Curation Schmuration Kate Chmiel Museum Victoria


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Kate Chmiel, Online Writer/Editor at Museum Victoria and currently Online Producer for the First Peoples exhibition, helps manage the MV social media accounts including YouTube, Twitter, and Facebook and co-created the Twitter game “#collectionfishing”. Kate discusses what they are doing at MV and good examples from outside MV of using social media to engage users with collections.

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  • It’s not just because I work in a museum, where being a curator indicates many years of study and slog. But you can understand why old-school curators are a bit prickly about new-school digital content curators, and the way their hard-earned discipline can be annexed by anyone who choses to.
  • We’ve got chefscurating menusDJs curating playlists – or anyone with an iTunes accountFashionistascurating their wardrobesTo labour the point, I could say these people are curating their weekly menu from a carefully-curated assortment of groceries.It’s getting a little silly.
  • But I don’t really care what you call it. What we’re discussing today is the activity of filtering, selecting and assembling digital content in new ways. My point is that EVERYONE is doing it and it’s a terrific opportunity for our collections. Because what it really boils down to is
  • It’s another way for our collections to be USED.It’s my opinion that our fundamental purpose for holding collections in public galleries, libraries, archives and museums – collectively known by the excellent acronym GLAM – is so that people, now and in the future, can use them. And hopefully use them in ways we’d never imagined. If you’ll forgive the coy profanity, here’s an impassioned question posed by Wikimedian Stuart Yeates at the National Digital Forum last year:
  • Our collections contain amazing, beautiful, curious, fascinating, important things. Traditionally, particularly in galleries and museums, the ‘experts’ have been the arbiters of significance. And this is why I don’t think the ‘experts’ are necessarily the best people to participate in this new form of content curation. There’s a time for us to be old-school curators, and there’s a time for us to step back and let the masses determine interestingness and make connections that perhaps we’re still too introspective to see. A key part of Stuart’s question here is whether ‘THEY are doing cool stuff with it. Not are ‘WE’, the GLAM sector, doing cool stuff.One of our new jobs is to make sure that people know what we have and to invite people to use it.
  • So, today I’m going to tip out a bag of marbles.The marbles are examples from Museum Victoria and a lot of other places that are somewhere along that continuum of institutional curationvs popular curation. It’s a real mixed bag and I’d like you to take the ones that you like or that you think will suit your organisation, and leave the rest. Not all of them are practical or desirable for everyone and it’s often wise to do a few things really well, than to do everything in a haphazard way. First I’ll set the scene with a couple of cultural orgs that are rocking the GLAM world, and perhaps give us a taste of what’s to come when the rest of us catch up.
  • The first marble:The Walker Art Center in Minneapolis did a major redesign, visually AND philosophically, of their website last year. At first glance, it’s another clean and contemporary art museum-style website. But here’s the innovative bit:
  • On their front page, with almost equal billing with their own content, is a magazine-style collection of art news from elsewhere. They’re putting themselves in the context of art and culture globally, not just trying to get you to walk through their door, hang out on their website for ages and make their traffic stats look good, or sell you their own message. The old idea of a webite being a final destination doesn’t work anymore. Be a trusted referrer. In turn, make great content and welcome referrals from others. Contribute and participate in this thing called the internet by behaving like the internet – you are a point on the network, not a cul de sac.Here’s the next marble and a serious game-changer: the Rjiksmuseum in Amsterdam, which ahead of a major renovation, launched this lovely new website:
  • Which has a new section called Rjiksstudio where anyone can download high res images of artworks in the collection for free, and use them for whatever purpose they like. Anything. Visitors are encouraged to like and share images, create their own sets based upon whatever criteria they like, but they can also print posters, make wallpaper, modify the images, WHATEVER. It’s amazing when you consider that just four years ago, the National Portrait Museum in the UK made a terrible fuss over copyright when some clever dickens contributor took high res images of old artworks and set them free on Wikimedia Commons. The concern was that the museum would lose money since they would no longer be able to sell their images.Now you have venerable institutions releasing their treasures under open license and seeing more value in wide re-use than locking away resources and only releasing them to people who can pay.Wherever you’re able to do so, where copyright and cultural rights and your organisation permits, release your collections. Give them away. You can start small:
  • Like marble #3, Flickr Commons. Flickr worked with a whole lot of institutions with collections that have no known copyright restrictions.The program has two main objectives:To increase access to publicly-held photography collections, andTo provide a way for the general public to contribute information and knowledge. (Then watch what happens when they do!)Last I checked, they were at capacity and could accept no more partners, but it’s worth having a pootle around and explore the outcomes. The information that comes back about images is really interesting. Which not only keeps collections alive, but enriches them.Years ago at a museum conference, a speaker stood up and said, “assume the people who know the most about your collection don’t work for your org” – I’m sorry to say I’ve forgotten who the speaker was, but this idea will always stay with me.
  • But even if you aren’t quite ready or able to say fly, my pretties, and let everything go, you need to show and tell what you have. We have collections onlineH&T launched a couple of years backWork underway to expand it to show our Nat Sci and Indigenous collections and upgrade H&T
  • Lead to #collectionfishingBut what if you don’t have a database or a collection online you can link to with #collectionfishing?That doesn’t exclude you. The lovely and resourceful folks at SA Imm Museum use flickr as a de facto catalogue
  • The theme this week is colour and the SA Migration Museum posted these gorgeous embroidered Greek wedding shoes. SA museum has no collection database online. Instead they use Flickr and I note this particular photo is released under CC BY-NC 2.0, which is how I’m able to use it in this presentation. Set your collection free and people will talk about them – and you.
  • Here’s their set of object images – thanks to Flickr’s new layout, in many ways this is a great way to showcase a collection and does it much more elegantly than MV’s own collections online., especially where they’ve been able to include beautiful and professionally-shot photographsYou can see some similarities with Pinterest in this array of pics.
  • We’ve dabbled in Pinterest… when we first joined last year, I went and pinned every item that was fished for the theme ‘suffrage’ and I would love to continue this but it’s quite time-consuming especially since I took a lot of effort to properly attribute each source. But Pinterest is a great platform for sharing photos if you have a particular interest, and it’s very easy for others to connect with your stuff.And easy to see which of your items people most connect with.The next marble from the bag is blogging. We have one main blog at MV….
  • Which began in 2009, replaced MV News which had been going since 2005Dry, impersonal, simply a record of MV’s projects, achievements, events etc.Instituted a few rules:HAS to be an author. You have to know who’s writing to you. A real human.I edit but maintain idiosyncrasies of authors. Author has to be willing to reply to commentsPhotos are mandatory – we built the template so that it doesn’t work without at least one! The lovelier the better but Result – I think we’ve still got a ways to go. Readership builds steadily and we’ve had a few very popular posts. It’s VERY hard to get staff to switch out of academic mode, and often when people do, if it goes along the food chain of approvals, their managers prune the life out of it and pad it with lots of museum-speak, like ‘image capture’ instead of ‘photograph’. Occasionally the blog is hijacked by PR or upper management who don’t really understand that it’s an informal channel, but mostly it happily chugs along in the manner in which it was designed.This recent post is by Blair, a marine biologist who just left MV last week after working on our biodiversity apps and digital projects. Data wrangler extraordinaire and casually irreverent, very likeable, and I’m extra sad to see him go because his posts were always interesting, fun, and popular.
  • Another good blogger was Dr Andi who now works for ABC, but for a few years she was making podcasts and videos for MV and writing an occasional series called ‘Five things’ where she’d chatter about five things to do with a particular topic, using MV collections to illustrate each of the things. The topic might be topical or it might have just caught her eye. Here are her five things about ice that she collated when Melbourne Museum had a temporary ice rink out on the plaza. So she had ice sculpture, ice skating, ice tongs, ice cream and a bizarre lantern slide of a spooky woman in an ice tunnel.I like these kinds of posts as they link objects together from various collections in new ways. They were very readable and the pics were interesting, and often inspired the response, I didn’t know you had that stuff in your collection.
  • We also have tried narrowly defined blogs for particular projects, for example, when the Western Forecourt of the Royal Exhibition building had its stunning transformation from a 1950s car park to restored garden. Here the intention was to keep the general public and local residents informed about what was happening behind the hoardings. It did its job at the time, but it highlighted two things about blogging that I’d like you to take special note of:1) It’s difficult to understand how much work it is to write and manage a blog can be until you actually start doing it. Project teams sign up merrily thinking it’ll be a quick and easy way to disseminate information and make connections but I can tell you, the moment deadlines come up and staff get stressed, the first thing that goes by the wayside is the blog. 2) That might not be an issue when you’re running an occasional series about lovely things in the collection, but if the blog or post is topical, getting it published in a timely fashion is critical.
  • Once the project was done at the REB, the blog became stagnant. The very nature of a blog promises regular updates and it’s a pretty bad look if visitors come to a blog and find the last post was weeks or months or years ago.It’s OK to archive a blog when it’s lived out its natural life. We saved a copy, then republished a readers’ digest edition with photos of key stages of the redevelopment. Much better for everyone.And another consideration – some of our best blog posts aren’t on the museum’s blog at all, they’re written by other people on their own blogs. Perhaps if you can’t write your own, you can look at ways to help other people write their own posts.Coincidentally, I spotted this tweet on the weekend and it’s perfect fodder for this forum…
  • Liam Wyatt is a historian and Wikipedia advocate who recently started as social media coordinator for State Library of NSW and looks like he’s starting up an institutional blog. He asked this question and some great replies came back.
  • The best replies gave great tips like this:Make it really easy for people to comment and share the content of the blog.Shortish posts 300-400 wordsMake content so astounding I want to share itSomething with great picturesTalk about ideas, issues broader than itself & author have opinion & encourage debate. hearing about other people's niche/quirky research queries Posts on what inspires staff hidden treasures, curiosities, "humanizing stories“Considerations for community – Tumblr and to some extentWordpress come with strong communities but they may exclude people unfamiliar with those platforms.Now that we’re back on twitter, here are a couple of twitter-related marbles for your consideration….
  • @Sweden – a new Swede every week tweets on behalf of the entire country. Sometimes triumphant.Sometimes not – one guest tweeter made comments that were offensive about Jewish people.Perhaps your organisation could rotate who is tweeting? Or invite people from outside to tweet on your behalf? Yes, it has the potential to go awry but it also has the potential to be awesome. What if you found a hero who would be your spokesperson? Or what if it allowed someone from within your org to show their wry humour? Or develop professionally? of my very favourite cultural twitter accounts is Digital NZ…
  • Tips from NLNZ blogWe post twice a day (that's why they're called #tbreaktweets: we try to time our posts with the Library's traditional morning and afternoon tea times)We restrict the tweeting to the #tbreaktweets; we don't do events or systems outages or media releases. Hopefully this means we're predictable, in a good way.We try to make sure we're at our desks for 30 minutes after the tweet goes out, in case anyone writes back. If we're not open to conversation, what's the point of being there?We follow anyone who follows us (unless they're a bot selling stuff)What they’re drawing from is
  • The very excellentDigital NZ – kinda like our Trove, really friendly simple interface and LOTS of gorgeous images and scans. encourage play and exploration with collections By Sets where people assemble stuff they like, like their own tiny game of #collectionfishing. I saw people collecting cranes on waterfront, scary babies, Competitions mashup video
  • IrreveranceHumour – is there anyone in your org who can talk like this?Same approach works well on Facebook, and this brings me to our next marble, a relatively young page called Lost Melbourne
  • Over another 500 followers since I took this screenshotAmazing community of people who are just interested in telling stories about Melbourne’s history, especially the parts of it that are gone. Members post photos or pose questions and it’s not long before someone responds. Here we have a ready-made community of people hungry for information and photos. Often we try to start up our own communities – our institituions want to be the hosts, but everyone is already here. Why don’t we go over there and play with them?
  • Couple of opportunities here – your experts can jump in and invite people to learn more in your archives.You can ask questionsOr you can supply photographs BUT – when you’re playing with someone else on their social network, you must follow THEIR rules. And make sure that you’re welcome.
  • Here’s another ready-made community of interest on HISTORYPINSeeking historical and contemporary photos of places and pin them to a mapFor example
  • Here’s a zoom in to Melbourne. MV is one of the biggest single contributing orgs to History Pin and we see it as a great way to put our collections in a contextPlus, again, there are opportunities to enrich them – people reposition the pins if they recognise landmarks, and often tell stories too. You never know when your material will resonate until you put it out thereAnd people will come back to you when they get hints of what you hold. Which brings us to the next marble: WikipediaWikipedia is a site that has HUGE opportunities for the GLAM sector – releasing your collections for referral and inclusion opens up a global audience of millions. And, they want to play with us!
  • Look – despite his hide being one of the prime attractions of Melbourne Museum for decades, and us having vast collections and even a dedicated curator for Big Red, Wikipedia still gets the first result in Google search.but sometimes presents challenges for us because they have very set rules that don’t always gel with the traditional approach of archivists and curators. For example, that anyone can edit contributions, and everything is open-licence – the text and images can by used by anyone for anything at all. There are also big concerns from wikipedians about conflict of interest – if our curator were to go edit the site, that’s a problem for the community. Even though he knows most about Phar Lap of just about anybody. But what we CAN do is release the primary sources – the photographs, the collection data, the archives – and engage wikipedia editors to take that material and use it to build a great entry about Phar Lap.
  • There’s a movement afoot in the GLAM sector called Wikipedian in Residence, where organisations support an editor to come in and facilitate the process. They don’t generally edit articles themselves, but they identify great material within the organisation and make it available to other editors. Solves conflict of interest, addresses the shortfalls in skills and resources in house, and starts to build a relationship between the org and local editors. At MV, we’re planning a pilot WiR to start this year.Often based around special interests – for example, WWI projects or here we have April 2012, ten Wikipedians and staff members came together at the Smithsonian Institution Archives to participate in an edit-a-thon in celebration of Women’s History Month. Let’s talk a moment about niche interests. It’s one of our amazing strengths
  • And because I’m the speaker, I get to talk about a niche I’m interested in – sewing from old patterns. You might be surprised how many folks out there are doing this. Pic on left is at a vintage fair a few weeks back with people rummaging hungrily for patterns to sew.Here’s a rambling internet tour based just around one pattern, pictured here – Vogue 100, from late 50s. Pattern companies often released deluxe patterns designed by noted couturiers. Now they fetch hundreds of dollars among collectors and are much coveted. I know MV has patterns in its collection so I started trawling and because I like Digital NZ so much, I punched ‘dress pattern’ there and turned up this result from Te Papa.
  • 1959 – this frock was BRAND NEW and a way for Alison Nicholls to wear couture in Wellington in 1959. Have a social history moment: think about the time and place for a moment – this little pacific outpost would not have received speedy deliveries of fashion straight from Paris, New York and London, but NZ women were and are resourceful and this was a way to have a top-notch frock that no one else would wear, at a price most women could afford. Te Papa is preserving that moment by collecting that dress. But who else could it serve?
  • Here’s Vogue 100 in the Vintage Pattern wiki which has over 60,000 records, all volunteers entering data from their own collections – could be YOUR collections that they’re using. Indication of the SIZE of the communityAnd before you scoff at this just being a project for ladies who like frocks, consider what a powerful resource OUTSIDE museum sector:Costumiers making period-appropriate costumes for film and theatreResearchers trying to date a photograph by the clothes people are wearingFashion designers looking for inspirationMerchants – yes, LOTS of people refer to collections for their own financial gain, but that’s fine.Here’s the next crumb of the trail – mentioned in Vogue Pattern Book 1958. So l looked next for that and found
  • Merchant has made a video on YouTube flicking through her collection of pattern books….
  • …and Trove tells me that there are three copies in Australian organisations that I could go look at. Finally let’s go to a great example of someone from this community keeping this pattern alive and adding to its story
  • No longer blogging, but this woman got a pattern, made it up, recorded notes about its construction, design and fit on her blog, and then in a lovely circle, posted a picture of one she’d spotted in an antique shop. Imagine if she’d known about the Te Papa example and could tell the merchant, who then told the buyer? At every stage of this story there’s an opportunity for cultural orgs who have holdings to chime in to the conversation and join up the dots.I’m going to tidy up with two cautionary notes. The first is about confusing quantity of use with quality.
  • Chug along at between 20-30,000 visits a day. You can see it dips on weekends and a big decline around Xmas when people have better things to do than visit museum. Then BAM, just after xmas, this huge spike with over 62,000 visits. Looks great on our reports but what does it mean? And not that it drops off within a day – is this quality engagement?What could drive this kind of traffic?
  • The answer: square poo. Over 40,000 visits were to this Question of the Week alone, because it became a popular submission in the ‘Today I Learned’ category on is an aggregator site with a community of users who rely on the recommendations and reviews to determine what’s worth reading. Curated by popularity.It’s DIFFICULT TO SEED THIS. - we’ve tried. And won’t lead to a lasting relationship with your visitors anyway.My last point is about changing roles. Our old school curators are struggling with their job title being so broadly applied, but he digital age is affecting other roles, too..
  • THERE IS A STACK MORE WORK> interacting with interested people in this way, leads to big organisational change. Online collections have changed staff activity profoundly – More access requestsMore digitisation and photographyDifferent focus for collection managers and researchersRisk management (and copyright)It takes some getting used to, but boy is it worth it.
  • Thanks again – I’m very glad to chat further!
  • Curation Schmuration Kate Chmiel Museum Victoria

    1. 1. Curation, schmurationLIBMARK seminar, May 2013Kate Chmiel, MV Online Writer/
    2. 2. “I feel like we’ve reached a cultural pointat which every time someone uses the word“curation” in reference to content andpublishing, an actual museum curatorkills a kitten.”Maria Popova, BrainpickingsIn interview with NEBO
    3. 3. Source: flickr, D.H. Parks, CC BY 2.0
    4. 4. “If they arentdoing cool stuff with it,why the f@$k do we have it?”@stuartayeatesNational Digital Forum 2012
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    6. 6. Stuff MV does
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    8. 8. Stuff MV does
    9. 9. Stuff MV does
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    11. 11. #collectionfishingon Pinterest
    12. 12. Fivethings
    13. 13. time
    14. 14. flickr, Ðeni [back..sort of], CC BY-NC 2.0
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    19. 19. Followthe frock
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    23. 23. Kate ChmielOnline writer/editorMuseum