The online juggernaut continues to reshape industries.
Broadcasters have become newspapers. Newspapers are now more like
broadcasters. Search engines have grabbed ground from both. Major
information industry players are dragging museums, libraries and
archives along for a new ride.
Viewers, listeners and readers have become curators and
As online consumers become more mobile, the latest Sydney Morning
Herald advertisements offer an iPad app as a news experience
like no other. The nature of the experience is underlined every time I
flip through my Flipboard. Headlines, images, sound and video are
seductive elements that lift an item from the sea of tweets.
What are some of the implications of these trends for museums and other
The Federal Shadow Minister for Communications and
Broadband, Malcolm Turnbull, examined media trends in a recent speech to
the Advanced Centre of Journalism at Melbourne University.
Newspaper circulations have declined in most developed
countries – by up to 30% in the United States. Hundreds of newspapers
have closed. Many more are struggling to survive. Yet most newspapers
have more readers now than they have ever had. The problem is not lack
of readers, but declining revenue caused by the shift to online
advertising via tablets and smartphones. Readers now receive written
news without paying. Those who benefit most from advertising in the
online world - Google and Facebook – create very little content of their
As newspapers experiment with new business models, the
possible threat to the quality of the media is, Turnbull said, a threat
to democracy. There are fewer newspaper journalists. Journalists have
less time to do investigate stories. Opinion is gaining precedence over
news. Important matters of public interest are either not covered at all
or are covered superficially.
Against this backdrop, he said, we need to look at
philanthropic tax-advantaged support for quality media, based on the
precedence of publicly-funded media enterprises such as ABC and SBS in
Australia and ProPublica in the United States.
“At times like this,’
he concluded, “when the establishment shaken to its foundations and the
old order changeth. yielding place to new, the young and the
enterprising have the chance to take what is enduring – objectivity,
accuracy, fearless independence – and build new platforms from which to
launch their journalism.”
David Throsby, at the Museums Australia (NSW) symposium in April,
highlighted the way cultural institutions in general are moving out of
their physical spaces into new channels for promoting their work and
assets. His report with Hasan Bakhshi, Culture of Innovation: An
Economic Analysis of Innovation in Arts and Cultural Organisations (NESTA,
2010), analysed the impact of digital strategies on audience
development, art forms, and ways of doing business, using recent work of
Tate Modern and the National Theatre as the centerpieces for their
In Australia, the Sydney Opera House and Opera Australia are among local
cultural institutions that are taking the arts out of the theatres and
concert halls and into online channels and cinemas.
Museums, too, are finding new ways of amplifying their collections and
they are forming relationships with new partners to engage audiences.
In a blog on 3 December, Seb Chan, who has moved from the Powerhouse
Museum to the Cooper-Hewitt National Design Museum in New York,
applauded the new website of Walker Art Center (walkerart.org) as a
paradigm shift in the way museums use websites.
After reflecting on the challenges, about five years ago, of maintaining
editorial resources for the Design Hub website at the Powerhouse Museum,
he interviewed Nate Solas, Paul Schmelzer and Eric Price about the
thinking and resources behind the Walker website.
The site turns over three to five top stories a week and
adds five to ten stories a day from other sources. To assess the impact
of this effort, new metrics have come into play. In addition to
capturing time on the site and page views, things like the depth of the
experience, time taken to investigate other news items and repeat visits
are taken into account.
Content harvesting has been and will continue to be one
of the major challenges. As an indication of changing attitudes about
copyright, Walker says it does not seek permission to publish and item:
it regards attributing sources as fair use. The links drive readers to
the external sources. This is a good solution for everyone.
The site uses Apache Solr as an open source enterprise
search platform. Genre and type categories are used to assist browsing.
Decisions about search terms are made on the run.
While the new newspaper style website has absorbed their
time, they continue to work on other IT strategies for the museum. They
are working with Getty Museum on the Online Scholarly Catalogue
Initiative. They are implementing CollectionSpace for the Walker
collections. They are sorting out a new digital asset management system.
And they are looking at building a new collections site with the aim of
opening up their data and connecting them to other online collections
Picking up the
discussion, Nina Simon, on Museum 2.0, said she had been
converted to the idea of museums as media players after viewing the
Walker site. She said the site breaks a lot of conventional rules about
museum home pages. It is an online experience about contemporary art
that goes beyond the Walker's walls: it is not subservient to the
physical institution. But, she said, it is not something that all
museums will be able to or want to emulate. The Walker site employs a
team of four editors and five people in its new media group. The
journalist approach is just one pathway. Other museums may find
inspiration in restaurants or music venues or online schools or
community bulletin boards or shopping sites.expectation is that most
museums will continue to present brochure websites with a few modest
bells and whistles. It’s still OK, she said, to have a physical museum
with a website that supports it.
In the United Kingdom, Culture24, a non-profit digital publishing
supplies information on cultural activities to the BBC
Things to Do website (www.bbc.co.uk/thingstodo). Culture24 began in 2001
as the 24 Hour Museum and works to bridge the gap between government
policies and the arts, heritage, education and tourism sectors. It
produces two websites, Culture24 (www.culture24.org.uk) and Show Me (www.show.me.uk),
aimed at children. It coordinates the Museums at Night campaign. It make
available information packages such as How to Evaluate Success Online,
Social Media Metrics Toolkit, Social Media Tools Comparison, and
Google Analytics Health Checklist. And it is now working with
Google on a series of practical Make it Count workshops for
cultural sector workers.
|The secret five, an image
contributed to ABC Open by Richard Gates, Evans Head Living
In Australia, the Australian Broadcasting Corporation has
formed a relationship with Museums Australia in recent years to present
the regional museums awards, which it incorporates in its programming
activities. Of wider significance is the burgeoning ABC Open
(open.abc.net.au), which employs a team of producers in
regional towns to run workshops aimed at producing and publishing
stories and multimedia through the national broadcaster.
ABC Open currently has 11 general projects on the boil
and 13 regional projects.
General projects include Now and Then, capturing
local history, Laid Off, a discussion space for people who have
lost their jobs, DreamBox for Indigenous Australians to share
their dreams in a single photograph, Aftermath, with stories of
resilience and recovery after disasters, Portrait of a Stranger,
a photography project that challenges you to talk to strangers and
capture each subject in a portrait and short story, and Moment Behind
the Photograph, a project that invites you to share a photo from
your collection and the story behind. Far North Coast Chapter Co-odinator
Marea Buist and Orange City Library manager
Jan Richards both report positive experiences from the Moment
Behind the Photograph project and utilising ABC Open training
NSW regional projects include One On One: River
Stories, which picks up narratives along the Hunter River. Starting
with interviews recorded by ABC producer Phil Ashley-Brown ten years
ago, the project has created new stories with partners Hunter Councils
Inc, Maitland Regional Art Gallery, and ABC Newcastle. Acting Deputy
Director of Newcastle Museum, Julie
Baird says museum, local library, arts gallery and university archives
also participate in the monthly radio program Local Treasures on
ABC 1233 to talk about objects and related matters and that live
broadcasts are presented from different museums in the region.
Somewhere in Between
ABC Open project based on the NSW South Coast exploring the stage of
life between being a kid and an adult. The Illawarra Sound project sets
out to create a soundscape of the Illawarra and Southern Highlands from
the ranges to the escarpment and sea. Wollondilly Heritage Centre's
exhibition development officer Doreen Lyon says the Centre has
participated in the
Now and Then
project, using as a subject Mowbray Park and the Dr Barnardo’s Farm
Training School. Apron Strings was another project, built around
Seniors Week, in which the stories of owners of aprons were recorded in
front of a live audience. One thing led to another, when it became a
book, launched during NSW History Week, and a DVD.
Laid Off: Grafton
documents the stories of recently laid off Telstra workers from Grafton.
presented in the form of blogs and slideshows.
ABC Online has produced a number of short online
tutorials on digital storytelling, audio recording and photography.
Check the events on the website, get in touch with the ABC Open Producer
in your region or participate in the ABC Open Summer School workshops
Other online partnerships
(www.historypin.com) is a project developed by the
British non-profit organisation We Are What We Do (wearewhatwedo.org) in
partnership with Google. It is seeking to bring generations together
around local histories.
The Historypin platform enables contributors to upload
photographs, videos and audio recordings to Google maps, where they are
then geo-tagged and dated. Users are encouraged to add descriptive
information and personal narratives to illustrate how familiar
environments have changed over time.
Historypin is collaborating with over a hundred
libraries, archives and museums around the world to help them share
their content with a global community of users. The US National Archive,
for example, recently became a partner by launching a selection of
Mathew Brady Civil War photographs, mages from the Environmental
Protection Agency’s Documerica photographic documentation project of the
1970s, and photographs relating to Washington, DC.
Last month the Powerhouse Museum announced it was
working with Historypin to build a shared Australian Memory Project with
other contributors leading to a series of events in 2013.
Google is building on its experience of working with libraries, museums
and others in developing Google Books, Google Newspapers and the Google
Art Project. It recently assisted the Israel Museum in Jerusalem to
digitise the Dead Sea Scrolls using ultrahigh resolution imaging
Through the Google Cultural Institute in Paris, it has formed new
partnerships with the Palace of Versailles and the Nelson Mandela
Foundation in South Africa. It plans to work with other individual
museums and archives and to develop a standard set of digital tools for
institutions large and small.
In the light of negative perceptions from its book and newspaper
digitisation projects that it was stripped heritage to the benefit of
company, Google says it is providing its services to cultural
institutions at no cost, with no immediate expectation of a financial
return, but with the long-term hope of forging a win-win outcome for
Ancestry is another online player strongly linked to the
Who Do You Think You Are? television series. Its partnership with
the US Holocaust Memorial Museum’s World Memory Project involves
crowdsourcing to index documents. Over the last six months, more than
2,000 people from around the world have indexed more than 700,000
voice of the people
In an online age, the writings and conversations of ordinary people like
you and me generate questions and opportunities for museums, hawkers of
social media services and others. How do we now manage objects that are
now on a computer rather than stored in a cupboard? And how do we manage
information that is now on the sites of other organisations? Are our
efforts making it easier to find information? Or are they muddying the
waters of an increasing larger digital data universe?
Questions about personal digital archives and family histories have been
explored in a number of projects and forums. In 2004, UK university
libraries with funding from JISC produced a report and guidelines as
part of the PARADIGM (Personal Archives Accessible in Digital Media)
project. In 2010, the British Library in partnership with other UK
libraries, published findings at the end of a Digital Lives Research
Project, which aimed to find ways to ‘harmonise’ the acquisition of
digital personal archives with traditional archival processes.
Issues surrounding the management of content in social
media are being explored by OCLC, which aims to produce three reports on
the subject. The first report, Social Metadata for Libraries,
Archives and Museums Part 1: Site Reviews, by Karen Smith-Yoshimura
and Cyndi Shein (September 2011), provides an environmental scan of
sites and third-party social media sites relevant to the three sectors.
Among other aspects, it comments on user contributions sought by
libraries, archives and museums, including data enhancements, tagging,
collection and content building, and promoting activities outside the
site. And it covers the use of third-party sites such as LibraryThing,
Flickr, YouTube, Facebook, Twitter, and blogs.
The second report will analyse the results focusing on
motivations for creating a site, moderation policies, staffing and site
management, technologies used and criteria for assessing content. And
the third report will provide recommendations on social media features
most relevant to libraries, archives and museums and factors
contributing to success.
In Australia, the National and State Libraries
Australasia (NSLA) has been involved in a Community Created Content
encourage the public to contribute to the collections of their national,
state and territory libraries by creating films, writing, stories,
pictures and other web content using their resources and those of the
collections. A report on the project has just been published.
In 2010 the Library of Congress announced that it would
be archiving all public tweets made via Twitter accounts. Eighteen
months down the track it is still wrestling with the challenges of
making this vast body of information available to researchers and the
public at large.
Developments in this arena will no doubt receive an airing in February
2012 at the Personal Digital Archiving conference in San Francisco,
which aims to tackle the growing size and complexity of personal
collections and the implications for memory institutions.
Questions on its slate invite further reflection. Do libraries, museums,
and archives have a new responsibility to collect digital personal
materials? How can we effectively preserve social network data? What
tools and services are needed to better enable self-archiving? What are
viable existing economic models that can support personal archives?
For Museums Australia, development of more coherent sector-wide online
strategies calls for more considered attention to evolving standards,
systems and services in Australia and overseas. The future will be
partly shaped by further collaboration with media and major online