Cultural Heritage

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

Museums Web 2.0 Round-up

Posted by Brian Kelly on November 29th, 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 »

New Technologies Blog

Posted by Brian Kelly on November 24th, 2010

About this Guest Post

Lisa Anderson is a Subject Advisor (Law, Archaeology and Antiquity) in the Library Services at the University of Birmingham. She can be contacted at

New Technologies Blog

At the University of Birmingham the library has a New Technologies Group (NewT), and over the years we have looked at and shared information amongst ourselves about new technology applications and tried to work out if we can use them for teaching, research or to create work efficiencies. The group consists of subject librarians, library services managers, a member of IT Services staff and a member of the University’s eLearning team.

We work with other members of Library Services on projects that involve new technologies for example I recently worked on a project with another member of library staff which investigated how portable devices worked with our resources and how our students currently used them. Two NewT members are working with a staff member from Library Customer Support on how we could use QR codes and we are also investigating how we can make our services more mobile friendly. When a subject librarian said that she still didn’t feel certain about how to use all of these new Web 2.0 tools we worked with her and put together a short course that any member of our library staff could attend.

I would recommend all libraries to set up their own NewT groups. There is so much happening and at such speed that it is difficult for one lone individual to be able to keep up with all of these developments. In NewT we all have different skills and interests and this helps us to remain on top of things. Most of us are not technical types, and having a group of people helps us to help each other to work out how these new technologies work, and gives us someone to test them on. We can’t shy away from these new technologies just because we don’t understand them to begin with as libraries and technologies are now interlinked. We need to have room to experiment and to gain ideas from how other people use them.

We have decided that some of our information may be of interest to a wider audience and so have created a New Technologies blog which you can find at: . We are aiming to add at least one or two new items to the blog each week. If you are like me and prefer to follow tweets to blogs, then I will be tweeting about each new blog entry via my @Subjectadvisor twitter account.

Posted in Blogs | 1 Comment »

Social Web workshops

Posted by Brian Kelly on November 22nd, 2010

In Spring 2011 UKOLN will be running further workshops for the cultural heritage sector on using the Social Web. 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.

A third workshop is also being planned.

Posted in mla-social-web-workshops | 1 Comment »

Welsh Libraries and Web 2.0 Report

Posted by Brian Kelly on November 15th, 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 November 8th, 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 November 4th, 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 November 1st, 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 October 30th, 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

Reading Group videoconferencing overseas

Posted by Brian Kelly on October 28th, 2010

Picked this message up recently from the email list. So libraries, if you’ve got reading groups (seem to be more usually called book clubs in the USA) set up, why not think about this opportunity and contact Tim Boundy (details at bottom of post).

Subject: Trans-Atlantic Library Book Clubs using Videoconferencing

An interesting opportunity for Libraries…

The Internet2 K20 Initiative (the educational high speed network in the States) is looking for UK public libraries interested in participating in cultural exchange events across the Atlantic.

Specifically, several US public libraries with active book clubs are interested in connecting with other book clubs in libraries in the UK via videoconferencing.

If you have an active book club that might enjoy going global and using videoconferencing please let me know, and we can help to connect up your libraries.

Tim Boundy

National Education Network Services Group
Content Coordinator
t: 01235 822370
m: 07787 574036
VC via JVCS:


JANET, the UK’s education and research network
JANET Schools Group
JANET(UK), Lumen House, Library Avenue, Harwell Science and Innovation Campus, Didcot, Oxfordshire, OX11 0SG, UK.

Posted in Libraries | Comments Off

Spitfire RW388

Posted by guestblogger on October 25th, 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 »

Halton to Use Open Source LMS

Posted by Brian Kelly on October 22nd, 2010

Just spotted this message from Ken Chad on the email list. So far it has been mostly libraries in the USA who have chosen to use an open source  LMS but things are changing it seems.

Ken writes:

Halton is the first UK public library to choose an open source Library Management System. They are implementing Koha to replace their Dynix system and getting their support from PTFS Europe. More information is on the Local Government Library Technology website Open source page

The library systems market is starting to pick up with Staffordshire (currently Talis) and Sterling (currently SirsiDynix) out to tender for new systems and a few more are looking. In HE Queens University Belfast and Kingston University (both Talis) are out to tender and a few others are reviewing the market.

Posted in Libraries | Comments Off

Connecting for the Future

Posted by guestblogger on October 18th, 2010

About this Guest Post

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

Connecting for the Future

Context is Everything

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

The Very Near Future

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

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

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


A quick test of the API using Yahoo Pipes

The Present

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

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

Screenshot of draft web site

The under-construction Portrait of the Potteries Microsite

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

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

Screenshot of mailchimp dashboard

The MailChimp dashboard

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

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

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

Museum Marketing

Posted by Brian Kelly on October 11th, 2010

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

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

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

Posted in Museums, Social Web | 1 Comment »

CILIP CIG Conference 2010

Posted by Brian Kelly on October 7th, 2010

Along with nearly 70 others, I attended the CILIP Cataloguing and Indexing Group (CIG) conference which was held on 13 to 15 September 2010 at the University of Exeter. Group and Branch events are a great way to catch up with new developments and meet fellow practitioners. Here’s a quick run through of the programme and slides for the presentations are now available from the conference web site.

Day 1. The Keynote speaker was Biddy Fisher, President of CILIP, who praised those who work behind the scenes and called them the “heart of the profession” and noting that cataloguers “organize chaos”. In the Standards Forum Alan Danskin presented a review of the most recent changes in the MARC 21 formats. This was followed by two talks on RDA. Alan Poulter, the new CILIP representative to the JSC for RDA, set out how he sees his role and his wish to get more interaction from the community. With testing under way, the questions now are ‘what do we do about RDA?”, “what are the major and minor differences with AACR2?” and “what happens if Library of Congress rejects RDA?”. Finally, Alan Danskin reported on the results of the recent survey on potential RDA training needs in the UK. This showed that around 20% of respondents in the UK were expecting to adopt RDA; Alan noted that another recent survey indicated that around 50% of European libraries intended adopting RDA. The evening meal was followed by a quiz.

Day 2. This began with a paper by Gary Steele’s paper on using wisdom of the crowds in choosing LCSH for individual titles. The next two papers focused on workflow management. Stuart Hunt talked about improving performance in cataloguing and technical services workflows by integrating Japanese models. Robin Armstrong Viner’s paper (presented by Alan Danskin as Robin was unexpectedly unable to attend) made many of the same points, illustrated by how this worked at the University of Aberdeen. After lunch, Dunia Garcia-Ontiveros spoke on the continuing need for retrospective cataloguing and the idea of a national register on materials requiring retrospective cataloguing or conversion. Sally Curry of RIN then spoke on cataloguing as a problem to be shared. The day ended with the conference dinner in Reed Hall.

Day 3. The first papers was Alan Poulter on CIDOC CRM, a modelling tool for “exchanging rich cultural heritage data”. Dawn Wood’s talk on repository metadata was on metadata to the learning objects deposited in the Leeds Metropolitan University repository. An ‘open mic’ session replaced the cancelled second paper on repositories and generated some interesting debate. The conference closed at lunchtime, with some delegates visiting either the Met Office Library or Exeter Cathedral Library before travelling home.

For the first time, the conference used a twitter hashtag (#cigx). In retrospect, we (I’m a member of the CIG Committee) should also have thought about archiving the tweets.

CIG sponsored a place for a new professional – read Claire Sewell’s conference blog posts about her experience.

Exeter conference – why I wanted to go

Claire Swell’s conference blog

Claire at CIG conference day 1

Claire at conference day 2

Claire at CIG conference day 3

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e-Books in Public Libraries

Posted by guestblogger on October 4th, 2010

About this Guest Post

Martin Palmer is the Principal Officer for Libraries at Essex County Council, where he has been responsible for the provision of e-books over the past seven years. He can be contacted at

e-Books in Public Libraries

I was invited to a meeting of Health Librarians recently to talk about the Essex experience of providing e-books in a public library setting. It was held at the Senate House at London University, which – apart from giving me the opportunity to hear about lots of exciting things going on in a different sector – also provided an interesting context in which to reflect on how e-books in public libraries have developed over the past few years, as I had given a presentation in the same venue (along with Linda Berube, one of last month’s guest bloggers…) on the same subject in 2004.

So, has anything changed in six years?

Well, one would hope so – and a lot has. For a start, the Overdrive download service that we first offered all that time ago is now also available from around 20 other authorities around the country (with more in the pipeline) providing not only e-books but e-audio as well. In fact, growth in interest has been sufficient for the MLA to set up a ‘community of practice’ for librarians interested in sharing their experience, problem solving, requesting advice, and so on.

New suppliers have also emerged, including Coutts/Ingram’s MyiLibrary; Public Library Online (formerly Bloomsbury Online), which offers simultaneous on-line access to ‘electronic bookshelves’; and W F Howes’ Clipper material is available as e-audio downloads. Not only that, but a venerable name from the supply of print material to public libraries – Askews – is about to launch its own e-book service, too.

Not surprisingly, this growth on the supply side has been stimulated to a large extent by a rise in public demand for such material, reflecting a huge growth in e-reading – partly inspired by the latest generation of devices such as the Sony e-reader, the Kindle, and others but also by the arrival of the iPhone, iPad and so on (other multi-functional bits of kit are also available…).

This has been accompanied by a gradual realisation on the part of many publishers that e-books can offer an important new income stream, rather than simply threatening their existing revenue. As a result, some bestsellers now become available as e-books at the same time as the print publication; recent examples include Dan Brown’s ‘The Lost Symbol’ and the accounts of life in New Labour by Tony Blair and Baron Mandelson (ok – possibly not the best adverts for an exciting new medium…), all of which throw into sharp contrast the situation of only a few years ago when it was unclear whether any top-selling titles would ever appear in an e-format.

What hasn’t changed

However, some things haven’t changed that much – and some have had a rather mixed impact. For example, when we first started in Essex, we offered e-books that could be read on generic PCs and laptops, partly because we didn’t want to have to supply reading devices ourselves, but mainly because all e-book readers had temporarily become obsolete and so there were none available to purchase.

The ‘renaissance’ of the e-reader has had the beneficial effect of raising awareness and demand, but has also resulted in bewildering matrix of format/device compatibility questions that – complicated further by Digital Rights Management (DRM) questions – has led in turn to a very confused public. If a borrower has an iPad and it’s compatible with .epub, why can’t they read the library’s .epub titles? (Because the iPad and the DRM wrapper for library .epub e-books aren’t compatible). And so on…

To charge or not to charge?

There’s also some confusion for public library managers at the moment in that, as part of the DCMS review of the service published earlier this year, the government made some very clear statements around the question of charging for e-book lending, saying that there was an expectation that it should be free of charge. This was a useful clarification for some at least, reinforcing the basic message of the 1964 Act that public library reading-based activity should be free; for others, hoping to introduce e-books as a way of generating income, it was less helpful…

However, the change of government has led to a period of uncertainty in this area as Ed Vaizey has said that he wants to consult more widely before deciding on the way ahead. Consequently – alongside all the other changes that have happened over the past few months since the election, it’s perhaps not surprising that any services who hadn’t already firmly committed themselves to launching e-books should opt to wait to see how things pan out.

Audience take-up

Nevertheless, it’s beginning to look as though the attractions of e-reading are finally reaching a critical mass-type audience, with mainstream publishers now having ‘teaser’ advertising campaigns which make the first couple of chapters of new books available in e-formats, enabling potential customers to read them on their mobile phones and – hopefully – get sufficiently hooked to buy the book (whether in print or electronically), while the number of reading-based apps now available for the iPhone and iPad seemingly now outnumbers that for games. Not bad for an activity which Steve Jobs seemed to dismiss less than two years ago, saying that ‘nobody reads any more’.

In Essex, we’ve now expanded our coverage from the original Overdrive and ebrary services to include Public Library Online and Clipper from W F Howes, and currently get the equivalent of around 100,000 ‘loans’ per year from our electronic services, with the level of take-up increasing all the time.

That’s not to ignore the fact that there are still many areas of the e-book world that still need both further development and stabilisation – standards are still more notable by their absence, for example, while collection development is still fraught with difficulty.

Looking ahead

However, compared with the position when we first got involved seven or more years ago – where it wasn’t even clear that there was an audience, let alone suitable content – the relationship between e-books and UK public libraries is now much more firmly-based, and (legislation and budgetary pressures notwithstanding) now seems likely to grow much more quickly over the next couple of years.

In fact, as I sometimes find myself talking about e-books in public libraries at events alongside librarians from special and academic libraries, it’s interesting to see that although the involvement of those sectors in e-material tends to rather fuller, and also dates back some time before that of public libraries, there now often seems to be less difference in terms of scale, range and use of collections across the sectors than might be imagined…

Posted in Guest-blog, Libraries | 1 Comment »

An Archive in the Palm of Your Hand

Posted by guestblogger on September 27th, 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 »

The Library Debate: What are libraries for?

Posted by Brian Kelly on September 22nd, 2010

Had a chat yesterday with Joanne Alcock of Evidence Base (at Birmingham City University) who was in Bath meeting up with some UKOLN staff. Her primary professional interests lie in social media (e.g. web 2.0) and emerging technologies; her blog is Joeyanne Libraryanne.

She mentioned the CILIP West Midlands and Birmingham Salon joint event The Library Debate: What are libraries for? taking place on this evening (22 Sept. 2010). The principle speakers are Brian Gambles, Assistant Director, Culture at Brimingham City Council and local author and keen libary user, Andy Killeen. If you’re not able to get there, you could follow tweets on the night (#libdebate) [not #libdeb as I first posted – apologies and thanks to Joanne for spotting the error) or listen to the podcast after the event by going to the Birmingham Salon blog.

Posted in Libraries | 2 Comments »

The Library Technology Market: a case for an ‘open’ conversation

Posted by guestblogger on September 20th, 2010

About this Guest Post

Ken Chad is CEO of Ken Chad Consulting which has the mission of helping to ‘make libraries more effective’ through better and more imaginative use of technology. His consulting work has been wide ranging. He has worked with academic and public libraries and with various government and sector organisations in the UK and internationally. His published articles and conference contributions have focused on the strategic impact on libraries of technology driven change. Ken can be contacted at

The library technology market: a case for an open ‘conversation’

Over the years a number of resources including books, articles and websites have been available to help libraries get the best from the opportunities offered by technology. For example back in the 1980s Juliet Leeves published ‘Library Systems: a buyer’s guide’.  Each April, in Library Journal, Marshall Breeding publishes a review of the library automation marketplace. His  ‘Library Technology Guides’ website is also an invaluable resource despite its US bias. In the UK the ‘eGovernment Register’, maintained by the London Borough of Brent, published a listing of local authority systems (including some library related ones) on their (now defunct) website. UCISA does a similar job for Higher Education (HE) through its ‘Corporate Information System’ (CIS) annual survey.

However all these resources are ‘closed’ to some degree. They are also very incomplete as far as library technology is concerned. The eGovernment register ceased in June this year and passed the baton to the SOCITM application software index. However this is currently even more closed with very restricted access and editing rights. Marshall Breeding says that he is ‘solely responsible for all content’ on the Library Technology Guides web site ‘and for any errors it may contain’.

It seemed to me that it would be possible create something more comprehensive, accurate and useful by taking a very open and inclusive approach:  something that harnessed the capabilities and goodwill of the library community.  I had read David Weinberger’s marketing book ‘The Cluetrain Manifesto‘ some years ago and I think his notion back in 1999 that ‘markets are ‘conversations’ rings true more than a decade later.  ‘Through the Internet, people are discovering and inventing new ways to share relevant knowledge with blinding speed. As a direct result, markets are getting smarter’. Perhaps then we could enhance the quality of the technology ‘conversation’ in the library domain. Maybe being ‘smarter’ could take, at least some of, the cost and ‘friction’ out of the market and make it easier for everyone. Moreover it seemed to me everyone could benefit from this open and inclusive approach, not least in having the content freely available for anyone to re-use.

I started with simple lists of who had what Library Management System (LMS – or Integrated Library System (ILS) in American parlance). The truth was that working in the library software business for over 20 years I actually knew most of it by heart! My job was made easier, for HE at least, because I had been closely involved in the much cited JISC/SCONUL ‘LMS study’, which is a great source for data and analysis. During the work on the study vendors were very open and helpful about giving me their customer lists and information about their business and strategies. SCONUL were enthusiastic about getting more value out of the study by putting it online in a more interactive format than a PDF. I persuaded them that a wiki was a simple, inexpensive and effective tool to help in that goal. It would also allow the community itself to keep the information and analysis current. A further possibility was to expand on the original study’s coverage which was very focussed on the LMS. The Higher Education Library Technology wiki was born.

The underlying wiki technology (Wikispaces) is very easy and inexpensive to set up and maintain and we soon had a good part of the SCONUL LMS study uploaded. We chose Wikispaces too because, after some serious evaluation, we judged it easier to maintain and edit that alternatives such a MediaWiki (the platform for Wikipedia). We knew the proportion of active contributions would be small. That is a fact of ‘Web 2.0’ life. I knew about Jacob Nielsen’s ‘90-9-1 Rule’ for large scale online communities and social networks. He argues 90% of users are ‘lurkers’, 9% of users contribute intermittently and only 1% of users are heavy contributors. With this in mind we didn’t want to make the task of contributors harder than absolutely necessary. It was uncertain if our small-scale community would fare worse in terms of contributors. In fact it’s been about the same but with a higher proportion of ‘intermittent’ contributors. I also had in my mind a comment, I believe attributed to one of the founders of Flickr, to the effect that an important factor in building critical mass and success was putting tremendous effort early on to encourage and support their contributors. We believe that’s important and our role in Ken Chad Consulting as ‘wikimaster’ is all about enabling things and keeping up the momentum. It’s most certainly not about control. We haven’t had a single case of spamming or abuse. (Though of course we have tools to deal with them). We also know that sometimes it takes time for resources to get embedded in the community’s consciousness. The wikimaster has an important sustaining role.

As well as a Library Technology wiki for HE we’ve created one for local government public libraries. Clearly there is overlap but there are significant differences too. For example HELibTech has much more emphasis on the management of e-resources. We felt that the audiences would differ significantly and this has been the case. This leads me into another point. We have an inclusive view of our audience. We welcome contributions from librarians, and vendors-and indeed anyone with an interest. Just sign up and get started.

screenshot of local government library technology wiki

Local Government Library Technology wiki

Finally how valuable are these wikis to the communities they are designed to serve? Feedback so far has been good. For example when SCONUL held a ‘community event’ about its recent study into the feasibility and business case for shared services they created an entry on HELibTech. We saw a significant rise in traffic, some of which has been sustained. Clearly though with communities based around a market of around 180-200 institutions in UK HE and public libraries respectively, we are not expecting a huge audience. Both wikis have a small but growing number of ‘members’ and, as the community of ‘lurkers’ grows, so does the number of contributors. Finally an important factor in determining value is to realise this is an equation. Using modern tools we can deliver valuable services effectively and cheaply to relatively small communities. All the time Web 2.0 tools are getting better and (mostly) less expensive. Costs are often less a factor of the purchase price than the cost of maintaining the service. Enabling the community to keep the content up-to-date is much less expensive than a printed annual guide, survey or ‘closed’ website that incurs heavy editorial and production costs. We think it’s more accurate too. Feel free to join in the ‘conversation’….

Posted in Guest-blog, Libraries, Technical, wikis | 1 Comment »

PLING and Web 2.0

Posted by Brian Kelly on September 17th, 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 »

Web 2.0 or Not Web 2.0? Using Ancestry in Museums

Posted by guestblogger on September 13th, 2010

About this Guest Post

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

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

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

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

image of Ancestry web page

Screenshot of Web site

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

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

Image of Wesleyan tea-pot

From Ancestry - Wesleyan tea pot from Robert Robinson archive

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

image of basket making tools

Photo from Ancestry - Oliver Meek basket making tools

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

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

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

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

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