Bulb Banter: Museums bring out your bulbs!

Large Ediswan bulb UCL Museums

Large Ediswan bulb UCL Museums

Over the past 6 months I have been curating an exhibition in UCL Museums newest exhibition space, the Octagon.  The exhibition is all about digital technology and illustrates the power of emerging applications and poses questions about technology and culture in the past and in the present. Its been a brilliant experience and I have learnt so much.  During the process I have become a bit obsessed with Light Bulbs.

Light bulbs seem so mundane now, but have you actually stopped to think about how they work, the history behind them and had a close look?  They are really quite pretty and have a fascinating history! I might be a bit bias.

Bulb history the basics:

The invention of the light bulb is often credited to two men; Thomas Edison, from Ohio, USA and Joseph Swan, from the North East of England. In 1883 Edison and Swan went into partnership to form the Edison and Swan United Electric Company also known as Ediswan. The newly formed Ediswan started to sell incandescent light bulbs which became the industry standard.

Last night I shared my obsession with Light Bulbs at Museums Showoff and now loads of #bulbbanter is popping up.  I can’t really express how excited this is making me! Loads of Bulbs!!! Brilliant.

Here are some of the highlights from today:


Lightbulb lamp – Horniman Museum


Electric filament lamps made by Swan (left) and Edison (right), 1878-1879 – Science Museum 


Blackout Light Bulb – IWM 


Light Bulb – Museum of London

If you know of some interesting light bulbs in any museum collections or  happen across any brilliant bulbs, please let me know!

Installing the Octagon Exhibition – A professional curators perspective

I’ve been posting my personal experiences about the installation of the Digital Frontiers exhibition but here’s the installation process from another perspective.

Teaching and Research Curator Nick Booth has blogged his experience of installing the exhibition over on the UCL Museums and Collections Blog.

here’s a snippet from it:

One of my main challenges was that Claire (understandably) wanted to know as much information about the objects as we could provide. Not only when she was choosing her objects, but also for the labels that she has had to write for each one. In most of the Science and Engineering Collections our object records are literally a few lines in the database, and many things (such as the ‘big egg’ from the last exhibition) are completely unrecognised, by me anyway. This meant that while trying to help Claire pin down her ideas and decide how she would interpret them, I was also having to furiously learn about what we had in the collections. This is a very good thing from a curatorial point of view, but did mean I had to answer a lot with ‘let me get back to you’. However I do know an awful lot about light bulbs now!

You can read the rest of Nick’s post here.

SMKE workshop: Social Media and the Museum

SMKElogo-370x100Yesterday as part of the Social Media Knowledge Exchange project, UCLDH hosted  a workshop on  Social Media and the Museum.It was targeted specifically at doctoral students and early career researchers.

The general workshop theme: how Social Media is changing museum practice and visitor experience; and how Social Media can be integrated into museum exhibitions and events.

Its not news to most of us that museums are embracing social media and use it as a means to communicate and promote their activities, and also to interact and engage with their visitors.  A large number of museums now have a profile on social media sites to post news, promote their exhibitions & events, or disseminate their content; and also to  to interact with visitors by starting conversations, debates and organise participatory projects.   This in itself is brilliant.  But what is less well understood from an academic and a museum professional perspective is the key questions and challenges that are arising out of the use of social media.

Some of the key (well most obvious at least) questions the workshop tried to address were:

  • how do we engage visitors and encourage users of the collections to build an online community?
  • how do we start conversations with visitors in such a way that they feel that it is appropriate for non-experts to contribute?
  • how do we create a feeling of ownership of museum collections amongst the visitors and users?
  • What does this type of social engagement mean for the museum experience?
  • How do we evaluate the impact of social media?

These questions came up throughout the day, and naturally more questions came out of that than answers.

There was a range of talks by academic and museum professionals to discuss how Social Media is changing museum practice and visitor experience:

Social Media in the Humanities: Claire Warwick (UCL)

Claire spoke using social media as a different way to engage people with historical content. The focus of Claire’s talk was around the D-Day as it happens initiative led by Channel 4. Utilising Twitter as a different way of presenting oral history.  Suggesting that social media offers a sense of engagement which is very different to reading from history books. Providing a sense of immediacy. The personification of history.  Claire highlighted how social media allows contemporary voices to be heard, but it can also bring historical figures and events to life. Throughout her talk interesting questions were raised about physicality, immersive theatre and emotional engagement with historical events and how social media can be involved in all three.  In essence are historical figures tweeting in the social media space in the same genre as live interpretation in the museum space?

There has been a lot of discussion about what museums can learn from immersive theatre lately.  See Seb Chan’s post on Fresh & New(er) of 23 May 2012. “What if we made ‘wonderment’ our Key Performance Indicator?” and Ed Rodley’s post, http://exhibitdev.wordpress.com/2013/01/14/on-immersion-theatre-and-museums/  and Suse Cairns Rethinking why immersive theatre is compelling. It might not be the immersion after all and I think this is something which will need to be explored further.


Tweeting Moles? Social Media from the Grant Museum: Mark Carnall (Grant Museum)

Mark Carnall, curator from the Grant Museum spoke about their strategic use of social media.  Mark explained that Social media in the museum is a continually changing landscape and questioned how do/should/could museums manage this evolution.

The Grant Museum uses social media in 4 key ways:

  1. Twitter- transitory, irreverent, topical
  2. Facebook – badges and postcards
  3. Blogs- long form, publication, cv
  4. Flickr, YouTube and others – hosting tool.

Mark really hit home the need to think strategically. Museums shouldn’t use social media for social medias sake. There is a need to make time to fit social media into working practice.

Mark also raised some social media issues for museums to think about:

  • Is there an institutional format you should adopt?
  • Institutional buy in and support
  • Get image crediting right.
  • What voice will you use?
  • Dealing with the digital divide. Who is your audience? Social media doesn’t reach everyone. – in reality the people who aren’t using social media are people the museum most wants to reach
  • Sustainability: Social media in museums need to be sustainable and you need to be prepared for infrequently of returns because they aren’t always apparent instantly.

Mark also shared this brilliant infographic from informationisbeautiful.net: Hierarchy of digital distractions.

1276_hierarchy_of_digital_distractions


Social media: worth the time for small museums?: Alex Smith (Islington Museum)

Alex Smith from Islington Museum gave a great example of how small museums can blog, tweet and use social media as a knowledge experience with limited time and budget highlighting the benefits as well as the reasons why small museums show become involved in social media activities.   Alex started by highlighting that the Islington Museum is constrained by council ICT strategy/guidelines and how council museums have to think outside the box to deal with this adequately.

Islington Museum use social media tools in the following ways:

  • Facebook
    • Events management system
    • Sharing Photos
    • Timeline – Ambitious use of Facebook timeline as a general historic timeline of objects and events relating to Islington Museum
    • Community engagement
    • Building brand identity
    • Twitter
      • Discus things that are happening now at the museum
      • Hashtags – the example of the Joe Orton Trial Reconstruction
      • Time management – hootsuite helps schedule and organise tweets
      • Conversations and praise –  Alex says the power of anecdotal evidence as well as statistics helps with convincing management.  Bite sized chunks from socmedia
      • Blogging
        • Example of the Sadlers Wells Theatre Archive blog
        • Found that visitors do interact
        • Important to get time management right
        • Historypin
          • New for the museum
          • Easy for people to use museum images
          • Builds a community of interest
          • Supports our current activities

Collecting Social Media as a museum object: Laura Lannin & Ellie Miles (Museum of London)

Ellie Miles and Larua Lannin from the Museum of London, gave a really interesting talk about the citizen curators project and what they have discovered about trying to collect social media as a museum object.  I attended an event at the Museum of London about collecting social media earlier in the year (My post on the Museum of London social media event: can a museum collect tweets & should it? ) so it was great to continue the conversation.

The Museum of London’s main aim is to be a contemporary collector of objects, events and ideas from and about the city of London, and because of this contemporary collecting policy they began to think about digital capture of events in London quite early on. They now have the experimental role of a digital curator which aims to develop fresh ways of collecting contemporary digital culture.

One of their projects is #citizencurators – a social networking project for London2012.  It’s a great  project and it has some really interesting research questions which you can see at http://t.co/g4NNg9zoMS

Production/consumption – museum social media in use: Daniel Pett (British Museum)

Daniel Pett (Portable Antiquities Scheme) gave a mesmerising talk about production and consumption of social media.  Dan’s key message was to ensure that any social media activity in museums needs to be relevant.  Important to have a social media museum strategy and to think about issues like:

  • Who is ultimately responsible for social media content
  • How do museums create interesting social media content? Who decides what is appropriate?
  • How seriously does the institution take social media channels – who are the advocates and for what?
  • Do you have institutional buy in?
  • Impact of social media in museums. can you measure interactions? Is the engagement meaningful? Are stats enough?
  • Multi-vocality. Everyone can have a voice. How do you deal with that?
  • Does anyone in your organisation already have useful social media skills, can you utilise them?
  • Adequate time management
  • Moderation
  • Who is the target audience?

Dan then went on to discuss consuming social media as code and gave some really useful ways that utilising the right code can make archiving and optimising social media a piece of cake.  Check out Dan’s google drive presentation for some great info on how to consume and produce social media using some simple coding.

The rest of the Social Media and the Museum session was a bit more hands on.  We went to see Jeremy Bentham and discussed Transcribe Bentham and the The Bentham Pop-up, which waspowered by QRator, and posed a set of Bentham-esq questions to visitors.  From there we went to have a look at my Digital Frontiers exhibition and asked question about the challenges and benefits of utilising all digital interpretation and social media inside a museum space.   Finally Mark Carnall led a great social media challenge and asked us to work in teams to come up with how we would respond to different social media comments from the public.  It really hit home some of the issues you have to think about when dealing with social media responses.

A really great day full of interesting discussions.

Creating a mini me: Playing with 3D printing

 
photo (13)

As part of the Digital Frontiers exhibition I have been experimenting a bit with 3D printing.  This is why working in a university is brilliant as there is so many clever people and bits of kit about who will let you have a bit of a play.

3D tech is becoming quite big in museum discussions right now, and many museums are looking to embed 3D features permanently into their museum services but there are a few challenges to do this. Check out Andrew Lewis’ from the V&A’s post about How ready is 3D for delivering museum services? And my post from bits to blogs about Crapjects.

Because 3D is emerging and is turning out to be a playfully disruptive technology I felt it was important to experiment with just what could be done relatively quickly with 3D tech for an exhibition.

A couple of months ago I had myself scanned quickly by Jan Boehm and John Hindmarch from UCL Engineering,  Virtual Environments, Imaging & Visualisation which was then printed out with Andy Hudson Smith’s (CASA) 3D printer and it produced this prototype:

3D Me!Last night Steve Gray and I had another play, this time creating an object model mesh with a Kinect.  We used a Kinect  and  the software ReconstructMe.

Microsoft’s Kinect is an awesome piece of tech.  Instead of game play you can use its Infrared sensors to do depth of field scanning!  We were trying to work out a re-usable workflow, so we could then scan everybody! We started with a desk drawer and moving the kinect around but that didn’t really cut it.  Eventually with a bit of tinkering we has success with an office swivel chair is to allow the object (aka me) to revolve slowly in front of the Kinect!

The scans produced are not faultless, but they are really very good for such simple and cheap kit.  We (I say we, but actually Steve) cleaned up the scan using free tools. Here is a scan of myself showing the problem areas. This is in MeshMixer:

3D me in MeshMixer

3D me in MeshMixer

The final result was using a mix of MeshMixer and MeshLabs and NetFabb Basic to fix gaps in the models.

3D Steve and Claire

And if you so wish, you can download and print either Steve or me, or both of us out! We added ourselves to thingyverse.  Now everyone can have a mini Claire!  since last night there’s already been 12 downloads of us! weird!

MuseumNext 2013 digested

Culture Snackers from #MuseumNextSketch

I’ve Just got back from MuseumNext, which was brilliant! It’s a great conference, you feel like you are surrounded by friends rather than international colleagues. This produces a really warm and relaxed atmosphere to hear the now and next in digital museum goodness. I would recommend it to anyone who is interested in digital innovation and museums.

Below are some of my highlights:

Institutional Wabi-Sabi

Seb Chan’s (Smithsonian Cooper-Hewitt, National Design Museum )keynote kicked things off describing his journey from his arrival at the Smithsonian Cooper Hewitt Design Museum in New York and the challenges he faced and continues to face whilst working to change the mindest of an entire museum, and how digital data can be used in radically different ways. Basically his task was to start completely from scratch and rethink the way the museum functions with digital.

Seb described 7 key tactics to think about:

  1. Declare intent – embed digital in the organisation
  2. Form the team – hire people smarter than you and invest in training.
  3. Take irreversible actions
  4. Accelerate Inhouse production
  5. Promiscuous collaborations
  6. Set a rhythm of releases
  7. Maintain focus on the long term change

I really liked Seb’s point about ‘Hiring people smarter than you’, and ‘Investing in training’ because once you have a good team around you, other more radical changes can be supported and advocated for. Seb went on to say how to encourage accelerated digital change by setting a rhytm of releases, with the newly established in-house production and development teams. Taking a ‘prototype is the product’ approach and started releasing barely-built iterations of collections as soon as they were ready. Seb classes this as ‘Institutional Wabi-Sabi’ – essentially living with imperfection, chaos and change. He pointed out that all design is about testing things and reinventing them and refining, so being open to releasing incomplete versions of the developing service was an demonstration of a commitment to open design

Culture Snackers and Getting people closer to art.

The Rijksmuseum website won Best of the Web at Museums and the Web last month, so I was looking forward to hear Peter Gorgels talk about it. The Rijksmuseum has just re-opened after a 10 year refurbishment to queues around the block. They had a really nice way of advertsing the re-opening by bringing the collection out into the real world: check out quite possibly the best publicity stunt for the opening and they also put art on milk cartons and dresses. I don’t know the last time I was told by so many different people that I would have to queue for hours to get in to a Museum.

Peter Gorgels described how the website design had been based around an extremely simple concept: Getting people closer to the art. Riksmuseum identified a target group to focus on with targeted behaviour; a social sharing and a tech-savvy generation of “cultural snackers”. Peter suggested that everyone is a culture snacker. I like this term. I am going to start using it immediately. It was fantastic to hear how user orientated Rijksmuseum have been from the beginning. Peter described how scoping started with looking at the ways people use digital in their everyday life, on phones, tablets, laptops, at home, at work, on the train, whilst walking around lost. The design process established a core value: ‘close’. Walter Benjamin’s ideas around aura of artwork got at mention, as Peter believes that the ability to get digitally close to the art enhances the aura of the original artwork.

On top of the complete overhaul of the website the Riksmuseum also released Rijksstudio. I really like the concept of Rijksstudio. It is about putting the art first and encouraging users to be inspired by the great art and to go on and create their own works like this awesome video.

Getting Down and Dirty with Big Tech Companies

Dave Patten’s keynote discussed the ins and outs of the Science Museum’s Google Web Lab project. Dave described the interesting challenges of working with Google on Web Lab, a hybrid digital and physical exhibition. Dave gave a glimpse behind the scenes of big tech in action. I do wonder how much of the not so good experiences that probably got swept under the carpet and cant be talked about openly. Dave described how the entire process of making Web Labs was a live beta not only of the code but of the physical layout of the space. Which challenges the traditional idea of perfection on gallery. I think quite a lot of us were really jealous, I mean what museum wouldn’t kill for a budget and tech team like that? But in reality Dave did stress that if museums are looking to work with big tech partnerships there is a need to consider if the institutions are adequately set up to allow for rapid prototyping and development that these big digital projects need. This is a point that Carolyn Royston and I re-iterated in our talk about R&D in museums. Can your museum cope with the pace of it all?

Fainting as a KPI: Dative to Ablative

By far the most inspirational talk was the keynote by Michael John Gorman from Dublin’s Science Gallery . Everyone in the room now either wants to visit or work there immediately. What was absolutely fantastic about this talk was that it didn’t focus on digital innovation, but simply on being awesome. Michael talked about some incredible shows (Blood Wars! Donate and fight your white blood cells, kissing Petri dishes, sensored speed dating…) and talked about going from ‘Dative thinking’ to ‘Ablative thinking’. ‘Dative thinking’ means doing things to and for your audience. ‘Ablative thinking’, in contrast, implies allowing things to be done by, with and drawing ideas from an active community of participants. A fully participatory experience. Rather than seeing participation as an end point, Science Gallery places participation at the core of its thinking and design process. Michael talked about the size of the Science Gallery being a plus, its small, so they can do things quickly. They also benefit from being partnered with Trinity College Dublin, highlighting their ability to draw on new and innovative scientific research to inspire new exhibitions. What Michael highlighted so well is that the museum is a platform for collaboration that contributed to society in ways far beyond servicing museum visitors. In other exciting news they are hoping to spread the Science Gallery way of thinking with a network of Science Galleries across the globe!

Small ideas can actually make a dramatic change

Oonagh Murphy from the University of Ulster presented a really good session on nicking ideas from big museums and implementing them in smaller museums to help with digital development. The session was based on a 6-week research visit to museums in New York. Oonagh identified 4 key trends which could be implemented in smaller museums:

  • Key trend 1: embrace contemporary culture. (Have a party)
  • Key trend 2: use your building as creative hubs for experimentation and innovation by visitors (like the Met’s 3D printing hackathon)
  • Key trend 3: facilitate staff learning, collaboration and networking (go to conferences, MuseumNext, Museums and the Web etc, but also meet ups in the pub ‘Drinking about Museums)
  • Key trend 4: be an innovative, agile, mission led institution (look at examples from larger misson led institutions but don’t copy, see how these concepts can be used in your institution.)

​Here’s Oonagh’s report ‘Museums and Digital Engagement: A New York Perspective’

Start them young

There were a few talks at MuseumNext that focused on getting young people involved! It was great to see how the next generation of museum lovers are already doing fantastic work.

Sharna Jackson (Tate Kids) and Mar Dixon highlighted the importance of engaging young audiences and gave the example of how they did this during the recent Damien Hirst retrospective. They gave Tate Kids over to Charlotte Dixon, Mar’s daughter, who was 10 (now 11). Sharna explained that it is really important to relinquish control of the museum brand, and encourage a range of voices from outside of the organisation. And if you are going to do that, then it has to be the whole hog, when you let kids be the voice of your organisation, don’t censor, edit or correct them. They discussed Hirst’s spin paintings event in Covent Garden and how it deepened Tate Kids engagement and reach from preschool to pre-teens and how getting younger audiences involved turns them from fans to advocates.

N8, the team behind Amsterdam’s Museum Night , ran a series of fringe events to compliment the main program at MuseumNext. They are a pretty nifty marketing and audience development style agency that work with Amsterdam museums. They have an organisational model that makes even me feel old, staff have to be 27 or under, and can only work at the organisation for a maximum of 3 years. Which is a really great way of making sure that they remain relevant to the audiences they are trying to engage. N8 talked about digital culture and bringing different voices into museums. One example they showed was a break dancer taking a tour of the Rijksmuseum and talking about his own thoughts about the collection, and ended with him break dancing in the museum. A really refreshing personal interpretation.

Sanne Van de Werf (Royal Museum of Antwerp), along with a terrifyingly eloquent 17 year old, described the development of an app by young museum ‘ambassadors’. Based around Flemish Expressionists, The Royal Museum of Fine Arts Antwerp let a peer group education project think of and design an app for its new exhibition. Not only did this really engage teenagers in the museum and Flemish Expressionist art but it enabled the museum to learn more about how young people interact with a collection and to see their museum from a fresh perspective. A win win for everyone involved.

Accidental learnings

The great thing about MuseumNext is that it has a such a relaxed atmosphere tmeaning that it is really easy to go from conference sessions, to breaks, to beer, with a smile on your face, learning cool stuff all the while. One of the brilliant things that I really enjoyed this year was that MuseumNext and Tumblr teamed up to run a competition to create the best ‘Tumblr’. Mar Dixon and Oonagh Murphy and I became a bit obsessed with it and eventually it paid off as we won with Immersive Serendipity!

At first I found Tumblr incredibly difficult to use, but actually having a specified platform, meant that determination and trying out different scenarios was worth it. This was a much better way of getting people to learn how to use a platform. I wouldn’t have attended a workshop on Tumblr specifically, but having a competition run throughout a conference was a lot more engaging, and I have come away with the ability to use something other than wordpress!

Speaking of obsession, also became a bit obsessed with Paper app, a drawing app for iPad’s. John Shelvin created MuseumNextSketch a fantastic Tumblr using drawings from it and then we ended up having a draw off during the evening of different MuseumNext delegates. John had a bit of a headstart with his Fine Art degree, I, however, have enthusiasm (and a distinct lack of artistic skill) in abundance, and came up with some fabulous (rubbish) artworks.

hand drawn Dave Patten

 

Museums and the Web 2013: Rewiring, Games and Computer Club

IMG_5443Museums and the Web was a bit of a blur and over a month later I haven’t really managed to process any of it.  I’m also recovering from over indulging in Voodoo Donuts.

I was speaking in the Rewiring the Museum, Part of the “Innovating the Museum” session thread with 2 other pretty nifty papers.

I was speaking with Carolyn Royston (IWM) about the Positives and Negatives of R&D in museums and the lessons we have learnt from the Social Interpretation Project. You can check out our paper titled ‘Visitors, Digital Innovation and a Squander Bug: Reflections on Digital R&D for Audience Engagement and Institutional Impact’

There were a massive selection of sessions, a couple of my favourites were the  ‘Let the Games Begin‘  or the Gamification smackdown session. the debate kicked off as soon as the panellists started speaking. Sharna Jackson from Tate Kids was  simply awesome on the naffness of badges for just rocking up to a museum. Visitors should be challenged before they are rewarded. Loved it.

I also really enjoyed the excellent  Professional Forum: Digital Strategy from Europe to the US which had 4 great speakers discussing the highs and lows of digital strategy.

  1. Kajsa Hartig (Nordiska museet) talked about:Communicating the Museum: From Digital Strategy to Plan of Action – Two Years Down the Road
  2. Sarah Hromack (Whitney Museum of American Art) told us about: Utopia Then, Reality Now: (Re)considering the Wiki Model in Museum Culture 
  3. Carolyn Royston (IWM) focused on Destination Success: Sustaining your digital strategy but really it was about initiating a Computer Club (with Stickers) within IWM Take the bull by the horns and make changes internally before expecting the public to understand. This created a real buss during the session, it will be great to hear if that buzz is replicated inside the museum when it launches.  I really do want me an expert sticker.
  4. John Stack (Tate) talked about embedding digital in everything the museum does. Tate Digital Strategy: Digital as a dimension of everything

They also launched a pretty nifty Institutional Strategy Digest zine.

Here are my top 3 tweets of the conference:

Danny Birchall @dannybirchall: “I want to make people uncomfortable, I want to make games about genocide” -@museumpaige #mw2013 11:27 PM – 19 Apr 13

Wil Arndt @warndt:Museums need to install a bar in every exhibit. Funding problem solved. #MW2013 11:43 PM – 20 Apr 13

sebchan @sebchan:Love that @caro_ft is setting up the Imperial War Museum’s Computer Club! Pocket protector awesomeness! #MW2013 12:28 AM – 20 Apr 13

Blimey, Day of DH nearly passed me by!

It was the Day of DH yesterday, where Digital Humanists all over the world are telling people what they are up to on a specific day.  Its a great opportunity to see what the DH community are up to.  I have taken part every year since I joined UCLDH.  Here are my posts from 2010, 2011, and 2012

However this year has been a bit different.

This is reposting of the blog post I’ve put up on the Day of DH 2013 site:

It’s normally quite quiet at this time of year, the Easter holidays always arrives at just the right time, when everyone really needs a bit of a break.  So there hasn’t been as much email as normal.  which is good because I’m supposed to be focused on one very important document…

I have been working at home, away from the office and the distractions, on my PhD research. I’m in write up stage. Less than a year to go, and I’m piling on the pressure to get it done.   I’m trying to keep all distractions to a minimum, and the aim is to churn out at least 1000 words a day, every day, until I have a full first draft. But shutting myself in the study with only herbal tea to keep me company is actually quite difficult to do and challenges everything that is quite DHy about me.

My PhD in Digital Humanities has seemingly made me less Digital Humanities in real life.  I used to blog, tweet, email, collaborate and tinker regularly. Now I don’t really do anything except write, and procrastinate.

I managed 2189 words yesterday. But Day of DH passed me by, I only realised this morning that it was yesterday.  Does that mean DH isn’t on my radar any more? will I get it back when I eventually finish my PhD? I hope so.