Posts Tagged ‘museum’

Museum Content–A Couple of Ideas

Saturday, June 27th, 2009

Posting to the THATCamp blog *so* late has allowed me to change the focus of my proposed session and to consider my very most recent project. For reference (and perhaps post-conference follow-up), I’m posting a description of my original THATCamp proposal, in addition to some thoughts about a possible session about searching of museum records:

My original proposal involved a project called “The Qualities of Enduring Publications” that I developed at The Metropolitan Museum of Art during the financial crisis that followed the 9/11 attacks. Faced with a deficit budget resulting from severely diminished attendance, the museum planned to implement radical budget cuts, including significant cutbacks in publishing. In light of these cutbacks, I was interested in examining the essential nature of the publications (for 2002, read: books and print journals) that the discipline was producing and reading, and in thinking about what gives an art history publication enduring value. The question was examined through a personal prism, in a series of small workshops (ca. 10 participants each) at the Met and at museums around the country. Participants came to the workshop having selected one or two publications that had had enduring value for them in their professional lives–books that they had consulted regularly, had cited frequently, or had used as models for their own publications. A few minutes at the start of the workshop were spent sharing the books, after which I (as workshop chair), began the discussion, which centered around a series of simple scripted questions, to which answers were responded for later analysis. The questions asked whether titles had been selected for (for example) the fidelity of the reproductions, for the lucidity of the prose, for the multiplicity of voices, for the well-researched bibliography, and so on. The workshops were fascinating, not just for the results they produced (the publications most valued by art historians had relatively little in common with the gigantic multi-authored exhibition catalogues produced by museums during that time frame), but also for the lively conversation and debate that they engendered amongst museum authors and future authors.

I have recently been encouraged to expand the workshop scope to include participants and titles from all humanities disciplines, as well as to consider the impact of electronic publishing and distribution on an individual’s choices. Staging the new version of the workshop will require the recruitment of workshop chairs from across the country and throughout the humanities, and the drafting of a series of additional questions about the ways in which electronic publishing might impact a participant’s thinking about his or her enduring publications. I had hoped to use THATCamp as an opportunity to identify potential workshop chairs in humanities disciplines other than art history, to discuss examine the existing workshop discussion template and to work on the questions to be added on e-publishing, and to think about ways to analyze a (much larger) body of responses, perhaps considering some bibliometric analysis techniques.

Though I’m still interested in speaking informally with ANY THATCamp participant who might be interested in participating in the expanded “Qualities of Enduring Publications” workshops, I’m actually focused right now on a newer project for which some preliminary discussion is needed to seed the project wiki. Along with colleagues at ARTstor and the Museum Computer Network, I’ll be organizing a team that will examine the user behaviors (particularly search) in repositories that aggregate museum records. The project, which will take place during the six weeks before the Museum Computer Network conference in November, 2009, will involve analysis of the data logs of ARTstor, the museum community’s key scholarly resource for aggregated museum records, as well as logs from other libraries of museum collection information, including (we hope) CAMIO and AMICA. A group of recruited participants will consider the logs, which will be released about six weeks before the November conference, articulate questions that might be answered by interrogating the data, and write and run queries. We’ll also think about ways to establish and express some useful ways to query and analyze an individual museum’s search logs, and will use these methods to look at the logs of participants’ museums, as a baseline for comparison with the ARTstor, CAMIO, and AMICA records. At an all-day meeting during MCN, we’ll gather to examine the results of the preliminary results; discuss, modify and re-run the queries, and work together to formulate some conclusions. In the eight weeks after the meeting, ARTstor staff and/or graduate student volunteers will produce a draft white paper, which will circulate to the meeting participants before being released to the community at large. Although the project is limited in scope (we have not yet figured out how to get any useful information about how users of Google look for museum content), we hope that it will help museums to begin to think about how their content is accessed by users in the networked environment using real evidence; at present, very little quantitative information about user behaviors (including which terms/types of terms are used to search, whether searches are successful, which objects are sought) is available. Results could have lasting impact on museum practice, as organizations prioritize digitization and cataloguing activities, and consider what content to contribute to networked information resources. I hope that a discussion at THATCamp might provide some seed content for the project wiki, which serve as the nexus of discussion about what questions we will ask, and about what methods will be used to answer them.

Digital Collections of Material Culture

Wednesday, June 10th, 2009

Hello, everyone! I’ve been reading over everyone’s posts and comments, and letting it all percolate – but today’s my day to finally post my own thoughts.

Here’s my original proposal:

“Digital collections of material culture – how to make them, share them, and help students actually learn something from them!

– “quick and dirty” ways for faculty to develop digital collections for the classroom, without giving up on metadata. For the recent workshop we held at Vassar, I’ve been working on demo collections (see ) to evaluate 8 different tools,  including Omeka. In each, you can view the same 8 historic costumes and their metadata, with 43 jpeg images and 1 QTVR. I’m developing my work as a template, with support documentation, for others to use.

-how students can use digital collections and contribute to them, without requiring a huge technological learning curve, especially for students with non-traditional learning styles

-the potential of union catalogs”

Of course these issues cross over in many ways with issues that have already been posted. So, I’m not sure if this needs to be a session, or if it’s more about bringing this material culture perspective to other relevant sessions. That probably depends on how many other material culture people are coming – anyone?

Deep Digital Collections / The Thing-ness of Things

Projects that successfully represent 3D objects are still pretty rare. Current systems of image representation are not sufficient – 1 image per object is not enough. Artifacts also continue to defy controlled vocabularies and metadata schema. For example, one of my current projects involves studying a historic dress inside and out – I have over 100 detail images and complex data (see a sample blog post that shows the complexity of the object).

I’m working to create digital access to the Vassar College Costume Collection, our collection of historic clothing, with about 540 objects dating from the 1820’s to today. Just to clarify, in the field of costume history, the term “costume” refers to all clothing, not theatrical costume.  For about 7 years I’ve been exploring different ways of digitizing this collection, giving students access to a database of the objects, and then sharing their research projects, in a variety of digital formats, as virtual exhibitions.

“Quick and Dirty” Classroom Tools / Low Tech Digital Humanities

In my demos, you can view the same 8 historic costumes and their metadata, with 43 jpeg images and 1 QTVR, in Omeka, CollectiveAccess, Greenstone, Luna Insight, ContentDM, VCat, Filemaker, Excel, and GoogleDocs.

My inquiry has developed beyond the initial comparison of different available tools, to explore a kind of “division of labor” in the process. My approach has been very much on the DIY side, but couched in a collaborative experience. I initially created my demos for a NITLE sponsored workshop at Vassar this past March (entitled “Digital Objects in the Classroom”). Our workshop emphasized the importance of collaboration, and we asked participating institutions to send teams of faculty, librarians, instructional technologists, and media specialists. Perhaps ironically, the demos have mostly been my own work (with wonderful help from Vassar’s Systems Administrator and Visual Resources Librarian). I continue to search for the perfect compromise – for faculty and students to be able to quickly and independently get resources both into and out of collections, while administrators feel comfortable with the security and maintenance of the technology involved.

Student Contributions

Even if you’re not working in a traditional academic setting, I encourage you to view your audience as students. We can use technology as part of a suite of pedagogical tools to provide differentiated instruction for different styles of learners.  What I imagine is a way for students to add to the conversation in ways beyond tagging and commenting – to contribute their own images and research.  Our work in the last couple of years has reinforced this in a backward kind of way. We envisioned a large grant might allow us to carefully photograph and catalog much of the collection, which we could then present to students (on a platter?). Such a grant hasn’t come through yet, but the students have kept on coming! So, each semester brings us a new project, with new research about some of the objects, new photographs that students have taken to support their research, new citations of and links to supporting references. And the database grows. And I wonder, if we did present the virtual collection to students on a platter, would they be as inspired to work with the objects doing their own research? Would it seem as fresh to them? We need to keep the focus on our students and not on technology for its own sake.

Union Catalogs / Federated Searches

For each of our collections we’re working hard to structure our metadata and to define controlled vocabularies. But most of the time we aren’t taking advantage of the sharing that structured metadata allows. Either collections aren’t having their data harvested, or if they are, they’re going into giant collections like OAIster where it can be hard to find them. We need more union catalogs for material culture objects that are oriented for specific disciplines. By harvesting for a more specific kind of union catalog, we can transcend the “dumbing down” of data for Dublin Core standards and create variations that allow for richer data in each of our fields. We don’t have to reinvent the wheel, but building on Dublin Core or VRA or CDWA can really benefit our specific fields. For collections that have a strong visual component, some form of image needs to be a part of what is harvested and shows up in the federated search.

I look forward to reading your comments – and to meeting you all in person later this month!

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