Friday, 20 June 2008

'Sector-wide initiatives' at 'UK Museums on the Web Conference 2008'

Session 2, 'Sector-wide initiatives', of the UK Museums on the Web Conference 2008 was chaired by Bridget McKenzie.

In the interests of getting my notes up quickly I'm putting them up pretty much 'as is', so they're still rough around the edges. There are quite a few sections below which need to be updated when the presentations or photos of slides go online. Updated posts should show in your RSS feed but you might need to check your settings.

[I hope Bridget puts some notes from her paper on her blog because I didn't get all of it down.]

The session was introduced as case studies on how cross institutional projects can be organised and delivered. She mentioned resistance to bottom-up or experimental approach, institutional constraints; and building on emerging frames of web.

Does the frame of 'the museum' make sense anymore, particularly on the web? What's our responsibilities when we collaborate? Contextual spaces - chance to share expertise in meaningful ways.

It's easy to revert to ways previous projects have been delivered. Funding plans don't allow for iterative, new and emergent technologies.

Carolyn Royston and Richard Morgan, V&A and NMOLP.
The project is funded by the 'invest to save' program, Treasury.

Aims:
Increase use of the digital collections of the 9 museums (no new website)
No new digitisation or curatorial content.
Encourage creative and critical use of online resources.
[missed one]
Sustainable high-quality online resource for partners.

The reality - it's like herding cats.

They had to address issue of partnership to avoid problems later in project.

Focussed on developing common vision, set of principles on working together, identify things uniquely achievable through partnership, barriers to success, what added value for users.

Three levels of barriers to success - one of working in an inter-museum collaborative way, which was first for those nationals; organisational issues - working inter-departmentally (people are learning or web or whatever people and not used to working together); personal issues - people involved who may not think they are web or learning people.

These things aren't necessary built in to project plan.

Deliverables: web quests, 'creative journeys', federated search, [something I missed], new ways of engaging with audiences.

Web Quests - online learning challenge, flexible learning tool mapped to curriculum. They developed a framework. It supports user research, analysis and synthesis of information. Users learn to use collections in research.

Challenges: creating meaningful collection links; sending people to collections sites knowing that content they'd find there wasn't written for those audiences; provide support for pupils when searching collections. Sustainable content authoring tool and process.

[I wondered if the Web Quest development tools are extendible, and had a chance to ask Carolyn in one of the breaks - she was able to confirm that they were.]

Framework stays on top to support and structure.

Creative journeys:
[see slide]

They're using Drupal. [Cool!]

[I also wondered about the user testing for creative journeys, whether there was evidence that people will do it there and not on their blogs, Zotero, in Word documents or hard drives - Carolyn also had some information on this.]

Museums can push relevant content.

What are the challenges?
How to build and sustain the Creative Journeys (user-generated content) communities, individually and as a partnership?
Challenge to curatorial authority and reputation
Work with messiness and complexity around new ways of communicating and using collections
Copyright and moderation issues

But partners are still having a go - shared risk, shared success.

Federated search
Wasn't part of original implementation plan
[slide on reasons for developing]
Project uses a cross collection search, not a cross collection search project. The distinction can be important.

The technical solution was driven by project objectives [choices were made in that context, not in a constraint-free environment.]

Richard, Technical Solution
The back-end is de-coupled from front end applications
A feed syndicates user actions.

Federated search - a system for creating machine readable search results and syndicating them out.
Real time search or harvester. [IMO, 'real time' should always be in scare quotes for federated searches - sometimes Google creates expectations of instantaneous results that other searches can't deliver, though the difference may only be a matter of seconds.]

Data manipulation isn't the difficult bit

Creative Journeys - more machine readable data

Syndicated user interactions with collections.
Drupal [slide]

Human factor - how to sell to board
Deploy lightweight solutions. RAD. Develop in house, don't need to go to agency.

[I'd love it if the NMOLP should have a blog, or a holding page, or something, where they could share the lessons they've learnt, the research they've done and generally engage with the digital museum community. Generally a lot of these big infrastructure projects would benefit from greater transparency, as scary as this is for traditional organisations like museums. The open source model shows that many eyeballs mean robust applications.]

Jeremy Ottevanger and Europeana/the European Digital Library
[I have to confess I was getting very hungry by this point so you might get more detailed information from Jeremy's blog when he adds his notes.]
Some background on his involvement in it, hopes and concerns.
"cross-domain access to Europe's cultural heritage"
Our content is more valuable together than scattered around.

Partnership, planning and prototyping
Not enough members from the UK, not very many museums.
Launch November this year
Won't build all of planned functionality - user-generated content and stuff planned but not for prototype.

Won't build an API or all levels of multiple linguality (in first release). Interface layer may have 3 or 4 major languages; object metadata (maybe a bit) and original content of digitised documents.

Originals on content contributors site, so traffic ends up there. That's not necessarily clear in the maquette (prototype). [But that knowledge might help address some concerns generally out there about off-site searches]

Search, various modes of browsing, timeline and stuff.

Jeremy wants to hear ideas, concerns, ambitions, etc to take to plenary meeting.

He'd always wanted personal place to play with stuff.

[Similarly to my question above, I've always wondered whether users would rely on a cultural heritage sector site to collate their data? What unique benefits might a user see in this functionality - authority by association? live updates of data? Would they think about data ownership issues or the longevity of their data and the reliability of the service?]

Why are there so few UK museums involved in this? [Based on comments I've heard, it's about no clear benefits, yet another project, no API, no clear user need] Jeremy had some ideas but getting in contact and telling him is the best way to sort it out.

Some benefits include common data standards, a big pool of content that search engines would pay attention to in a way they wouldn't on our individual sites. Sophisticated search. Will be open source. Multi-lingual technology.

Good news:
"API was always in plans".

EDLocal - PNDS. EU projects will be feeding in technologies.

Bad news: API won't be in website prototype. Is EDLocal enough? Sustainability problems.
'Wouldn't need website at all if had API'. Natural history collections are poorly represented.

Is OAI a barrier too far? You should be able to upload from spreadsheet. [You can! But I guess not many people know this - I'm going to talk to the people who coded the PNDS about writing up their 'upload' tool, which is a bit like Flickr's Uploadr but for collections data.]

Questions
Jim O'Donnell: regarding the issue of lack of participation. People often won't implement their own OAI repository so that requirement puts people off.

Dan Zambonini: aggregation fatigue. 'how many more of these things do we have to participate in'. His suggestion: tell museums to build APIs so that projects can use their data, should be other way around. Jeremy responded that that's difficult for smaller museums. [Really good point, and the PNDS/EDL probably has the most benefits for smaller museums; bigger museums have the infrastructure not to need the functionality of the PNDS though they might benefit from cross-sector searching and better data indexing.]

Gordon McKenna commented: EDLocal starts on Wednesday next week, for three years.

George Oates: what's been most surprising in collaboration process? Carolyn: that we've managed to work together. Knowledge sharing.

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