Cultural Heritage

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

My Life As An Object

Posted by guestblogger on 22nd March 2010

About This Guest Post

In this guest blog post James Boardwell, Design Research Lead for Rattle, introduces us to exciting project encouraging people to engage with digital objects through different participatory media, including Twitter.

James can be contacted on Twitter using jamesb.

My Life As An Object

There are millions of objects held in our museums and galleries in the UK and yet our interpretation of them is generally constructed in the third person. They’re seen as static, inanimate things without effects, without lives.

This was the initial thought that led us at Rattle to a project for Renaissance East Midlands, an experimental project that looks to engage people around the objects’ lives. Each week for three weeks, we’re taking an object from the Nottingham galleries collection and bringing it to life in different ways, using different participatory media.

The project kicked off last Monday (15th March) with the Yellow Chopper, a story of the Raleigh Chopper which is held in the Nottingham galleries collection (as it was created in Nottingham by Raleigh). This story is quite linear, with a narrative arc spanning the life of the bike, from being given as a gift to being redundant in the shed, a victim of the next product innovation, the BMX. You can read Frankie Roberto’s overview of this bit of the project on his blog.

Subsequent stories will bring a watercolour by Paul Sandy (Tea at Englefield Green) to life and as well as Boots baby weighing scales. The objects were chosen to represent different ‘types’ of object you can find in museums and galleries and which consequently required different ‘design’ solutions to engage audiences. We won’t ruin the fun with any spoilers, so you’ll have to check in at the project site to see what happens and how the project evolves. But we’d love your feedback as this is a learning project and so sharing our thoughts on what works and what doesn’t can only help in designing better experiences for all going forward.

Posted in Guest-blog, Museums | 3 Comments »

Web 2.0 in the academic sector

Posted by Brian Kelly on 12th January 2010

Since May 2009, Rosemary Russell and I have been working on a study for JISC, looking at the use of Web 2.0 tools and services by the academic sector. We chose to use a Web 2.0 tool – a blog – to collect our evidence and to make this public. People who responded to our invitation to contribute to the study did so by adding comments to topic Pages and we also interviewed a number of people in various roles about their experiences and wrote these up as case studies.

At the same time, Prof. Jane Hunter of the School of ITEE, University of Queensland was working on a parallel study of the situation in Australia. She used a different evidence-collecting strategy but came to very similar conclusions.

The evidence points to the current time being a transition point where early adopters are being joined by mainstream users. Nonetheless, there remains a proportion of users who are as yet Web 2.0 ‘illiterate’. The various Web 2.0 services are mostly seen as easy to sign up to and use, usually free to use and giving access to large audiences. The downside is that services may collapse trapping data, while institutions may block their use. It is common for users to prefer to use Web 2.0 services even when institutional alternatives are available.

What was also evident was that the situation in academic institutions is often not that different to the public sector. IT department blocking use of social networking services? Yes. Takes forever to get permission to set up a blog? Yes. Central management wanting control over all publicly visible text? Yes. Other staff feel threatened, even scared, of the technology or feel it will take time they don’t have? Yes.

But it was great to find out that there is genuine experimentation going on. Photography students using self-publishing sites as part of their studies. A Ning community set up for students before they officially start at University – and so before they can access institutional resources. A tutor using a wiki as a collaborative exam revision web site (Examopedia); this is used by the students to create and deposit answers to past exam papers collaboratively and is moderated by the tutor. An entirely volunteer-run library using Koha software for the catalogue and putting some of its stock on LibraryThing to publicise itself. Putting QR codes in library catalogues so mobile phones can be used to guide users to the shelves in a large collection or building or putting the QR codes on the ends of shelves to alert users to the fact that e-resources are also available.

Particularly interesting was the indication that attitudes of IT Departments are changing, as evidenced by the two case studies from IT staff. David Harrison (Assistant Director of Information Services at Cardiff University) uses a lot of different Web 2.0 services in his working life. He also noted that while the university went down the large implemetation route (i.e. keeping things in-house) a couple of years ago, if taking the decision now they would be looking closely at cloud computing and externally hosted services. Christine Saxton (Director of Corporate Information and Computing Services (CiCS) at the University of Sheffield) has a blog and uses Facebook and Twitter for work work and personal communication. She notes how her blog and Twitter enable her deaf father to keep in touch with her since phone calls aren’t an option. She also noted that CiCS has outsourced all student email to Google from Sept. 2009 and now just provides support to users.

The two reports were submitted to JISC in December 2009 and have been published in the
JISC Repository. The UK study is at and the Australian study is at As well as reading the reports, why not have a look at the blog and its topic Pages and case studies too for ideas and inspiration.

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Posted in Web 2.0 | 1 Comment »

Newcastle Libraries New Blog

Posted by Brian Kelly on 19th November 2009

UKOLN is currently running a one-day Introduction to Web 2.0 and the Social Web Workshop in various locations around the country. I attended the one in Devizes recently where the issue of public libraries Web site design came up and the constraints that can be imposed by IT services and council policy. Discussion focused on what the actual barriers were and how they could be overcome.

One solution is to create a presence outside the council Web space that allows more creativity in presentation and content and is out where the potential audience is. That means looking at using blogs, microblogging services like Twitter, social networking sites and picture and video sharing services such as Flickr and YouTube.

So it was good the other day to see the launch message for a new blog for Newcastle Libraries which will host podcasts, news, events information and staff blogs. There’s a local studies picture gallery on Flickr and some videos on YouTube about memories of life in Newcastle collected as part of a recent project. Definitely worth a look for inspiration if you’re considering doing this sort of thing.

You can also follow @ToonLibraries on Twitter or become a fan on Facebook at

If you want more information on how they did this, then contact Jennifer Clark, the eLibraries Support Officer at Newcastle Libraries at:

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Posted in Blogs, Libraries, mla-social-web-workshops | Comments Off

100 British Librarians on Twitter

Posted by Marieke Guy on 14th September 2009

Phil Bradley has used TweepML, an extensible, open standard format that
allows you to manage and share groups of Twitter users, to create a list of 100 British Librarians on Twitter. TweepML allows you to select the people you want to follow, be it all of them of just a few.

In his blog post he explains that coming up with just 100 librarians has been tricky and he’s asking for feedback on the process.

He’d also like to:

Create more specific lists such as UK School Librarians, UK Academic Librarians etc, get people to manage them and leave the existing list for people who don’t fall into any of those categories. This could work, but it’s going to take time, and people prepared to volunteer to do this.

Can you help him with his mission?

Posted in Libraries, Web 2.0 | 1 Comment »

Emerging Best Practices For Institutional Use of Twitter

Posted by Brian Kelly on 8th June 2009

In today’s rapidly developing technical environment there is a need to gain experience of the diversity of new networked services which can be used to enhance institutional objectives. There is also a need to document and share emerging best practices – whilst avoiding the temptation to develop constraining policies too soon – a danger which public sector organisations may be prone too.

As an example I have recently started to record videos of my talks at conferences and publish the videos soon after the event. I am pleased to have received positive feedback on this, including this comment:

Many thanks for providing the video and the Slideshare of your #CILIP-CYMRU09 event. I missed your presentation because I was “on a mission” for the following speaker at the conference, so I greatly appreciate this opportunity to catch up! …

You’ve done a lot to dispel this misunderstanding and fear here, in a very balanced and helpful overview. Joeyanne’s page provides a useful example of how Web 2.0 isn’t just about Facebook and Twitter, but is the working integration of a number of tools, all enabling dialogue and sharing. The examples you provide of the NLW using social web tools also add credibility and weight to these services.

Such feedback will help in the formulation of best practices and, at a later date, policies on being videoed at events.

Another area of growing interest to many cultural heritage organisations is institutional use of Twitter. Although Twitter may have been initially regarded as a trivial application by some in the sector, it is now becoming regarded as a tool which can be used to support institutional objectives. But rather than just leaping on the Twitter bandwagon there is a need to give some thought as to how Twitter might be used. For example, an organisation may wish to allow (or, possibly encourage) use of Twitter by individuals, to support sharing and informal working across a community with shared interests. This is a use case which Mike Ellis highlighted in his blog post on “The person is the point“. And if this is your aim, then your priority may be to allow access to Twitter through your organisational fireall.

But although this was the initial way in which Twitter was used by many involved in networked development activities, there are also a variety of ways in which Twitter can be used by an organisation, rather than by just individuals within the organisation.

Such uses could include:

  • Official important announcements
  • A summary of the institution’s RSS news feed
  • A channel for providing alerts of urgent news items.
  • A way of engaging with the institution
  • A way of engaging with discussions regarding events organised by the institution.

Each of the different uses are likely to have different workflows and different guidelines for best practice. Should an institutional Twitter account follow the user’s who have chosen to follow the account? Should an institutional Twitter account respond to queries or engage in discussions? Should an institutional Twitter account have a personality or should it provide a neutral tone? Should the content be provided by a team or an individual?

Lots of questions – and patterns of usage are beginning to emerge.  In particular via the Fresh and New(er) blog I came across a post on “Twitter information for your users – good practice from Mosman Municipal“, which linked to a discussion on “Australia: Mosman Council Twitter Guidelines“. The Mosman Council Twitter Guidelines make it clear who is providing the Twitter feed, the ppurpose of the service, policies on following other Twitter users and responding to comments, a privacy statement and a legal disclaimer.  I hope we’ll seem more sharing of such emerging best practice guidelines – but more importantly the discussions as to what constitutes best practice: a discussion which is taking place on the “Australia: Mosman Council Twitter Guidelines” blog post. Is Laurel Papworth, who wrote the blog post, right to be concerned when she asked”“WTF? A council trying to control the discussion on a 3rd party site?“. Or would you agree with her when she went on to add “it’s not their fault, it’s the mess we’ve got ourselves into with lawyers and courts and such. They’ve really bent over backward to be helpful and contactable to their constituents. Bless“?

Posted in Addressing Barriers, Social Web | 1 Comment »

Twitter For Museums

Posted by Brian Kelly on 9th February 2009

What is your reaction to a new technology? Some people with tend to react positively, feeling that innovations can provide benefits; others, however, tend to be react dismissively to new technologies, arguing that they are irrelevant or counter-productive.

How do you tend to react to innovation, generally? And what are your views on the Twitter micro-blogging service?  I suspect Twitter has provided a good example of how perspectives may be polarised along the lines I have suggested.  Indeed a search for Twitter on the MCG JISCMail list reveals a series of interesting comments since the first reference in July 2007.

The discussion in July 2007 initially addressed the potential of Facebook for use in museums. Graham Turnbull (SCRAN) agreed with comments made by Mike Ellis (then at the Science Museum) which discussed some of the potential benefits which Facebook (which had just announced an opening up of the Facebook platform). And Graham went on to say that

All the evidence seems to point to activity within the rules of the medium being the attractor. For example, twitter [] works if u want to regularly post one-liner updates
but is hopeless for a static description.

This seems to have been the first mention of Twitter on the list.  And although Graham appeared to have been the first on the list to predict an interesting use case for Twitter it was Mike Ellis who, the following year, announced his Onetag Twitter aggregation tool for use at the Museums and the Web 2008 conference.

Around the same time Rhiannon Looseley sent a message about the new British Postal Museum & Archive (BPMA) Wiki in which she described that she is “particularly keen to find ways of making the most of Wikis’ potential for collaborative work“.

This message quickly led on to a lengthy discussion about the appropriateness of models like social networking and participative media to the delivery of museums online. But rather than repeat the discussions which took place (if you are interested in the details see the threads “British Postal Museum & Archive Wiki “, “suggestions that museums should use Twitter or Second Life … are ill-advised” and “Re: The speculative aspect of using Web 2 [was: British Postal Museum & Archive Wiki]” in the archives for July 2008)I would like to revisit the particular case of Twitter.

I think there is a tendency for innovation to be treated by some initially with scepticism as to whether the innovation is feasible and then, once tangible examples are demonstrated, by attempting to laugh at how it could be used. Here’s an example of this:

Imagine a world in which Twitter did not exist (give it a couple of years…) would you really invent a constantly-updated trivia machine as the best way of communicating with museum audiences?

Recently, however, we have seen a number of examples of Twitter becoming mainstream.  A good example of this was the BBC News item on “Tweet smell of success over Digg” which described how “Use of Twitter, the mobile phone-based micro-blogging service, rocketed nearly 1,000% in the UK over the past year, according to industry analysts HitWise“.

Examples of use of TwitterBut what is the evidence suggesting about use of Twitter by museums? I recently created a search of Twitter posts (or ‘tweets’ as they are often called) for the term ‘museum’ in my Tweetdeck desktop Twitter client. And, as can be seen from the accompanying image, the Twitter community are using the service in a variety of ways:

User feedback: A tweet by PTG described how this museum visitor was in the Natural History Museum’s new, and great, Darwin exhibition. Wildlife Photographer o f the year next“. Gareth described how heenjoyed a weekend in London. Visited Greenwich and the Science Museum. The Listening Post was particularly interesting!

Events: A tweet by spjwebster described how he “and @njwebster will be going to the Science Museum Lates session on Wednesday, for ejamacational thingamabobs“.

Promotional activities: A tweet by canongatebooks urged people to “if you love Robert #Burns, raise funds for the Birthplace museum in Alloway:“.

In addition to these examples I am very aware of how Twitter is being used to provide peer support, community-building and community discussions. Indeed suggests that Twitter has a role to play in marketing activities are sometimes met with concerns that this type of use will detract from the original role in played in community support such as, for example, the use of Twitter at conferences for museum professionals such as the Museums and the Web 2008 conference.

I’m not too concerned, myself, as I feel that the different uses can coexist. What we will need are mechnnisms for sharing examples of the different use cases and the associated best practices.  UKOLN has published a number of IntroByte briefing documents, including three (so far) covering micro-blogging.  We hope that these documents will prove useful to organisations which are thinking about making use of services such as Twitter.

I’d like to conclude with one specific example which illustrates the benefits I have gained from being able to tap into the expertise on my Twitter community. Catriona Cardie, Marketing Director, Our Dynamic Earth commented in a recent guest blog post:

Personally I was astonished at the speed with which specialist could exchange information through a blogging network, and make this specialist knowledge widely available. This was clearly evidenced when Brian asked a question on his blog. Within seconds a really useful response, with further web references, had been returned.“.

I actually asked the question on Twitter and received a speedy response from Mike Ellis.  It would be nice to thing that the huge growth in the popularity of Twitter was due to such examples. However I have to admit that I suspect that the growth in popularity is more likely to be due to articles on its use by celebrities such as Jonathon Ross and Stephen Fry. Not that I would be dismissive of such uses – after all celebrities also have Web sites too :-)

Posted in Web 2.0 | 1 Comment »