This show explores an approach to new media that we rarely get to see — a coordinated, research-based strategy that brings together cultural heritage institutions throughout a country. One of the organizations spearheading this efforts is the Royal Commission for the Ancient and Historical Sites of Scotland (RCAHMS). This interview features Philip Graham, Public Engagement Manager for RCAHMS. Philip will talk about the Digital Futures for Cultural Heritage Initiative, and how is own organization is going beyond social media engagement to encourage user-contributed content. If you’ve struggled to build consensus about digital outreach even within your own institution, you’ll find this interview compelling.
In October 2006, I was away on a business trip when a freak 150-year flood event destroyed the contents of my family’s rural home. Facing an oncoming five-foot wall of water, my wife had little time to consider our possessions. For all the things we lost that day, I still feel a tremendous sense of gratitude for having married someone who (first) had the presence of mind to survive an epic disaster with a two-year-old in tow, and (second) managed to save our scrapbooks and photo albums in the process.
I’ve heard of many stories like that. In the moment of choice, we instinctively cherish photographs as windows to another time. An instant reconnection to faces that fade in memory as they (and we) grow older and pass. The world’s wide-scale shift to digital mobile photography makes capturing these memories easier. It also makes them harder to preserve.
If you haven’t done it already, it’s time to take stock of your photo collection–digital and print–and get them into a trackable inventory. My suggestion is to simply grab a sheet of paper and list the places where your photographs can be found, and the major themes and events found there. Keep in mind, your photos could be anywhere from traditional photo albums to hard drives, Facebook, or (if you’re like some people I know) still on your camera’s memory card after several years.
Cull and Label
When you have a complete inventory of what’s available, it’s time to focus on what’s important. Chances are, your life is cluttered with images that are low-quality, unflattering or lacking any memory of their significance. Pick the very best photos from your collections and start giving them context. This means “tagging” them with words and names that mean something to you.
Tags can be used in variety of ways. Collect major themes into directories/folders on your computer’s hard drive. These could be named something like “birthdays” or it could simply be organized by year. Tagging also extends to the names of the files. The point is to make them searchable for the concepts that are important to you. If you take a photo, and never see it again, does it really exist?
Diversified Digital Systems
Pick a good photo management application. Most now have the ability to automatically recognize and categorize faces. Something free, open source and cross-platform like Google’s Picasa may be the best way to start. Your local library likely sometimes offers free classes in digital photography and photo cataloging programs, so be sure to take advantage of those opportunities. Many of these programs can upload to online photo sharing sites like Flickr as well, so take advantage of that secondary backup option!
These software programs will allow you to add as many tags as you like and embed that information in the image itself, so your images will still be searchable even if you switch to another program, or upload them to the web.
Just remember, photos are meant for sharing! The more places you have your important photos, the better the chance that they survive into the future. It’s okay to save them on your hard drive but be sure to back up your entire collection on DVDs about once a year.
Print is NOT Dead
For the best of the best, it’s still important to have prints made. All things being equal, a print on professional-quality photo paper will outlast digital storage every time. My digital photo collection contained on an external hard drive did not survive the flooding on my house, but I was able to piece most of it back together by scanning in our surviving photo albums, and using DVD backups and web tools.
So how do you handle personal image cataloging and storage? Know of any tools (perhaps online) or techniques that could be widely used?
Photo credit: http://www.flickr.com/photos/wlef70/5676576994/sizes/s/in/photostream/ and http://www.flickr.com/photos/wlef70/5676246631/in/photostream
Have you ever wanted to learn hieroglyphics? What if a podcast could help you with that? There is one out there and it’s produced by this episode’s guest. His name is Vincent Brown. Vincent is kind of a new media renaissance man, with a focus on Egyptology and the pyramids. In addition to the podcast he created, he also maintains blogs and a very active Twitter community. That’s one of the things he’s going to talk about is optimizing your Twitter participation for creating a community: crafting relevant tweets and how to optimize those with hashtags as well. Here’s that interview. [Timestamp #00:01:39.6#]
Vincent Brown: I’m a web designer by trade. Before I got into freelance web design, I was an IT network administrator. I was a trainer as well and taught web design. I actually invented a form of Twitter with some guys in my group. I always thought that it would be fantastic to be able to update a website from a mobile phone. We actually got a prototype working. That was 2006, and in the same month, Twitter came out, so I jumped on to that. That’s the powerful aspect of Twitter–to have it on the sidebar of your blog and have those elements remotely feeding into it. #00:02:53.5#
Jeff Guin: Did you have any concept as to how things would evolve with Twitter? #00:02:54.3#
VB: No way. I wasn’t even thinking about social aspects. I was really just thinking about remotely updating a blog, and of course it’s much more than that. #00:03:05.3#
JG: You have quite a community there. Was it intentional for you to build a community through Twitter? #00:03:21.7#
VB: Originally, I started using it as a news outlet–as a micro-blog. My blog posts take hours to write. I get carried away, so there’s a lack of time for doing regular blog posts. As a way of combating that, I decided to post the micro-updates everyday. I generally put out 10-20 a day through my Google Reader feeds that I’ve developed over the years. And that expanded into doing lessons on Twitter as well. I was learning ancient Egyptian, which being a complex language, is a long-term study. I thought if would be great to help my colleagues who were studying with me to have flash cards. So I started by creating a flashcard for one word each day. At the end of the week, I’d compile them and make a chart, which I put on Flickr. Then I thought a video would be even more effective. So I created a video each week to recap six words. Being a trainer, I knew that learning requires extras like sound and visuals for easy memorization. I added music and different backgrounds and released it as Creative Commons content. I really enjoyed the community collaboration of using others’ content and doing that through Creative Commons is a good way, because it allows all involved to be credited for their work. #00:05:48.5#
JG: And this podcast is still available. I discovered it on iTunes. #00:05:53.3#
JG: Who were the folks you interacted with in social media early on? #00:06:01.9#
VB: The Brooklyn Museum was on the forefront early, doing amazing things. They took a few trips to the hospital with their mummy. They did CT scans on a mummy the museum has. Shelley Bernstein, the IT person there, decided to live blog it. I set up a live Twitter feed and embedded it in my blog. I also automated the Twitpics as well so they were coming out on my blog, and encouraged my readers to interact with them so that she was able to receive questions and could ask the curators and scientists questions. The museum also has embraced Flickr in a big way–really pushing The Commons. Flickr was one the first social media companies to embrace the idea of The Commons [here’s a list of participating organizations]. It’s a feature of Flickr, so it was powerful for the museum to put their archives on The Commons. There are a few others: Boston University and Harvard collaborated with Peter Der Manuelian of the Giza Archives, to create some fantastic representations of the Giza plateau and some of the tombs there. #00:08:54.7#
JG: Tell me more about your blog. That really is the heart of your community. #00:08:56.4#
VB: I started it in January 2008. I created a few other websites before that, including Pyramid Texts Online, which is more academic than Talking Pyramids. I traveled to Egypt in 1997. Although the internet was around then, and I did a lot of research online, it was really hard to ascertain which pyramids were open. I was disappointed to arrive at the Great Pyramid and found that two of the three chambers were closed. In fact, another pyramid that I was very interested in going to–the Unas Pyramid in Saqqara, which is the most elaborately inscribed with texts, was sadly closed when I got there. I thought there really should an online resource where travelers can go to find this out. That was impetus behind the site. I also wanted to get into blogging. A website is quite static. Little did I know that a blog requires much more attention, and regular updates. I’m still building up those pyramid pages. I’ve been using social media on those static pages by pulling in, for example, Flickr collections of those individual pyramids. I like that because the content is constantly changing without me having to manually do it myself. #00:11:16.5#
JG: How did you get interested in Egyptology? #00:11:21.5#
VB: It’s hard to pinpoint because I’ve always liked Egyptian music, especially. The first time I picked up a guitar, I wanted to play an middle-eastern sounding riff. It’s my favorite sound. One of my first memories when I was about four-years-old was sitting down with my father to make a cardboard pyramid. It was said that if you put a piece of fruit in a pyramid shape, it will preserve it. It was the era of Uri Geller who was doing the spoon bending tricks. So we put a grape inside and folded it up and sticker-taped the sides. Being four, I wasn’t sure what the word “preserved” meant, so I just thought as long as I could rattle the box and hear it, it was preserved! So that’s my earliest memory. Then, in 1996, I read Secrets of the Great Pyramid by Peter Tompkins. It was a pretty comprehensive book that got me really interested in learning more. A year later, I had saved up enough money to go to Egypt and it continued from there. #00:13:34.0#
JG: Is your professional background purely in web design, or are you also a professional archaeologist? #00:13:41.9#
VB: No, I have no professional background in archaeology or Egyptology. #00:13:50.1#
JG: Yet, you’re an authority … #00:13:57.5#
VB: Funny, isn’t it? That’s the nature of the web, combined with passion. If you love something enough and dedicate your time to it, then anyone can master anything. I have a lot of learning to do still. There’s over 100 pyramids in Egypt and that’s a lot of study. Also the language–that’s an ongoing thing that I dive in and out of as time permits. #00:14:29.5#
JG: Let’s talk more about your Flickr stream, because you have a fairly comprehensive set of photos there. Tell me what inspired you to create your photostream and what the future might be for it. #00:14:45.5#
VB: As I said before I first found out about Flickr when I was teaching web design. It was a great project, because there were community organizations who needed websites made, and I had these guys who could create websites. It was a skill-building process in which Flickr became a major tool. Because of the Creative Commons content there, we could legally use Flickr as a source of images for these websites. I opened up my own personal account, and encouraged my friends and family to do the same. In the old days, you would have to compile photos into a five or 10 megabyte attachment in an email that no one wants to receive. Obviously, Flickr is fantastic for holiday photos. I also find it fantastic for research and use it as a search engine. Recently a friend told me about a church he was visiting in Holland, so I went straight to Flickr and found hundreds of photos. He was describing the patterns on the floor, and I responded “Yes, I see.” He says “what do you mean.” He was surprised so much was already on Flickr. It’s a hugely powerful tool. #00:16:49.7#
JG: You’ve got all the big guys covered: Flickr, Twitter, etc. Are there any other forms of social media that you use to deepen your connection with your audience. #00:17:01.5#
VB: There’s also Delicious.com. Delicious is really powerful. I used to have bookmarks, which got really big and unwieldy. Delicious is a terrific online tool that allows you to give your bookmarks tags to keep them organized and relevant. That is also fed into the sidebar of the blog as well. The thing about YouTube is some people don’t realize how you can used for anything other than upload. I only have a few videos of my own online. However, I have created playlists for all sorts of topics, such as individual pyramids. These playlists are added automatically to each pyramid’s page. Apart from the playlists, I’m always favoriting as well. When you arrive at my channel, you always see the most recent video that I’ve favorited. Sometimes I don’t watch all the videos right away and will come back on the weekend and watch them all in the playlist then. #00:19:48.2#
The big news has been the uprising in Egypt. I’ve tried to keep my focus on pyramids, but it’s hard with such a huge event, so I made up a playlist of the Egyptian songs that were written during and after the protests. #00:20:13.6#
JG: Have you found that those events have driven additional traffic to your blog? #00:20:14.3#
VB: Yes. I’m posting more regularly since this is big news. I’ve tried to keep my readers informed about the looting at the individual pyramid fields. That’s been hard. Official reports have been conflicting and it’s very ongoing. #00:21:05.1#
JG: A lot has been made of the role of new media in the social unrest in the Middle East and other places in the world. What’s your opinion? #00:21:14.0#
VB: It seems that is the case. It started with a post on Facebook by the Google executive Wael Ghonim that was an impetus for the uprising. Twitter was a very big part of that as well. We saw when the internet was turned off, that Twitter and Google joined forces to create a service that would allow people to send tweets through a public phone box, or any phone. We saw two giants come together beyond their competition. Then, once the internet was turned off, the people were in the streets and there came a point when social media didn’t matter anymore. But people were still recording video with their phones and other devices. When the internet came back up, we got to see those stories. Social media played a big part, and I don’t know if it would have happened without that first Facebook post. #00:22:55.2#
JG: How do you curate the news that you put out? #00:22:58.3#
VB: It’s very time consuming. It’s a matter of sitting down and skimming through those feeds. I also use Twitter as much as Google Reader. I have a lot of lists that I look at and particular people that I follow on Twitter. It takes me several hours everyday to do that. #00:23:50.3#
JG: Related to Twitter, you mentioned your lists. Explain how you’ve broken your lists down. #00:24:04.7#
VB: My lists are my meat and potatoes. That’s where all the action happens. I’ve got an Egyptologist list that is purely people working in that field. Then there’s a museums list, and a general ancient Egypt news list, which comprises anyone talking about the topic. This lists are private right now as I try to curate the information, but I’m considering opening those up more. #00:25:23.5#
JG: You are for hire as a web designer. What’s your web design specialty? #00:25:37.6#
VB: My specialty is care and attention to the client. I don’t do cookie-cutter sites. Training is important is well. I want to empower the person to be able to update their site as well. For that reason, I used WordPress a lot, so that people can update their content without having to pay me or someone else to do it. I also train them in social media and often set them up with a Flickr account and teach them to make that useful to promote their website. And also using social media to help them promote their site as well, so there’s an ongoing promotion service if they want that. If anyone does want a site made, they can contact me at Talking Pyramids or through my business website “Vintuitive.” People can have a look there if they want to see some of the sites I’ve made. #00:27:14.8#
JG: What’s your strategy for updating your social media? #00:27:18.4#
VB: For Twitter, I post 10-20 updates a day, depending on the news. YouTube, a couple of times a week. Flickr, once a week. Being from South Australia, it’s not easy for me to go and take photos of pyramids. Some I’ve posted have been from the South Australian Museum’s Egypt Room, for example. People also send me photos. Flickr is very powerful for contacting people who have just come back from Egypt. Everyday, I’ll finish my news posts with a photo, usually on Twitter. Those will usually come from a Flickr search. I’m always looking for feedback from visitors to find out which pyramids are open. Official sites will say one thing and things may be totally different on the ground. Ticket prices will also go up and down. It’s a bit time consuming, but it’s also a good way to expand the network. Those people will start following my Flickr stream and blog because they are obviously interested if they cared enough to visit the pyramids. #00:29:37.2#
JG: Do you find that you have different audiences for each of the social tools you are involved with? #00:29:52.8#
VB: They’re very different audiences. I have a lot of schools linking to a post on ancient Egyptian games. I think in year six primary schools, they do a segment on ancient Egypt. That post receives more hits on my blog than any other. I’ve got a post on how to make a paper pyramid that’s very popular with schools as well. I don’t know how many people follow me across these services. There are a lot of people who just follow me on Flickr. Same with Twitter. Some of those people who read my posts of Twitter never go to my blog. Some bloggers will only use Twitter to announce new blog posts. They are shortchanging themselves because Twitter is a fantastic resource for reading. I spend a lot of time reading there. It’s really just a matter of spending time to manage your filtering. I think most people, when they come to Twitter think this is all about “that guy eating a ham sandwich” or “someone watching television.” Of course, it’s about following the right people. #00:31:46.9#
JG: How do you filter you Twitter feeds other than your lists? #00:31:52.4#
VB: I use TweetDeck, which includes rows and rows of searches. I’ll run a search on “egyptian uprising”. There’s the hashtag #Jan25 which is what I tag any post to do with the Egyptian uprising. Hashtags are a big part of emphasizing what’s important on Twitter. I will do searches on particular hashtags and save it in a TweetDeck column. I’ve intentionally kept anything not related to Egypt out of that Twitter stream, and that’s why I have another Twitter account as vinbrown. I use that account for digital archaeology. #00:33:57.7#
JG: This leads to one of my pet peeves, which is use of hashtags. Many people are putting the hash symbol in front of every noun in their tweets, and it’s annoying and unreadable. From your perspective, what is proper hashtag etiquette? #00:34:14.2#
VB: Don’t look at the trending topics and use those hashtags. Too many put something like #justinbieber in front of something that has absolutely nothing to do with him. I always put any hashtag at the front end of my tweet. It’s stripped out of the sidebar on my blog. Its is okay to make up your own hashtag, as I started doing with #digitalarchaeology. It’s being used my a number of archaeologists now. #00:36:24.7#
JG: I’m seeing #digitalarchaeology in a number of tweets beside your own. What does it mean? #00:36:43.1#
VB: In the examples we talked about before, I think the work of organizations like the Brooklyn Museum online would qualify as digital archaeology. Also, much of the efforts to recreated archaeological sites in 3-D is a powerful thing. There’s also people like Sarah Parcak, (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Sarah_Parcak), and egyptologist who specializes in using satellite technology in two ways–not just to search for sites on the ground, but also to use GPS to navigate to those sites on the ground. That process has enabled archaeologists to find new sites. That’s definitely digital archaeology. #00:37:55.4#
JG: Have you been involved in any uses of SecondLife in archaeology? #00:37:58.7#
VB: I dabbled in Second Life for a project of my own. But I found on the Discovery Channel a really innovative project in SecondLife, which was The Book of the Dead. Now we’re not just recreating a three dimensional space. #00:38:49.0#
JG: Are there any unexpected connections you’ve made through your online communication? #00:39:01.2#
VB: One thing I really haven’t talked about it Pyramid Texts Online. I’ve been contacted a lot through that website from people who are doing work in this field. For example, the Toledo Museum wanted to know if there was any way of getting high resolution images of the pyramid texts. It’s a long process of finding those hi-res images, but I did eventually find them. What I did with the site was to create a nonlinear presentation of the texts. There’s contention among Egyptologists regarding how they were originally sequenced. By putting them in a linear format in a book, you’re forcing the reader into a linear sequence. Really, the only way you effectively present them without bias is to present them in a 3-D sense. That’s how Pyramid Texts Online came about, in a two dimensional application of that idea. When you go to the site, you can read the whole north wall of the sarcophagus chamber. I recreated the wall from a photographic plate. Those photos came from an old book called the Pyramid Texts of Unas. Turns out the photos were taken in 1950 by a guy named Fred Husson. I did some research and found that he is still alive and well. I contacted him, and he didn’t have the photos, so it was back the research. Then I found that both of the people who were involved in making that book Natacha Rambova (wife of Rudolph Valentino) and Alexandre Piankoff, were born in the same year and died within a few weeks apart in 1967 before the book was finished. So it was handed over to the curator of the Brooklyn Museum at that time. So I thought, if he finished the book, the images were likely to be in the repository at the Brooklyn Museum. So I contact Shelley Bernstein, who I had the interaction with on the “monitoring the mummies” project, and asked if she could find a record of the images. A week later, she got back to me and said they had found them. It was an exciting moment to have copies of those photographs finally go back to Fred. They were recently used in a publication. #00:43:14.8#
JG: Do you use your own podcast to learn hieroglyphics? #00:43:19.2#
VB: That was the reason I created it. The vocab is the hardest thing. Eventually, you memorize all the signs and realize what they mean, but it’s another thing to know all the vocab. It’s an ongoing thing and I’m still learning. I can read basic steles and funerary inscriptions, but some of the more complicated things like pyramid texts are very difficult. We are now working to create a 3-D representation of the pyramid texts. Part of that recreation will include analysis of the texts from a variety of people, somewhat like a wiki. Each line could be translated, and then updated with additional commentary and viewpoints. The problem with a MediaWiki format is syntax, especially for the older members of the group. #00:46:45.5#
JG: Why do you think that is? Not that wikis are mind-numbingly complex, but why should you need to know any code at all to use one? #00:46:46.4#
VB: Especially with Wikipedia, you would think they would drive that forward. They did recently upgrade their interface, but it’s still not there. It’s a fantastic resource. And you have to think, who’s making these edits if it requires that kind of technical know-how. #00:47:35.2#
JG: I agree. Vincent, thanks so much for visiting with me. #00:47:41.7#
VB: Thank you, Jeff
Additional resources from Vincent:
A Tumblr page that shows his network of sites and services.
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.
Click to play:
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.
There are two types of gifts I’m always thrilled to get: those that are handmade and those that incorporate family memories. Heritage scrapbooks embrace both of these concepts, resulting in a gift your family will always treasure. It takes just a little planning and mindfulness to make your family moments last a lifetime, and beyond.
Here are a few resources to help you get started with archival materials for your scrapbook:
Scrapbook Preservation Society: The SPS mission is to collect, review, organize, and distribute science-based preservation information to the scrapbook community through the publication of preservation guidelines, informational articles, and technical papers, and through the presentation of educational programs. Check out their FAQ for a great overview on archival materials.
How to Find Your Roots has a great page on heritage scrapbooking, including resources for paper, discussions on choosing an album size and even a section on scrapbooking with kids.
When you’ve selected the best tools for the job, then the fun begins. Putting the scrapbook together as a family makes it a lot more fun and takes some of the pressure off of you. Katie Scott of Kiss and Tell Scrapbooking produces regular live video chats and actively blogs about the process of putting together scrapbooks, telling stories. She’s down-to-earth and a crafty scrapbook designer to boot!
The granddaddy list of heritage scrapbooking links can be found over at Cyndi’s List. From gathering supplies to distribution in varying formats, Cyndi has it all!
Welcome to Voices of the Past, The podcast that helps you advocate for cultural heritage through the web, I’m Jeff Guin. Today we have kind of a special show for you. Traditionally we try to promote independent bloggers who are talking about heritage online but this time, we’re actually talking about a very large governmental agency. And specifically I’m talking about the Library of Congress. Now I’m sure that you are probably aware of the Library of Congress’ partnership with Flickr and Yahoo, and sharing so much of its image catalog online. It’s been hugely popular — seen by millions of people. We’re going to examine the Flickr partnership, how it started, and what lessons the Library of Congress has learned as a result of this partnership. Now I was fortunate to be able to visit with Michelle Springer and Helena Zinkham who are heading up the Flickr efforts there. And they cover a lot of ground in this podcast. They talk about issues of policy, what it’s like to work with a social media company when you’re a large government organization, and also, among the folks who are commenting on their photos and who are contributing data, how they’re actually using that data, and getting it back into their system.
Guin: we’ll start the podcast with Michelle explaining how the Flickr partnership first came about.
Springer: We started out in early 2007 in the Office of Strategic Initiatives wanting to look at a pilot using user generated content and seeing how that might help us describe our collections. Photographs seemed a very good fit for us so we partnered with the photographs division to look at, how we might do this. Photographs are very approachable and can be appreciated at all different levels. We decided as a pilot, this would be a very good place to start. We didn’t know the outcome that it would be when we went into it. We had three goals:
We were interested in exploring how user-generated content could help both the library and users of the collections.
We also wanted to increase awareness of the photographs with the idea that not everyone might realize that the library has pictures, and so this is a way of getting the word out for that.
The third goal that we had was to gain experience using web 2.0, techniques and vendors to get an experience of how you speak, for example, in the social media environment as opposed to the more formal way the library usually communicates. So getting staff experience in swimming in those waters was a part of that.
That was how we started it and it took off like a rocket and we can’t say that we were expecting such a popular response. When we created it, it was very much a pilot. We didn’t set an end date to the pilot because we didn’t know how long it would take for us to get enough data to actually evaluate the success. Within 24 hours we had over a million views of the c
ontent. It just exploded in the blogosphere as a great idea and people were very interested in it, people really enjoyed it and I think the success, the longevity of the project over the last two years have underscored that this was a very good idea, people really like this.
Zinkham: When it comes to thinking about heritage and how it’s preserved this Flickr project with the Library of Congress — as you can imagine we’re a massive four thousand person organization, largest library in the world, but we’re also everyday human people. It turned out to be a very strong partnership between people who understand technology and the future well, like Michelle and the custodians of the physical objects or the stewards — that’s my area, the prints and photograph division. I was given the fun of picking the first two collections to put online in Flickr. And they needed to be rights free, they needed to be fully available on the Library of Congresses own web page so that what we were offering out on Flickr wasn’t exclusive in any way. We needed that technique for people to begin to talk about the pictures and with each other, not just passively read a catalog record.
It’s very much an experience that the people who come to Capitol Hill in Washington D.C. and hold the physical collections in their hands. They have always, when interacting with picture collections, come with great stories. “That’s how my grandmother spun wool or that’s how my grandfather built trucks or flew airplanes.” They also bring often us corrected and new information: “Can’t you tell that’s Akron, Ohio, and not Sioux Falls, South Dakota?” Well with so many pictures here, we haven’t looked at each one as closely as you can so we’re really quite dependent for a long time on other people coming, doing their research, telling us more. They bring their questions. It isn’t always about bringing information; sometimes it’s just sheer curiosity. “What is that sign is the window about, what does it tell you related to segregation or integration of society? What’s the identity of that person? I see one clue, does another person have a clue?” Though it was technology, future, faith, people coming to past old heritage collection — I think in the end it was a tremendously strong partnership because we knew from the way that the physical pictures were handled. So as soon as we looked at a site like Flickr you could see the kind conversations that were absolutely familiar to us whereas I think with books or some other information resource in the library, that would not necessarily have been the traditional practice. Flickr is a very good fit for the kind of experience that picture libraries have long had with their physical users and it became a forum where we could reach out to the international community of what are essentially volunteers reacting in all kinds of ways to the pictures: Your basic fan mail, “I love it, great blue sky.” Or more hardcore specialists: “See that name on the hub of the back wheel, that’s how I know it’s a 1932 such and such car opposed to a 1933.” Again, very familiar debates and conversations for us and a real privilege for us to be able to have them held in such an international form.
Guin: Ok well lets go into a little more deeply then because crowd sourcing and the concept of open data has become increasingly popular in Gov 2.0 circles but not a lot of organizations have opened up quite so much content as you have for public comment. Would you describe that process and how has it changed the way the Library of Congress interacts with the public?
Springer: Once we decided and thought this would be a good fit for the pilot that we wanted to do, we had to approach Flickr because the Library of Congress has the office copyright, and we take copyright very seriously. Their rights statement which was the default rights statement of Flickr was not appropriate for the photographs that we were going to place there so we contacted Flickr management and we explained what we wanted to do there, and they were very accommodating and we worked with a staff member who is no longer there, George Oats, who looked forward and thought “this is the kind of model where not just the Library of Congress but other institutions could possibly add photographs.” And working with our office of general counsel, as Helena referred to is a very collaborative project. Working with the office of copyright, the general counsel’s office, experts in prints and photographs and office of technology here, we approach them about different rights statement, which is the no known copyright restrictions statement, which allowed us to place our photographs and some others which is an observation about what we know about the photographs and if you look at Flickr it links back to every institution about what that means about the collections that they’ve been loading on the photographs, but that’s what allowed us to move forward with Flickr.
Guin: I think that’s interesting because here you are armed with the federal government and you have things that need to be done a certain way in the interest of open access and you’re teaching these lessons to a social media company. But at the same time, you’re learning how to engage in social media. Helena can you describe that process a little more and how you actually started to engage with folks through Flickr.
Springer: We aim to participate in Flickr as regular members — part of a community — not people bringing some great big gift or opportunity, not some special admiration session, that wasn’t a part of the goal. We really wanted to be one among many members of Flickr. But this single area of copyright was the main challenge we presented to Flickr because by in large the Flickr member is the photographer. They have a very different relationship to the photographs. We are caretakers to the collection. We’re not the creators. So we can’t say we’ll put this in the public domain or will use a particular Creative Commons type of license. So that was the one area, challenge, that we took to Flickr to say, we would like to participate, could you consider making a change. And you ask what’s it like to work with a social media company: The answer is fast, nimble, responsive, and they took our basic request for a regular account with a new rights statement and said; “hang on, what about if we open this to all kinds of institutions? Could this be a whole new category of user and participant.” And as long as the pictures are rights free as best as you can ascertain, then we can go forward. And now something more than 30 institutions from Australia, to London, to France, Canada — many people have brought tremendously strong photo collections to the table. That’s another piece of the answer, why Flickr. There are many photosharing sites. But it’s Flickr felt like a good fit to our traditional libraries and the conversations that would happen in the reading room would now happening in an online environment. It’s a very photo focused community. Yes, you can share your family pictures and such but people are thinking about the composition of the image, they’re having large discussions about how to frame and crop and mix and mash up the images, the absolute focus it’s not just a means of transferring or printing or viewing, but real conversation about the content of the pictures. That is how Flickr came to feel like a good fit for our collections.
Guin: And it really has become a model for government agencies working with web companies. Even though you’re best known for the Flickr project you actually engage in a lot of other different types of social media-type services, and I wondered Michelle if you’d be able to tell me a little bit about how those services work together in addition to the Flickr project to increase your interaction with the public.
Springer: The Library of Congress has a number of web 2.0 or social media accounts. There are two Twitter accounts that the library has, there are I believe four Facebook pages, we have three blogs that allow people to comment on the blog posts so user generated comment is available on LOC.gov in that way. In fact, the blog came first and we used the criteria we worked out for the blog to moderate the content on Flickr and that was actually another criteria, in reference to the previous question, that we could use to moderate the content that was placed on our account with a light hand but we did want to remove spam, personal attacks, some criteria like that so that we could maintain that safe account. Again it comes down to the business case, in Flickr we are definitely trying to engage the community and have them provide information back to us about the photographs. The library has an account on YouTube that’s strictly an awareness exercise so in that instance we have comments that are turned off. We’re not asking that the community tell us about those videos, we’re just placing them in a location where they are more findable and more discoverable, hopefully because the YouTube boxes are the number two search engine on the web so that provides us with an avenue to display our historical materials as well as some of the events that happen at the library where people are more likely to find it.
Guin: You are obviously very engaged on the web at work, but I know there have to be issues with creating boundaries between your personal interaction and your very public social media face with the Library of Congress. Do you have personal accounts on social media?
Springer: I do, partially because my job relates to the policies connected to social media so I have to understand Twitter, Facebook, iTunes, all of these in order to advise the library and to look at the issues that we might have as an institution participating. But an institution participates very differently than a person participates. For example on Facebook I have a profile but the institution has a page. I decide that I will friend you if you want to be my friend in Facebook but a page is open to anyone, anyone can “like” the page, and we get no personal data back from anybody on that page. There are differences, but I think it’s important, just as we talked about one of the initial goals for the Flickr project was to get sort of get your feet wet for staff in web 2.0 and how to talk in that milieu — that people have some personal experience with that. When people approach us institutionally and say,” I’d like to have a twitter account”. We ask them for a business case but we also ask what’s your experience talking in this milieu, have you written a blog post for example or if you haven’t would you do a guest post on the LOC blog just to see and sort of become familiar with the way that people talk in these types of venues oppose to our type of institutional speak?
There’s no reason that, I personally feel, that people should have to intermingle those personal and professional accounts. Facebook, you have to use as an administrator of an official account you’re still using your personal profile as an administrator, but those from the outside looking in you would never see the connection of those accounts. We’ve tried to create a very bright line between personal information, personal accounts versus their professional accounts. So although the people behind the Library of Congress Twitter account have personal accounts, they are separate from the Library of Congress accounts. And that’s true on Facebook, that’s true on Flickr. When staff respond to the commenters, Helena at LOC, Michelle at LOC, those are separate accounts than their personal accounts
Guin: Now this is very interesting to me because you talk about that “bright line,” yet so much of what goes into social media success depends on voice and authenticity. How do you make that happen if you’re trying to keep the personalities of the individuals out of the official social media channels.
Springer: When we launch institutional accounts, when there’s going to be a new Twitter account for example, it’s going be a Twitter account that is related to work, related to some business activity at the Library of Congress. We would have a class with the Office of Communications here, the office of general council, myself and others who would talk about experience that they’ve had so far and talk about the voice issue. A blog post is a different voice than the Twitter voice which is a branded account. Twitter tends to be we, while a blog is first-person voice, and what does that mean? We have three blogs present, pretty soon we’ll have some more that are in the works. For example, Jennifer Harbster and Donna Scanlon, who do the Inside Adams blog, may very well have personal blogs, personal accounts, Facebook accounts, whatever, but they don’t intermingle those two. They speak with an authentic first-person voice with the blogs posts they post but they don’t reference their personal accounts. That point gets back to the business case of why they’re doing the library accounts. It has to do with business, but that doesn’t mean they don’t bring their personal viewpoint or personal flavor.
One of the difficulties is with these social media accounts they give you system administrative access to the entire account. They’re not built as institutional accounts, they’re built for a person so it’s a little bit tricky to divide responsibilities with them in account. In Flickr, we have someone from our information technology office for example who load the photographs. That’s a completely different activity from prints and photographs who modify the content and respond to the comments. For password security and general accounts security, we didn’t want everyone into the account in all aspects to the account who might be less familiar with some parts of the account so we’ve undertaken ways and business processes to try to limit access to the master account but still be able to respond back. This also adds a little bit of personal flavor so that the people from prints and photographs that are responding to the comments for example respond from “Christi@PNP” but it has the brand mark of the Library of Congress and they’re talking about Library of Congress information. They aren’t linking back to personal accounts if they even have them. They’re speaking in a professional role and it’s that sort of delineation trying to limit access to the master account. It was a little bit better for password access and the security of the account access and for personalized voice to create those other accounts for the staff and have them talk back from their own account.
Guin: At this point I think that I should step back and acknowledge that the Library of Congress has a much larger role in the world than just this Flickr project and its social media engagement. As part of the U.S. government you really are seen as the global leader in archiving heritage. Helena what do you feel has been the impact of what the Library of Congress has been able to accomplish with that goal in general and also communicating that on the web.
Zinkham: It’s good to hear that the leadership role in visible and it’s a leadership role in two areas of course. There’s very large digital preservation programs and also lots of advice for preserving originals, photo negatives, prints, posters, books, magazines, movies. We’re dedicated to helping information resources last as long as possible while also making them accessible. When it comes to Flickr, our project is primarily about outreach and access so it helps to raise awareness and appreciation as well for the past. Based the comments that flow in still every day, many people are tripping across the pictures unexpectedly and discovering how much they enjoy that window into years long ago. We’ve loaded two collections: a set of news photographs from the 1910’s, so a century mark into the past. A very large set of color photos from the Great Depression, World War II so about 75 years ago and then a large block of color travel views. We’ll also dip into treasure views which usually are between 50 and 100 years ago. People bring to the table their own passion for the sport of polo, golfing or baseball. They love to talk about what their grandparents were doing, or their memories as a child that comes from more the octogenarians, who we can tell from the comments, people will often say things like “I printed this picture, I took it to my grandfather, and he says yes, that’s such and such building, that’s how they really flew those airplanes.” So we don’t have just awareness but a deep appreciation and affection for history and hopefully that begins to rub off on or will inspire questions. It hasn’t yet but I hope it will. How do I take care of my own pictures or how do I help my historical organization do a better job? I think the Flickr role is more built for goodwill and make it more immediately clear why the past is important to the present: because it’s interesting because it makes you think, because it helps you look twice, but it also helps you see the lessons we never quite learned. Whether it’s about war or racism or employment and labor practices, treatment of land and so the idea that 50 or 100 years ago and we’re still struggling trying to figure out fires and floods and so forth. That seems to cause people think twice about their own lives in the present.
Guin: Ok, well going back to how that concept fits into the Flickr project, I’m wondering how you engage your audience around the content and encourage the ongoing discussion that allows them to make those discoveries. I’m thinking in terms of when you post a photo, how you title it, how you describe it, tag it, those types of things.
Zinkham: Because you can interact with the pictures, you can say what you think about them instead of the traditional perhaps “museum” experience, where there a lot of the Do Not Touch labels. Going out into the social media environment is the completely the opposite. It comes with a big please do touch me, please use me and in whatever creative way you can cook up. So all so all those share buttons, blog about this, add notes, add comments, add tags, repurpose, mix up and mesh…
Springer: And Flickr help set that stage for that too. They helped us describe our photographs and the message of the Commons was very much to provide value. And one of the questions we had was would people provide altruistically information about these photographs. In traditional model tagging, you tag something so that you can find it later. Would people be interested in tagging something so that other people could find it and I think that we’ve answered that question so that was another part of the mix too.
Guin: Ok, so what’s your goal for this crowdsourced content? Is there any type of information in particular that you are looking for when you post something? What do you need from your audience?
Zinkham: There’s the general message of the Commons: please help us describe and make the pictures more findable. And then we’ve set back and let people interact however they please. So we have that general request for help. But I’m just amazed over and over again by what people think to do on their own, whether its bringing geotagging with latitude-longitude coordinates into the tag pools. The group requests, houses with porches, Canadian grain silos, pictures with blue, pictures with white, all about whales, vintage England, vintage kitchen utensils. There’s an enormous world of special interest activity, which we did not anticipate, but with every group request the pictures are channeled into other photo streams and new users come and look and you can almost feel the loops back through the special interest groups.
We did post one set of pictures where we had no idea of the places and within 48 hours, all 30 pictures had been identified. They were in some areas of Switzerland and France. We got teased about one of the pictures because it showed the Paris Opera House, which is the model for the Great Hall right here at the Jefferson building and all I could say in our defense was that we were working with 6,000 pictures this one didn’t have a caption and we just didn’t look quite long enough in order to make the connection. So there’ve been some embarrassing moments too. There are fourteen million pictures here, there is more than 30 people to work with them but that’s 30 people and 14 million pictures here, the ratio just isn’t going to work out. And so we’ve chosen consciously to digitize all 6,000 color travel views put them online. They were here for almost a decade and not one of those 30 pictures had accrued a “I know where that is” reaction, and yet when we put that set into Flickr, how primed people were to help. The guys from Switzerland passed the news around really fast and they debated with each other, “is it this bridge in France?” On their own, they know they need to say why they believe something to be true. That is one of the most impressive things that has happened. It’s not a rule, it’s not control, just good old-fashioned commonsense. They’re going to want to know and other people are going to want to know. So they will send us pictures from other libraries: “see that’s the same bridge over here in the photo from the French library is captioned.” Those are things we could have found but that would have taken hours and we don’t have that much staff time available.
And that’s a great point for the “then and now” pictures. The Flickr members have been grand. They will take a picture and go and find the spot and then photograph it and send it as a comment. The comments don’t have to be just words, they can be pictures and these then and now pairings help to see how did that building turn out today — has it been torn down, is it a landmark, has it been converted to condominiums — they’ll send the street addresses. That willingness to hunt and understand an area, it’s a lot of fun actually.
Springer: This is probably a good place to talk about in the prints and photographs catalog on the libraries website, we have added after some time we realized there was all these great reminiscences and personal history, that we wouldn’t really have incorporate that into LOC.gov but still has a lot of value so we now provide the Flickr url and additional information may be available in the record of the photograph as it appears on LOC. So you can go out to Flickr and see that thread of reminiscences. We have incorporated a lot of data for names, for surnames, descriptions. Some of this historical information stays on Flickr and so there’s a two way combination of interaction between those.
Guin: Well here’s an important concept to explore then because you have the data that you maintain on your own, the data you find and put into these photos, but you also through crowd sourcing have a lot more content coming in, some of it useful, some of it not. How do you sort through that and get it back into the Library of Congresses database for the original photos?
Zinkham: We do it by hand. There’s a crew of about 10 people in the prints and photographs division so that’s almost 25 percent of our staff and we take turns. It’s a real mix of people by the way — reference librarians, catalogers, digital library specialists. They adopt the Flickr account for one week and scroll through all the comments that come over the door sill. So if it’s fan mail, that’s great. We don’t always need to respond. Sometimes there’ll be a particular question asked to us. They might see a question and step in to say if you’re interested in that kind of subject we also have additional materials so you can be proactive about pointing people to in depth resources. But for folks who are saying it’s a different street, a different name, a different date going beyond the telling of a story and “now” pairing of a photo. They take the information and the Flickr community almost always provides a link that makes it easier for you to verify. So if a descendent of Jay Gould says “that’s not my grandfather, that’s my great uncle and here’s how I know,” we can follow that link and in this case it wasn’t a particular physical portrait it was more the birth and death dates in the obituary and the guessing of the age of the man in the scene. So we also then checked on our own portrait file to see how many Jay Gould’s we have and sure enough the name on the glass negative on the news photos had gotten mixed up. We straightened it out and credit the Flickr community as the source for the new information. It’s a sifting through, finding the changes that will make a substance of difference in the basic identification of the image, and then we spend some time verifying. We’ll go in by hand and edit our records.
Guin: Well now I’m even more impressed because I assumed there is some level of automation there, I didn’t realize that there was a staff member from the Library of Congress going back and reviewing all of those changes for the inclusion of that information back in the database. Moving on a bit, I wonder if you have any tips for people or organizations on how they could use your Flickr media on their own websites, or their social outlets and can you give me some examples of some creative uses of these photos that are out there.
Zinkham: We have plenty of examples of special interest groups or blogs, newspapers, podcasts, webcasts coming across the Flickr pictures, whether they came across them in a basic Google search or were inside of Flickr themselves. They might be writing about paper recycling. So they’ll dip in for a World War II photo about their recycling efforts during the war and the past used to illustrate the importance of continuing the efforts for today. So that published illustration use seems to be going on strong. We’ve talked sometimes within the Commons that sometimes institutions have portions of collections, so I would imagine for example with the Civil War in the United States, many of us would probably load our holdings and then there might begin to be more overlap. The Smithsonian and the Library of Congress partnered up for Western survey exploration photos from the 1870’s to 1880’s We’ve had an across-the-Commons effort for international women’s day, for what we call in the United States, Veterans day, Remembrance day. So there have been some efforts to collaborate in that way. But I guess the bottom line message would be if someone anyone finds any of the pictures useful then please, go ahead and use them.
Guin: Well continuing on that line of thought I’m wondering if you have any people or heritage organizations that are planning to use photo sharing as part of their own social media strategy.
Zinkham: The very first thing is to be clear about the reason for participating. Is it to build awareness, gather good will, to collect information, to acquire new pictures for your collection? There can be so many different purposes. It gets confusing and it can be counterproductive. It takes the prints and photographs division anywhere between 8 and 15 hours every week to moderate the count updates of records. When we look at the institutional-wide investments, including everything from policy decision making time to actually loading the photos in the technology area it floats between 10 and 20 hours a week. That’s a way of saying it’s a serious level of investment and you don’t want to just put the pictures out there and let them sit. It’s a garden to tend; you need to water it for it to flourish. The point is to interact. Awareness is good but sometimes you need to be ready to have special themes or a challenge to send in photos. The Flickr bloggers do that beautifully. Challenge people to find pictures related to a particular theme and then react to them. Not as difficult as a homework assignment but not as frivolous as find me every hat with a feather. Just being prepared to step in and encourage the engagement. That’s a part of being a real person not being some big imposing institution. You’re not there to control it but you’re there to participate. It’s not a lot of rules about don’t say this, don’t do that. It’s open to everyone’s creativity to bring to the table and then sometimes you want to be ready to stir the pot.
Guin: Helena I think you touch on an important reason why so many people have responded so favorably to this project. We don’t usually associate government with the concepts of either listening or stirring the pot. Michelle what do you have to say about that?
Springer: There is a lot more movement in the government towards the open data movement — to make information sharable, to make it portable. So I think it’s continuing. We happen to be at the beginning of the bell curve on this but I’ll just add a few more things to what culture heritage institutions should look at: Talk to your lawyer, that’s one of the first parts. Look at the terms of service. Sometimes its easy for institutions and people on personal accounts click through that user agreement and say yes I’ll create that account but often you don’t really read it and you don’t really notice the policies. If you’re doing this on behalf of an institution you’re going to have to look at those terms of service with different eyes than you do as an individual. Also be aware of the rights statement, the default all rights reserved. Is that appropriate for the content you’re placing? Some institutions place current photographs of events that took place at their institution. That’s a totally different model than historical photographs from their collections.
Look at what it is that you are trying to do. The resources that Helena talked about, part of the message about that is that’s a measure of engagement. A lot of time is spent because people are so engaged with our photographs. You can really look like that as a measure of success, not just as a resource requirement because if people weren’t engaging and sending us information and we didn’t have new content all the time that we didn’t have to moderate then our resource requirements would go down in the time. It won’t be that level for everyone because of that level of engagement is very high for the Library of Congress account. One of the things that feeds that is the fact that so many Flickr members (I think it’s over 17 thousand now) have made us a contact. So every time we load new photos, it automatically loads in their personal accounts and say “oh, I should come back to the Library of Congress and see those new photographs. It’s kind of self perpetuating. You want people to make you a contact so we have these other ways of sort of getting the word out when we load new content. But because the Library of Congress has the most photographs of any participating institution in Flickr, we have a lot of photographs embedded in Flickr throughout various groups and whatnot. People come across them serendipitously not just by coming to the Library of Congress account, and that leads them back and they discover more. That’s kind of that trial.
Guin: That’s the social medium trail of breadcrumbs. So what are the lessons to be learned from this project?
Springer: We learned by doing. We started out not sure about groups. What’s the time investment if we agree to groups requests and what does that mean to accept a group. Once we became more comfortable and understood what that meant, we accept group requests now for public groups, safe groups. You don’t have to have absolutely everything thought-out in the beginning when you start. I think we certainly learned by doing. One of the things is we do a lot of presentations about this project, and at the end of the presentation we often have a benefits and challenges list. One of the challenges is the comfort of releasing the photographs into the wild as it were. In Flickr, if you allow tagging in your photographs you have to allow notes. Notes are annotations that are actually made on the photo. There are differing levels of comfort about that. It can sometimes be wonderfully beneficial when you have tiny little text, someone will point out in a large crowd scene, “there’s President Taft,” or when you have cars going down the street and someone will transcribe all of those signs on the street corner and all of the signs that are on the placards. You may also attract snarky humor and some people are not comfortable with that. You don’t have that ability to turn that functionality off without turning off tagging and tagging is a really important part of this project for us, at least for our model. Also another thing we didn’t quite mention is that all of that extra metadata that the users are adding: that adds weight in all of the search engines. The same photograph on Flickr will come up higher in the search results than it will come up on the Library of Congresses version of the photograph–sometimes by several pages. We encourage all of that metadata and the comfort of that caution level, being aware that that is going to occur. When you’ve said yes to one thing you’ve said yes to another. We pretty much have our settings as open as they can be. You can blog about, you can print out, you can make copies, you can do all of these various things on our account. But not everyone and every institution will be comfortable with those settings, and you’re not required. You have to think about that as you kind of evaluate what you want to do.
Guin: Michelle and Helena, I appreciate you doing the podcast. Amazing stuff, it was good talking to you.
That was Michelle Springer and Helena Zinkham. If you’d like to learn more about their efforts involving social media and the Flickr project at the Library of Congress you can learn more about it at our show notes site. That’s voicesofthepast.org. There you’ll find a transcript of this interview and several others we’ve done with folks in the heritage field using social media to make a difference in their worlds. That’s it for this edition of the Voices of the Past podcast. Until next time, we’ll see you online.
It has been said by many that photos say a thousand words. But now, thanks to photo sharing sites, photography has the power to unite people across cultures and throughout time.
There are many different photo sharing sites out there, such as Photobucket, SmugMug, dotPhoto and Webshots. All of which have individual aspects to them that aid in your organization’s ability to share and express ideas. But for the purpose of this post, we are going to focus on the popular site, Flickr.
Flickr is an image-hosting and video-hosting website, web services suite, and online community created by Ludicorp and later acquired by Yahoo!. Hosting more than four billion images, Flickr is ideal for you to begin your photo-based heritage-related conversation.
Flickr enables you to share your photo’s story in many ways such as:
Title: Your photo’s title is important. It tells readers immediately what your photo is about. Did you host an event or do you want to address an important heritage topic?
Captions: Titles are wonderful, but this is where you get to begin the conversation. Captions can be as simple as identify who or what is in your photo to asking those difficult questions.
Add people to your photos: Just like you would “tag” your friends in your Facebook pictures, here you can “add” them. (In Flickr, tag means a little something different that we will address in a minute). Adding your friends to photos lets them know they are in them and helps you organize your photos.
Tags: This is how people FIND your photos. You can add a title and caption, but the conversation can’t happen if folks can’t find you. Tags can be as specific or as general as you would like, but don’t over tag! You want to make sure everything you tag is relevant.
Favorites: This helps you remember photos you like throughout Flickr. While you are searching and participating in photo-based conversations, you can “favorite” a photo to save for later. You can access your favorite photos from your photo stream (and other’s can access YOUR photos that they “favorited” from theirs too!!)
Sets or Collections: This works much like categories in a blog. This is your table of contents and helps you organize your photos in a way you and others can find them. The way it works is sets fit into collections. So let’s say you take photos at three events. Each event would have its own set holding the select photos from that specific event. Then you can put all three sets into a collection. Perhaps the collection is titled “events” and so all of your event sets would go there. This just helps viewers find photos they want to see instead of digging through all of your pictures.
Now adding and sharing your photos can be as simple or complex as you would like. You can upload photos using your phone, through email, from your web browser or from Flickr’s desktop app. You just need to decide what is best for you and your organization.
Now once you have done all this, you can participate with everyone on Flickr through groups and galleries and MORE! It is about finding where you want your heritage organization’s voice to be heard. Perhaps you want to participate in The Commons and explore snapshots through time with organizations like the Smithsonian and Cornell University.
Or perhaps you want to be more place-based. You want to work with individuals around you and share your photos. With Flickr Places, you can look at your photos on Flickr maps and view your area.
Or you want to take it a step farther and take your place-based photos and compare the old with the new like the Flickr group Looking into the Past. Here, folks take old pictures and “merge” them with photos of what the places look like now to show the contrast and growth and history.
Or maybe you want to take it one step farther and add animation to your pictures. Like Flickr user The Surveyor, you want to take the comparison one step farther.
When you are on Flickr, there is a WORLD for you to explore. But before you do it, you need to get your camera out, dig through old photos and get them up there. Because the conversation begins with you!
Have fun and stay tuned to hear how other organizations are using Flickr!
Confused about social media?Don’t know where to start? For the last two years, I’ve been hunting down great projects in and outside of museums that exemplify the themes of visitor participation, user-generated content, and flexible relationships between institutions and visitors.Here are some of my favorite museum projects that represent interesting, thoughtful experiments with Web 2.0:
The Bay Area Discovery Museum: A Lesson in Good Listening
You don’t need a big initiative to get involved with social media—you just need ears and a voice to add to conversations that are already happening.Jennifer Caleshu, head of marketing for a small children’s museum, is an active participant in local Web 2.0 parenting and recreational sites like Yelp!, and developed relationships in those online communities to build strong relationships with current and potential visitors.She recently started a blog for the museum, but her best work is in listening to what others are saying about her institution.She describes her social media strategy here on the excellent Museum Audience Insight blog maintained by Reach Advisors.
MN150: A Visitor-Generated History Exhibition
The Minnesota Historical Society developed an innovative permanent exhibition featuring the 150 most important contributions of Minnesota as nominated by regular people.Read an interview with the lead developer of MN150 here.
The Brooklyn Museum is a leader in innovative social media initiatives, from the creation of Facebook applications to crowd-curated exhibits and a “posse” collection-tagging project.You can read three articles about their initiatives here or visit their community site here.
When the Library of Congress put some of their photo collection on the photo-sharing site Flickr, it opened up whole new conversations and interpretations of their content.Read more about it here.
ExhibitFiles is a social networking website for people who make and visit exhibitions.It is a living database of exhibit case studies and reviews and is useful for anyone looking for best practices in the field.
For the last few years, the terms “web 2.0” and “social media” have been used for nearly anything new and interactive on the internet. Since Voices of the Past and sites like it integrate many basic social media tools, let’s take the time to consider the concept of social media and its potential to advance heritage preservation.
Core to this connectedness is the idea of community and how it’s being redefined. For example, the purpose of Voices of the Past is to inspire connections to heritage values using new media. You don’t have to have lots of money, a Ph.D., or be a credentialed preservationist to view the site or interact with it. It doesn’t matter where you live either. If you care about heritage, you belong here.
The accessible nature of social media tools, coupled with the relative anonymity of the web, levels the playing field for discussion. This takes away some of the fear of saying the wrong thing and allows people of many different backgrounds to interact as peers.
Social media comes in a variety of flavors. Some of these tools—like forums and message boards—you may already be familiar with. Others, like photo sharing (Flickr), video sharing (YouTube), wall posts (FaceBook), blogs (WordPress), music sharing (iTunes), and internet telephony (Skype), may be new.
When you visit the a site like Facebook or MySpace, what you’re seeing is a form of social media called a “social network.” Essentially, it brings social media tools together on the same web page. The efficiency of social networks is leading to an explosion in their popularity. The combined worldwide user base of MySpace and Facebook roughly equals the population of the United States.
So how’s this different from the web we used to know? For one thing, you’re no longer just reading the company line. The web is now instantly interactive with the potential for infinite conversation on any given topic. It’s like the old gossip fence, except your neighbor is potentially anyone in the world.
What’s been the reason preservation and heritage issues have been so hard to communicate? It’s because they, like politics, are traditionally local. And while probably nothing will ever most people care who’s the state representative for Burning Moscow, Nev., you very well may throw in with an online group that is fired up about preserving the Old West mines there.
So, your worldview isn’t just limited to your place of residence anymore. With social media, your interests can help define your social responsibility in the realm of heritage values. Explore and enjoy!
Tropical storms and other flood events are often termed disasters because of injuries, fatalities and the destruction of homes and businesses. Part of the disaster is the loss of family heirlooms.
“I am saddened by the stories of people who have lost so much from floods and storms,” said National Park Service Director Mary A. Bomar. “We learn about their stories of survival in the news but also hear about damage to a lifetime of memories – the loss of personal heirlooms is devastating.”
Director Bomar said, “The National Park Service has been at the forefront in the effort to save, preserve and protect America’s treasures for nearly a century. We have tips available from our conservation and preservation experts for people who will be able to save family heirlooms before disaster strikes. And we have tips for how to deal with flood-damaged items.”
The National Park Service, along with other members of the Heritage Emergency National Task Force, produced a public service announcement video to help families. It is available on-line.
Preparation before flooding:
Avoid storing family heirlooms in the basement, which is likely to flood.
Evacuate heirlooms, such as family photo albums, when possible–otherwise, place in closets or rooms without windows on upper floors.
Response and recovery after flooding:
Even if they are completely soaked, family treasures can probably be saved, if they are not contaminated with sewage or chemicals. Work on high priority items first.
Freeze books, paper, textiles, and most photographs that cannot be cleaned and dried within 48 hours to prevent mold. Interleave with freezer or waxed paper, if possible. Consult a conservator before freezing metal, plate glass, paintings, some photographs, and furniture.
Photographs: Rinse with cool, clean water, as necessary. Hang with clips on non-image areas or lay flat on absorbent paper.
Books: If rinsing is necessary, hold book closed. If partially wet or damp, stand on top or bottom edge with cover open to 90-degree angle and air dry.
Paper: Air dry flat as individual sheets or small piles up to 1/4″. Interleave with paper and replace interleaving when damp. Do not unfold/separate individual wet sheets.
Textiles: Rinse, drain and blot with clean towels/cotton sheets. Block and shape to original form. Air dry using air conditioning/fans. Do not unfold delicate fabrics. Do not stack wet textiles.
Furniture: Rinse/sponge surfaces gently to clean. Blot. Air dry slowly. If paint is blistered or flaking, air dry slowly without removing dirt or moisture. Hold veneer in place with weights while drying. Separate the weights from the veneer with a protective layer. Upholstery: Rinse. Remove separate pieces, such as cushions and removable seats. Wrap in cloth to air dry and replace cloth when damp.
Framed paintings: Carefully remove from frames in dry area. Keep paintings horizontal, paint side up, elevated on blocks. Avoid direct sunlight.
Framed art on paper or photographs with glass fronts: Remove from frames, unless art is stuck to glass. Dry slowly, image-side up with nothing touching the image surface. If art sticks to glass, leave it in frame and dry glass-side down.