Kajsa Hartig

A blog about Cultural Heritage and Digital Communication

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Singing Monsters and Museum Selfies


Singing monsters and museum selfies, exactly what do they have in common?

The kids app My Singing Monsters is about collecting monsters on an island, which is in fact the head of a giant. When you have collected all the monsters for this island, the giant awakes. This means you are ready to move on to the next island, where you start collecting entirely new monsters. The monsters are singing, all a different tune or rythm. The reward is that when combining them all together you have created a melody, and depending on which monsters sing the melody turns out differently. It’s addictive.

My point is that it is great fun, creative, and entirely possible to spend a lot of time on. It’s interactive. Active. Not passive. And it provides a new experience each time. Over and over.

And so museum selfies. So far I have mainly focused on museum selfies as an act of creating personal narratives. Which is extremely interesting of course. At the same time, what if we look at museum selfies as a way of creating interactivity in static settings, it becomes even more interesting. The act of photography requires physical involvement, placing yourself (often) in front of a museum object. Sometimes you interact with other people, and you raise your arm to get the camera (smartphone) in position. And you interact with your own audience through social media, for example posting on Instagram, using hashtags. Bringing the audience (followers) into the museum. You create a personal experience.

What if many museum selfies is a sign of your museum lacking interactivity? What if it’s in fact… boring? Or at least a quickly consumed experience. (Yes I am being slightly provocative here).

There is of course a possibility of activating the visitors, like with Cooper Hewitt’s The Pen or Rijksmuseum’s campaign to draw art. What if museums were to scale this, what if museums would entirely stop making exhibitions? (And now I am being even slightly more provocative). And instead create rich interactive experience all together. A very tempting thought.

But before going that far, here’s my advice for a starter:

  1. Embrace museum selfies
  2. Create other possibilities of interaction
  3. Engage with the visitors, and harvest the visitors creativity when taking photographs (if and when they want to)
  4. Monitor visitor photography in your museum, to learn and to improve


Oh and for all of you interested in My Singing Monsters, here’s a short video:


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Thoughts on museums and digital in 2016

Selfie. By Patrik Nygren, Flickr. CC-BY-SA https://flic.kr/p/nk9b1w

Selfie. By Patrik Nygren, Flickr. CC-BY-SA

Instead of wrapping up 2015 I decided to make a list of topics that will get special attention from me in 2016. I don’t mention specific methods or technologies like AR, VR, Big Data, mobile solutions, Makerspaces, 3D-printing, etc. Instead I look at a few areas that are essential for digital transformation. To merge analogue and digital work practice presents the biggest challenge for museums in 2016, and if done successfully will enable the transition towards the postdigital museum.

(Ed. Jan. 12, extending section on ecosystem, Jan. 15 adding to last section The Big Challenge, Jan. 19 link to HBR).

Mapping the visitor ecosystem – and walking the last mile

Illustration: Kajsa Hartig, CC-BY.

Illustration: Kajsa Hartig, CC-BY.

Where physical meets digital and paying attention to the last mile: Mapping (and understanding) the visitor experience, and the ecosystem in which the visitor encounters the museum, will move museums one step towards the postdigital realm. As the visitor experience now has to be delivered through multiple channels in a coherent and relevant way, digital and physical must be considered as one:

”Understanding visitor journey also means understanding that a visitor’s experience doesn’t start and end with a physical visit to the Museum. The visitor’s experience starts before they arrive, exists during the visit and extends after they leave. It starts with anticipating, planning and discovering. The experience doesn’t end when the visitor leaves.Thinking about extending the visitor journey with digital channels also requires understanding where your visitors physically are at various stages of the journey, and the digital channels and content types that make the most sense at each stage. A journey may comprise many digital channels, designed to fit specific stages and information needs and types and contexts. They do not expect multiple digital experiences, but one seamless experience with information that hands off from one channel to another and that makes sense for what they need at each stage. Visitors expect information when they want it, how they want it, and specific to the purpose.”
Catherine Devine, The Museum Digital Experience: Considering the Visitor Journey

In this effort to embrace and to deliver the omni-channel experience, an experience that might not ever involve a visit to the gallery space, museums will need to re-think organizational structures and competences. They will have to move towards multi competence teams that master digital as well as physical spaces as well as social media, storytelling and extraordinary user experience design. In this team educators have to be involved.

And most important, mapping the ecosystem will identify the last mile, the end of the museum supply chain, where the visitor (or user) experiences the museum. ”While systems of records are key as they form the backbone of information and data activation, systems of engagement and the last mile of the information process are critical.” This is also where disruptive innovation needs to take place.

Challenge: Museums will have to think carefully about who will lead the omni-channel experience productions.

Rethinking photograph collections

Analogue and digital work practices collide: Photography today is conversation. In the age of social media it has become distanced from its predecessors, the material objects closely associated with memories, as it has spread across different platforms with complementary functions. As Professor Daniel Miller states it:

”Snapchat is the culmination of a movement more generally in photography from memorialization to communication.”
Daniel Miller, Photography in the Age of Snapchat, Anthropology & Photography No. 1. 2015.

When these conversations, public or private, make their way into museums there are several challenges arising. One is to preserve the character of the photographs in the new context, the formal social memory as it is created by the museum. A museum that strives to preserve the cultural objects in fixed forms ”as a way of maintaining its historical accuracy and authorial integrity…” (Richard Rinehart and Jon Ippolito in Re-Collection, 2014).

And given that ”Records and archives are devices used in the process of transforming individual memories into collective remembering” (professor Laura Miller in Rinehart & Ippolito, 2014) the problem becomes clear. The digital infrastructures of the museum, the databases harbouring our collective social memory and preserving digitized physical objects, are constructed to maintain fixity, ”the world in a bottle, separated from mundane worldly time, in which philosophical objects hand like stars in suspended eternity.” (Rinehart & Ippolito, 2014).

Preserving the social media photographs requires museums to revisit their collection policies, extending documentation and preserving this information in the collection databases, and understanding what needs to be preserved (and how) to accurately present photographs in the future (and then I haven’t even adressed, technological, legal and ethical issues, that will be for upcoming blog posts).

Here are some of my previous blog posts on photography, digital and museums:

It’s a visual world (2014): https://kajsahartig.wordpress.com/2014/03/02/its-a-visual-world-blogg100/

Remixed photography awarded and on display (2011): https://kajsahartig.wordpress.com/2011/07/18/remixed-photography-awarded-and-on-display/

Photography matters! (2011): https://kajsahartig.wordpress.com/2011/04/19/photography-matters/

Challenge: Museums will have to re-think collecting, as well as preserving and disseminating photograph collections, an effort that will inform other fields within the museum. Please read more about topic at the website of Nordic project Collecting the Digital: From a Photographic Perspective.


Prepare for omni-channel: Take content strategy seriously. When approaching the omni-channel world of museums, that require content adapted for physical, print and digital to be presented as a seamless experience, there is a strong need to prepare for new editorial efforts and skills. This area is important when moving towards the post-digital museum, as it requires skills that span across digital (social, mobile, web), print and physical spaces indoors and outdoors.

Challenge: As more content and skillful multimedia storytelling is required for omni-channel experiences, museums need to scale and coordinate their editorial efforts.

Organizational change

Moving towards a postdigital museum inevitably brings us to the topic of organizational change. Only by looking at the three areas mentioned above, user experience, collecting/disseminating photograph collections and content production we see several challenges, the need for new skills and competences when bridging physical and digital, the need to create and distribute content more efficiently etc. To withstand increased competition and to become a more flexible and responsive museum, adressing organizational change is a must in 2016.

Challenge: Identifying which parts of the organization that need restructuring, and implementing the changes.

The Big Challenge

For the past few years I have paid extra attention to the need for digital transformation in museums, and the rigid structures that prevent this change. Sensing that museums in many ways still are far from a strategic and sustainable response to technological changes, as Simon J. Knell concludes in Museums in a Digital Age (Ed. Ross Parry), 2010, the need to identify the road to success becomes even more important.

Spending the Christmas weekend reading Re-collecting by Rinehart & Ippolito I got more confident in my opinion that the challenges for achieving the postdigital museum lie not so much in the lack of catalysts, or competence or even strategy as in the built-in fear of change:

”…an institution’s plasticity is measured not by the sweeping innovations promised in its mission statement, but by the habits o fits everyday operations staffed by ordinary people.”

It’s about organizational culture, and acquiring a strong digital mindset. Rinehart & Ippolito come down quite harshly on organizational cultures that punish any missteps contradicting the museum’s often ad hoc rules, rules that prevail professional standards.

They even go as far as saying that the employees striving to ”climb up the ladder of their institution’s organizational chart…tend to reinforce the most conservative interpretation of their jobs.”

Supporting this theory are Harvard Business Review who in a recent post state that: ”The very best strategic leadership helps the entire organization understand that all of its choices result in the strategy that customers experience, creating a framework by which every person in organization makes the choices he or she needs to make.” Again, choice is here referring to the individual choices, among staff.

There is a point worth considering here. Many brilliant digital efforts have come from bottom up rather than top down, by individuals who have done outstanding work for their museums in terms of embracing digital. Indeed it has been in many ways, and still is, a path of ”…creativity, diversity, individualism and opportunism.” (Knell, 2010).

Which means that even though many museum leaders today do understand the importance and complexity of digital, truly moving towards the post-digital museum requires moving away from individual efforts (that can be supportive or not to the digital transformation), challenging rigid structures, changing work culture and embracing a digital mindset, perhaps some of the biggest challenges ahead in 2016.

Predictions for 2015

Last year I wrote this short blog post to highlight a few important areas for museums. They are still highly relevant.


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How not to create a memorable museum experience #museweb

Skärmavbild 2015-08-12 kl. 09.44.45

This is NOT the cave that I visited, but a random French cave. Photo: Gilles Bonin, Flickr, CC-BY-NC-SA.

During the holidays this summer I visited a few museums in southern France and one of the pre historic caves in the region. Connected to this cave there is a small local museum. I will not explicitly point out which cave and which museum.

On this particular day we started by visiting the cave. At the entrance of the cave there was a sign indicating that photography was forbidden. Already here I seriously hesitated to enter though I had paid the entrance fee. The reason for the no photo policy was……copyright (!?). Confusion.

After a short walk we entered into a large, amazingly beautiful and impressive cave. Though an extensive light installation completely disguised the cave, not to mention loudspeakers suddenly filling the cave with Mozart’s Requiem (!). The guide assured us, slightly sarcastically, that the different species of bats living in the cave however seemed to endure the concert that played every time a group of visitors came by. In another cave further ahead there were more art installations, that were as well totally irrelevant to the historical and natural aspects of the cave.

I do appreciate art, but when the art becomes a reason for prohibiting photography in a pre historic cave, there is something terribly wrong. And again, the art did not, in any way whatsoever contribute to the understanding of the magnificent history of the cave, the people living there and the beauty of the environment.

Apart from the art, the no photo policy was what truly ruined my personal experience. Taking photographs and publishing them on social media is how I create my narrative. Many museum visitors visualize their visit and communicate their photos to a personal audience, as a way of creating a personal narrative. It is a way of remembering and understanding, even though the photograph in itself rarely materializes as a physical memory (apart from being looked at closely in the smartphone, held in the palm of the hand). But more importantly the photographs become a social glue in an ongoing conversation, to reassure and strengthen relationships in a community. It puts me in touch with the museum. And I am not even mentioning here the benefits of visitor photography to the museum. That is for another blog post.


After visiting the cave we visited the local history museum, which was displaying artifacts from the cave. Again, a no photo sign at the entrance. Watching rather sad showcases filled with arrowheads and beads without being able to take pictures, again limited my experience of amazing historical artifacts.

The point of this blog post is not to point out a singular tourist attraction. I believe the lack of understanding the role of photography in the visitor experience is widely spread and of course not limited to southern France. I am also very much aware of small museums lacking enough funding to create awesome experiences.

The point is that truly understanding the museum audiences as well as being able to take a step back and fully understand the museum experience, from an audience perspective, and meeting the needs of the audience, is something vital and also achievable without a large budget. Though in this and most other cases of inadequate museum experiences, I am positive that this problem is primarily the result of either poor digital competence within the management (which was probably not fully the case here as they did have a few interesting digital installations in the cave), or decisions driven by personal agendas.

As a museum professional I am of course trying to understand why, and analyze the consequences. I am sure I will visit the cave agin some day, but most probably choose another cave and museum to visit next time.






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How to encourage visitor photography #Blogg100 #museweb

Visitor photography matters. This museums goes all in.

The trend to acknowledge and embrace visitor photography is vital for all museums. To what extent it can be encouraged varies of course depending on the museum. The issues with selfie sticks have to be resolved. But the benefits are undoubtedly many, and I would urge all museums to further explore the possibilities of visitor photography.

The Art in Island museum in the Philippines creates environments for the visitor to enter, and a possibility to create personal narratives that includes the museum. The settings encourage visitors to act in a playful way. It’s humour and it’s fun!


Blog post 10/100 #Blogg100-challenge

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What is the difference between a museum object and a photograph #Blogg100

Uncertain Images (eds: Elizabeth Edwards and Sigrid Lien)

Uncertain Images (eds: Elizabeth Edwards and Sigrid Lien)

One of the most important books on photography and museums was published last year at Ashgate: Uncertain Images: Museums and the Work of photographs,  It is a book that brings ”into focus the ubiquitous yet entirely unconsidered work that photographs are put to in museums.”

Photographs have through the decades been acquired by museums, and depending on the contemporary museum practices they have changed from scientific evidence, to documentation, to art, and also representations of museum objects.

So what is the different between a museum object and a photograph in the museum collections (and why does it matter)? First photographs are rarely documented on an object level and neither digitized as single objects – this indicates a different status than the objects that are always documented individually.

Secondly they are reproducible and as such they lack originality as an historical object. , ”with their authenticity, originality and cultural capital suspect, photographs, for the most part, lie outside the systems of value that produces museum objects. They sit low in that hierarchy.”

Thirdly, they are not considered as part of the holy object collections, but rather clotted together with documents, and placed in the Museum Archive.

Despite this uncertain and ambiguous status of photographs, they are today central to the museum’s own narrative.

The book Uncertain Images challenges the lack of attention to the roles, purposes and lives of the mass of humble photographs within museums.

The digital aspect of the role of photographs in museums are, in part, adressed by myself in Chapter 13: Digital Dilemmas: The Impact of Digital Tools on Photograph Collections. More on that topic in an upcoming blog post.


Blog post 8/100 #Blogg100 Challenge




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Mobile use is (still) growing fast #Blogg100

Haggin Museum in Stockton, California. Photo: Patrick Giblin, Flickr, CC-BY-NC.

Haggin Museum in Stockton, California. Photo: Patrick Giblin, Flickr, CC-BY-NC.

”2014 will be the year that the internet will go mostly mobile”

This blog post is mostly about looking back at trend reports from 2014, though the conclusions are just as important in 2015.

If you aren’t already onto producing content for mobile devices, now is certainly the time. According to the annual report “Swedes and the internet 2014” between 92–98 % of all Swedes age 12-45 have access to a smartphone. Between 74-88% use them to connect to internet on a daily basis. 73 % of all Swedish adults use smartphones (compared to 58 % of adult US citizens according to the Pew Internet Research Study on Cell Phone Ownership and Usage, January 2014)

Google is also driving the change towards more mobile friendly websites and will by April 21 2015 rank these sites higher. http://thenextweb.com/insider/2015/02/26/google-will-rank-your-site-higher-if-its-mobile-friendly-starting-april-21/

Keep in mind

The use of smartphones in museums is about more than accessing the museum website before the physical visit. It is about possibilities for participation, social sharing, mobile shopping, Near Field Communication, visitor photography and much more.  And it is about mobile being one device among others, and visitors effortlessly moving across devices. Besides producing a mobile strategy for museums, a content strategy is just as important as well as deeper understanding of museum audiences. 2015 will be the year we hopefully see most museum websites completely responsive. That’s a good start.


Blog post 3/100 #Blogg100-challenge

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”When the people claim a picture…” #Blogg100


The film roll by Alberto Korda. From Wikimedia Commons.

I am very fascinated by photographs that become icons, claimed by people all over the world. There are by now countless examples of photographs of this kind, perhaps the most famous one is the portrait of Che Guevara, by Alberto Korda. Another one is The Scream that I have written about in a previous post.  Now the photographer and visual storyteller Platon tells in this video by CNN about the portrait of Putin that by now has been claimed by numerous communities.

”When the people claim a picture, and it somehow connects with the times we’re living in, that’s the greatest honor we could wish for.”
Platon Tells The Story Behind His Portrait of Vladimir Putin, Petapixel.com


Blog post 17/100 #Blogg100-challenge