Kajsa Hartig

A blog about Cultural Heritage and Digital Communication

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Photography matters!

Paula Bray, Powerhouse MuseumI organized last week a seminar on Digital challenges and photographic collections, at Nordiska museet, Stockholm, Sweden. Keynote speaker was Paula Bray, Manager Visual & Digitisation Services at the Powerhouse Museum, Sydney, who spoke to an audience of about 120 colleagues from the Nordic countries.

The seminar was covering issues and possibilities when collecting, preserving and disseminating photography that is digitally born or digitised, along with the challenges for cultural heritage institutions in the digital era.

Paula Bray gave two presentations, the ”Photography Collections in the Digital Environment, and ”Getting Social With Photographic Collections.”

Most cultural heritage institutions have photographic collections. Paula Bray showed how these can be instrumental when facing the necessary changes institutions are presently confronted to. Photographic collections can be used in building relationships with audiences, in moving the museum forward in social media, in getting social and allowing the audiences to contribute to and improve collection metadata. The online audiences most often express great interest in the photographic collections. Connections are made and conversations are started through them.

Paula Bray also reminded us that photographic collections management and dissemination requires strategies, that often can be challenging in the digital environment.

Interaction through and with photography collections does impact activities in cultural heritage institutions, on a general level. Lessons learned from using photography collections, are paving the way for new decisions and choices and most of all, photographs are precious tools for engagement and participation.

People from the Powerhouse Museum are already a great inspiration to museums all over the world, as they are constantly moving ahead in understanding and implementing digital, social and emerging technologies. Photography has come to play a an important role in the museum’s quest to be relevant to its audiences.

My experience is that photographic collections over the years have struggled to make their voices heard in museums, libraries and archives. But through Paula Bray’s testimony and my own observations, i now sense we are at the start of a new era for photography. We need to take this unique opportunity to position photographic collections as central in shaping the meaningful interactions with audiences, activities that help cultural heritage institutions being relevant and to fulfil their purpose.

Paula Bray’s presentations on Slideshare


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Opening Plenary at MW2011

Opening Plenary at MW2011, by Kristen Purcell, Pew Research Center

Opening Plenary at MW2011, by Kristen Purcell, Pew Research Center

While attending the conference Museums and the Web, in Philadelphia, I try to take some time to reflect on the presentations.

My impressions are so far that I enjoy the conference just as much as previous years, and that it has taken us participants again one step further in the development of museums and the web.

I truly appriciated the Opening Plenary by Kristen Purcell, from the Pew Research Center in Washington DC. The title was Grounding Internet Information Trends, and was based on research in the project Pew Internet.

Kristen Purcell presented a few groundbreaking changes in the evolution of internet:

  • access to broadband
  • development of mobile devices
  • wireless internet
  • the evolution of social networking

Kristen Purcell also sees a growing use of geo-location services even if there are still only 17% of all adult internet users in the US who claim they use such services.

Another big step is the evolution of apps for mobile devices, according to the Pew Reaserach Center study. They are especially useful when they bypass search, answer questions, solve problems and help accomplish tasks. However, as Kristen Purcell pointed out, it’s difficult to ask these questions in the research study, since many people don’t even know if they own a smart phone or if it has apps installed.

Not knowing what an app is, or not having access to internet, is a sign of The digital divide, a topic that was constantly recurring in the Opening Plenary. At the same time information today is – as Kristen Purcell put it – portable, participatory and personalized. Both of these aspects of the internet and the way people recieve information, affect the way museums need to adress their audiences.

Kristen Purcell finished the Opening Plenary by giving some very good (and to some extent challenging) advice on how to keep up with the evolving internet and the changing demands of the audiences:

  1. Be a filter, a trusted expert (very much needed in the age of abundant information)
  2. Be a curator, a one-stop-shop and an aggregator
  3. Be a node in a network (your audience have audiences)
  4. Be a community builder, create new networks, share and respond
  5. Be a lifesaver, provide timely information
  6. Provide tour guides, use geo-location services to connect your content with real world locations

Perhaps the most challenging, as I see it, would be the one-stop-shop approach. I believe this will set museums off in a new direction. The audience expectations are already constantly changing, but this will demand for more creative and innovative strategies by museums. Being a one-stop-shop is also connected to being a lifesaver, that is – as I see it – being relevant to the audience to a much greater extent than we are today.

The advice for museums presented by Kristen Purcell is one of the things I will bring back home from MW2011. I am also looking forward to see how other will respond to the challenges in the year to come.