group by email, but there are a number of other tools we use.

Wiki – we use a wiki for most of our collaboration.  We chose PB works, who offer a free version for individuals/groups and education.  We didn’t quite fit under ‘education’, so went with the free ‘individual’ option, which offers all the functionality we require. We can:

  • edit pages,
  • keep track of who has made changes when,
  • see the most recent changes in a list, or have them emailed to us
  • have folders and a file structure
  • upload files, so we can use it as a filestore

Pbwiki is quick and easy to learn to use.

We also briefly tried using google docs, but they just didn’t work for VftL.  We didn’t persist in trying to use them once we noticed they weren’t quite right for us, but just moved over completely to the wiki, where we’ve stayed happily ever since.

Chatzy: we may have only recently had our first face-to-face meeting, but we have had online meetings.  The tool we settled on for this was ‘chatzy’, an online service that allows you to create a private online chat room, and have text-based discussions.

Chatzy has been very effective – it shows everyone in a different colour, so you can instantly see who has said what, and it allows you to save the text of your discussion.  You need a premium account for the full save/download options, but you can get round this by simply selecting and copying the discussion before you leave the chat room.  This makes minuting meetings very easy.

Doodle: if we’re having meetings, we need to schedule them.  We use Doodle as a collaborative scheduler.  I like Doodle more than some of its rivals (such as meetomatic and when are you free) for a number of reasons:

  • no login/signup required
  • you can specify exact times – not just am/pm
  • respondees can see the responses everyone else has entered.  This means that all respondents (not just the admin) can see when other people have said they’re available.
  • You can also edit the times once you’ve opened the poll

To-do and tasks:  we were briefly using Task Bin as a group task management system – it allows you to invite other people to see your tasks, and to share tasks with people within a group.  However, our use of this never really got off the ground.  Nothing wrong with the software, I think it might just have been one thing too many for people to check.

These are our inward-facing uses of social media – what we use within the team.  But we also use social media for most of our external communication.

There are 3 main points of entry to our online presence, and each is important:  website, facebook, and twitter.

Website:  the website is built on the WordPress platform.  We use a installation – this is the self-hosted version, which means we have to pay for domain hosting, although the software itself is free. It is possible to have completely free site, by having it hosted on their servers.  This does limit your functionality, however, and we wanted slightly more control over the site than the totally free option allows.  As one of our members already runs several self-hosted wordpress sites, and was willing to extend his hosting package to cover VftL, we decided that this was a case where spending money was important.

And the website has been a success! We use Google analytics (again, a free tool) to track usage, and since we launched in September we’ve had over 32,000 unique visitors, with over 108,000 page views!  Most of these visits are from the UK, but we’ve had visits from 96 countries/territories in total, including Yemen, Iceland, Mexico, and Romania.

We get lots of comments on the website (we accept comments on almost all pages), and also have forums, which people can use for discussion.  They’re not getting much use, but they are getting some, and we feel the benefits of having made that space available outweigh the small time commitment required.

We already have some stories on the website that have come from feedback left for libraries, not directly to us – Weoley castle Library in Birmingham for instance have sent us comments from their comments book, and this is something we’d really like to encourage other libraries to do in the future.

We’ve also been very lucky in having a graphic designer to create our fab new logo.  This was designed by the cousin of one of our team members, which means we got it for free!

Facebook: the other main landing point for our online presence is Facebook.  Again, Facebook pages are free to create and maintain, though they do take quite a bit of time if you’re very active!  We now have 2615 likes (which used to be called ‘fans’), which is fantastic.

Facebook sits in the gap between the website and our twitter account. While there is a fair amount of cross-over in the content, Facebook gives us slightly more freedom for longer links and discussions than twitter, but is more news-y and less in-depth than the website.  It also gives users another choice about where they’d like to interact with us.

Twitter: twitter has a special place in the hearts of the Voices team.  VftL was conceived on twitter, by a group of info pros who, for the most part, had never met.  They knew each other only through twitter – that’s where the discussion and the idea started.

The twitter account was the very first thing made! That’s why it has a different name to everything else – UKpling.  This was intended to be the original name of the group, standing for ‘UK public libraries in need group’.  Discussion changed this to ‘Voices for the Library’, but the twitter account was already established, under a different name.

Now, it is possible to change your twitter name, and we have discussed doing so.  But all the ones we really wanted were taken, and we’d built up quite a twitter following – over 1500 followers – so we decided to stick with it.  It we were running the campaign all over again, one of the very first things we’d do would be to change the twitter name!

One of the things that twitter is great for is running quick and dirty viral campaigns.  This was illustrated recently when @mardixon (not a librarian, but a library user) tweeted “Libraries are important because … [fill in your answer & RT] #savelibraries”. The #savelibraries hashtag got over 5000 tweets, and was a trending topic not only in the UK, but worldwide.  As trending topics are usually breaking news, amusing memes, or celebrity gossip, this was quite an achievement!

Other tools:

Delicious:  we have a delicious account, and automatically add anything tagged with various tags (pling, voicesforthelibrary, etc).  These are then tweeted, added to the facebook account, and shown in a widget on the website.  This gives us a news feed about library news with a minimum of effort.

Flikr:  we have a flickr group, which is a nice visual way to represent the range of things that goes on libraries.  Anyone can add to it. – this is a twitter tool that gets a round-up of ‘top stories’ from your twitter stream, and presents them in a magazine format.  It’s a nice extra way of pointing people to things they might have missed.

To conclude?  Social media is fast, free and flexible, which is just what we need for a time- and resource-poor project!

Posted in Guest-blog, Libraries, Social Web, Twitter, Web 2.0 | Comments Off

From My Inbox

Posted by Brian Kelly on 31st January 2011

With the start of a new year I’ve been clearing out old emails and come across some news items that haven’t made it into fully fledged posts of their own. Here’s what I found:

Finding collections 1

Sarah Washford has created a Google Maps mashup of UK Public Libraries using Web 2.0 technologies.

Finding collections 2

There is a new service for people interested in finding out what Scotland’s libraries, museums and archives hold. The service uses a geographical interface using a Google mashup, showing location of services, collection descriptions, tag clouds for people and subjects and much more.

Check it out at:

Is your library, museum or archive on the map? If not, email:

All comments and feedback can be blogged at:


Do you use Twitter? If so, how do you read / manage access to all those tweets? Tweetdeck is one useful service. Here are a couple of examples of how it can be used:

Alternatively there’s Tweetgrid if you want something browser based (and it is available for Mac as well PC users).

If you’re thinking of using Twitter yourself, then there is a useful article by Paul Boag in Smashing Magazine on using Twitter.

Who’s got a Twitter account?

There are now a few historical figures and iconic characters with twitter accounts; here are a selection:

Spotted on other blogs

On the Fresh+New(er) blog: On January 30 the Powerhouse Museum becomes the start point for a locative mobile story/game called China Heart. This exciting free project runs all through Chinese New Year celebrations until February 13. Read more.

Posted in Twitter, Web 2.0 | 1 Comment »


Posted by Brian Kelly on 17th January 2011

About this Guest Post

Stuart Macdonald is the AddressingHistory Project Manager and is based at EDINA & Data Library, University of Edinburgh. He can be contacted at:

AddressingHistory: a Web2.0 community engagement tool and API


The AddressingHistory project was funded as part of the Developing Community Content strand of the JISC Digitisation and e-Content Programme and ran from April 2010 until September 2010. Led by EDINA in partnership with the National Library of Scotland (NLS), the aim of the project was to create an online engagement tool built using open standards. Such a tool would enable members of the community, both within and outwith academia (particularly local history groups and genealogists), to enhance and combine data from digitised historical Scottish Post Office Directories (PODs) with contemporaneous large-scale historical maps.

Image of map and print directory

Map and Street Directory

Image courtesy of Addressing History – available under a CCAttribution-NonCommercial-ShareAlike 2.0 Generic through Flickr –

Post Office Directories, precursors to modern day Yellow Pages, offer a fine-grained spatial and temporal view on important social, economic and demographic circumstances. They emerged during the late seventeenth century to meet the demand for accurate information about trade and industry due to the expansion of commerce during this period. They were published more frequently than the census and generally had information about local facilities, institutions and associations, listings for private residents, traders, trades and professions, sometimes details of important people, and advertisements.

For Scotland there are at least 750 Post Office Directories spanning the period 1770 – 1912. The NLS are in the process of scanning using Optical Character Recognition (OCR) techniques and publishing this historic collection in conjunction with the non-profit Internet Archive.

During the 6 month project period the AddressingHistory ‘crowdsourcing’ tool focussed on three volumes (1784-5; 1865; 1905-6) of the Edinburgh digitised PODs and mapping from the same periods. However the specifications were such as to accommodate the full Scottish collection as and when they become available.

One significant deficiency of this collection, which the AddressingHistory online tool aimed to redress by ‘crowd sourcing’, was that the addresses were not geo-referenced. It was the pre-existence of large scale geo-referenced and contemporaneous maps (as supplied by the National Library of Scotland) against which the historic post office directories were contextualised that thus allowed manual (geo)referencing down to individual house address level to be accomplished. This is achieved by simply moving a pin on the map i.e. the map is the mechanism through which the geo-reference is allocated by the user to a particular POD entry.

To assist the geo-referencing exercise addresses from each of the directories were parsed using Google’s geocoding software in order to assign a geo-reference.

Technical Development

The AddressingHistory tool and Application Programming Interface (API) comprises several software components, each built with resilience and sustainability in mind. Open Source software was chosen in several instances, allowing for great flexibility and a feature-rich application, whilst containing costs.

Development initially began by scoping the application’s requirements, designing a database structure to store the information contained in the Post Office Directories in conjunction with pre-processing and data-loading software.

An API is available, allowing access to the raw data via multiple output formats. It is accessible via a RESTful web service.

The client application was built upon the API, featuring web based mapping. To the OpenLayers mapping, we added a collection of historical maps from NLS, contemporary to the three Post Office Directories of interest. A user registration, facilities to edit the stored data and suggest specific changes were added towards the end of the development, together with various enhancements – including a view to the original scanned directory pages.

User Generated Content

The AddressingHistory project raised a number of issues regarding user generated content (UGC) created by the community such as mediation, validation and cross-checking of UGC.

At present the AddressingHistory team retain the option to check UGC and will do so on a periodic basis. It has also installed a logging facility in order to identify inappropriate behaviour (e.g. spam) or inaccurate UGC.

Social Media

Screenshot of project blog

AddressingHistory blog

A key element in determining the success of the project was the establishment of a mechanism whereby the ‘crowd’ could contribute to the creation of a fully geo-coded version of the digitised directories. In part an avenue through which such community engagement could be realised was via communication with Edinburgh Beltane – a national co-ordinating centre for public engagement and the College of Humanities and Social Sciences Knowledge Transfer Office. Social media channels were also deployed to engage the public, to develop links within the community, and to act as a vehicle to expose the tool and API to a wider audience.

At the outset of the project a WordPress blog (, was deployed as the key space for communicating and engaging with interested members of our target audiences.

Twitter was an unexpectedly useful space for the project with over 160 Tweets posted under the @addresshistory account with many messages receiving ReTweets and a Facebook page was also created for AddressingHistory for sharing short updates, useful links and to encourage viral sharing and recommendation.

As a longer term strategy we intend to maintain where practicable blog activity, Facebook and Twitter presences. A mailing list has been set up to ensure we can remain in contact with those interested in AddressingHistory developments and a Google group has been established aimed at users interested in using the AddressingHistory API for their own websites, projects, or mashups.


AddressingHistory was an ambitious project which combined a range of technologies from data processing and database design, to Web 2.0 and web mapping services. Much was achieved within the relatively short project in terms of public engagement and amplification through social media facilities and channels, and the delivery of a robust and scalable website and API capable of empowering the ‘crowd’ with the facility to search and edit geo-referenced content from the Scottish Post Office Directories and digitised historic maps from the same era.

With more funding, the AddressingHistory website would benefit from more engineering work on the data pre-processing and loading – perhaps making more use of the different sections of the directories together with advertisements etc.
AddressingHistory would also profit from the addition of further content (for other areas of Scotland) to potentially broaden the user community.

Gauging the success of the project however goes beyond the delivery of engaging and innovative online tools. It will be ultimately be measured by continual and extended use within the wider community.

To access the AddressingHistory online tool and API please point your browsers at:

Posted in Blogs, Libraries, Twitter, 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

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 »

NAS on Twitter

Posted by Brian Kelly on 13th December 2010

About this Guest Post.

Stephanie Taylor is the Library and Information Officer for The National Autistic Society. She can be contacted at

NAS on Twitter

Our library recently joined the world of Twitter ( In my quest to find out more about how other librarians are using Twitter I posted a few questions on the LIS-WEB2 Jiscmail list (LIS-WEB2@JISCMAIL.AC.UK). This blog post is based on the summary I posted of the answers I had received.

Before I get into the nitty gritty of feedback – why did my library embark on using Twitter in the first place? The National Autistic Society (NAS) Information Centre for whom I work has three key groups of users: our colleagues at the NAS; professionals outside of the charity who work with adults and children with autism; and students undertaking projects, essays or research on autism.  When I joined the NAS in 2003 students often approached us for information by letter. However as use of the Internet and email has developed we receive a large proportion of our enquiries by email or through our website. Conscious of the fact that many people have been embracing web2 technologies in recent years we felt that we too should see if these technologies could play a role in helping us to communicate with potential service users and in helping us to disseminate information. It was not anticipated that we would provide an enquiry service through these means, rather that we could communicate with anyone who may be interested in our service, for example by highlighting our information resources and services.

My idea was to begin with a series of Tweets to coincide with the first term at university. We drew up a schedule of one Tweet per week highlighting a particular resource or service. We also carried out lots of marketing to reach potential ‘followers’ including an email to lecturers and librarians at universities hosting relevant higher education courses; small pieces in a number of relevant magazines and e-newsletters; messages to relevant LIS-LISTS; information in our email signatures and on the cover letter which accompanies our information packs and enquiry responses by post. We attracted and still have a pretty small number of followers (35 to date) though this is steadily growing. Having attended an excellent CILIP course entitled Twitter for Librarians by Phil Bradley (@Philbradley) I had a good basis to confidently begin using Twitter but in the course of using Twitter I had a few questions: chiefly how to monitor mentions of @NASInfoCentre on Twitter; and how to build up followers. I received around a dozen responses from fellow librarians generous with their knowledge, experience and ideas.

Most respondents cited Hootsuite ( as their tool of choice for monitoring mentions (among other features). Tweetdeck ( is well-known and another popular tool so I am grateful to David Jenkins (@d_jenkins) for highlighting useful comparisons between Hootsuite and Tweetdeck at and Other recommendations were for Socialmention ( and Seesmic ( Twitter’s own search was also recommended to me. Thanks to Sue Lawson who emailed me this search term for monitoring mentions. Sue writes “This URL will show you all your Twitter @ mentions
Just replace manclibraries with your Twitter username”. A number of respondents suggested using RSS both for monitoring mentions and picking up followers by having a feed of your Tweets on your website. To see this in action you can visit the NAS’s own website at

Screen shot of NAS Twitter account

NAS Twitter account

In terms of building up followers, the key advice seems to be to understand Twitter as a two-way thing; to think about it as you would building relationships and having conversations in the non-web2 world, i.e. be friendly, sociable, helpful but don’t do all the talking. Follow others, ask and answer questions, retweet other people’s Tweets as appropriate. Try to find a balance between informative and conversational Tweets. Most importantly Tweet lots of interesting and useful things regularly. I’m not sure I’ve achieved this yet but it has been really useful advice. I’ve tried to find a balance between friendly, relaxed but also professional (I am representing the NAS after all). I’ve also written a few extra Tweets in addition to the schedule designed where I’d come across information I thought would be of interest to our followers. This included about a film of a short presentation by Simon Baron-Cohen (a key expert in the field of autism) on the Guardian website; an online autism conference organised by AWARES (an autism charity in Wales); and a link to the occupational therapy database, OTDBASE, that was free for a week. Colleagues also suggested tagging posts; utilising other social platforms e.g. other web2 tools; and to think about marketing. This advice gave me food for thought.

I’m at an early stage in my use of Twitter for my library. Next on my list is to try out Hootsuite; identify others to follow on Twitter (thanks to Sian Aynsley, @QEhealthcareLib who suggested using Twellow:, the Twitter Yellow Pages for this); and typical librarian to do: to do more reading! The following blog posts were recommended to me:
I also want to look at Microblogging and Lifestreaming in Libraries by Robin M. Hastings (ISBN: 9781856047234), part of Facet Publishing’s Tech Set series; and Loudon and Hall (2010). From triviality to business tool: the case of Twitter in library and information services delivery. Business Information Review, 27(3) available at

To see how we are getting on with Twitter you can follow us @NASInfoCentre or email I would particularly like to acknowledge the generosity and helpfulness of fellow librarians on LIS-WEB2 – without them this blog post would never have happened so thank you.

Posted in Social Web, Twitter | 2 Comments »

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 »

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 »