Cultural Heritage

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

Farewell for Now

Posted by Brian Kelly on March 28th, 2011

It’s time to say goodbye to all our readers.

For several years now, UKOLN has been funded by the MLA to provide support to people working in the cultural heritage sector. For the last few years the Cultural Heritage Web site and this blog has been an integral part of our work in this area. But the times they are a changing … and UKOLN’s funding to work in this area will end on 31 March 2011.

As you will probably have noticed, the last few posts on this blog have mostly reviewed the support we have provided for the cultural heritage sector: the Cultural Heritage Web pages, this Cultural Heritage blog and our Web 2.0 and Social Web workshops.

From this point on we won’t be making significant posts to this blog and the blog will be closed to comments.  However, UKOLN will continue to host the Cultural Heritage Web pages – this means that there will still be access to the topic pages, to our successful series of Briefing Papers (‘IntroBytes’) and to the content of this blog.

So it’s goodbye from us for the moment. But we don’t know what the future holds, so we could be back at some point. Thanks for being with us on the journey.

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UKOLN’s Involvement With The Cultural Heritage Sector

Posted by Brian Kelly on March 21st, 2011


UKOLN has a long history of engagement with the cultural heritage sector. It dates back to its launch in 1977 when the British Library became the original and sole funder of UKOLN (funding from JISC started in 1992). In UKOLN’s early days our work focussed on library bibliographic data – in particular monitoring the accuracy and availability of catalogue records created by the British Library, and the development of Online Public Access Catalogues (OPACs).

From 1977 to 1996 UKOLN reported to the British Library Research and Development Department (BLRDD) and then, following changes at the British Library, to the British Library Research and Innovation Centre (BLRIC) from 1996 to 1999.

Those official links with the British Library changed in 1999, when the Library and Information Commission (LIC)  became UKOLN’s co-funder. Following changes in Government departments and in Government policies, the LIC and the Museums and Galleries Commission (MGC) were merged in 2000 to form Re:source, which was then renamed the MLA in 2004. The MLA (Museums, Libraries and Archives Council) was established  to coordinate policies across the cultural heritage sector, including libraries, museums and archives.

Work Funded by the MLA

The establishment of the Re:source followed by its renaming to MLA marked the beginning of UKOLN’s involvement with the wider cultural heritage sector.

The post of Public Library Networking Focus was funded between 1996 and 2004. The post was held by Sarah Ormes and then Penny Garrod, with Sally Lewis also working as a research officer. Early work included the development of the popular Treasure Island Web site and the subsequent Stories from the Web initiative which was designed to encourage children’s reading and creative writing skills. UKOLN carried out the LIC-funded public library Internet survey in 1995 and worked on the initiatives that saw public access to the Internet offered in all public libraries and the development of the People’s Network. UKOLN also ran four Public Library Web Managers workshops between 1999 and 2004.

From 2000 UKOLN started working more actively with the museum and archive sectors: for example, staff participated at a number of the international Museums and the Web and the UK-based Museums on the Web conferences.

Recently UKOLN has also run three workshop series for the MLA on Web 2.0 and the Social Web for practitioners working in the cultural heritage sector. The first series was held in 2008-9 and delivered by Brian Kelly. The second was delivered in 2009-10 by Marieke Guy while the final series took place during 2010-2011 and was delivered by Ann Chapman.

The Cultural Heritage Blog was started in January 2009. Initially most of the content was written by UKOLN staff with occasional guest posts. Since April 2010 most of the posts have been contributed by people working in the sector willing to share their experiences.

UKOLN also supported the sector through its Cultural Heritage Web site. This was designed as a source of information on digital information matters for the sector.  An major element of this was the IntroBytes briefing papers series, which provides quick introductions to a wide range of topics; more than 80 papers are now available.

Although the core work for the MLA was delivered by Ann Chapman, Marieke Guy and Brian Kelly, UKOLN’s work for the sector was also supported by members of our Research and Development Team. Michael Day, head of the R&D team, for example, contributed to the MLA’s Principles Paper on “Supporting long-term access to digital material“. Other members of the R&D team contributed to the DPC (Digital Preservation Coalition) What’s New newsletter between 2002 and 2005.

Additional Work for the Cultural Heritage Sector

From June 2001 to March 2004 UKOLN, in conjunction with the AHDS, provided technical support and advice for the NOF-digitise Programme. This work included development of the technical standards document which described the key standards relevant to funded projects. We also organised several workshops covering various areas of best practices; provided technical support to projects and hosted the NOF-digi Technical Advisory Service Web site.

UKOLN also received funding from the EU and other sources to support R&D and dissemination activities for the wider cultural heritage sector. This included the EU-funded Exploit Interactive ejournal (with seven issues being published between May 1999 and October 2000) and the Cultivate Interactive ejournal (eight issues from July 2000 to November 2002) with research activities funded by the EU including the ARCO (Augmented Representation of Cultural Objects) Project.

Significant areas of work which helped to inform developments in the cultural heritage sector arose from activities which were funded from several agencies. The RSLP (Research Support Libraries Programme) was a national initiative which ran from 1999-2002, funded by the four higher education funding bodies. UKOLN’s RSLP Collection Description work developed a collection description metadata schema and associated syntax together with a simple Web-based tool to enable projects to describe their collections.

The CD (Collection Description) Focus post was subsequently funded from 2001-2004 to support the NOF Digitisation of Learning Materials Programme, Peoples Network Programme, Resource Regional Cross-Domain research projects, British Library Co-operation and Partnership Programme and a range of JISC projects. This work helped to improve coordination of activities on collection description methods, schemas and tools, with the goal of ensuring consistency and compatibility of approaches across projects, disciplines, institutions, domains and sectors.

Currently the JISC-funded LOCAH Project is engaging with the archives and libraries sector. This project aims to make the Archives Hub and Copac data available as structured Linked Data, for the benefit of education and research.  Adrian Stevenson, the LOCAH project manager, is a member of the organising and steering committee for the forthcoming International Linked Open Data in Libraries, Archives and Museums Summit (LODLAM).

Another current activity to mention is UKOLN’s involvement with the RDTF (Resource Discovery Taskforce), a significant initiative funded by the JISC and Research Libraries UK  for which ”The purpose of the Taskforce is to focus on defining the requirements for the provision of a shared UK infrastructure for libraries, archives, museums and related resources to support education and research“.

UKOLN has provided the JISC representative to the W3C Library and Linked Data Incubator group. This group aims to help increase global interoperability of Library data on the Web by bringing together people involved in Semantic Web activities – focusing on Linked Data – in the library community and beyond, building on existing initiatives and identifying collaboration tracks for the future. A report on this work will be published by June 2011.

The Future

UKOLN’s core funding from the MLA officially finishes on 31 March 2011. We have been pleased to have such a long-standing involvement with the cultural heritage sector over the past 34 years.  But despite the announcement of the abolition of the MLA our engagement with the sector will continue including our involvement with the Strategic Content Alliance, the LOCAH Project and our shared research interests with the British Library.

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UKOLN’s Cultural Heritage Blog

Posted by Brian Kelly on March 14th, 2011

UKOLN’s Cultural Heritage blog was launched on 1st January 2009 to support UKOLN’s work for the cultural heritage sector in the area of innovation and the networked environment. It was intended to “inform our readers of developments in this area, speculate on the implications of a rapidly changing environment and encourage discussion on emerging best practices”.

The blog has been running for 27 months now, so how have we done? Well, in that time we have published 186 posts. Some of these have been brief news items, some were more reflective pieces and others described how the sector is using all things digital. Initially most of the posts were written by my colleagues, Brian Kelly and Marieke Guy, and myself.

In addition to those, we started fairly early on having occasional guest posts from people working in the sector. Our first guest post The Black Art of Blogging was by Catriona Cardie, who was inspired by one of Brian Kelly’s workshops on blogging. This was followed by posts such as When Peregrines Come to Town, Dull Library Web Sites and What’s my Email Address Anyway, Miss: Communicating with the Facebook Generation.

Then from April 2010 we changed the focus of the blog to concentrate on guest posts to reflect what people were already doing. Mostly we looked for people in the cultural heritage sector, though we’ve also had guest posts from a school librarian, three academic librarians, a library and information sciences lecturer and a journalist specialising in the library sector.

And what a fascinating set of posts these have been. The guest posts have been interesting and inspiring – a total of 42 guest posts in all. These ranged from My Life as an Object (a Renaissance East Midlands project) to Using a Blog as a Research Diary (by a PhD student), The National Library of Wales and Flickr Commons and Archives 2.0.

There have been lots of interesting ideas with the potential to be re-used elsewhere. So many thanks to all our contributors, you’ve been great.

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Voices for the Library and social media

Posted by guestblogger on March 7th, 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

Looking back at the UKOLN/MLA Social Web Workshops

Posted by Brian Kelly on February 28th, 2011

The last in the 2010-2011 series of UKOLN/MLA workshops on Web 2.0 and the social web took place recently, so here’s a quick look back at what happened.

Seven workshops took place at venues all over England: Birmingham, Exeter, Leicester, London, Manchester, Newcastle and York.

image of map with workshop locations marked

UKOLN/MLA workshops 2010-2011 series

One Hundred and One

The number of delegates who attended. Of these, nearly two-thirds were from libraries, a third from museums and art galleries and the remainder from archives, plus some students on museums and tourism courses. It was great to have a mix of people and everyone enjoyed the networking opportunity.

We were lucky enough to have 1o case studies given by local practitioners during the workshop series. These talks illustrated a wide range of examples and ideas. Most of their presentations are online and out there for you to use – have a look on the corresponding workshop page listed on past events for 2010 and 2011.


The Building a Business case group activity resulted in twenty-eight ideas for using social media to address a particular aim. Notes about each idea were reported on the on the wiki pages for each workshop and have now been brought together on extra wiki page.

One hundred and ten … and counting

To support the workshops a number of complementary materials were created and used. All materials are available under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-ShareAlike 2.0 licence. The workshop materials are available from the individual workshop pages.

Please do use the materials available with your teams and pass on details to any one interested.


Delegates were asked to complete an evaluation form after each workshop and most people did. Thank you so much for your constructive comments, we really appreciate the positive feedback and your suggestions will be helpful in future event planning. We hope we helped people feel positive in a practical way about what Web 2.0 can offer them, like this delegate who said “It introduced me to lots of new sites and aspects of the social web. I have got at least 3 ideas for promoting aspects of our service from this.”

What we used – Registration

We used Eventbrite for as our booking system – it’s free to use if your event is free. It also allows you to send emails to everyone registered for the event: we sent out emails to (a) confirm that the event would take place and a link to the final programme, (b) to let them know about the wiki and (c) to thank them for attending and to remind them of the resources available on the event Web page and in the UKOLN Cultural Heritage Web site.

What we used – The Wiki
We set up a wiki for the workshops, with a separate page for each workshop. Delegates were contacted the week before the event and encouraged to add some information about their role and what they hoped to get out of the event. We also used the wiki pages to record the ideas that participants came up with in the group activity.

We used Wikispaces for this – it was easy to set up, the public view was nice and clear and delegates were able to add information easily.

Final thoughts

Thank you to everyone who came along, either as a delegate or as a speaker. You all made the event more than just a series of talks. Hope you are able to take some of the ideas forward back at the workplace.

Posted in Events, General, mla-social-web-workshops | 1 Comment »

Around the World in 80 Gigabytes

Posted by guestblogger on February 21st, 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 February 14th, 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 »

Searching by Colour at the Hermitage

Posted by Brian Kelly on February 7th, 2011

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

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

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

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

Posted in Museums | 1 Comment »

Some Places Left for Social Web Workshop

Posted by Brian Kelly on February 3rd, 2011

There are just a few places left for the final UKOLN workshop for the cultural heritage sector on using the Social Web. This event will be held in Leicester and is being run in partnership with the School of Museum Studies, University of Leicester.

The workshop will provide ideas on how to match different social web and Web 2.0 tools and services to your work projects, information on best practice, how to build a business case and a chance to network with colleagues.

Attendance is free, so why not book now? Bookings will close on 13 February. To register a place, follow the link in the workshop page listed 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 Museum Studies Building, School of Museum Studies, University of Leicester, Leicester on 22nd February 2011.

Posted in Social Web, social-web-workshops | Comments Off

From My Inbox

Posted by Brian Kelly on January 31st, 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 »

The Story of a Blog – Dulwich OnView

Posted by guestblogger on January 24th, 2011

About this Guest Post

Ingrid Beazley is the strategic advisor to the Community Outreach Department and the E-learning project developer in the Education Department of Dulwich Picture Gallery. She can be contacted at

The Story of a blog – Dulwich OnView

Dulwich Picture Gallery (DPG) is a small, purpose built art museum on the outskirts of London with a fabulous Baroque permanent collection. It’s England’s first public art gallery, founded 200 years ago exactly and is pretty well known. As might be expected the majority of regular visitors are middle aged/old, white, middle class and local. DPG has a large Friends organisation similarly made up. 3 years ago I was chair of the Friends. I also fit neatly into the description of the regular visitor.

Yes, I had made efforts to attract a different demographic to DPG. Through the Friends I had arranged events to attract younger people and families, but basically, as my children explained to me, no person in their 20s and 30s would have any interest in visiting this ‘old fashioned gallery with its stuffy pictures’.

Then I met a dynamic young woman, Yang May Ooi, at a local party who suggested using social media to reach younger people and explode this myth. I agreed and Dulwich OnView was born.

Dulwich OnView is not a museum blog like the ones you might find on museum websites, written by the museum staff. Dulwich OnView is an independent blog run by members of the local community on a voluntary basis. It has a large number of guest contributors who write about/take pictures of/make short films, podcasts about the local community as well as DPG.  About 2/3 of the posts are NOT about DPG.

So Dulwich OnView is of interest to people who wish to read about local history/events/people/pubs/parks/festivals etc. They might Google ‘Dulwich walks’ and up would come Dulwich OnView’s numerous articles on these. Then they would notice all the references to DPG and be lured to read those posts and follow the wealth of links to the DPG website. We have stats to prove that this happens.

image of promotional material

Dulwich OnView minicard

Community interaction

For Dulwich Picture Gallery, Dulwich OnView complements its official website as, like all blogs, it is informal and interactive. Many of the DPG staff write for it, from the director, the marketing, education and curatorial staff, to the warders and interns. The Friends have the opportunity to put up lots of background information about the events that they run which is not appropriate for the main DPG website, and there are many local people who submit reviews of the special exhibitions or just descriptions of their favourite paintings. DPG links to many of these articles from their website. It is an opportunity for DPG to have conversations with the local community via the Dulwich OnView comment boxes.

In the same way as you are more likely to be persuaded to go to an exhibition by your friend in a conversation at the pub, than you might be by reading the marketing blurb on an official website written by a person paid to write it, so posts recommending DPG written by locals are more convincing than reading the official information on its website.

Being a section of a local community website enables DPG to be seen as part of the local community itself, and to show its human face.

Younger people tend to read blogs, and in the case of Dulwich OnView, to accept the invitation to contribute to it. Our youngest blogger is in primary school and we have teens and university students contributing too. We also have authors in their 80’s as increasingly, older people go online not only for information but interactively too. And they tell their friends about their article – perfect viral marketing.

Blog stats.

Dulwich OnView is just 3 years old and now gets about 20,000 hits a month. The referrers come from local organisations/businesses/charities that we have featured and who link to the article from their websites, from forums where we are mentioned and from the DPG website itself. We can tell from the search engine terms that people are not looking for DPG (e.g. ‘east Dulwich cinema’, ‘Ann Shelton’, ‘South London Youth Orchestra’) but that about 2/3rds of onward clicks are to pages on the DPG website.

National and International Recognition

I have talked at numerous national and international conferences from Montreal, Denver Colorado, Iceland (Nodem), Glasgow (Museums Association) and our own London (EVA and many others), and Dulwich OnView won the prestigious ‘Museums and the Web’ award in Denver last year for the ‘best small museum site’.

How is Dulwich OnView organised?

At its inception, the younger members of the committee of the Friends of DPG (and some others not on the committee) were excited about the idea and we formed a team of joint editors. We would take in turns to be editor on duty – to be responsible for having 6 new posts every week, for responding to all emails, for encouraging contributions, for moderating and answering comments etc. I then finished my term as chair and over the next year the committee members involved with Dulwich OnView left, to be replaced by people not interested in online social networking. (We had also set up a Flickr group, a Facebook page and Twitter).

Image of editorial team

Editorial team get together

Also at its inception, DPG was very nervous about Dulwich OnView. It had no control over the articles, could impose no regulations. Three years ago it was unusual for organisations to have blogs. It took a while to persuade them to mention DOV in the Friends area of their website and to link to us. They had to take us on trust. And in the end they did. All credit to them, and all credit to us for creating a successful website.


Recently the burden of running Dulwich OnView has been on just a couple of people, making the task of maintaining the volume and quality of the articles extremely onerous. I had continued my involvement after leaving the committee, but at the end of last year I had an opportunity to change direction which I wanted to take. It was crisis time. How much did DPG value Dulwich OnView? Would they allow it to die?

No; over the years DPG had come to realise the importance of Dulwich OnView as a modern marketing tool, in particular for younger people, and were prepared to employ 3 part time people to run it. They have agreed that it maintains its independence, which, after all, it its USP, and does not become just another institutional blog.

The DPG route from original shock-horror to creating a mini community outreach department to run Dulwich OnView has been rutted and long. It is with immense pride that myself, Yang May and all the original founders of Dulwich OnView deliver this unique and popular website into the hands of Dulwich Picture Gallery with the full blessing of its Director and Trustees.

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

Do You Use Library Linked Data?

Posted by Brian Kelly on January 21st, 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 January 17th, 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 January 10th, 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 January 4th, 2011

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

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

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

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

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

Brooklyn Museum experiment

Posted by Brian Kelly on December 27th, 2010

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

Posted in copyright, Museums | Comments Off

Blogging, why bother?

Posted by Brian Kelly on December 21st, 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 »

Launch of the JISC Beginner’s Guide to Digital Preservation

Posted by Marieke Guy on December 15th, 2010

UKOLN have released a JISC Beginner’s Guide to Digital Preservation.

It has been written for those working on JISC Higher Education projects who would like help with preserving their outputs but is also relevant to those from the Cultural Heritage community. It is aimed at those who are new to digital preservation but can also serve as a resource for those who have specific requirements or wish to find further resources in certain areas.

The Guide is available at:

The site can be navigated in the following ways:

You can comment on any page on the site, so please do let us know what you think and if there are any resources we’ve missed.

We will promoting the guide over the forthcoming months.

Posted in Preservation | Comments Off

NAS on Twitter

Posted by Brian Kelly on December 13th, 2010

About this Guest Post.

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

NAS on Twitter

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

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

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

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

Screen shot of NAS Twitter account

NAS Twitter account

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

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

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

Posted in Social Web, Twitter | 2 Comments »

UK Jodi Awards 2010

Posted by Brian Kelly on December 6th, 2010

The Winners of the UK Jodi Awards 2010 for accessible digital culture were announced on 1st December 2010 at the Scottish Storytelling Centre, Edinburgh. Some some thirty delegates from many parts of Scotland had braved the snow to attend the event and the ‘Doing Digital Sensibly’ seminar about digital inclusion. The event was jointly organised by Digital Access Scotland, the Jodi Mattes Trust, the Scottish Archive Network, National Archives of Scotland, Museums Galleries Scotland and the Scottish Libraries and Information Council.

The Winners are:

Winner Digital Access Online: Historic Royal Palaces ( for their British Sign Language visitor information

Winner Digital Access for People with a Learning Disability:  British Dental Association Museum for their Medicine at the Movies project

Commendation for Digital Access for People with a Learning Disability: Inclusive Communication Essex

Commendation for Digital Access onsite:  Medicine at the Movies (, a partnership of six museums, including the Thackray Museum, the British Dental Association Museum and the George Marshall Medical Museum.

Read statement by Joanne Oar, Chief Executive, Museums Galleries Scotland and more on
Look up case-studies of the Commended and Winning projects on

Posted in Accessibility | Comments Off