Since I was already in London for the weekend it seemed rude not to go to the Museum Computer Group’s annual conference at the Tate Modern. Thanks to sensible pricing for students I was able to snap up a ticket early, it’s nice to see a conference that doesn’t cost the same as my monthly grocery budget! As one of the minority that don’t drink tea or coffee it was also great to have plenty of juice available during the breaks and lunch. Chairman Mia opened the conference by mentioning that Nesta reported ‘museums are less likely than the rest of the sector to report positive impacts from digital technologies.’ Given that several of the day’s speakers spoke of digital projects they were involved with great success, this didn’t appear to be the case. However many museums don’t have the budget, knowledge or time to be as involved with digital technologies as they’d like to be. MCG’s vision is that by sharing our successes and failures we can all improve our knowledge and performance, as well as meeting like-minded people to expand our creativity.
Hannah Freeman from the Guardian gave the keynote address on ‘Community at the Guardian’ and spoke about the principles of open journalism, encouraging people to participate by making suggestions, commenting and debating topics. Open journalism helps to form communities and collaborations with other web material. It means acknowledging that journalists are not the definitive experts on a subject and should be open to challenges and addition by others. Hannah talked about Guardian Witness, https://witness.theguardian.com/ which allows anyone to join up and submit stories and photographs in response to ‘Assignments’ on a wide variety of topics, from your favourite recipe to stories of your family during the First World War. There was a question from the audience about how this is moderated by Guardian journalists – each journalist is responsible for ensuring comments don’t get nasty and stay on topic.
Then we had a break, but this was no ordinary break! We’d been given small playing cards with a museum object on and the rules were that we had to find 4 or 5 other people with different coloured cards and curate a collection. I’d already had some great conversations about cataloguing, publishing collections online, Twitter stalking, and dementia sufferers and digital technology, so by this point I felt confident enough about approaching people and introducing myself. I didn’t know anyone else at the conference, apart from the lovely Oonagh Murphy who was running the game, and I was determined not to be the weird loner in the corner. My card was a toy dog from the Second World War, and managed to find three other people with animal based cards, so we curated a virtual zoo. Although we didn’t win, I thought our collection had a wide appeal, and we didn’t have to threaten to set tanks on people if we didn’t win, like another group that will remain nameless!Next up Jesse and Simon from the Imperial War Museum with ‘First Rule: Talking about Computer Club’ and what happened when they decided to offer IT training sessions to staff at IWM using tablets. This was a laugh a minute story about #thestoryofjon focusing on Jon Card, an accountant who opened a Twitter account and almost learned how to Tweet!
Through these casual, fun sessions staff learned about social media and gaming, with computer club stickers as prizes. A great tale of improving digital literacy and building team spirit, I really wish I was part of a computer club for those amazing stickers!‘The Power of Flickr Commons’ by Nicole Cama of the Australian National Maritime Museum was a really interesting example of how opening up collections to the public online can bring great results. The Museum have a large number of photographs on Flickr Commons and have been able to identify people in them from the comments made by members of the public. The photograph of Hera Roberts identified on Flickr is the most popular photograph in the museum’s collection, and there have been around 3 million views of the collection in the last 18 months.
It seems to have become almost a competition to submit more information about the photographs, Australians are lucky that they have an amazing online resource in Trove. For those of you that don’t know Trove is a huge online archive of newspapers, images, books, maps, music and lots of other material that means you can browse or search for information easily in one place totally free of charge. It would be great to have something similar in the UK/Ireland to share resources, it would make research of all kinds easier and faster.
The last talk of this section was called ‘Ten Most Wanted’, which was a collaboration between University of Brighton, The Museum of Design in Plastics and Adaptive Technologies at http://www.10most.org.uk. It’s a crowdsourcing project to help gather additional information about the museum’s collection, and dealt with the issues of how to design and promote crowdsourcing games and how to integrate any information obtained from users with the curated collection information. The ten most wanted style followed the FBI’s approach to their website of the 10 most wanted criminals, focusing attention on to a few objects at a time and requesting help from Facebook and Twitter. The information is all stored on the object’s page and any interesting discoveries go in the case notes so anyone joining in the hunt can see what’s already been discovered, and most importantly people are credited for their discoveries. All the information credited to you collects points with the chance to be in the Hall of Fame and even lead cases at a later stage, so I could see how this could appeal to my competitive side. How amazing would be it to lead a case and successfully identify an object even curators couldn’t?
After this session we adjourned for lunch, which deserves its own mention! It wasn’t the usual game of identifying the contents of a small bread triangle, there were sections of baguette and focaccia filled with chicken salad, roasted vegetables, and continental cheeses. There were even pieces of cake for dessert, carrot and chocolate, yum! I had time for a quick look around the Tate too, I’ve been several times before and found a piece I hadn’t seen before, Dan Flavin’s T shaped fluorescent light tubes, which I loved.