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MW2010: Richard Morgan, How to manage and build a web collections search project in a museum
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MW2010: Richard Morgan, How to manage and build a web collections search project in a museum

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A presentation from Museums and the Web 2010. ...

A presentation from Museums and the Web 2010.

Large, complex, technical projects which require input from many stakeholders in a large, complex, bureaucratic organisation are difficult to run and even more difficult to keep to budget and schedule.

In September 2009, the V&A released a beta version of its new collections search site. More than one million catalogue records are now available on-line, and the site boasts a beautiful design, powerful faceting and cross-linking, a fast, scalable search and an API.

We had to take brave strategic technical decisions and adopt new, more agile working practices to deliver the project. The purpose of the paper is to describe the processes we went through, how we took the decisions we did, and how we persuaded stakeholders of the merits of our approaches.

The paper is intended to be far more than just a description of what we did and how we did it. It presents techniques for project management, technical strategies, and frameworks for making technology decisions which will be generalized and could be applied in any museum. It presents practical and pragmatic methods which work in the reality of a museum context and can achieve a radical shift in culture and practice without the need for top-down organisational change.

Session: Collections: Tag / Search / Deploy - Part 2 [access]

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  • The full text of the paper related to this presentation is available on-line:

    Morgan, R., How to Manage and Build a Web Collections Search Project in a Museum. In J. Trant and D. Bearman (eds). Museums and the Web 2010: Proceedings. Toronto: Archives & Museum Informatics. Published March 31, 2010. Consulted May 3, 2010. http://www.archimuse.com/mw2010/papers/morgan/morgan.html
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Edit your comment
  • Vapourware Screenscraping as a prototype Catalogue records and inventory records Quality of the data as a design challenge
  • Don't use things that don't exist extends to organisational challenges as well It probably isn't all about the people It's difficult but you can do something about it – assess the way your organisation works dispassionately and craft an approach
  • Making big projects look bad Failure can mean total failure The project ends just when it should begin
  • Outsourcing is attractive because everyone else is busy
  • Often between a rock and a hard place Back-office departments with an enthusiasm for process and governance Vs public-facing marketing departments with a do it, do it now approach In collections search – web can be the most public-facing department so must protect the needs of the user from process
  • Breaking the projects up answers some of the challenges of organisational reality. Really about eliminating as many dependencies as possible. But also about allowing different functions to run things their way – using methodologies that work.
  • Use of iterations to build confidence. Confidence supports the breaking up into small projects when building something new. Allows some basic sanity checking – can we actually do this?
  • Demonstrations, not necessarily iterations.
  • Allows identification of buyable chunks – which can be bought with staff.

MW2010: Richard Morgan, How to manage and build a web collections search project in a museum MW2010: Richard Morgan, How to manage and build a web collections search project in a museum Presentation Transcript

  • How to manage and build a web collections search project in a museum Richard Morgan, Victoria and Albert Museum @rmorg Thursday 15 April 2010
  • What is Search the Collections?
      • http://collections.vam.ac.uk
      • A working database with over 1 million records containing every catalogue record in the V&A's Collections Information System
      • ~165,000 images where those out of copyright available to the public as high-resolution downloads
      • Design
      • Google
      • Openness
  • A summary
      • Make the project like projects your museum is good at
      • Be realistic to the point of pessimism but positive – what can you do today?
      • Think about when you are building a thing and when you are building operational capacity
      • Dependencies are the worst enemy
      • Iterate to create confidence
  • Don't use things that don't exist
  • You work in a museum. It's ok. It's not your fault.
  • Organisational realities: big projects
  • Organisational realities: the demand for service
  • Organisational realities: the place of the web in the organisation
  • What we did: breaking into smaller, parallel projects
  • What we did: create a focus for iterative production
  • How we did it: agile in parts
  • How we did it: resourcing
  • How we did it: loosely coupled technical architecture
      • Jquery + Symfony + Drupal
      • Django + Sphinx + MySQL
      • XML exports from Collections Information System
      • Downloading of images from Digital Asset Management System
      • Scalable virtual server infrastructure
  • The outcome: what we did next
      • Google
      • Mobile
      • Crowdsourcing
  • The outcome: what we learned
      • The power of agility and production
      • The limits of agility and production
  • A summary
      • Make the project like projects your museum is good at
      • Be realistic to the point of pessimism but positive – what can you do today?
      • Think about when you are building a thing and when you are building operational capacity
      • Iterate to create confidence