WIRE: Wikipedians in Residence Essex

Wikipedians (or Wikimedians) in Residence are volunteers who dedicate time to working in-house at a museum or gallery, creating and updating Wikipedia articles related to that organisation and its collection. They are not simply an in-house editor: the role is also about enabling the host organisation and its members to continue a productive relationship with Wikipedia and its community of editors after the Residency is finished.

Wikipedia describes the idea here
https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Wikipedian_in_residence

The Fry Gallery, Stow Maries Aerodrome, Essex Police Museum, Combined Military Services Museum and Chelmsford Museum will all be hosting a Wikipedian this autumn as a part of the WIRE project.

WIRE has only just started, and we’ll report back with our learning in a few months. In the meantime, if you’d like to explore updating your museum’s Wikipedia presence (even if you haven’t set one up yourselves, check Wikipedia as a page about your museum probably already exists) you can use the guide below.

Writing for Wikipedia

Be aware that new articles are ‘patrolled’ shortly after submission and if your article is not thought to comply with Wikipedia’s guidelines it will be deleted.

Articles submitted to Wikipedia should be written from a neutral point of view. Content must be
• unbiased
• verifiable
• noteworthy
• must not breach copyright

Think of it as writing an entry for a printed encyclopaedia. Entries should be written in an informational and neutral style rather than a marketing style. If possible facts should be supported by references.

Images should be the copyright of your Museum and be prepared for them to be downloaded and used once you have added them to an article. Consider using a Creative Commons licence to retain copyright while allowing others to use the images. You can find out more about licenses here – https://creativecommons.org/licenses/ Wikipedia expects editors to grant free content licences – https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Creative_Commons_license

Before you start do a search on Wikipedia to make sure that someone else hasn’t already written an entry- duplicates will be deleted.

Consider if your article will meet Wikipedia’s ‘worthy of note’ conditions. Just advertising the existence of a museum is unlikely to but adding an article on a collection probably will. Entries should be strengthened by references (preferably online) and an article with no references is likely to be deleted.

There is some good advice here – https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Wikipedia:Your_first_article

Wikipedia also provides a wizard to help with writing your first article – https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Wikipedia:Article_wizard

A good tutorial can be found here – https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Wikipedia:Tutorial

Creating an Account
It is possible to write for and edit Wikipedia without an account but there are several good reasons to create an account for your museum.
• It will give entries more authority
• A number of reliable entries from the same source will build a good online reputation
• You can pick a recognisable user name
• You will have a user page with subpage called a ‘sandbox’ where you can experiment with writing and formatting an entry before submitting it

To Create an Account
https://en.wikipedia.org/w/index.php?title=Special:CreateAccount&returnto=Wikipedia%3AWhy_create_an_account%3F

Logging Your Steps
It’s a good idea to keep a log of your research and make sure you have a note of all the sources you have used along with web links. This makes it easy for you to respond to any queries about your entry and will also leave useful information for the museum should you not be available.

Periscope and the Paraloid Sandwich: Upcoming Demonstration and How To Access It

(@EssexMDO)photorealistic_logo

One of the most common techniques for writing an identifying number on a museum object is a technique known as the “Paraloid Sandwich”. It involves writing the number between two layers of a chemical varnish.

 

Emma Cook, Museum Development Officer for Bedfordshire, and I have become aware that while YouTube is populated with numerous videos demonstrating methods for labelling objects for which the Sandwich isn’t appropriate (e.g. costume collections), this technique isn’t covered.

 

However, rather than just create a video, we thought we’d experiment with the streaming app called Periscope. Periscope you to broadcast video live and people following you on the app or who have clicked a link on Twitter can watch and even send in questions. The video then stays on Periscope for 24 hours. However, we will also then be able to upload it to YouTube, where it will be available for anyone to watch.

 

Therefore I am very happy to announce that Emma and I will be live-streaming a Paraloid Sandwich demonstration on Wednesday 25th May. We will repeat it 4 times, so you can log in, watch demonstrations and ask questions at 12:00, 12:30, 13:00 and 13:30 (British Summer Time).

 

So, how can you view our demonstration and ask questions?

 

  1. Download the free Periscope app to your mobile or tablet and set up an account
  2. “Follow” me (EssexMDO)
  3. Have the app or tablet connected to the internet between 12pm and 2pm on Wednesday 25th May

Additionally, a link will post on my Twitter account (@EssexMDO) every time we go live. You can click that link to watch along if you have Google Chrome as your web browser (Internet Explorer doesn’t work).

 

If you want to watch, but can’t get online at that time, it will be available to watch for 24 hours via the Periscope app.

If you do not have access to the app, we will then be making the video available as soon as possible via the SHARE Museums East YouTube account. Links to the film will be posted on this site and others.

What Essex Sounds Like: Soft Launch of Essex Sounds Audio Map

Sarah-Joy Maddeaux, You Are Hear Project Officer at the Essex Record Office, talks about the sounds of our county:

For the past six months, the You Are Hear project team at the Essex Sound and Video Archive has been asking the public what Essex sounds like. Whether stopping innocent passers-by in shopping centres, appealing to the public through newspapers, or calling for suggestions through e-bulletins, we have been asking you what noises you hear in your daily routine; what noises you associate with the county; what sounds represent your community.

Now we have the answer! Well, to a point. We have compiled the results with our sound recordist, Stuart Bowditch. Based on your suggestions, he has been venturing into the far corners of the county, braving all weathers, to capture those soundscapes. And now you can hear some of the results on our audio map, Essex Sounds.

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The hunt parade through Maldon, 1st January 2016. Image courtesy Stuart Bowditch.

From church bells to firework displays; the sounding of ship’s horns at Tilbury to bring in the New Year to the annual New Year’s hunt parade through Maldon (yes, he managed to capture both, and more besides that day!): see if your suggestion of an Essex sound has been recorded.

In our public surveys about Essex sounds, many people commented on a perceived difference between the north and south of the county. Commonly, people considered the southern part of the county to contain more industrial noises, more hustle and bustle, more crowded atmospheres: with more people speaking with a London or ‘TOWIE accent’. The north was depicted as quieter, more rural, where the people are more likely to speak with a ‘traditional’ Essex accent.

Is this an accurate depiction of the county, or is it over-generalised? Why not consult the Essex Sounds map to see if it reflects this north-south divide?

The map also enables comparisons between old and new sounds of the county. We have uploaded some historic recordings from the Archive. For example, you can listen to an auction at the Chelmsford cattle market in the 1950s.

 

You can then compare it with a recording made on that site in 2015, capturing the busy atmosphere of High Chelmer on a Saturday. Try it out here

 

If your sound suggestion has not yet been added, do not fear: our site is still a work in progress. Stuart will continue to record Essex sounds over the next few months, gradually uploading them to the audio map. We will also keep adding historic recordings as they are digitised, as part of this Heritage Lottery Funded project. We are happy to receive further suggestions of places and events to record, though we will not be able to include everything within the scope of the project.

In the next phase, our web developers will build an app version. By the autumn, you will be able to take the map on location, listening to the clips in the very spot where they were first recorded.

In the meantime, why not contribute your own recording to the site? We want the map to fully reflect your experiences of what Essex sounds like. You will find instructions on the ‘contribute’ page, but please get in touch if you have any questions.

We would be delighted to talk to any museums that want to use the Essex Sounds map for engagement activities. Maybe you want to host a recording day, encouraging people to venture out into the surrounding area with their phones and tablets to capture what your community sounds like in 2016, then upload the fruits to the map. Or perhaps a workshop is more up your street: inviting theorists and practitioners to review the material and discuss how the sounds of Essex are changing, and what this means about bigger socio-cultural shifts. How does sound affect our sense of place? What sounds are absent in our collections, and how can we redress that for future generations?

We would love to hear any feedback you have, so that we can continue to improve the site and pass on your comments to our website developers, Community Sites. Please be gentle with us, though: we are still in the development phase! We would also be grateful for any volunteers to test the map more extensively, particularly if you are using accessibility software. Please get in touch find out more.

For more information about the You Are Hear project, you can visit the project site. You can also listen to more recordings on our Soundcloud channel.

 

From summer 2016 to summer 2018, we will be showcasing a selection of our recordings on interactive touchscreen kiosks and listening benches that will tour public locations across the county. We are also looking for volunteers to help us with installing listening benches in the following areas:

  • Burnham-on-Crouch
  • Chelmsford
  • Clacton-on-Sea
  • Coggeshall
  • Epping
  • Great Baddow
  • Great Chesterford / Clavering
  • Southend-on-Sea
  • Witham

Please get in touch if you want to be a part of our tour, or if you can help with the community benches.

Heritage Lottery Fund

 

 

Students and Museums: A Match Made in Heaven

A member of the vTeam supporting young peopleStudents from the University of Essex are looking for meaningful placements within local cultural organisations. The courses these students are on include:

  • Art History/Curatorial Studies
  • History
  • Literature
  • Film Studies
  • Creative Writing
  • Playwriting
  • Multimedia Journalism
  • Business and Marketing

These students have many skills that could be helpful to your museum, beyond traditional volunteering roles of room-stewarding, research, documentation and digitisation (although those are great too!).

Karen Gooch from the University says: “Students bring fresh enthusiasm and ideas, and often new skills, which placement providers welcome”.

Why not:

  • Work with film students to produce a tour of parts of your building that aren’t accessible to wheel-chair users?
  • Ask playwriting students to develop a script for in-character interpretation?
  • Work with marketing students to promote your events and activities?
  • Ask a journalism student to produce your regular newsletter?
  • Work with students to stream talks and “Out of the Box” presentations live on the internet to reach audiences around the world
  • Ask creative writing students to write a children’s story for use in your museum or run a poetry-writing workshop
  • Work with students to develop new tours and trails of your museum
  • Contact me or Karen to discuss your needs and we can help you define a paid-internship or volunteering role

The University may be able to help fund roles for interns with your organisation or help you recruit volunteers. There are campuses in both Colchester and Southend but do not be discouraged if your museum is further afield. There may be ways that travel costs can be supported so do still get in touch.

For further information, contact Karen Gooch, Placements Manager, Faculty of Humanities at the University of Essex

New SHARE Training Calendar – Part 2

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Thank you to everyone who took part in my training needs survey earlier this year. I fed all the information back up to SHARE and they have used it in producing this year’s calendar, which goes live at 9am today.

In today’s blog, I am going to highlight where you can access the training that the majority of people requested in each category. However, it is in no way an exhaustive list of what’s on offer (over 100 training events between now and next spring!) so I do recommend taking time to have a look through and see what would be of use to you and your colleagues.

Of those of you who responded to my survey, only one third had not attended any SHARE training in the last year and of them only 10% said that this was because the training was too hard to get to. If there is training that your museum needs, but cannot afford the travel, it isn’t running or it is simply too far away, please do contact me as I may be able to help.

Several of the training days are running in Essex, but please remember that SHARE have to support the whole of the East of England. Therefore they move they days about and if a particular subject has been in Essex recently, they do have to move it somewhere else this year.

Most Requested Training By Category

  1. Collections

There was a strong “digital element” to the training requests for collections, including Copyright, Digitising Collections and Managing Digital Images.

I have spoken to Simon at SHARE about Copyright and they have identified that it is a need for support with this area, however from their experience they aren’t sure if training is the best way of providing it. SHARE is currently formulating a plan and I will update you as soon as possible. If you do have any urgent copyright questions, please get in touch.

Regarding digitising collections, there are several useful days coming up:

  • “Point & Shoot: Collections Photography Using Digital Cameras” is running on 6th October at Ely Museum and 2nd February in Norwich
  • “Digital Technology & Collections: Promoting Access and Engagement” is on 5th October in Ipswich

For managing digital images, I suggest:

  • “Managing Digital Images” on 15th December at Mill Green Museum and Mill in Hatfield or 27th April in Wymondham Heritage Museum, Norfolk
  • “Create Once, Publish Everywhere: How to COPE With Your Digital Content” on 1st December at the Museum of Cambridge or 20th April at the Long Shop Museum in Leiston

I would also suggest having a look at joining the Digital Development Forum if you are planning on a large digital project. The next meeting is on 20th October in Norwich

Other Collections based training that had a large number of requests are Conservation Basics and Rationalisation.

There are several conservation-themed days coming up:

  • Handle With Care: Object Handling & Packing on 2nd December in Mildenhall, Suffolk
  • “Conservation Uncovered: Major Museum Tours” on 19th November is going behind the scenes at the University of Cambridge conservation lab
  • “Environmental Monitoring” on 26th April at the Centre for Computing History in Cambridge
  • Integrated Pest Management: Level 1 on 10th November at Royston and District Museum
  • Integrated Pest Management: Level 2 on 2nd March at University of Cambridge Museums.
  • The 2nd Annual SHARE Collections Care Conference on 20th January at Hughes Hall in Cambridge.

Some sessions are much more specialised but will be relevant to several Essex Museums, including:

  • Assessing and Repacking Military Costume: A Costume & Textiles Network Event on 6th October in Norwich
  • “Preventive Conservation for Waterlogged Archaeology: A Maritime Heritage Network East Event” which is on 15th October at Southend Central Museum

SHARE also have their online Collections Care Syllabus. This current version is available online but it is being reviewed and updated so look out for updates later in the year.

For Rationalisation, SHARE are running “Rationalisation, Review and Disposal: Getting Started” on 8th October. Please note that there will also be funding support for rationalisation available later in the year. It is not compulsory, but I would recommend attending the training if you wish to apply.

2. Audiences

The most requested audience-themed training days are: Writing Engaging Text, Marketing on a Budget, Display Techniques and Understanding Audiences.

There are two different text-writing events booked in this year:

  • Captivating Captions on a Budget is one of this year’s first trainings, happening on 7th September at The Red House in Suffolk.
  • Make it Snappy: Writing Effective Text on 11th April at the Museum of East Anglian Life

There isn’t a generalised “marketing” training on the SHARE calendar this year, so I will organise something for later in the year. However, there are two specialised courses which may be of interest:

  • “Awareness, engagement and impact: Marketing to drive fundraising and income generation – a SHARED Enterprise event” on 25th November at Verulamium Museum in St Albans
  • Social Media Next Steps on 22nd September in Luton and on 9th March (venue TBC). If you feel that you need a “Beginners” level Social Media training, please DO NOT book on to this course. Contact me and I will arrange for help and support.

There are a couple of events coming up for Display Techniques:

  • Basic Display Techniques, 13th October in Stevenage and 12th January at Gainsborough’s House in Suffolk and on 14th April in Norwich.
  • Cutting Edge: Making Professional Labels & Panels on 3rd March at Hollytrees Museum in Colchester

There are several events which will be of interest for those of you who requested “Understanding Audiences”:

  • Front-of-House Forum on 19th October in Norwich
  • First Steps in Community Participation on 14th January in Luton
  • Complaints, Criticisms and Conflicts: How to Handle Them All on 28th January in Ely Museum
  • Managing Successful Events on 25th February at the Fenland Museum and Denny Abbey in Cambridgeshire
  • Working with Different Audiences on 4th March at The Polar Museum in Cambridge

There were also several requests for How to use HistoryPin, which SHARE are offering on 21st October in Ipswich

“Being a “Dementia Friendly” venue” and “Making your museum accessible for people with Autism” were also both highly requested. Working with these audiences will be covered in “Working with Different Audiences” and Helen Griffiths (Essex County Council’s Cultural Access, Learning and Participation Officer) and I am planning to run Dementia Friendly training soon.

3. Children and Young People

The most requested training session for children and young people are Setting Up A Youth Panel/Young Curators, Working with Schools, Child Protection/Safeguarding and Using Digital Technology to Deliver Learning With Schools.

“Giving Young People a Voice: Youth Panels and Young Curators” is running on 18th September at Colchester Castle (NB This will follow the Essex Heritage Education Group meeting).

Regarding Working With Schools, Helen Griffiths and I are planning a series of training in this subject and Child-Protection/Safeguarding for later in the year (look out for more details soon) however, you may also be interested in:

  • Surprising Science For Schools is on 21st January at the National Horseracing Museum in Newmarket.
  • Learning From Objects on 9th October in Ipswich or 7th December in Bedford
  • Object Lessons 3: SHARE & Bridges Children & Young People Conference on 10th February, venue TBC
  • Consider Yourself: Reflective Learning Practice for Learning Staff and Volunteers in Museums, 18th April, Museum of Cambridge

As you may be aware, I’ve been working with several museums in the county on a digital learning pilot. The case-studies from the project will be shared via my website, SHARE and the Heritage Education Group later in the year.

4. Resilience

The most commonly requested training sessions in this section fall into two categories, Volunteer Management (Volunteer Management, Volunteer Recruitment and Young Volunteers) and Fundraising/Income Generation (Alternate Ways to Boost Your Income, Making The Most of Your Shop, How to Talk to Funders and Other Stakeholders and Writing Funding Applications).

SHARE have recently launched the Volunteer Coordinators Forum, details of which can be found here. This is a great source of support for anyone managing volunteers, including those who are volunteers themselves. I also recently commissioned a volunteer management toolkit which is available here. 

SHARE are offering the following training events:

  • Volunteers: Getting Them In and Keeping Them Happy (a Volunteer Co-ordinators’ Forum event) on 18th April at Ipswich Transport Museum
  • Volunteer Co-ordinators’ Forum: Youth Volunteering, 8th December, John Buyan Museum, Bedford

SHARE also have a Retail Forum which offers peer support to those running museum shops. More details can be found here and there are some relevant training days too:

  • “Top Tips For Retail” on 4th February at Braintree Museum
  • “SHARE Retail Forum: Selling Skills and Sound Retail Practice” on 21st September at the National Horseracing Museum in Newmarket

Regarding applying for grants and other fundraising training, there are lots of options:

  • “Relationship Fundraising and Legacy Giving for Museums – a SHARED Enterprise Event” on 12th October at Colchester Castle
  • HLF Young Roots Seminar on 19th October at the HLF Office in Cambridge
  • “Awareness, engagement and impact: Marketing to drive fundraising and income generation – a SHARED Enterprise event” on 25th November at Verulamium Museum
  • “Enterprise & Philanthropy: building relationships to fund museums” on 2nd March at the Museum of London

I would also like to highlight that my colleague Andrew Ward and I are offering a “surgery” connected to Essex County Council’s Cultural Development grants on 23rd September in Chelmsford.

The other training that I would especially like to  mention is Understanding Museums. This is a six day course (one day a fortnight). While six days is a big commitment, this is the perfect course for anyone who is new to working or volunteering in museums. It explains why we do what we do, how different types of museums operate and looks at the history and ethics of the sector.

I would like to thank the SHARE Museums team (Annette, Simon, Kathy, Miranda and Liz) for all their hard work in pulling together this training offer – and wish them luck when the booking opens at 9 o’clock!

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

Collections Trust Seminar at Colchester Castle

Alex Dawson presenting at the Collections Trust Seminar

Alex Dawson presenting at the Collections Trust Seminar

Jennifer Brown, Collections and Interpretation Officer at Braintree District Museum, shares what she learnt at this recent training day:

On Wednesday 18th March 2015 the newly revamped Colchester Castle Museum in Essex hosted a Collections Trust Seminar for the eastern region. The seminar was led by Alex Dawson, programme manager for standards at the Collections Trust, and offered a thought-provoking and varied range of talks and open discussions. Key themes that emerged throughout the day were the importance of placing audiences and communities at the heart of collections management; the importance of making collections the heart of all museum activities (and consequently the importance of all museum departments working closely together to achieve this); and updates on the practical advice, support and frameworks available to help review where we are at, where we would like to be, and what we will need to get there.

Below are some of the key topics and points that emerged during the course of the day:

Update on Arts Council England by Isabel Wilson, Senior Manager Quality & Standards

The sessions started with a useful update on Arts Council England. Two schemes were particularly highlighted:

  • The Designation Scheme celebrates collections of national and international importance not housed in national museum, helping to promote these collections. The scheme is currently being reviewed by ACE and the next round will open in April 2015. More information can be found on their website.
  • The Government Indemnity Scheme is again aimed at helping museums of all sizes. This scheme helps smaller museums to loan items from collections around the country and even the world by arranging government underwriting of loans to avoid high insurance payments.  It is possible to make just one gallery space eligible for the scheme, rather than having to revamp a whole museum. More information including the criteria can be found on-line here.

Audiences and Collections

This was the subject of our first talk by Alex from the Collections Trust but audiences featured in so many other presentations during the day that I have grouped many under this heading.

  • Understanding Audiences – Alex Dawson, Collections Trust

Collections are here for our audience’

There has been a growing realization within the museum sector over the last 10 to 15 years that people are at the heart of our collections, and that our audiences need to drive our collections’ policies. Some key ideas that came out of Alex’s talk were:

  • We need to identify and work with communities to enable the development and care of our collections
  • We need to make sure we are regularly communicating with our communities, exploring the possibility for community curators, and looking for partnership opportunities with local businesses.
  • The collections world needs to take on the ‘language of business’. To be resilient for the future we need to think about strategies and policies, our skills and targets. This will not only help keep our future collecting policies and our collections care focused, but it also makes our work more understandable by those in other sectors. This helps to empower the profession.
  • We need to think about audience segmentation and the different generations that use our museum collections now, and will be using them in the future. What are the character traits of each generation? How will they want to access the collection and what will they want to gain from this?
  • We need to think about the user journey in museums – pre-visit, during visit and post visit. How can we keep them interested in the museum, its collections and its work?

2) Collections Management Competency Framework – Alex Dawson, Collections Trust

This is a framework produced by the Collections Trust to help us look at the skills and behaviours we need to develop, manage and sustain collections. There are four main areas of competencies – technical knowledge and contexts (ethical, legal etc) are those more traditionally associated with collections management. The other two hark back to the importance of audiences and communication – they are ‘customer focus’ and communication skills. More information is available on their website.

  • Museum Accreditation – Alex Dawson, Collections Trust

This session offered some useful tips on working through the accreditation process. In particular, don’t panic if you have a collections backlog. Look at developing a realistic operational plan for dealing with this and for future collections care. However, this should be guided by visitors and which parts of the collection are most likely to be actively used by our audiences. Ask your local police for security advice, they are often happy to help. Local Museum Development Officers are also going to be working more closely with Accreditation advisers in the future and may be able to give you more locally relevant advice.

Learning and Change in Your Museum

‘Good collections management is about change’

This session emphasized the importance of flexibility and managing change, and the importance of integrating learning throughout the museum with the management of collections. Some specific points included:

  • There are 3 models of change in any context – internal bottom up change; internal top-down change and change caused by an external trigger
  • To create a culture change in an organization start small, somewhere progress can be made, and get buy-in from staff at all levels.
  • Strive for managed and purposeful change
  • The importance of the museum’s mission statement, make sure everyone in the museum is aware of that statement and embed it in every aspect of the museum’s work.

One particular case study of successful change came from the Imperial War Museum, where they moved from a risk adverse to a risk aware strategy to copyright and making their collections available online. This resulted in a massive increase in interest in and use of their digital collections. Carolyn Royston from the IWM discusses this in a video available on YouTube

Practical Help and Useful Documents

A number of sessions looked at the advice and frameworks provided. These included:

  • PAS 917 and the framework produced by the Collections Trust. Helpful summary factsheets on each area are provided. Refer to these before going to PAS 917
  • Investors in collection – This is a new service that is being reviewed by the Collections Trust but not launched yet. This would involve the Trust providing a collections consultancy service for museums to help us review our current strengths, identify areas for development and improve our resilience. More information is available here.
  • Collections Trust Standards Toolkit to aid with policy and planning
  • Presentation on the new digital interpretations at Colchester Castle Museum by Tom Hodgson. It was interesting to hear about the new digital strategies used, and the talk reminded us of the scale of historical and archaeological research involved, the amount of material you will need to provide digital companies with to produce reconstructions, games etc.
  • Discussion of the importance of digital being a method to achieve a learning aim, not the aim in itself
  • Presentation on the work of Museum Development Officers with a particular spotlight on Essex from Amy Cotterill. Local schemes included: training and networks provided by SHARE, the forthcoming Heritage Watch scheme and digital learning resources available to hire 

Developing a Digital Strategy

This session introduced the concept of COPE – create once, publish everywhere. We looked at ways to increase access to the research and content we create with minimum labour.

  • How can it be easily pushed out to a range of different digital and web-based platforms?
  • What format/location will we need to store the original in to make sure this process is simple and not time-consuming?
  • Think about the budgets to maintain all these digital mediums in the future, whether gallery interactives or other systems.
  • Seek advice from those with special needs

Overall the day was very helpful, providing a wealth of information and also offering the chance to take a step back and think reflectively on where we are going with collections management, what we want to achieve and how we can get there. Colchester Castle Museum was a great venue, and it was lovely to get the opportunity to look round all the new displays and interactives.

~ Jennifer Brown, Braintree District Museum

If you’ve recently attended a training day or delivered a project that you’d like to write about, please send me an email at amy.cotterill@essex.gov.uk