CHIN Presentation to the Digital Curation Institute Conference, June 2010

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Presentation by David Hendricks, of the Canadian Heritage Information Network (CHIN), to the University of Toronto Digital Curation Institute (DCI) conference on June 16, 2010

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  • Good afternoon.
    When the original invitation make a presentation at this conference came to my organization, the Canadian Heritage Information Network, it asked that we “reflect on digital curation and museums.” So I am here today to provide some reflections on the situation of Canadian museum in relation to digital curation. I intend to stick to the mandate of the invitation quite strictly. This will be a overview of the current situation, with an emphasis on the practical rather than the theoretical.
    However, I should probably begin by clarifying how I am going to be using the term “digital curation.” If we use the UK Digital Curation Centre’s definition of digital curation (“Digital curation, broadly interpreted, is about maintaining, and adding value to, a trusted body of digital information for current and future use”) then the work that my organization does falls mostly into the “adding value” part of the definition. I can perhaps best explain that by referencing Peter Buneman’s two "cultures of digital curation.” There are the archivists who do “the digital equivalent of putting documents in boxes. [They are] is concerned with: appraisal - the selection of what documents to preserve, indexing and classification - the choice of which document to put into which box, and preservation - ensuring that the documents are preserved for posterity.” Then there are the scientists, who do “the digital equivalent of publishing a textbook or compendium. [Their] concerns are with organization and integration of data that has been collected from other sources, with the process of annotation of this data and with the publishing and presentation of the data.”
    I’m not sure how comfortable many of my colleagues at CHIN would be to find themselves being called scientists (having spent my entire education career studying ancient history, I certainly don’t think of myself as one). But, based on Buneman’s dichotomy, CHIN mostly does “scientific” digital curation. To be fair, we do do some “archival” digital curation, in the form of the national inventory of museum collections that we oversee. But spend more effort on the “annotation” and “publication” of museum data, through the Virtual Museum of Canada. So, that is the type of work that I am going to be focussing on from here on. Since most of our speakers here today and tomorrow are talking about things like the selection and preservation of large scale data sets – very much what Buneman would call “archival” digital curation – you can perhaps now see where the “something completely different” in my title comes from.
    Since you are going to be listening to comments from someone who works for the Canadian Heritage Information Network (CHIN to its friends), I will begin by giving you some idea of what CHIN is, and what we do.
    The Canadian Heritage Information Network (CHIN) is a special operating agency of the Department of Canadian Heritage. We act as a national centre of excellence whose goal is to enable Canada's museums to engage audiences through the use of innovative technologies. To effectively do this, CHIN:
    mobilizes and supports collaborative networks of heritage institutions (more than 1,300) and research partners;
    develops and provides skills development resources for heritage professionals; and
    supports the development, presentation and promotion of digital heritage content.
    CHIN has its origins in the 1972 National Museums Policy. This policy proposed the creation of an inventory of the cultural and scientific collections held by public institutions in Canada, which led to the creation of the National Inventory Programme (NIP). The mandate of NIP was to create a computerized national inventory of Canadian cultural and scientific collections. Museums would submit computerized data on their collections records to NIP for centralized storage and preservation. The inventory would facilitate the sharing of the information found in collections. The NIP was eventually renamed CHIN, and the national collections inventory itself was redesigned to be accessible via the Web, under the new name Artefacts Canada. Thus, CHIN has been doing digital curation for a long time, since before the term was coined I assume.
    While it is fair to say that Artefacts Canada is no longer the primary focus of what CHIN does, Canadian museums do still submit collections records. Artefacts Canada now contains approximately 4 million records, and includes nearly 700,000 images of artefacts. Artefacts Canada is now being leveraged through the re-use of the artefact images it contains in the Virtual Museum of Canada (VMC). There are currently regular contributions by more than 300 heritage institutions and the number is growing. Special initiatives are underway to engage smaller institutions in contributing.
    The other kind of digital curation that CHIN does is to aid in the creation of online virtual exhibits that showcase the collections of Canada’s museums. This has become the more important type of digital curation for us in recent years, with the development (and last year, redevelopment) of the Virtual Museum of Canada. I’ll be talking about the Virtual Museum more later.
    One final point to note about CHIN is our name. We are the Canadian Heritage Information NETWORK. This refers to the fact that we actually have a membership. Canadian museums can join our network and receive a variety of benefits, the most important of which for our purposes here today is eligibility to receive investment funds to create online digital heritage exhibits for the Virtual Museum of Canada. Public, not-for-profit, Canadian museums and other heritage organizations are eligible for membership in CHIN. They have to be administered in the public interest for the primary purpose of conserving and preserving, studying, interpreting, assembling and exhibiting objects and specimens of educational and cultural value. This is a convoluted way of saying that a member has to maintain a collection of some sort. This includes artistic, scientific (whether animate or inanimate), historical and technological material. At the moment, CHIN has something over 1,300 members. That amounts to about half of the museums in Canada.
  • Having worked with Canadian museums continuously for almost 40 years now on issues relating to technology. CHIN has had the opportunity to gain a pretty detailed insight into the state of Canada’s museum community’s capacity for dealing with the digital world. There are a number of points that are, I think, relevant if you are interested in digital curation in the Canadian museum world, and I’d like to share some of the more important ones.
    First, we have come to realize that, however much it may hurt the feelings of an organization specifically designed to help museums deal with the digital world, the fact is, digital is not museums'’ highest priority. Museums began as bricks and mortar institutions, and they remain that, no matter how much they might want to enter into the digital world. Museums are about - not only about, but they are and always will be about - physical exhibits and physical visitors. This is right and proper, but it does pose a problem, in that the mindset of museum management tends to put the physical before the digital. Indeed, they tend to view the two as mutually exclusive (another “two cultures”?). During a recent evaluation of Government of Canada funding for Canadian culture online, several of museum participants stated quite explicitly, “virtual exhibits will never be a substitute for seeing and experiencing a collection in real life.” And if they have to choose between the two, they will tend to take the physical over the digital: one museum manager interviewed during that evaluation made that point quite bluntly, saying “[W]e are interested in smiles, not hits.” In other words, happy visitors to the physical exhibits are more important than online visitors, since they are likely to return or buy merchandise in the museum gift shop, thus increasing museum revenues.
    Our work with our museum partners has also revealed to us that Canada’s museums still face a huge digitization task. This is not to say that Canadian museums have not yet really digitized all that much. Rather, it is to stress just how much they have to digitize. For example, let’s look at one of the biggest museums in Canada, the Canadian Museum of Civilization. The CMC’s entire artifact catalogue (collections.civilization.ca), which includes a catalogue of its image collection, contains 1.9 million records, with over 215,000 of these available online. So, the good news is, the CMC has a digital version of their artifact catalogue. This is not unimpressive - almost 2 million records is a sizable database. But note that they have actually made available online a bit over 200,000 of these artifacts. In other words, in the range of 10% of their collection. INCLUDE NUMBERS FROM MCCORD TOO?
    Thirdly, it is our experience that Canadian museums lack the capacity to become very active in the digital presentation of their content on their own. The museums know their collections and develop wonderful concepts, but the actual development of the digital product is beyond their capacities for the moment. So they contract with developers, and often rely entirely on them – sometimes to the extent that we have had situations where we have asked museums about content in their exhibit, only to discover that they were unaware that content was even in the exhibit, because they’d handed the project over totally to the multi-media company. Nor is this a phenomenon limited to the smaller museums. To give just a couple of examples, the Canadian Museum of Nature and the Art Gallery of Ontario have both used external contractors in creating virtual exhibits with CHIN.
    In fact, this is one of those situations where the exceptions prove the rule. Exhibits are more likely to be produced internally if the museum involved happens to be associated with a university, because universities have information technology and computer graphics departments that can develop websites. For example, the exhibit “Virtual Herbarium of Plants at Risk in Saskatchewan” was developed internally by the W.P. Fraser Herbarium – but the W.P. Fraser Herbarium, which is part of the Department of Plant Sciences in the University of Saskatchewan. Or, to take perhaps the clearest example, the Simon Fraser University Museum of Archaeology and Ethnology created an exhibit entitled “A Journey into Time Immemorial,” using the services of the Media Design Unit of the University’s Learning & Instructional Development Centre, which teaches new media design.
    This situation has been recently confirmed in research that CHIN has undertaken into the skill sets required for museum knowledge workers in the 21st century, with the help of some of our colleagues who have organized this conference. The research showed, and I’m quoting the research report here, that “regardless of size, most institutions customarily outsource at least some of their technology needs to third party providers. Website design, for instance, is commonly outsourced to a third party specializing in this activity. Likewise, museums frequently work with external firms to develop multimedia applications.”
  • If we want to understand this situation better, we need only look at some of the challenges facing Canada’s museum community. Perhaps the most basic is the issue of size.
    We are all familiar with the great Canadian museums, such as the one just a few blocks from this room. The ROM has 27 curators and 20 assistant curators. Its staff list shows 115 people in the Collections and Research Department alone. But the ROM is not typical.
    Probably more typical is the Bytown Museum, in Ottawa, pictured above. (I should mention that I only chose the Bytown as an example because I happen to have visited it a lot when I was growing up in Ottawa. There are many other examples I could have chosen.) Total full-time employees - 3. Collection - 7,000 artefacts. Building - very small.
    How typical is the Bytown? Well, one figure I’ve read said that fully 22% of Canada’s museums - a quarter, in other words - define themselves primarily as “Community Museums”. And community museums tend to be small. The fact is, most museums in Canada were established and are operated by groups of citizens interested in preserving a collection and making it accessible for the advancement of Canadian society. These are often operated by historical societies, arts organizations, or other membership-based charities. These non-government organizations are largely voluntary bodies which are responsible for the operation of the museum and for fundraising. Many engage professional staff, but others are purely community labours of love. Most of these museums operate as a public service.
    Take another figure. Statistics Canada reported some years ago that (in 1997/98), there were some 46,400 volunteers directly engaged in museums and related heritage institutions. This represents about 65 % of the museum workforce on a national basis. In other words, the Canadian museum community relies on volunteers for well over half its workers.
    The result is not far to seek. What Elizabeth Schlatter observed in the US is as true here: “…larger museums are where you’ll find the bulk of [jobs for personnel trained in information technology], as smaller institutions usually cannot support the salaries and tech needs without grants and other dedicated sources of income.” In other words, large-scale projects of a digital nature are not something most Canadian museums can undertake on their own.
    This is not to say that there are not large Canadian museums. From the nationals like Civilization (and Nature, Science and Technology and the National Gallery of Canada), to the large provincials museums (the ROM, the Glenbow (a million artefacts)), there are some sizeable museums in Canada. But note that even these are facing (to quote the Glenbow’s Annual Report) “significant fiscal and operating challenges.”
  • Canadian museums also face a real challenge finding and retaining professionals with the skills needed to be active in digital curation.
    As the Museum Knowledge Workers report that I just mentioned notes, “…recruiting and retaining expertise is a common challenge for most museums. In small museums with minimal staff, museum professionals tend to be generalists who participate in a range of activities from fundraising to curation, leaving little time to specialize in any particular new technology."
    Our experience at CHIN confirms this description. I have no desire to criticize any of the museums that we work with. But it is a fact that there are very few Canadian museums that are able to put together a virtual exhibit using internal staff alone. When vetting exhibits, we find that the content is strong, but there is evidence that the creators perhaps don’t understand the Web all that well (issues of page structure, lack of standard navigation, interface usability, etc.). Metadata often presents problems (an exhibit still having metadata for the whole exhibit consisting entirely of the exhibit title, after more than one round of review by us is not unheard of). We get asked to talk to multimedia contractors directly because the museum does not even understand the question the contractor is asking. And bear in mind that the technology I am talking about here is not the most revolutionary stuff out there. Most virtual exhibits we deal with are actually quite conventional technologically. (We have, in fact, been criticized for not requiring more cutting-edge features in the exhibits we fund.) But HTML often pushes the boundaries of what many museum staff can grasp. To expect the museums we work with to be able to be up to speed with the really new technologies – Web 2.0, augmented reality, whatever – is too much to ask at this stage.
  • However, the biggest challenge that Canadian museums face in confronting the demands of the digital world is possibly not one of finances, scale or even knowledge. Rather, it is an issue of outlook.
    The Museum Knowledge Workers in the 21st century research that I mentioned earlier turned up some interesting results in this regard. The report notes that “A careful ‘read’ of current job postings [for museum positions] would seem to suggest that museums are continuing to hire largely for the traditional roles — curatorial, exhibitions, programming and education, collections management — though with seemingly modest expectations vis-à-vis candidates with a demonstrable knowledge of emerging digital tools and applications.”
    This is a problem, because, to quote the report again, “Those with a vision for the emerging world of museums… see a distinct need for museum professionals with a dynamic toolkit of IT literacy, whether in the area of digital collections (curation and preservation), or social networking and Web 2.0 tools for engagement with the public, or interactive exhibits using mobile technologies, or cross-institutional repositories with interoperable metadata.”
    That there is a gap between the skillset that museum professionals currently have and those they are going to increasingly need in the future is no surprise. Nor is it necessarily that serious a problem, given that the problem is recognized. The issue is that it is apparently not being recognized. One would assume that “there is a gap that needs to be redressed between the curricula of museum studies programs and the direction that museums are heading in with respect to their use of technology. It was that gap that [the report’s researchers] anticipated; it was a disconnect between what museums say they currently require from job candidates and what the literature and some practitioners say today’s institutions require that [they] actually found….”
    In short, it’s not that the museums don’t have workers with the skills they need, or that the universities are not yet training museum workers with the skills they need. The problem is that the museums don’t even know that they don’t have workers with the skills they need. Under these circumstances, with new technologies that are fundamentally changing the relationship between museums and their clients coming along at an ever increasing pace, the museums are hard pressed to take big strides the type of digital curation I am talking about.
  • Faced with this situation, it was decided that CHIN should create a program that would help Canadian museums deal with these challenges and get into the digital world. The result was the Virtual Museum of Canada that I mentioned earlier.
    The VMC is a collaborative initiative involving the participation of a network of over 1,300 museums and other heritage institutions across the country, all of which voluntarily contribute content, including images of their collections. The participating museums are both small and large. Canada’s national museums like The National Gallery of Canada or the Canadian Museum of Nature play an active role in the network, developing content and sharing their knowledge and expertise with the broader heritage community. But at the same time, there are museum members like the Albert County Museum, in Hopewell Cape, New Brunswick, with exactly one full-time staff member that take part in the VMC. Some museums just contribute basic information about their institution to our museum guide; others develop online heritage content in the form of virtual exhibits.
    The VMC as a program has two main components: it provides investment in the development of online exhibits and other digital learning resources in collaboration with those member heritage institutions I just mentioned; and it creates and maintains the VMC portal (www.virtualmuseum.ca), through which those online exhibits are presented to Canadians. The portal is what you see on the screen now; this is the redesigned VMC that we launched last December.
    The exhibits take one of two forms. There are larger, innovative online productions funded on a scale of $100,000 to $400,000 per exhibit (we refer to these as the Virtual Exhibits); and there are smaller exhibits created by small museums (those with less than 5 full-time employees) to explore communities’ local history, funded with a fixed $5,000 amount (we call these Community Memories exhibits).
    Once yearly the VMC Investment Programs Secretariat issues two simultaneous calls for proposals, one for the Virtual Exhibits and one for Community Memories exhibits. Proposals are reviewed by an Editorial Board composed of leading professionals from related fields and evaluated on a competitive basis. The proposals are evaluated not only on their own merits but also within the overall context of other existing and proposed content to ensure balance among disciplines and themes, approaches to presentation and target audiences. CHIN then contracts with the successful proposing museums to develop the virtual exhibits; as part of the contract, CHIN receives rights to use the content for five years. This agreement can be extended if desired. After the first five years, the exhibit is reviewed in light of advances in technology, and the museum can receive additional funds to update it to ensure it continues to meet audience expectations. The exhibits are made available through the VMC website (the portal, seen on the slide), ensuring that Canadians enjoy free, bilingual access to a growing selection of cultural heritage. (I should also mention, though I’m not going to be mentioning it much, that the VMC also provides a large amount of educational materials for teachers and students in the K to 12 range, through a dedicated Teacher’s Centre.)
  • The exhibits that form the heart of the VMC’s content are as diverse as the museums that make up our network. CHIN has to date not been particularly prescriptive when it comes to the content of the exhibits. The guidelines we provide to help museums choose what content to propose for exhibits are quite broad. We ask only that the exhibit:
    appeal to a broad spectrum of Canadians
    present little known information
    cover a topic that is “worthy of wider dissemination.” This would include “subject matter related to school curricula, significant historical events, tourism, and current events or issues.”
    In terms of presentation, the treatment and organization of the content should be:
    “appropriate to the identified target audience”
    offer value for money, of course
    involve “a creative/original approach
    exploit the digital medium to create experiences that are not feasible in physical space or by using analogue media (e.g., through presentation techniques; or, through assembling collections that do not co-exist in physical space).
    and perhaps most importantly, involve “the generation of new ideas or concepts, or new associations with museum content that represents a theme/concept or topic in a new and novel way.”
    We also encourage exhibit projects that involve partnerships with other public and private organizations for content development, educational expertise, and/or technical expertise
    Some of the results can be seen on this slide.
  • While I’m talking about the VMC’s virtual exhibits, I thought this might be a good point to compare the “archival” and “scientific” (I really don’t like that term) digital curation that I mentioned earlier.
    The national inventory of museum collections that I mentioned – Artefacts Canada – falls, I suppose, into the “archival” category - the digital equivalent of putting documents in boxes. The VMC, is more “scientific” digital curation – that is, the kind of digital curation concerned with the “organization and integration of data that has been collected from other sources, with the process of annotation of this data and with the publishing and presentation of the data.” There is certainly some overlap, since images attached to collections records in Artefacts Canada are used to create the Image Gallery in the VMC. But the basic distinction is still valid.
    To illustrate my point, take a look at this slide. On the left, we have a record from Artefacts Canada for a plough, held in the collection of the Acadian Heritage Village, in New Brunswick. The Acadian Heritage Village is a sort of living museum, where historical life is actively recreated. They have developed a virtual exhibit for the VMC, entitled “Acadia: Lifestyle in the Days of Our Ancestors”. And on one of the pages of that exhibit, devoted to describing the yearly cycle of life in an agricultural community, you find an image of that plough (bottom right), with a description of how it was used, and where the work it did fit into the overall life of the Acadian community. This is the sort of contextualization that distinguishes the VMC from Artefacts Canada.
  • The results of the VMC’s work with Canadian museums have been pretty impressive.
    Since 2000, the VMC investment has resulted in the creation of nearly 500 online exhibits and other digital learning resources. The VMC includes an image gallery, drawn from the collections records collected in the Artefacts Canada database that I mentioned earlier. At the moment there are something like 680,000 such images, all available online. That evaluation of Government of Canada funding for Canadian culture online that I mentioned earlier found that in the absence of funding support from the VMC, most of these exhibits likely would never have been created.
    The VMC has succeeded in attracting an increasingly larger number of visits between its launch in 2001 and today. In 2007-08 (the year for which we have the most recent statistics), the VMC attracted over 2 million visits.
    Furthermore, the VMC’s work has resulted in substantial support within the Canadian museum community. An evaluation of Government of Canada funding for Canadian culture online a couple of years ago found that the VMC was well known and had good support.“ “Overall, most key informants stated that the VMC has played an important leadership role in helping them to get into the digital age.”
  • Having spent a fair bit of time telling you all the problems that Canada’s museums have in dealing with digital curation, I suppose it is only fair that I give equal time to the challenges that the VMC finds itself facing. Because, despite our successes, I would not want to give the impression that we think we’ve got the whole museum digital curation thing licked.
    First of all, those museum challenges that I discussed earlier haven’t gone away. By offering investment and providing a vehicle for collaboration, the VMC has to an extent helped mitigate the issues of scale and budget. But there is still a competition for resources between virtual and physical exhibitions. And despite the professional development we offered, we cannot claim that Canada’s museums have all the technological knowledge and skills they need to do digital curation. The problems I mentioned earlier are still occurring. My colleagues in the VMC investment program estimate that at least 80% of the VMC’s exhibits are still created by external multi-media contractors hired by the museums. This can be explained by what amounts to something of a vicious circle. Museum’s create virtual exhibits. But their staff’s unfamiliarity with the technology means they have to hire a multi-media firm to do the work, and often end up leaving the project entirely in their hands. As a result, the knowledge benefit from the project actually ends up going to the contractor, not the museum – we have, in effect, been training the multi-media provider, not the museum. Next time round, the multi-media firm is in a position to suggest using more advanced technology, which only leaves the museum staff even further behind.
    This raises the point of the rate of technological change. During that evaluation of Government of Canada funding for Canadian culture online that I mentioned earlier, some key informants called on CHIN to take this program “to a new level.” They felt that projects selected for funding should be about enhancing the visitor experience and creating a new and different kind of experience by pushing the envelope technologically. While we don’t disagree in principle, the reality is that most Canadian museums are simply not up to dealing with really advanced technology. Such new technologies also raise other issues. To give one example, incorporating Web 2.0 social interaction (which isn’t even that new anymore) involves monitoring exhibits to guarantee the appropriateness of user input. But VMC investment ends with the launch of an exhibit. Where does the museum get the funding to pay for the ongoing – permanently ongoing – monitoring?
    It is also true that we have not yet convinced museums to embrace digital curation. We still hear that museums are not interested in their online audiences since they don’t attract revenues. This attitude has led us to sometimes like to think of our role as being analogous to that of the Trojan Horse. We tempt the unsuspecting museum with the lure of investment funding that is too good to pass up, even though the museum doesn’t see itself as prioritizing digital work. Once they’ve let us within the walls, the result is a virtual exhibit that gets such favourable attention that the museum has no choice but to do more… and more. Little did they know when they opened their gates digital fate that awaited them! At least, that’s the way we hope it turns out.
    We also have to deal with issues of editorial sustainability. VMC exhibits are required to remain available online for five years after creation. We do make some limited funds available after that period for updating the site. On the whole, though, sites remain in their original state throughout their lives. This can result in content that becomes out of date. We have yet to develop a really satisfactory way of dealing with such sites. Should they be taken down? Or archived? If so, in what way?
    Finally, we also are thinking about the issue of what content we should have on the VMC. Currently, museums choose what content to propose, based on their collections. We think that this is the only way to proceed, since the whole point is ultimately to get those museum collections online. There is not much point in trying to develop exhibits on topics for which no content exists. Nonetheless, it has been suggested to us that as a national institution and part of the Government of Canada, instead of taking the current “bottom up” approach by which individual museums put forth projects to fund, the program should move to a thematic approach to address identified gaps (e.g., an online exhibit on the industrial history of Canada, which does not presently exist). We are pondering this at the moment. We have undertaken a gaps analysis, to determine what sort of content the VMC currently has, and what it should have that it doesn’t. But this raises as many questions as it answers. What kind of content SHOULD the VMC have? Should we worry about duplicating other reliable content that is already out there on other trustworthy sites (Library and Archives Canada, for example, has many wonderful virtual exhibits). And even if we can determine what gaps there are and which ones we want to fill, what method should we adopt to fill them? Targetted calls for proposals, for example, would exclude most museums. We honestly don’t have the answer for this yet, but we are exploring a variety of possible courses of action.
  • Lest I leave you feeling negative, I’d like to close by describing an ongoing project undertaken by a Canadian museum and CHIN network member that indicates the future has good things in store when it comes to museum digital curation.
    The Reciprocal Research Network (RRN) is an online tool to facilitate reciprocal and collaborative research about cultural heritage from the Northwest Coast of British Columbia. The cultural heritage housed in museums and other institutions around the globe is not accessible to the majority of originating communities. They have few means to gather information about their belongings: what has been collected, where it is located, and how it is being stored and handled. They can rarely look at it or research it and are thus unable to incorporate it into their daily lives. Many communities would like to have their belongings returned, but know that repatriation may either be impossible or, at the very least, difficult to attain. The RRN provides an alternative by creating an accessible electronic path to this geographically dispersed heritage. Objects can be viewed and researched on the web, and their meanings explored across time and space.
    It has been created by the University of British Columbia’s Museum of Anthropology, a member of CHIN’s network. The RRN enables communities, cultural institutions and researchers to work together. Users can build their own collections, collaborate on shared projects, record stories, upload files, hold discussions, research museum collections, and create social networks. The RRN is for people who are interested in and researchers of Northwest Coast Culture. This includes but is not limited to Originating Communities, First Nations Organizations, Researchers, Students, Museum Professionals, Academic and Cultural Heritage Organizations and more.
    I mention the RRN for a couple of reasons. First, it is a great example of how digital and physical don’t have to be competitive. The RRN is a key component of the University of British Columbia’s Museum of Anthropology's Renewal Project, "A Partnership of Peoples." In addition to the RRN, the Renewal Project comprises several complementary and innovative components, including a new Research Centre, Major Temporary Exhibition Gallery, and Community Suite. Both bricks and mortar and virtual at the same time.
    Second, the RRN is an excellent example of how museum digital curation can overcome some of the challenge I’ve discussed through collaboration. From conception through development and into its use the RRN sees collaborative research as the foundation of the project. For both communities and museums, the RRN is groundbreaking in facilitating communication and fostering lasting relationships between originating communities and institutions around the world.
    Finally, the RRN appears to be a bit of a blend of the archival and scientific digital curation cultures. It collects and stores the digital data of museum collections. But since originating Communities will be able to add their own documents and photographs, it also contributes to the addition of digital knowledge. The result, I think, bodes well for digital curation in Canada’s museums.
    Thank you.
  • CHIN Presentation to the Digital Curation Institute Conference, June 2010

    1. 1. And Now For Something Completely Different: The Virtual Museum of Canada
    2. 2. The Canadian Heritage Information Network Mobilizes and supports a collaborative network of Canadian museums using digital technologies Develops and provides skills development products and services for heritage professionals Supports the development, presentation and promotion of digital heritage content National Centre of Excellence in Technology CHIN enables Canadian museums to engage their audiences through the use of innovative technologies
    3. 3. The Digital Situation of Canadian Museums  Canadian museums cannot make digitization their highest priority  Canadian museums have not yet entirely accepted the added value that digital can bring to the museum experience  Canadian museums face a digitization backlog  Canadian museums as a practice rely on outside agencies to do digital curation
    4. 4. Challenges Facing Canadian Museums: Challenges of Scale  Most Canadian museums are small  Most Canadian museums are local  Most Canadian museums are relatively poor  Even larger museums face fiscal challenges Bytown Museum, Ottawa, Ontario
    5. 5. Challenges Facing Canadian Museums: Challenges of Knowledge  Increase in digitization projects has resulted in an increase in the need for staff trained in information technology  Recruiting and retaining expertise is a common challenge for most museums  Many museums lack the IT-trained staff to complete digital curation projects in-house  Appearance of more and more sophisticated digital tools only exacerbates the situation
    6. 6. Challenges Facing Canadian Museums: Challenges of Outlook Recent research has revealed that:  museums are continuing to hire largely for the traditional roles (curatorial, collections management, etc.)  museums have modest expectations of candidates’ knowledge of emerging digital tools and applications  there is a disconnect between what museums say they require from job candidates and what they actually ask for
    7. 7. The Virtual Museum of Canada
    8. 8. Virtual Museum of Canada Exhibits
    9. 9. VMC Digital Curation vs Artefacts Canada Digital Curation
    10. 10. VMC Successes # 1 search engine ranking on the Web 365 learning object collections and over 500 active teachers 150 interactive resources 500 virtual exhibitions 680,000 images of artefacts More than 3,000 organizations represented 2 million + visits annually
    11. 11. Challenges of Doing Digital Curation on the VMC  Ongoing challenge of competition between virtual and physical exhibitions  Ongoing challenge of in-house museum competencies  Rapid pace of technological progress  Ongoing museum hesitancy to embrace digital curation  Editorial sustainability  Choice of content
    12. 12. Museum Digital Curation in the Right Direction
    13. 13. Websites and Contact Information Websites  CHIN’s corporate website: www.chin.gc.ca  VMC: www.virtualmuseum.ca  The Professional Exchange: www.pro.rcip-chin.gc.ca Contact Information  dhendricks@pch.gc.ca

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