Can virtual connections and digital media yield tangible benefits for heritage resources? Dale Kronkright says “yes.” And, that’s based on his experience as head of conservation at the Georgia O’Keeffe Museum in Santa Fe New Mexico. In this interview, he’ll talk about the Georgia O’Keeffe Imaging Project. The project field-tested three technologies in “Computational Imaging” and brought its audiences along for the ride with real-time updates on the social web. Their approach was profoundly effective, without being too complex from the production standpoint. There’s a takeaway here for most any heritage project.
If you’d like to learn more about the Georgia O’Keeffe Museum, the Imaging Project, or Dale, visit:
Today we’re talking to Carla Schroer of Cultural Heritage Imaging. CHI is a small company based in San Francisco–the social media capital of the world–that’s doing some interesting things through photography and photosharing through Flickr. They focus on rock art and technologies related to photography in heritage research. In this podcast, we’ll explore how CHI is implementing its social media policy based on its strengths, priorities and available time.
Schroer: Cultural Heritage Imaging has a mission to drive both the development and adoption of practical digital imaging and preservation solutions for the cultural heritage community. (Audio timestamp #00:02:02.6#)
Guin: What are some of the heritage resources you’ve worked on that our audience may be familiar with? #00:02:04.3#
Schroer: We’ve done quite a bit of work on rock art, including a workshop focused on rock art. We’re also working with a number of museums, including the Fine Arts Museums of San Francisco, the New York MOMA and the Pheobe Hearst Anthropology Museum in Berkley. In all those cases, our primary focus is with the conservation departments in those museums. #00:02:32.4#
Guin: So this is pretty technical. You do a lot of work with laser imaging and scanning of cultural heritage objects. #00:02:43.2#
Schroer: Everything we do is based on digital photography, so one of our core philosophies as an organizations is that we want to develop technology and get it in people’s hands that they can do themselves. We really don’t like the service provider model where you have to hire someone to come do things for you. We’re looking for technologies that people can do on their own. A couple of the primary ones that we’re working with right now are reflectance imaging, where you take a sequence of images with light in different positions around the object. Once you put that together in the computer, you can dynamically relight the object and bring out very very fine surface details of the object. This is one of the reasons we’re working with museum conservation, because getting very fine surface information is of great interest to that community. We also do work with photogrammetry and some other photographic-based imaging techniques. #00:03:37.4#
Guin: With audiences so defined, you wouldn’t ordinarily think of an organization like this needing to adopt social media as part of its communications strategy, but you’ve taken a proactive approach. #00:03:51.8#
Schroer: I sit here in San Francisco, surrounded by all these technology people. We’re not really innovators compared to them. But we always had a web presence and later an electronic newsletter. From there, it became clear that blogging and using Flickr to create sets and have photos people could find online made a lot of sense. We are just starting to foray into video and posting things on YouTube as well. The focus was to make it easier for people to find us through keywords and search. We know from watching our traffic that people are finding us that way. #00:04:46.9#
Guin: You’ve really emphasized photography, and tell stories very powerfully with it. What made you decide to go the “still image” route to connect with your audience? #00:05:08.9#
Schroer: Our work is based on digital photography, which means that we already have good cameras with us when we’re working. So still photography makes a lot of sense. Marlin Lum (http://www.c-h-i.org/about_us/marlin_lum.html), who is our imaging director, also does wedding and event photography, so a lot of the photography on the website is his work. He has a great photo-journalistic style. The rest of us are more studipophotographers–very focused on special needs for getting a reflectance image and photogrammetry sequence, where Marlin is more of a photo-journalist. #00:05:56.7#
Guin: You’re a little different than most folks that I’ve interviewed for Voices of the Past in that you’re not a solo blogger or someone doing this for the fun of it. You’re doing this because it’s rooted in the values of your company. And, though you’re a non-profit, you still have to make payroll. So, how does your social media work? Is it the responsibility of one person, or is you as a group working together? #00:06:23.0#
Schroer: It’s definitely us as a group and we even have volunteers that help. It’s a group blog and we have guest bloggers as well. We are currently updating our website to WordPress to make it easier for all of us to share web management duties as well. We’ve started using CulturalHeritageImaging.org, rather than C-H-I.org, which will allow us to transfer content to the new site while keeping the old site. We’ve had some incredible volunteer help, including a design group that offered to help us pick a theme at get it customized. We’ve also had a writer who’s been doing a lot of work editing existing materials. We made decisions on how to regroup the material, but were missing some “glue” on how to make it flow. #00:08:13.7#
Guin: What kind of topics do you blog and what is your audience for your posts? #00:08:20.6#
Schroer: It’s a group blog, so we’ll have equipment tips on there, we’ll talk about conferences we’ve been to or projects that we’re working on. We also invite people who are adopting technology, particularly reflectance imaging, to talk about their experience doing that. We have guest posts from the Smithsonian and the New York MOMA. We also post FAQs when we get questions. #00:09:14.5#
Guin: Beside your blog, what other social tools do you use? #00:09:14.5#
Schroer: Flickr has been big for us. We have started YouTube as well, including a video on our NCPTT grant project, and we have some additional videos on projects sponsored by the Kress Foundation with a museum conservation focus. Hopefully, the YouTube work will be similar to what happens with Flickr in that it will help people from a broader audience find us and be interested in the stuff we’re doing. #00:10:00.8#
Guin: Now that you’re branching out into these other forms of media, if someone wanted to visit your content there, what do you recommend they take a look at? #00:10:15.8#
Schroer: On our Flickr site, we make use of collections, so it’s easy to identify our work both by topic and project. #00:10:45.5#
Guin: You mentioned optimizing your content for search, so that you make connections. How do you optimize your content for the web through titles, tags and descriptions? #00:11:04.1#
Schroer: That’s what we’re working on right now as part of our website redesign. We’re doing some search analytics for what people are searching for. It’s a little tough, because some of the things we’re known for, like reflectance transformation imaging, are not something most people will go type into Google. So we’re working to figure out what people are searching for when they find us. And terms like “photography” and “cultural heritage” are so broad that it’s hard to optimize for those concepts. As we become more known in fields like museum conservation, that’s an area we’ll work to optimize. #00:11:59.6#
Guin: Since you’re transitioning to a new content management system, is there something that’s changing in your social media approach since you first began? #00:12:15.4#
Schroer: We are trying to tie some things together. For example, we have an e-mail list that we started about five years ago. So we use our social media blog posts, photo galleries and videos, as content to drive traffic that way. We also pick themes. So each month, we’ll focus on something like training and education, or rock art, etc., and use all of our platforms to emphasize that theme. It’s a more powerful way to help people learn about an aspect of our business. The biggest thing is that it always takes more time than you want it to. Because we’re small, we’re always thinking about how much time and effort should we put into these platforms and what kind of payback are we getting from them. We’ve stayed away from Facebook and Twitter at this point, not that we wouldn’t go there, but just because of the amount of time that it takes to really use them correctly.
Guin: What advice would you give to another small cultural heritage organization that’s just now getting into social media? #00:13:49.6#
Schroer: Blogging is an obvious first choice, because it’s easy to throw in pictures to help tell your story. To take that on, you have to have a person or two on your staff that are into it and feel that it’s fun. For us, Flickr made sense because we already had piles of photographs. We’re learning to use YouTube to tell our story in a more dynamic way. We had a couple of projects that specifically called for producing video. We’re also exploring the use of Screenflow [screencasting] technology to help explain concepts without people having to download data sets or a special view. They can quickly get a sense of what we’re doing. That will hopefully whet some appetite so that people want to download a data set and seeing what’s possible. #00:15:07.3#
Guin: What are your social media goals for Cultural Heritage Imaging? #00:14:42:00
Schroer: For us, it’s an expansion of why we started our website. We want people to learn about us, our work and the people who are partnering with us. It’s also a way for people to find out if they would like to partner with us, undertake a new technology or take one of our classes. As a non-profit, we also hope it will inspire people to volunteer or become donors. We have multiple audiences for our website, so we have multiple audiences for our social media as well.