Last week I spent a wonderfully sunny couple of days in Barcelona for the MuseumNext conference. It was great to catch up with of the museum geek crew as well as meet some new and equally inspirational people and projects. It was also an opportunity to discover ginger and cardamom gin & tonic. But that’s another story.
MuseumNext kicked off with an opening debate on the future of museum collections. It wasn’t a debate as such, more three separate perspectives on digital technology and museum collections. first up was Charlotte Sexton, from the National Gallery. I love Charlotte’s presentations, they always go straight to the point and provide almost a checklist of things to think about.
Charlotte discussed the idea of game changing strategies for digital collections. Starting by comparing the in gallery experience of looking at art against the digital equivalent. Suggesting that the In gallery experiences is: curated, displayed. Physical engagement, minimal interpretation (authorities), minimal context provided, minimal connections between objects. Whereas the online experience is: self-curated, digital surrogates, online engagement, multiple interpretation, multiple context. it was really nice to hear that the lean in moment in the gallery is the equivalent of zooming in onto a high resolution image on the web.
The discussion then moved on to Strategy (I likes strategy) and some key pointers to remember when dealing with digital collections:
- Brand – your character and values, build on this.
- Decide your long term goals
- Focus on long term planning rather than quick wins
- Work with staff to capture collection cataloguing
- Tech is only one part of the equation
- Tailor content to multiple audiences. Charlotte had a nice analogy for this: Skim, swim and dive. 3 levels of audience! So from surface level to deep engagement. But you cant just segment content into those 3 levels. Need to offer a range of experiences
- Don’t limit online collections to the print paradigm
- Market and promote the offer (SEO/Strategic Partnerships etc)
A nice way to start the conference by thinking strategically about what is manageable, achievable and with an audience focus.
Next was Tjarda den Haan from Amsterdam Museum who discussed the topic of Web Archaeology. In essence how can you reconstruct, preserve and archive web data? UNESCO issued a Charter on the preservation of digital heritage in 2003, but it still remains a huge issue that all types of digital media, are extremely vulnerable to long-term loss, and little work has been done to preserve them. Tjarda’s talk very much reminded me of Grand Theft Archive, an article by Paul Gooding and Melissa Terras, about the state of preservation of early computer games. Tjarda explained that Amsterdam Museum are working on “digging up” De Digitale Stad (DDS) – the first Dutch virtual community, and the first free public domain virtual city in the world, which existed from 1994-2001. Basically, they’re collaborating with former DDS members, system administrators etc to recover as much data as possible and reconstruct the city as it was at different points in time. It will be great to see what they achieve at the end of the project, and whether or not it is possible to systematically recover ‘lost’ digital media.
Finally, Sílvia Domènech From the Museum Picasso, discussed the new possibilities for digital archives. Now this talk was in Catalan, so I felt like I was a member of European Parliament, with ear pieces and delayed translation. I was so transfixed by the translator, that some of the presentation was lost on me. But Silvia was discussing an exhibition in which they designed the museum exhibition to have an archival structure to it. In essence using file structures and archival standards to display information in the exhibition. So a visitor could search for information via person, or via relationship or via ontology category. It’s an Interesting way of designing an exhibition and I would be really interested to see what the visitors thought of the experience.
So these presentations set the tone for the next couple of days of the conference. And provided a lot to think about, particularly about the nature of visitor experience with digital technology and what could be learnt from other disciplines.