A month of digital learnings

By Tamara Patten, Communications Officer, National Services Te Paerangi

Museums and the Web Asia 2015

In early October I travelled to an unseasonably hot Melbourne for Museums and the Web Asia 2015. There was a good range of delegates from GLAM organisations in attendance, covering Australia, the USA, India, Spain, Singapore and other parts of the world, as well as a few from New Zealand.

It’s difficult to pick highlights as there is so much exciting and innovative work going on in the international digital culture arena, but I’ll try to summarise a few of the things that particularly resonated with me.

Gabby Shaw (Museum of Contemporary Art Australia) spoke about MCA Articulate, which allows visitors to share their thoughts on artworks in the way that best suits them, through writing, drawing, photos or speech. I thought this was an interesting and customer-centric approach to gathering those valuable visitor insights.

Catherine Styles (National Museum Australia) summarised a number of beautiful ways of allowing people to explore collections during a session on innovation and play in museums. I really enjoyed learning about ways data can be made more approachable and visually appealing. My favourite was the Visible Archive Series Browser, which you can see here:

You can also try Catherine’s own collection pattern and association game, Sembl, on for size.

Seb Chan, now at the Australian Centre for the Moving Image, was instrumental in the development of the Cooper Hewitt Smithsonian Design Museum’s Pen, launched earlier this year. The Pen is a device that allows visitors to ‘collect’ objects from the museum’s galleries and then create their own designs using interactive tables. It is arguably the digital innovation of the moment in the museum sector, and is certainly an exciting way of engaging visitors as well as making their visit last beyond their time in the physical museum space. Seb’s talk had me daydreaming about the kinds of digital innovations New Zealand museums might develop if they had budgets like the Cooper Hewitt must have.

I also attended a ‘web crit’ session, during which several institutions bravely offered up their websites for critique. As someone without a background in digital projects but who manages several websites, I found this session invaluable, and came away with copious notes for future site improvements. I was delighted to learn of the existence of tenon.io, a programme which runs automated accessibility testing on your website and provides recommended fixes. Brilliant!

It was great to see New Zealand well represented at this international conference. Emily Loughnan (Click Suite) delivered an engaging lightning talk on a collaborative project with Ngāti Awa that delivered a digital and light experience at the wharenui at Mataatua Marae. Mataatua: The House that Came Home is now one of the top rated activities in its region on TripAdvisor.

Digital and light experience at Mataatua Marae

Courtney Johnson (The Dowse Art Museum) gave a talk on innovative digital projects at museums in the USA in her usual thoughtful and thought-provoking style. Courtney was recently back from a research trip to the USA thanks to a fellowship from the Winston Churchill Memorial Trust. She delivered a similar talk at the National Digital Forum the following week, which you can watch online.

Later in the conference, Adrian Kingston (Te Papa) shared the results of Te Papa’s successful first year of providing open access images through its Collections Online service. This presentation was followed up by me, speaking about National Services Te Paerangi’s online communities, including NZMuseums, Kiwi Chicks, and All That Remains. My focus was on the development of these community sites, their success and challenges, and the way they have evolved from providing a way for museums to have an online presence to enabling the creation of online exhibition and community projects.

Read Adrian’s conference paper

Read Tamara’s conference paper

I was very interested in the presentation on Victorian Collections, a programme similar in principle to NZMuseums, which is run by Museum Victoria and Museums Australia (Victoria) and supports collecting organisations to digitise collections. Victorian Collections covers a wide variety of collecting organisations – veterans associations, church groups, sports clubs and multicultural groups, as well as small museums – and has several staff that work out in the field to support work on digitisation projects. I was a bit envious of the size of the Victorian Collections team and their ability to work outside the office in other organisations on a regular basis.

Read Victorian Collections’ conference paper

A peek at Victorian Collections

Pit stop for a very quick exhibition review

After the conference I took the opportunity to visit some of Melbourne’s excellent museums. WWI: Love and Sorrow at Melbourne Museum was a highlight. The museum has taken the ‘grab your heart and squeeze’ approach to their WWI exhibition (and I mean that as a compliment). The exhibition follows 8 individuals through WWI and beyond – soldiers, nurses, mothers, brothers, fathers – using collection items connected with them. Video displays at the end of the exhibition connect the subjects with their living relatives in a very emotional way.

NGV Australia’s newly opened exhibition, Lurid Beauty: Australian Surrealism and its Echoes, explores Australian Surrealist art and its impact on modern and contemporary Australian art. It includes art in a wide range of media – some beautiful, some witty, some challenging and confronting. I loved it.

No visit to Melbourne Museum is complete without seeing Phar Lap.

National Digital Forum 2015

Then it was back to Wellington for NDF 2015 the very next week. As usual, NDF provided an excellent opportunity to catch up on digital projects in progress in New Zealand’s GLAM sector. Auckland Museum is doing some phenomenal work at the moment, and particularly impressed during presentations about Online Cenotaph, new interactive tables enabling access to digital collections, and #onethread ­– the collections-based social media game they developed (and which won the social media innovation award in the newly introduced NDF awards). It was also great to hear from NDF’s regional ambassadors in a session about digital developments happening in the regions. A good next step would be for reports on regional activity to be shared to enable further future collaboration.

Conveniently, NDF filmed all the talks and has made them available on YouTube for your viewing pleasure. The quality of the presentations was very high this year so they are well worth a listen. My top pick is Tim Sherrat’s excellent talk on the pros and cons of facial recognition software.

Visit NDF’s YouTube channel

Now it’s time to get back to business as usual, decipher my notes, collect my thoughts, and put what I learned into practice!