Curator of the Future: Part 2

Curator of the Future: Part 2

Last week, I blogged about the British Museum “The Curator of the Future” Conference. In part 1, I discussed their “Curatorial Survivial Kit”. Now I’ll look at the “Curator and Digital” and “Next Generation” sessions.

  • Curators and Digital

Chris Michaels, Head of Digital and Publishing at the British Museum set the scene after lunch by asking how curation has changed in this age of “digital enlightenment”.

Originally the museum team was focused on Neil MacGregor “History of the World in 100 Objects” books, so the success of the podcasts took them by surprise (and Chris admitted that if they’d known how well they’d work, they would have done things slightly differently!). People listened at home, on the move and even downloaded them to listen in front of the objects in the museum. The moral? It’s nearly impossible to predict which emerging platforms are going to be a hit, so it’s a good idea to experiment and make things available in as many ways as your budget, capacity and imagination will allow.

Selfies, wifi etc change how people interact with museums and how we and they share that experience. Behind the scenes sharing. Presenting more of our collections to a much wider audience.

Anra Kennedy from Culture 24’s presentation was asked if your use of digital technology is “Fit for the Future”. At the moment we have a “supply orientated approach” – this is the information we want to share with you and this is how we’re going to do so. This isn’t working. Museums need to research what their audiences (and potential audiences) want, would be interested in and how to get it to the,. This will require a multi-platform approach using the social web (Twitter, Facebook etc), on-site provision and mobile provision such as podcasts.

Last year, if you take out the stats for “adult” sites, 0.08per cent of all web traffic went to the sites of the 700 largest cultural organisations. That sounds quite positive, until you realise that the same percent were visiting same as B&Q!

Museum’s need to have an online presence that’s engaging and playful as well as informative. Anra gave several examples including Show Me, a project for 7 to 14 year olds working with teachers, and the partnership project VanGoYourself.com. This project encourages people re-create scenes from Van Gogh’s artworks and share them via social media. This has been very popular, particularly amongst hipsters, and won the “Museum and the Web” Exhibition and People’s Choice awards.

Anra also talked about. She stressed how important it is for museums to share good images online – high resolution and high quality, labelled with information about their availability for use and information about what they depict. Images should be “usable, reusable and shareable”.

I particularly liked Anra’s suggestion that websites can be “living labs” where you can experiment and change. By playing with layouts, language/tone, how functions are displayed, showing related content (or not), you can learn about how your online visitors use your site, what they like and what might work better.

Zoe Hughes is Curator of Fossil Invertebrates at the Natural History Museum, and she presented on a pet-subject of mine: Why Curators Should Tweet

Sick of being told “most people don’t care about your collections”, Zoe wondered is it that they don’t care or is it that they don’t know? She began tweeting to connect with academic researchers in her field and to raise awareness of collections, organisation and the curator’s role.

What she’s found is that only a tiny amount of her Twitter followers are her original target audience of “researchers in her field” – only 0.03 per cent. A lot are other museums but there are members of the public too. Her content is very different to what she’d originally envisioned too, as a lot of her work involves being at a computer and it’s hard to make that interesting in a tweet. Instead, she shares:

  • Photos of interesting objects as she finds them (this means she carries her smartphone with her in the stores to photograph and then share)
  • Information and images that link to popular hashtags (#FossilFriday ties in very well!)
  • Some information about what she’s doing (eg outreach, field work etc)
  • Questions and answers about the collections

Zoe raised the interesting quandary of popularity vs engagement. What does it really mean if people “like” or “follow” your content? How do you measure, record and report this data? They’re good questions and, sadly, currently without definitive answers.

(You can follow Zoe on Twitter: @NHM_Cephalopoda)

  • The Next Generation

Sadly, I had to leave after Rachel Souhami excellent introduction to this section of the programme. Rachel is a Museum Academic and Consultant who was involved in the 2014 “Future of Museums” conference which asked early career professionals to be idealistic about the future of the sector, leading to the creation of a Manifesto for the Future of Museums.

This document has been described by those  higher up in museums “nothing new”. These are the same issues that we’ve all been talking about for years. Rachel quite rightly challenges “If this is what you’ve been talking about for years, why haven’t you changed anything?”

Rachel has made a list suggestions for senior museum professionals who want this change to happen:

1 Stop talking about “the museum sector” – there is so much variety in what we do and how we do it, that we cannot be described as a cohesive whole

2 Ensure a cogent, collective leadership

3 Engage with emerging museum professionals

4 Remind emerging professionals to be proactive in seeking change

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