Wednesday, 23 April 2008

Notes from 'The Welsh Dimension' at MCG's Spring Conference

There are my notes from 'The Welsh Dimension: Issues facing the museum sector in Wales' by Lesley-Ann Kerr at the MCG Spring meeting. Lesley-Ann's slides are online. Her presentation was about the issues facing the sector in Wales and the challenges of working in a small country. It helped contextualise some of the later papers, particularly the importance of bilingual sites and online collections.

There's some background to my notes about the conference in a previous post. Any of my comments are in [square brackets] below.

Background to Welsh context:
The landscape: literal and metaphorical; lots of Wales is rural, with a dispersed population, and poor south-north transport infrastructure - this has practical implications. There are variations in the coverage of local authority areas.

Online collections are important for providing access to key collections online and background about them for people in remote areas.

Language: there's a Welsh Language Act; they are required to offer bilingual services, some people use Welsh as first language. 25% of population is Welsh speaking.

This presents challenges in: translation costs; display (twice the text; do you display both on one page or on separate pages online/on screen, and how do you deal with text on panels nicely?); online databases (e.g. standard terminologies are difficult enough in one language); support for Welsh character set (e.g. requires Unicode); characters can be corrupted in document conversion; all planning must take bilingual challenges into account; maintenance issues - content must be in both languages, Welsh language versions can get out of step.

Use tools to translate searches; pick up keywords in both languages and present results appropriately. Switching between languages must be easy, particularly for learners when they reach limits of their Welsh.

Cultural identity: it's about more than just language; there's a sense of place. Socially, the question 'where are you from' comes before the question 'what do you do'. Providing services to a dispersed population can help provide cohesive sense of identity. The role of online collections is again important.

"What are we doing"
'Spotlight on museums' - a comprehensive survey.

'Quantifying Diversity' across museums, libraries and archives; equality strands around collections, staff, users.

Museum strategy for Wales - it comes from and is for museums - government policy will come from that [great! that seems like the right way around]. It provides a strategic way forward for museums in Wales but is about evolution rather then revolution.

One Wales (coalition agreement in government) includes commitment for an online People's Collection. They'll work with existing partners; will be using some cutting edge tech, some social networking stuff; looking not just at organisations with content and at developing new content but at involving users too. They'll be looking at Canadian and Australian sites [what is it with countries with dispersed populations and good collective digitisation programs?].

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