Projects, events and news from the University of Cambridge Museums
This year’s Museums Computer Group Conference Museums Beyond the Web was based at the Natural History Museum. It covered a range of ‘Digital’ topics from exploring Google Glass in a museum space to issues around content management systems. With such diverse and exciting talks it’s hard to know where to start and what to include, but for me the things that stood out had some relevance to a project I’ve been working on with colleagues called CultureFinder. CultureFinder is a website and web app designed for visitors to Cambridge. Visitors can follow curated tours or create their own by selecting images of objects, events and art they’d like to see and adding it to their tour.
Among other things, the keynote speaker and designer George Oates talked about her work with archives, libraries and maps, and also the potential to open up content to the public online, often in creative ways. A good example George gave of the museums opening up information to the public was the Rijksmuseum project to make high resolution images accessible to the general public. It was a huge task but has created the opportunity for people to familiarise themselves with the collection, use the images in education projects, digital projects such as apps and reduced the number of images which require people to complete permission forms. This was exciting to hear and made me reflect on CultureFinder and how it can be considered a very public facing museum catalogue. It also encourages exploratory clicking and scrolling, something George mentioned as being preferable to the traditional search box.
One of the challenges of CultureFinder is having to source information from so many different places. Even acquiring content from one museum sometimes requires corresponding with several departments. Matt McGrattan from the Bodleian Library talked about how none of the systems he worked with, talked to each other. This meant multiple images were stored in multiple places and inevitably caused inefficiency, as information and images were constantly being replicated rather than being drawn from one place. It’s slightly different for CultureFinder because we are working across many different museums, but in a dream world it would be great to be able to draw content from one source. Perhaps more importantly though we need to develop some form of system that enables us to monitor the objects which are being taken on and off display more easily.
Rebecca Bartlett from AMMBA, a company that specialises in uploading digital content on various platforms, talked about a project they had worked on with Greater Manchester Museums called Centenary Connections. They produced an app which brought together Greater Manchester content relating to WW1. Her whole talk was extremely relevant to CultureFinder as the project required working with multiple museums and shaping the content to work on a web app. What I really liked was Rebecca’s acknowledgment of the challenges and the methods she had used to help overcome them. For example, she stressed the need to get people on board with the idea at an early stage and as result ran workshops and arranged meetings to find out people’s time/agendas. I’m hoping to engage with museum staff on a more regular basis and talk about issues that concern or relate to their department. As a result of Rebecca’s talk I’d also like to set up demo workshops for front of house staff and gallery attendants.
Anna Rhodes and Ben Bedwell from Buxton Museum had some really interesting things to say about creating low budget apps and websites. They decided to adapt WordPress rather than develop something from scratch, which helped keep costs down. One of the smaller things Anna mentioned was her struggle to find enough tourists to test the app they’d designed for visitors to the town. Her neat solution was to work with first year students at the local University. They were new to the area and would have a similar experience to a tourist. Although we’re not quite at that stage with CultureFinder, it may be that we could work with our local Freshers as a way to gain meaningful feedback.