Cultural Heritage

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Archive for the 'Web 2.0' Category

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

Around the World in 80 Gigabytes

Posted by guestblogger on 21st February 2011

About this Guest Post

Alexandra Eveleigh is an archivist with a background working mostly within the local authority sector. She has a long standing interest in the impact of digital technologies upon archives, and her PhD research at University College London seeks to evaluate the implications for professional theory and practice of user collaboration initiatives using Web2.0 tools.

She can be contacted via her blog Around the World in Eighty Gigabytes or follow her on Twitter.

Around the World in 80 Gigabytes

Web 2.0 is here to stay. This blog is as good evidence as any of the enthusiasm with which a whole variety of online tools designed to encourage audience participation are being adopted and adapted across the cultural heritage sector. In his recent book, Cognitive Surplus, Clay Shirky argues that increased experimentation is a defining feature of this brave, new technological world. But as public sector cuts begin to bite, there is a real need to begin to evaluate existing initiatives, to map current trends in the use of Web2.0 tools, and to find out what has worked and what hasn’t within our sector. Are some participatory models more successful than others, and why? What outcomes do Web2.0 projects aim to achieve, and how can these be measured? Are these kinds of initiatives sustainable – that is, are the results sufficient to warrant the effort that organisations put into the development and maintenance of such projects? For example, are wikis merely going out of fashion or are there specific structural constraints which make this particular model of online collaboration especially challenging to design and sustain in professionalized heritage contexts?

Advocates for the use of Web2.0 technologies in archives (and I’d be one of them) tend to make much of the opportunity to reach new and different audiences, to expose archive collections to the world, even to democratize the archive. But even if as professional archivists we aspire to a transformation of the civic function of archives in our use of Web2.0 tools, we cannot achieve this on our own. As Stuart Macdonald commented in his guest post about the AddressingHistory project, the success of these types of initiatives will “ultimately be measured by continual and extended use within the wider community”. Encouraging two-way engagement is not like the usual kind of organizational development project, in that there’s no fixed end point at project launch. Web2.0 experiments are easy to start up, but hard to pull the plug on, even if only a few people are contributing, without adversely affecting community trust in your organization and their willingness to participate in the future.

image of Old Weather home page

Old Weather project home page

My research is focused upon those initiatives which depend upon the skills or knowledge of members of the public to supplement or create new information about archival collections (as opposed to platforms like facebook which primarily enable passing comments or indications of approval on content submitted by archivists). This incorporates a wide spectrum of participant behavior from the small, atomized contributions required to take part in the Old Weather transcription of ships’ logs or to tag archival photographs on flickr commons, right through to the sustained effort and specialist knowledge needed to make a substantive contribution to The National Archives’ wiki Your Archives.

Flickr commons home page

I’m particularly interested in what motivates people to participate online, so that we can establish what social and technical structures best support user participation, and feed this knowledge back into the design of future initiatives. Do online collaborative tools genuinely open up archives to crowds of ‘new’ users as is often claimed, or can the expertise of those with a prior interest and awareness of archives be more easily or usefully tapped? What mechanisms can be put in place both to encourage contributions and to establish the trustworthiness and relevance of submissions? I’m also interested to find out how potential contributors find out about online participation opportunities in the first place, and the interplay between different Web2.0 tools in promoting such projects. Some of the initial data I’ve collected suggests that although social media like twitter and facebook can play an important role in raising awareness amongst fellow professionals of new projects, and in sustaining enthusiasm amongst the participant community once established, traditional press coverage still packs an unrivalled punch in terms of making initial contact with would-be participants in cultural heritage contexts.

image of milkyway project home page

Milkyway project homepage

Certain trends are already becoming evident within the (broadly defined) archives domain. 2010 was definitely the year of the transcription platform, as organisations seek to strike a happy balance between motivating participants to contribute and maintaining adequate organizational control over the content created. Some distinctions are also now becoming evident between different styles of project. Some aim to ‘crowdsource’ lots of small contributions from as many people as possible, yet the commitment required and connection established between each individual participant and the archives may only be fleeting. More community-focused initiatives, on the other hand, bear a close resemblance to traditional volunteering opportunities or outreach work, specifically aiming to capitalize on participants’ emotional attachment with the subject matter in hand. But this is a dynamic field, and sometimes its hard to keep up with all the new projects unveiled: I wonder what new ideas 2011 will bring?

Posted in archives, Guest-blog, Web 2.0, wikis | 1 Comment »

Revitalising Information Services

Posted by guestblogger on 14th February 2011

image of Peter Brown, Enfield Libraries

About this Guest Post

Peter Brown is Information and Digital Citizenship Manager at Enfield Libraries. He can be contacted on:

The London Libraries Consortium can be contacted via Madeline Barratt, Libraries Strategy & Performance Manager, Enfield Libraries: or 0208 379 3784.

Revitalising information services

Since the introduction of the Public Libraries Act over 150 years ago, a lot of time, effort and money, have been invested in building large static collections of books that reflected the likely information needs of the populations they served. Traditionally the ‘Reference Library’ – often on the first floor of the older Carnegie or Passmore Edwards buildings – represented the inner sanctum of reserve, and specialisation for the ‘serious’ customer in search of enlightenment (or an undisturbed snooze).

Publishing costs today have pushed series, annual reference volumes and special interest books to stratospheric prices. Publication, processing and shelving of these materials has made the process seemingly lethargic in comparison with instant internet access. The means of production is changing rapidly, likewise that of delivery and we need to get in front of this or be mown down and left for dead!

Despite the pitfalls of the web for the unwary, customers have changed their habits, they are busier people and their hunting grounds have expanded exponentially. Unless librarians radically adjust by seizing the moment, and become knowledgeable mentors to what is out there and how best to harness its information potential, we will be entombed in the stacks along with complete files of Wisden, Whitaker’s Almanac – and Keesing’s Contemporary Archives!

With all library authority budgets under pressure it is inevitable that services will be subject to scrutiny. In London some authorities are currently spending up to £150k on materials and a further £210K on staffing annually to maintain their Reference or Information Services. It will not be feasible for authorities to keep hard copy, online and periodical reference resources with budgets facing considerable reductions over the next four years. Trying to keep all three strands going on reduced means is neither conducive to an efficient service nor to the majority of our customers. Libraries throughout the world should be leading by example by setting standards that will be the admiration of the polity.

At Enfield Libraries we are spearheading the London Libraries Consortium workstream on digital resources and believe libraries must grasp the digital revolution and be purveyors of accurate and up-to-date information. Online legal resources, for example, are constantly refreshed and updated and can offer more information than the hard copy resources we used to purchase.

Some authorities are reportedly considering cancelling online resources due to lack of use, adding that customers are quite happy using Google and Wikepedia. This is a worrying development because not only do they not add value to library services they are also of little help to school children or any other customer lost in the information wood.

In order to get more accurate data on our use of these resources, we recently carried out a review of our own services and the lessons from this are now being shared with the 13 other members of the consortium (Barking & Dagenham, Brent, Ealing, Hackney, Havering, Kingston Upon Thames, Lewisham, Newham, Redbridge, Richmond, Tower Hamlets, Waltham Forest and Wandsworth).

Whilst there are visitors who prefer to come into the reference library and use the dwindling hard copy resources, in general customers are increasingly web savvy and becoming increasingly used to accessing information from PCs or mobile devices such as iPads. Evidence suggests that a similar split exists among library staff – so staff need very specific training so that they can be effective catalysts to assist the cross over. This always-on culture helps to drive staff and customers to our online reference resources. Since the radical change in our information services from mostly hard copy to mostly digital, we have had only a handful of formal complaints – the majority about requesting better access to digital resources – particularly access to LexisNexis from home.

As a result in Enfield we have increased usage of our online reference resources by over 300 percent and saved £40k per annum. We are confident that our colleagues in the consortium will achieve similar gains. To achieve a successful progression to mostly online reference resources, library staff must clearly understand the context of the shift of information away from a centralised model (i.e. from reference librarians based in reference libraries) to branch-based delivery from all PCs by all staff and be confident in using and promoting these resources.

image of poster

Online safety poster

Training and marketing

The Information and Digital Citizenship Team (Paolo Zanelli and I) carried out a comprehensive 12-month training programme for our staff focusing on: homework help; business and legal; newspapers and periodicals; local and community information. We follow up these sessions with mystery shopping exercises to test the effectiveness of the training – and we no longer have ‘Reference Librarians’. Library Senior Management teams must show considerable leadership by example by engaging in being trained if not be part of the actual training team itself. As previously mentioned we had to overcome the general view that library staff are au fait with searching digital resources. Mystery shopping had demonstrated ‘books’ as first port of call even for the birth date of Richard Branson prior to training.

Whilst it’s true that most are familiar with sites such as Google, Amazon and Facebook, training was required in skills suitable to a public library setting providing information that would previously only have been expected in a library with ‘Reference Library’. We then trained our staff intensively for 12 months using the 4 modules (homework help, business and legal, etc). This exercise enabled us to identify a handful of staff that were clearly struggling with the modules due to additional needs, such as basic PC operations, file management, Word, so further training was devised to meet these needs. The Information and Digital Citizenship team combined this with a marketing programme of posters around the library, shelf markers pointing visitors to online resources, bookends, individual emails to all driving instructors in Enfield about Driving Theory Test Pro, and bookmarks.

image of young internet user

Safety first guidelines

Some of the schools in the area have staff, and not always their librarians, who value what we do. They work closely with us and to encourage pupils to use our high quality digital resources. This was a consequence of a marketing campaign aimed at all secondary schools in the authority. As part of the schools campaign we requested a link to the library services on the schools’ Managed Learning Environment, designed posters and drop down leaflets aimed at homework resources. We also use the digital mediums of Facebook (Enfield Library and Museum Service) and Twitter (@enfieldlibrary) to reach visitors. As a result of these initiatives we saw performance of our range of digital resources more than triple.

Most popular resources

Although the subscription covers access from only two libraries in Enfield, is one of our most popular resources with around 20,000 hits over the last 9 months. The more hits we have the greater the value because it is more cost effective; the projected annual individual search cost for is £0.10. It is also a well known brand thanks to television, online and print advertising of the service. Family history researchers also use FindMyPast, available in our family history library. The latter now includes the 1911 census, making the data even more useful to researchers.  We have recently added Nineteenth Century Newspapers to our resources, available via the internet with a library card. This is the British Library’s full run of influential national and regional newspapers representing different political and cultural segments of the 19th century British society. This has proved very popular in other library authorities and we feel will be a good complement to and FindMyPast.

Our other most used digital resources are Britannica (over 15,000 hits over 9 months, £0.17 per individual search and widely used by schoolchildren) and Driving Test Pro (over 6,000 tests taken over the last 9 months, £0.06 for each individual test completed). Another reason for increasing popularity is that these resources are far more accessible to multiple users and offer much more than text or the previously stocked CD-ROMs, as they tend to be very interactive and offer images, videos, audio and hyperlinks.

Future plans

We continue to review our resources and to work with suppliers to get performance data – we no longer subscribe to services which cannot provide us with this information. Single sign on will soon be established by the consortium, which will make it easier for customers to use digital resources. Joint purchasing of online resources is likely when we have completed our benchmarking exercise of LLC member authority usage and costs.

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

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 »

Do You Use Library Linked Data?

Posted by Brian Kelly on 21st January 2011

Call for Use Cases: Social uses and other new uses of Library Linked Data
The W3C Library Linked Data Incubator Group –
Please respond by February 15th, 2011

Do you use library-related data – like reading lists, library materials (articles, books, videos, cultural heritage or archival materials, etc), bookmarks, or annotations – on the Web and mobile Web?

Are you currently using social features in library-related information systems or sites, or plan to do so in the near future? We are particularly interested in uses that are related to or could benefit from the use of linked data

The W3C Library Linked Data Incubator Group is soliciting SOCIAL and EMERGENT use cases for library-related linked data:

  • What new or innovative uses do you see (or envision) integrating library and cultural heritage data into applications on the Web and in social media?
  • How are social features used in library-related information systems?
  • What are the emergent uses of library-related data on the Web and mobile Web?
  • How could linked data technology enhance the use of library-related data in a social context?
  • contribute to systems for sharing, filtering, recommending, or machine reading?
  • support new uses we may not have envisioned or achieved yet?

Some examples have been discussed in this thread

Please tell us more by filling in the questionnaire below and sending it back to us or to, preferably before February 15th, 2011.

The information you provide will be influential in guiding the activities the Library Linked Data Incubator Group will undertake to help increase global interoperability of library data on the Web. The information you provide will be curated and published on the group wikispace at

We understand that your time is precious, so please don’t feel you have to answer every question. Some sections of the templates are clearly marked as optional. However, the more information you can provide, the easier it will be for the Incubator Group to understand your case. And, of course, please do not hesitate to contact us if you have any trouble answering our questions.
Editorial guidance on specific points is provided at, and examples are available at

At this time, we are particularly interested in use cases describing the social media and emergent uses for library linked data.The Incubator Group will carefully consider all submissions we receive.

On behalf of the Incubator Group, thanks in advance for your time, Jodi Schneider jodi.schneider_deri.organd Uldis Bojārs


NB: It is not possible to make your response directly via this blog post. Please copy this text into a Word document or an email, add in your responses and send to the email address above.


A short name by which we can refer to the use case in discussions.


The contact person for this use case.

Background and Current Practice

Where this use case takes place in a specific domain, and so requires some prior information to understand, this section is used to describe that domain. As far as possible, please put explanation of the domain in here, to keep the scenario as short as possible. If this scenario is best illustrated by showing how applying technology could replace current existing practice, then this section can be used to describe the current practice. Often, the key to why a use case is important also lies in what problem would occur if it was not achieved, or what problem means it is hard to achieve.


Two short statements stating (1) what is achieved in the scenario without reference to linked data, and (2) how we use linked data technology to achieve this goal.

Target Audience

The main audience of your case. For example scholars, the general public, service providers, archivists, computer programs…

Use Case Scenario

The use case scenario itself, described as a story in which actors interact with systems. This section should focus on the user needs in this scenario. Do not mention technical aspects and/or the use of linked data.

Application of linked data for the given use case

This section describes how linked data technology could be used to support the use case above. Try to focus on linked data on an abstract level, without mentioning concrete applications and/or vocabularies. Hint: Nothing library domain specific.

Existing Work (optional)

This section is used to refer to existing technologies or approaches which achieve
the use case (Hint: Specific approaches in the library domain). It may especially
refer to running prototypes or applications.

Related Vocabularies (optional)

Here you can list and clarify the use of vocabularies (element sets and value vocabularies) which can be helpful and applied within this context.

Problems and Limitations (optional)

This section lists reasons why this scenario is or may be difficult to achieve, including pre-requisites which may not be met, technological obstacles etc. Please explicitly list here the technical challenges made apparent by this use case. This will aid in creating a roadmap to overcome those challenges.

Related Use Cases and Unanticipated Uses (optional)

The scenario above describes a particular case of using linked data. However, by allowing this scenario to take place, the likely solution allows for other use cases. This section captures unanticipated uses of the same system apparent in the use case scenario.

References (optional)

This section is used to refer to cited literature and quoted websites.

End of questionnaire

Posted in Social Web, 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 »

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

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 »

Welsh Libraries and Web 2.0 Report

Posted by Brian Kelly on 15th November 2010

The Welsh Libraries and Web 2.0 Report is now available to download.

The report is a snap-shot of the views of librarians of the use of Web 2.0 in libraries in Wales. It compares access by the different library sectors to different types of Web 2.0 technologies and also looks at what libraries are doing and what they would like to do with Web 2.0 technologies. The report is now available to download via the CyMAL website:

Posted in Libraries, Web 2.0 | 1 Comment »

Netvibes for Centralised Management of the Internet Desktop

Posted by guestblogger on 8th November 2010

About this Guest Post

Eddie Byrne is a Senior Librarian with Dublin City Public Libraries, Dublin, Ireland, and Head of the Libraries’ Web Services Unit. In the public library service since 1980, his experiences extend to website development, content management systems, open source software, web accessibility, cataloguing, metadata, thesaurus construction, and of course Web 2.0. He can be contacted at

Netvibes for Centralised Management of the Internet Desktop

Dublin City Public Libraries is the largest public library authority in the Republic of Ireland, serving a population in excess of half a million. Free public Internet access is available on over 100 Internet computers in 21 locations across the city, and in 2009 alone there were over 380,000 Internet sessions. Free wi-fi is also available.

Due to the number of locations and PCs, computer and desktop management has always proved a challenge. It had long been apparent that a solution was needed that would in the first instance provide library Internet users with a useful and well presented Internet desktop, while at the same time ease the task of desktop management. Prior to the introduction of the Internet start page solution, the practice had been, as and when required, to highlight select websites by placing Internet shortcuts on an already cluttered computer desktop, adding website addresses to a browser’s list of favourites, while also having to edit existing links as and when necessary. This process had then to be replicated on each of the over one hundred PCs in the many and diverse locations, a time and resource consuming task for the Libraries’ IT Unit. It was at the same time debatable as to whether or not these efforts were of any real benefit to the Internet user.

Our Solution

The obvious solution was a centrally managed and purposely designed default home page or ‘Internet desktop’, with changes applied in one location taking immediate effect across the whole network of Internet PCs. From a management perspective this would result in huge savings in terms of time and staff involvement. It also afforded the opportunity to some degree to monitor usage of the custom delivered desktop and as a consequence improve it as necessary.

screenshot of netvibes homepage

Dublin City Libraries netvibes homepage

In late 2007, various solutions were looked at, including a number of web-based start page services. A web-based solution quickly became the front-runner in terms of cost, available time, and ease of delivery, tied in to available staff resources and expertise. Pageflakes, having been found to meet certain minimum requirements, was eventually selected and a custom-built Pageflakes page rolled out in early 2008 as the default entry point to the web on all public-access PCs. All this work was carried out internally, with no recourse to third-party developers or service providers, and consequently no third-party costs. Netvibes replaced Pageflakes in late 2008 consequent on issues experienced with Pageflakes, issues which highlighted the need to have a risk management plan in place.

The ‘Start Page’

The newly delivered Internet desktop, or ‘start page’, acted as a ‘portal’ or gateway, giving library users a single point of access to information and services on the web, while also presenting information from diverse sources in a unified manner. See

screenshot of netvibes mediazone page

Dublin City Library media zone page on netvibes

In terms of structure and substance, content is delivered by means of eight tabs, each tab representing a different category.  These are: – Home (default page), Find It!, News, European Press, Your Pleasure, Traffic & Travel, Mail & Tool Kit and Media Zone. Most of the tabs incorporate some library-related content (event and service promotions, announcements), the Home tab in particular having a particular library focus.

In terms of measuring usage, Google Analytics is used to collate statistical data, with a different script collecting data on each tab, thereby allowing analysis of use of each category of content.

The desktop is managed by the Libraries’ Web Team and management entails ongoing monitoring of the ‘Start Page’, checking for downtime, performance issues, widget failure, broken links, and carrying out periodic manual edits; the bulk of the content is generated dynamically via RSS feeds from the Libraries’ other web presences including its Twitter account and delicious bookmark site, as well as the astute use of the various widgets available to deliver diverse content.

In real terms, the management of the desktop can now be measured in terms of minutes per day, with additional time spent periodically carrying out a more extensive audit and analysis of use. Of greater note of course is the fact that the library service is now providing a value-added service for its users, one available not merely via the library-based Internet PCs but from any location where one can access the Internet.

Further Developments – Children’s Internet Computers

screenshot of netvibes learning zone page

Dublin City Libraries Learning Zone on netvibes

Towards the end of 2009 work began on developing a separate purposely designed Internet desktop using the Netvibes platform for use on the dedicated children’s Internet computers in branch libraries. Because of the particular target audience, security concerns were paramount, and having to get the approval of the Libraries’ parent organisation (City Council) resulted in time delays and additional work in addressing concerns, real and imaginary. As a consequence, access on dedicated children’s computers is restricted to select sites, and as a risk minimisation effort it was decided to restrict the use of widgets on the resulting page to those built, maintained and hosted by Netvibes alone. This desktop is due for rollout in Autumn 2010.

Future developments – Business Information Centre Internet Computers

As of late summer 2010, a purposely designed desktop is being investigated for use in the Business Information Centre, a specialist service housed in the main Central Library.

To Find Out More

The article author, Eddie Byrne, gave a presentation on the use of a start page service by a public library at the Internet Librarian International conference in London in October 2009, see the presentation at:

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

Web 2.0 Guide for Libraries

Posted by Brian Kelly on 4th November 2010

Produced by CILIP in Scotland and the Scottish Library & Information Council, this is a 10 page guide that includes advice on how to overcome the ‘considerable barriers to widespread adoption’ that still remain and how libraries can ‘reach beyond the “walled garden” to interact with users in online spaces they are already visiting, rather than passively waiting for users to seek [them] out’.

Ideas mentioned include book discussion groups using a blog or a wiki, using Twitter for event news and service updates, and aggregator services such as Netvibes, plus information on legal implications. The guide also identifies the Slainte 2.0 Web site as an exemplar of good practice.

A Guide to Using Web 2.0 in Libraries (PDF)

Slainte2 Web site

Posted in Libraries, Web 2.0 | 1 Comment »

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 »

An Archive in the Palm of Your Hand

Posted by guestblogger on 27th September 2010

About this Guest Post

Emma Faragher is an Education & Outreach Officer, at the National Library of Scotland (NLS), where she works on learning and interpretation for The John Murray Archive project. Emma can be contacted at

An Archive in the palm of your hand: The John Murray Archive app at the National Library of Scotland

The John Murray Archive exhibition at the National Library of Scotland exhibition highlights the archive of publishers John Murray. The archive records the business of the John Murray publishing firm, widely regarded as one of the world’s most important publishing archives. It comprises over 150,000 papers, manuscripts, letters and other documents representing many of the world’s most celebrated writers, thinkers, politicians, explorers, economists and scientists. The exhibition is an innovative interactive space which uses a mix of technology and theatre to bring a unique archive collection to life.

NLS iPhone app showing text from John Murray Archive

Originally the exhibition had an introductory film. However this was presented in a separate room and evaluation revealed that it was not well-used or understood by visitors. Therefore in 2009 NLS took the decision to remove the film and seek an alternative way to introduce the archive, deciding that this was a good opportunity to pilot the use of new technologies and handheld guides in our exhibition spaces.

Following a period of research and evaluation of existing handheld guides used in museums in the UK and further afield we decided to develop an ‘app’ for iPhone and iPod. At the time of our research this was still relatively unusual, though the popularity of apps as guides in the cultural sector has grown significantly since this project began, in tandem with the rapid growth of the mobile internet.


The app was built with an external developer, Screenmedia. We built the app over a period of four and a half months. The team at Screenmedia worked with our Learning and Public Engagement team to develop a structure and content plan. We developed a themed structure which complements the archive’s website. Each theme includes an audio-visual introduction and access to a selection of documents. Content was developed with liaison from the curatorial team for the John Murray Archive.

Access & promotion

Image of Iphone app interactive

NLS iPhone app - interactive state

The app is available to the public in a number of ways:

  • Remote users can download it from the Apple iTunes store, links have been provided to the store from John Murray Archive and main NLS websites.
  • Visitors to NLS with an iPhone or iPod have the option to download to their own devices using our public wifi network.
  • Visitors to NLS without their own device can borrow an iPod during their visit.

We have promoted the app using social media, including Twitter updates and Facebook and news streams on our website.

In addition we have used more traditional means of promotion, including a press release to local and national newspapers and more specialist press, receiving good coverage. We are also promoting the app in our public areas, including posters, café table tent cards and inclusion on information screens.

To date there have been almost 900 downloads of the app.


We receive monthly updates on downloads of the app which we map against promotional activity. This has already revealed that though social media promotion is valuable, traditional media still has its place – one of the greatest peaks in downloads was following the press release and subsequent publication of stories about the app in newspapers.

NLSiPhone app image

NLS iPhone app - rollover

We track star-ratings of the app following downloads, and have implemented an evaluation screen within the application itself which is linked to our wi-fi system so that people who use the app in the library can send feedback direct.

We are currently surveying visitors to NLS who use the app; initial returns have been very positive.

Some key learning points from the project

Our app began life as a project focussed on providing a service to exhibition visitors, but as soon as we selected our format it became apparent the service would also be of great potential interest to remote users. Therefore as the app developed we ensured that it would be interesting and relevant even if you are not physically at the Library. This has been borne out by the popularity of downloads for the app.

When this project was developed, iPhones dominated the smart phone market, but recent figures suggest that Google Android (the operating system used by a number of other smart phones) is likely to have an equal market share in the future. Further, the, advent of the iPad and tablet computers is likely to change the mobile internet market further in the next few years.

Remote users are increasingly important in our sector and as the popularity of mobile internet, smartphones and other tools develops they will offer many opportunities and tools for the cultural sector to engage with new audiences.

Image of NLS iPhone app

NLS iPhone app - video screen

Posted in archives, Guest-blog, Libraries, Web 2.0 | 1 Comment »

PLING and Web 2.0

Posted by Brian Kelly on 17th September 2010

A colleague, Stephanie Taylor, has just drawn my attention to the use of Web 2.0 by a new action group, PLING. It is interesting to see which services they are using. Stephanie writes:

Public libraries have been in the news a lot since last week, with central and local government cuts seeming to pose a threat to the concept of free public library services. There have several radio phone-ins, various articles in national newspapers and even (!)  some television interviews.

A small number of working public librarians have got together to form a group – Public Libraries In Need Group (PLING). They have been using Twitter to alert fellow professionals to news and encourage them to comment on articles and participate in phone-ins etc. They have also set up a Facebook page and created a Flickr group. The general idea is to provide a platform where the case for a free public library service in the UK can be argued, and to promote the benefits of existing services.

If you feel strongly about a free public library service, you can join in.

If you have an interest in good use of Web 2.0 tools, they are an excellent example of what can be done in this area without spending money to communicate effectively.

You can find more info at the following places if you are interested -

Follow them on Twitter  –
and look up #pling

Facebook -

And a Flickr group where people are posting positive images of  public libraries -

They also now have a website –
Interestingly, in a Web 2.0 way, this was the last thing to be done/launched!

Posted in Libraries, Web 2.0 | 1 Comment »

Making Time for Web 2.0

Posted by guestblogger on 30th August 2010

About this guest post

Kiara King is the Archivist for the Ballast Trust, a charitable foundation that provides a rescue, sorting and cataloguing service for business archives with an emphasis on technical records such as plans, drawings and photographs. She can be contacted at:

Making Time for Web 2.0

Hopefully you now have a good idea about what web 2.0 can do for your archive and are convinced of the benefits of web 2.0. But if you are unsure if you can spare the time to get involved, then fret no more! Fortunately there is an entry point to web 2.0 for everyone, even if you can only spare an hour a week and don’t know what html is.

image Web 2.0 tool logos

The world of Web 2.0

As this diagram shows, web 2.0 activity can be broken down into three different types that require varying levels of commitment and time.


  • Investigate your organisation’s web presence by googling yourself and see if you can amend or add to the information that is available.
  • Comment, amend, tag anything relevant to your collections that you find on sites like Wikipedia, Flickr and Youtube with your expert knowledge about the collection or item and link back to your own website.
  • Start a Twitter feed and see what others are saying about archives on twitter by using the #archives tag.
  • Join Flickr and post your own images.

Create and share content

  • Start a blog, make sure you can commit to regular posting (at least 1-2 posts a week) which should only take an hour of staff time.
  • Create podcasts, if you are already doing talks then this just means recording them and creating an audio file for download.
  • Create some videos to show how to handle documents or a behind the scenes look at the archives and put them up on youtube.

Build communities

  • Consider starting a facebook group for your archive.
  • Create a social network group using a site like ning to build an online community for your users.
  • How about opening up your catalogue in a wiki for users to amend and contribute to? This will require moderating but is a great way to harvest the knowledge users have about collections and share it with others.

Finally, work smartly and make the Internet work for you by creating a personalised start page. This acts like a personal web portal so that when you open up your browser it will push content to you from other sources for you to engage with. This could be recent activity in your flickr account, blog posts to read and comment on from other sources, news results for certain terms relevant to your archive as well as your emails.

screenshot of start page

screenshot of start page

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