Tag Archives: museum

Social Networking for Conservators

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Many in the heritage industry are embracing social media as a means of connecting to the public, and one another, there are a small, but growing, number of conservators who have joined in this communication explosion. Sadly the conservation profession as a whole remains somewhat wary of embracing social media. Though not to be downhearted there are many individuals, and small groups, who have a clear grasp of the fundamental nature of web 2.0 and have been flying the flag for conservation, developing what can legitimately be called a ‘conservation cyberspace’, it is a few of those projects that I shall highlight here.

Dan’s favorite approaches to social media by conservators

Facebook

It appears that the most widely used social media platform by conservators is facebook. This site boasts a huge range of groups that are associated with conservation issues; whether they are extensions of professional organizations such as International Institute for Conservation (IIC), or, non-aligned groups such as the highly successful Art Conservation Advocates, these types of groups seem to specialize in posting lots of interesting news stories, which in many ways is a continuation of the older broadcast method of ‘outreach’, in addition Art Conservation Advocates posts information such as; job postings, internship postings, conference calls, and such like. I particularly appreciate the idea behind this group as advocacy is something that social media can be a useful tool for. I’m not normally one for selling things and advertising, however, I’ll make an exception for one of my favourite crafty conservation-themed groups on facebook, the Inherent Vice Squad, who also have a website and blog, they use social media to help market their unique and popular products to the conservation community. These products are all a lot of fun, and I doubt many conservators would have ever heard of them had it not been for social media.

Twitter and Paper.li

The number of conservators, and conservation labs, on twitter continues to increase at a slow but steady pace. I’ve found it a useful means of quickly seeking answers, and for sharing interesting stories. However, I do find that keeping up with an ever increasing number of people is too time consuming for my busy schedule. Therefore, I have been quite intrigued by what I think is one of the most interesting things to come out of twitter recently; paper.li. This site allows you to set up a daily newspaper-like feed of either yours, or, a list of tweets that you follow. I may be wrong, but I believe amongst conservators Richard McCoy (Associate Conservator at the IMA) was the first to start up such a daily newspaper, his is entitled Art Conservation Daily. This is a great new way to interact with tweets.

Wiki’s

I think wiki’s might be the most significant development in social media for the professional conservation field. In many ways the wiki as a website has become synonymous with its most famous exponent – the online encyclopedia Wikipedia. To which there are a growing number of entries that are concerned with conservation, and I would continue to encourage conservators to use and add to this online encyclopedia. Wikipedia also hosts numerous projects to develop content, including Wikipedia Saves Public Art, which is
probably the first explicitly conservation themed project, providing a workable model for documenting works of art in the public sphere.

However, Wikipedia is not the only use of Wiki’s within the conservation field. Wiki’s have been shown to be a useful method of sharing information pertaining to testing specific products, with the Pemulen TR2 Wiki being an excellent example. This wiki was developed by Nancie Ravenel who also developed the Social Media 4 Collections Care Wiki, based on her presentation: “Technology and Social Media for Collections Care”, for the Institute for Museum and Library Services (IMLS) Connecting to Collections forum, June 17, 2009, Buffalo, NY. This is a great wiki that provides an ongoing bibliography concerning social media within the conservation, collections care field.

Blogs:

As a blogger I don’t really want to get into ranking blogs, however, there is one blog worth a special mention for the sheer number of fantastic free online resources that the blog has located and made available in one location for the profession, and that is: Art Conservation Research.

Podcasts:

I’m very excited by Minding the Museum, which is a new museum conservation podcast website. It has only had one issue out so far, but it is a site I’ll be keeping an eye on to see how it develops. The website itself doesn’t strictly speaking fall within the realm of social media, in that it is distinctly lacking in interactivity, however, it is likely that podcasts will be shared, posted, forwarded, and discussed on any number of other
platforms.

What’s Missing?

The one major thing that is missing is a website that uses Web 2.0 for something “more” in much the way Voices of the Past does for the wider Heritage field. At the moment I don’t feel there is enough interest amongst conservators to develop such a site, and there certainly isn’t institutional support for such a project. Yet I can’t help thinking it won’t be long before we see something of it’s kind.

So, those were some of my favorite social media sites that represent conservation cyberspace, what do you think of them, and what are your favorites?

Photo teaser elements courtesy of Dan Cull and luc legay on Flickr

Audio Podcast: Jennifer Souers Chevraux on the role of museums on the social web

Coming up on this edition of the Voices of the Past podcast, we’ll explore the role of museums on the social web.

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Intro: And welcome to Voices of the Past. The podcast that helps you use the web to advocate for the preservation of cultural heritage. I’m Jeff Guin and today we’re going to join Bethany Frank as she interviews Jennifer Souers Chevraux of the blog MuseoBlogger. Now Jennifer helps museums and cultural organizations engage their audiences by developing compelling experiences and using new media to cultivate a new generation of patrons. Here’s that interview.

Frank: Hey Jennifer, thanks so much for joining us for the podcast.

Chevraux: Hi, glad to be here.

Frank: So, to go ahead and get started. How did you get involved with museums?

Chevraux: When I was in undergrad, I volunteered at a couple of museums because I was an art history and anthropology major, so it made sense to go to both of those museums. And that was the only access I had to artifacts and original artwork. So I volunteered there, and I thought that it may be something that I would want to do. And then my first job out of college, I worked for a traveling museum on a train. It’s called the Art Train, still in existence, and I worked with them. And being on the train and working there wasn’t exactly your typical museum experience. So then I thought maybe it wasn’t what I wanted to do. But I tried archeology, that’s what I went to graduate school in. And then I tried teaching, which I did like, but I kind of wanted everyday to be a little bit different. And so I went back to museum work. Kind of went through the back door deciding that this was a good way for me to work in a place where I got a little bit of education, a little bit of working with artifacts, a little bit of outreach and talking with the public and volunteer training. I got all of that, and everybody thought my job was really cool.

Frank: Wonderful. So could you go ahead and tell us some about Illumine Creative Solutions?

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Chevraux: Illumine Creative Solutions, that is my consulting business that I have. What happened is, I was on staff at several different museums. At the time that I founded Illumine Creative Solutions, I was on staff as the director of exhibits at the Cleveland Museum of Natural History, and I was pregnant with my first baby. And I was working about, I would say, averaging 50 hours a week, sometimes 60 hours a week. And realized that I didn’t really think that was going to jive so well with motherhood. So it came to pass that I had the opportunity to help another smaller museum here in Cleveland with a project they were doing while I was still on staff with the Natural History Museum. And it was really a great opportunity to come into a place that didn’t really have an exhibit instructor. They needed some new ideas and a fresh approach, and so they reached out to a colleague of mine who said, “You should talk to Jennifer.” And I was doing this project, and it really seemed that I could balance that with my job that I already had with the Cleveland Museum of Natural History, and so I thought that maybe I could balance some consulting work with being a mom too. And pretty soon, people started calling me. My phone was ringing for other projects saying, “Well now that you don’t work at the Natural History Museum, can you help us with this project? Would you have time to do this?” And so it kind of blossomed that way. So now, i do for museums what I used to do on staff. I do on a project basis.

Frank: You mentioned that you got into museums because you wanted each day to be different. So what all would a general week pertain for what you do?

Chevraux: I generally work about three days a week. I dedicate two days to my kids and going to museums and orchestra performances and fun things they want to do. Spending time being a museum consumer, and a consumer of cultural events and organizations and living history places. Because they love that, and that gives me the opportunity to see it from the visitors perspective. And then the other days, I am working on projects. Some of what I do is helping museums engage audiences, and I do some visitor evaluation and project/program evaluation. I’ve helped some nonprofit clients, who are not museums with grant support because they don’t have as large of a staff. Often they are only two people, and they get snowed under. And so I help them put together surveys and assessments and help them show that the programs that they are doing are reaching people in a meaningful way. And meeting their missions. And I do that with museums too. And so any given week, I could be putting together an exhibition working on developing a traveling exhibition program, which I am doing right now with a museum. I am working with an artist to put together a traveling retrospective exhibit of his work that’s going to go to museums. So I am reaching out to some of my museum clients and colleagues to see if we can form good partnerships for that. It’s very diverse, and it makes me feel like I still get to contribute to the field that means so much to me. And  I get to also balance that with enjoying museums and historical centers with my kids.

Frank: So, what role does your blog play with all of this?

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Jennifer Chevraux and daughter

Chevraux: I started my blog not really knowing where it was going to lead. Once my daughter was born, I realized I wouldn’t do nearly as much writing as I did as director of exhibits, when I was putting together exhibits and having to write text and interpretive panels. And I wanted to keep my skills sharp, so I started a personal blog. And then I realized quickly that I didn’t have enough that I thought anybody would want to say. And about a year later, I thought, “Now I really want a place to say things that normally, on staff, I would say to colleagues.” Conversations we would have. Discussions we would have. Things that I would encounter with my work with clients. Things that would come up and I would have something that I wanted to say about that, but instead of coming home or coming back to an office with a museum where I had lots of colleagues were we could talk about that, I would come to my house and nobody really wanted to talk about my day job. So I needed a place that even when nobody was listening, I could pour out my perspective on certain issues that came up. So I started my job to sort of give me a place to not vent, but share. Because I had all these things in my head, and I no longer had a director of exhibits or director of education or a marketing director, where I could go in a say, “What do you think about this?” And the MuseoBlogger site that I have, gives me that opportunity. And then I realized that it didn’t take long before a lot of my clients and my former colleagues and people that I knew through the Ohio Museum Association were following me, and then I would get these emails from them saying, “Oh, I really liked your perspective about this, I really liked what you had to say.” And it was funny to me because I didn’t realize that they were reading it. It’s definitely allowed me to make new connections that I never would have expected.

Frank: What all goes into creating your blog?

Chevraux: My blog is not museum specific, I would say, although most of what I put in there has to do with museum work. Some of it has to do with just cultural organizations and the challenges that they face today. The world changes so quickly that I think sometimes museums have that institutional glacier effect, where we hear about something that we want to change…orchestras, operas, all those organizations, they are very traditional. And they have traditional boards and traditional constituencies, and so when all of a sudden something like Twitter comes along, “Ooo! Twitter! Ooo! What’s that? Let’s get on that!” And they don’t know who in their organization is going to be that person. Or “Oh! There is all this social media, we should have marketing do it!” And marketing says, “But we’re already doing so much. We don’t really have time for anything.” But I think my blog gave me an opportunity to say from the outside, some observations I thought would help them keep in touch with the average person. Because sometimes, I think, they are looking at a constituency that’s no longer average.

Frank: And so, in your blog you discuss the future of museums. Can you explain to me where you see museums going in the next so many years?

Chevraux: That’s a tough question because I think there’s the place that I would like to see them going, and then the place some of them are going to end up. I think museums are coming to a crossroads where they’ll have to decide who they are going to be in the future and is that who they’ve always been. I think some museums will dare to reinvent themselves the way they do their own business. in terms of the way they meet visitor expectations. They way they reach people. Maybe even the way that they staff museums. And then certainly the way that they find funding. I think some museums will resist the change and become more and more disconnect with their own communities. Because the community is changing. It is no longer just wealthy while industrialists who are looking for the Andrew Carnegie approach to funding a worthy adventure. We don’t have any of those people anymore. And when you look at what Bill Gates funds, he isn’t just making a museum anymore. He’s funding human rights projects or world health projects. And museums can’t be the ones who are missing out at the table. They need to look at their sustainability and find a way within their own communities to become sustainable. And I hope that that means they’re going to become more visitor focused. And it’s a delicate balance. When you have collections of historic artifacts, you have to be collections focused. You have an academic curatorial staff. You have to be focused on their needs and their important research. But all of that has to be balanced very carefully with what people in your community expect from you. What do they need from you. And if you are always answering that question the way that we answered it 20 to 25 years ago, pretty soon you become irrelevant to a large selection of your constituency.

Frank: How do you think social media plays into this and into museum’s futures?

Chevraux: I think social media is a wonderful way for little expense. I say that accepting that you probably need to have a staffer these days just dedicated to it. But I think it’s relatively inexpensive compared to traditional media for having constant access to your potential visitors and your museum members and funding base. It’s like having your own TV station in your museum. You might not be able to constantly broadcast a visual image, but you can continuously broadcast events, upcoming activities and programs. You can tell your audience and your community and even your funders, if you’re here (I’m in Cleveland), the Cleveland Foundation is on Twitter. If you put something up there and they’re following you, which they do for most of the museums and nonprofit organizations that they support. They want to know that you’re out there. They hear about the good work you’re doing. How wonderful is that? You didn’t have to put a stamp on anything. They get it right away, and I think you’re constantly in touch. Now, they might not be watching at the very moment that you post that, and that happens. People turn off their TV too. But I think, in a general sense, it gives you a constant access to those people who could potentially be your visitors and patrons.

Frank: Speaking of patrons, in what ways do you use new media to cultivate the next generation of enthusiastic patrons?

BW meChevraux: The web has become the go-to resource for so many people in today’s culture that it’s a first stop for people. They no longer check their mail to see if they got a recent museum publication. They’re not looking for the museum magazine or the latest newsletter in their mail. If they want to know what’s going on with the museum, they click on the museum’s website and hope that there’s an updated calendar. This is a little note to all museums: make sure your calendar is up to date. Because that is where people go. And I think that today, helping museums understand their visitors behavior and propensities just by looking at their own. I was talking to a museum colleague a few weeks ago who works at a small decorative arts museum at an historic home, and we were talking about how we tend to go to Wikipedia. And sometimes that’s a bad thing because we go there first, and we take that information and we don’t want to internalize it too much. And how we were looking for an answer about when something was coming, and the first thing we went to was that particular website. And then she said, “You know, this makes me think that I need to make sure that our calendar is up to date.” And that’s one of those things, sometimes, that I think there’s a disconnect: between the way people use the web themselves and the way their websites for their museums or their cultural organizations are kept. If yours wouldn’t make sense to you or you were frustrated because it wasn’t up to date or it didn’t have enough content on it, then maybe you need to take a hard look at who else is using it. And maybe you need to make sure that it is giving you lots of good content, and that it is completely fresh.

Frank: You mentioned in your Lent post different things museums could do with their exhibits to make themselves become more relevant. What kind of things can they do?

Chevraux: I like to go to a museum and wander through the exhibits and feel like I’m not being bombarded by information all the time. It’s like a nice space where you feel comfortable and you can learn at your own pace. At the same time, if they’re doing a good job in an exhibition of getting your creative juices flowing or getting you to think about a particular topic. It also then seems logical to have someplace in the exhibition where you can tap into those creative juices or that stimulation you’ve created with your visitors. And allow them to share that. So, whether it’s just a suggestion box in the end or it’s something that’s using media or it’s encouraging them to tweet about what they’ve learned. Just giving visitors a way to feel that their impressions of the exhibition are relevant and important to the institution. People today have become very focused on themselves. Not in a negative way, but they want to know, “What does this mean to me? This Mastodon is very fascinating, but why should I care about it?” The exhibition needs to at first relate that somehow to the person’s own experience. Perhaps we talk about climate change and extinction, and relate that back to something that a person cares about in today’s world. Once you’ve made that connection, perhaps it would be nice to maybe share that meaning that you’ve created for them in a way back to the institution. Nina Simon does a great job in her recent book talking about how participatory experiences shouldn’t go just from the museum down to the individual, but the best experiences come back to the institution. And then they can even be shared with future visitors. That’s a wonderful way for the individual to feel important in a space where you are telling them that everything around them that belongs to the museum is important.

Frank: We can see in your blog ways that museums are engaging with new media and national events, like the Super Bowl and things like that. What other ways are people doing this and why is it beneficial?

Chevraux: I would say that anytime a museum takes itself a little bit less seriously and can share that with their communities, it’s never a bad thing. And I think that one of the things that we need to understand about today is that so few people go to work in a three-piece suit anymore. Ladies don’t wear gloves, men don’t wear hats, and a lot of these museums were built and their programs were built during times when people did all of those very formal things. And museums are slow to come around to the idea that we don’t have to be so buttoned up and look quite so self important to be important. And in fact, when you let your guard down a little bit, and you make a bet like the New Orleans Museum of Art did with the Indianapolis Museum of Art, which I think is what you are talking about, I put that on my blog. I thought it was wonderful. They tweeted about this and they got this wonderful bet going that they were going to basically two pieces of fine art were wagered, if you will, between these two institutions based on who would win the Super Bowl. All of a sudden it went viral, and everybody thought, “How fun is that?” And it’s art museum based. I mean, how many people who care so much about the NFL ever cared that much about those two fine arts institutions. Maybe a lot of them do, I love art museums myself, and I also happen to love NFL football, which maybe is why it struck me as so much fun. But I think that there were a lot of people on both sides of that coin who thought that was a really great way to show that they live in the same world as the rest of us. Here in Cleveland, the Cleveland Museum of Art is a very find institution with a remarkable collection, and when our Cleveland Cavaliers were in the NBA playoff, they put “Go Cavs” banners on the very front of their building where they usually have these beautiful banners that say, “free.” Because we are very lucky here that our institution is free and open to the public. But also, they took that opportunity to be a little less serious, and they took down those banners, and they put up these “Go Cavs” banners, huge banners, on the front of their building. Because I think that it gave them the opportunity to say to our community, “We live here too. We want them to win too.” And in fact the orchestra, which is very fine here, but of course plays to a very much higher brow crowd, they actually did a promotional web video for the Cavaliers as well. And it was great from my perspective to see that because it said, “We understand that not all of our people here in Cleveland are regular orchestra members. Some of them are just Cavs fans. Some of them love the Browns. And we live here too.”

Frank: So as you’ve said before, you have a presence on Facebook and Linkedin. Where else are you, and why did you chose to use those mediums?

flowerChevraux: I have a Facebook page for my business, Illumine Creative Solutions. Although I will say I don’t have a whole lot of really exciting content on it. And that’s my fault just because I’ve gotten busy with just the blog and other things. And usually what I do is I use it as one more venue to post what I recently put up on my blog. So, and every now and then I update it saying what I’m up to. But it’s nice because that let’s people that I know outside of my professional circle know what I’m doing in my work because they think that working for a museum must be the most fascinating thing. And I also have, of course I use LinkedIn, and I think most people do these days, which is great. At the very beginning when I had a LinkedIn account, I had no idea what I would use it for. But now I use it a lot. So it’s linked to my Twitter, so when I put something on there that I am working on professionally, it shows up on my Twitter account. And then I also, I have to admit, am a newbie on FourSquare. I have FourSquare, and I sometimes check in, but I have to say, a lot of times I forget. I’ve gone to a cool place, and I realize, “Oh! I’m in the parking lot. Oh! I should have checked in while I was at the art museum. Or I should have checked in when I was at the Cleveland Clinic doing something. Or Oh Man! I was just in a really cool place that does FourSquare, and I should have clicked.” So I have yet to really make that a part of my presence if you will. And as I said, I have website, and it’s just about to be redone and relaunched, and it will be up in the next couple of weeks.

Frank: What is FourSquare?

Chevraux: FourSquare is kind of Twitter meets your GPS. When you go somewhere, you have the application on your phone, and you click on it and you tell your followers and friends where you are. So if I go to Chipotle for a burrito, I can “check in.” And it says, “I’m here, and if anybody else in my circle is around and wants to have lunch, I’m here.” And it also keeps track of where you’ve gone. And so it sort of makes that human connection between Twitter, which is “let’s communicate with all these people out in cyberspace” to now “They are in our building, let’s engage them in a meaningful way.” You know that they are there because they’ve just checked in. And people can get badges and even become the mayor of the place. So for example, because I used to work at the Natural History Museum, I go there a lot with my kids. I enjoy it so much. And I could probably be the mayor of the Natural History Museum just if I checked in every time I went there. The person that checks in the most would get to become the mayor until someone else checked in more than they did. But I would certainly earn my badge. If museums or other heritage sites that are looking at this haven’t checked out FourSquare yet, I would say check it out. Because it is sort of that step between having people know you in the virtual world and bringing them into your world on site, which is what all of us are hoping social media will do for our organizations.

Frank: So what is your advice for folks wanting to get involved with new media to promote their heritage organization or communicate their own personal heritage ideas?

Chevraux: I have a couple of things. I would say, one of the easiest things to do if they haven’t yet done the Facebook page or if their Facebook page is lacking, is to just do that because I think that that’s the largest low-hanging fruit audience out there. People will “like” you virtually just to add you to their circle. Just because they want to see your updates. And then all of a sudden you’re getting all of these people who never really knew what you were about or just, “Oh! I went to that place. That living history site when I was in fourth grade. I haven’t been there since.” Click on them. Like them. Now they get all sorts of interesting information about what your organization does today, which we are all hoping is a lot different than somebody who’s 25 was in fourth grade. And that’s an easy one. I think the more that institutions do this, the more that they see the potential and the more that they may realize that they have to have someone in charge of maintaining it. Because I think that the best people I follow put up really great content. And for example, one of my favorites that I am happy to plug, is the Sue the T-Rex at the Field Museum. Now maybe people wouldn’t know that Sue the T-Rex tweets. But not only Sue tweet, but in the most incredible way. It’s funny. It’s new content. It meet their mission because it’s talking about paleontology and interesting dinosaur behavior. But it’s also smart and savvy and funny, and somebody, I’m sure, at the Field Museum is in charge of keeping it so. So if you want to be really good at it, you probably have to have somebody who’s dedicated to it. The other thing that I would say, is that if you’re a small organization, and you’re willing to let your guard down a little bit, you could always share it. You could make Twitter five different people’s responsibility, and you could get five different people’s input. And that’s fine. That’s a good way to start. But if you’re willing to let your director tweet, I think it’s awesome. Because I think that’s something that people really care about. The leader of an institution is somebody that’s usually respected and revered, and when they can share some of the insight about leading an organization or things that they find meaningful. For example, Max Anderson at the Indianapolis Museum of Art, he tweets. There are many directors that do. But it is great to know that that person who has a lot of professional experience and cache is sharing that not only to his colleagues, but also the museum consumers at large. I think it’s great.

Frank: Well Jennifer, it’s been so much fun talking with you today. Thank you so much!

Chevraux: Thank you so much for having me! It has really been an honor to be included in your webcast series. Thank you.

Outro: Now you can learn more about Jennifer and MuseoBlogger or Illumine Creative Solutions at our shownotes site. That’s Voices of the Past dot O-R-G. There you will find a transcript of this interview plus several others that we’ve done with other folks in the field of cultural heritage who are using social media to make a difference in their world. That’s it for this edition of the Voices of the Past podcast. And until next time, I’m Jeff Guin, and we’ll see you online.

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Voices of the Past Video Netcast: Genealogy Gems’ Lisa Louise Cooke on establishing roots in the social web

Coming up in this edition of the Voices of the Past Netcast, we’ll meet Lisa Louise Cooke. Lisa created and maintains Genealogy Gems–one of the world’s most popular genealogy websites. She’ll tell us about the learning curve involved in using online media, and how she uses the web to create a deeper connection to her audience.

Thanks for joining us. I’m Jeff Guin. We’ll have that interview in a moment. First, here are a couple of briefs about heritage in the online world.

National Parks on Expedia

Expedia is partnering with the National Park Foundation on a new Web site to help travelers enjoy their trips to U.S. national parks a little more.

The site at includes downloadable park maps and other content from the National Park Foundation, as well as information about lodging options outside the parks.

The content also includes suggestions for long weekend itineraries with stops at national park sites in Colorado, Texas and Michigan, and a series of stories called “Can’t-Miss National Parks.” The first five parks featured in the “Can’t-Miss” series are the Grand Canyon, Yellowstone, Glacier, Olympic and Yosemite.

The timing of the Web site launch was designed to coincide with the airing of Ken Burns’ new documentary on public television, “The National Parks: America’s Best Idea.”

Virtual Museum of Iraq

Italy is putting the Baghdad museum online.

The Virtual Museum of Iraq is designed to make some of the world’s most important artifacts accessible to everyone.

The site offers visitors the chance to walk through eight virtual halls and admire works from the prehistoric to the Islamic period, while videoclips reconstruct the history of the country’s main cities.

The site is available in Arabic, English and Italian.

Visitors can rotate some objects in the virtual museum to get an almost 360 degree view.

Italy contributed one million euros and provided expert staff to help restore the museum, creating a restoration laboratory in Baghdad and overhauling the museum’s Assyrian and Islamic galleries.

Present-day Iraq lies on the site of ancient Mesopotamia between the Tigris and Euphrates rivers and the Baghdad museum boasts one of the best collections of ancient artfacts in the world.

Around 15,000 of the museum’s relics were carried off during a 48-hour looting spree in 2003 in the wake of the US invasion.

While around 6,000 works have been returned, many other pieces are still missing.

The Baghdad Museum Project is looking for international partners to help with its four-part plan to help save the museum. The program hopes to establish an online catalog to help locate the artifacts from the Baghdad museum.

It would also like to create collaborative workspace within the virtual Baghdad Museum, to allow international teams to work together.

Featured Voice of the Past: Lisa Louise Cooke
October is family history month in the U.S. And to celebrate, we’re featuring one of genealogy’s most prolific and beloved web personalities.

Lisa Louise Cooke has been passionate about family history since she was a child, looking at old family scrapbooks with her grandmother.  Since then, she’s turned that passion into a career.

She is the producer and host of the popular  Genealogy Gems Podcast, an audio and video genealogy show available in iTunes.

Additionally, she hosts the monthly Family Tree Magazine Podcast and videocasts for Family History Expos. I spoke to Lisa Louise Cooke recently, and here’s what she had to say about how she learned to use social media tools to promote genealogy.

[INTERVIEW BEGINS]
Cooke: I think it wasn’t difficult because I was so passionate about it. It’s like when it hits you, this is the right way to go, this is the right medium, I know what my message is then it was like, there aren’t enough hours in the day. And so for 30 days I think I was doing it around the clock just eating up everything I could find in just terms of how do you podcast, how do you hook the computer up, where do you get a mic, how do you set up a blog, and I was constantly–if I wasn’t podcasting or setting things up myself, I was out running around and doing arraigns  and listening to other people on podcasts explain how to do it. And that’s why I think that within the month I was able to get it up and running. But the ideas have been formulating for a long time, and it is kind of the classic story of you can look back and your life and say, “Wow. Everything I have been doing up to this point has been about getting ready to do this.” Because everything from my theatrical background to producing videos to being on a television show and learning about interviewing, my passion for family histories, some of the teaching opportunities I had had in small class settings, all came together and it was like, “This is the time, this is the moment where it all gels.”

Guin: So here’s a scenario: Someone’s watching this and they’re inspired, and they are developing their own sense of mission, and they want to involve new media in it. What advice would you have for that person? How do they get started?

Cooke: Education. Educating yourself and know that there are a lot of free options out there to educate yourself. I mean there are some great books and things, but life keeps going on and you want to try to get as up to speed as possible as quickly as you can. I tapped into a lot of podcasts, I just went in there and I did key word searches on how do you do this, how do you do that, video, podcasts, whatever. And I would typically find somebody who had great information. So constantly educating yourself, thinking about what your message is. You really can’t be everything to everybody. In fact, I was just interviewing a blogger on my family podcast, and she was saying, “You know, you can’t be so and so, they are already there, you know? Don’t try to mimic somebody else, but take what your strengths are and use that. And then decide what the focus of your message is. And also one thing I have just been using lately when I wrote my courses for the university was YouTube. People, particularly older folks, tend to get nervous about going onto YouTube because there is a lot of stuff out there that they don’t want to see. I’m with them on that, but if you use that search box you will be able to hone right into what you are looking for and you bypass all that stuff. And so when I was looking for these different topics that I was writing about, I would go out and throw a key word out into YouTube and I would find somebody who produced a video about it and I got a little snippet here and there, and I was able to reference that and give that to my students. My gosh, I just took up knitting. Couldn’t figure out how to do a yarn over and I went and put up “knitting yarn over,” and there was somebody showing me how to do it on the video. So that can be applied to anything. And there is a lot of great people producing content, and every single day there is something new. So it’s always worth going back and checking. I dunno, does that answer your question?
Guin: It certainly does. And I think it’s important for people to realize as well for people doing that knitting video probably had a $300 camera from Walmart. It doesn’t take a lot of money or fancy equipment to produce this stuff. So I guess what would be valuable if you could just share some of the equipment you use.

Cooke: It’s evolved over time. I have started out with one of those little $10 RadioShack microphones, you know, the little plastic ones. Very quickly realized I didn’t like the sound of it, and I went and bought a podcasting kit, which had the microphone and that type of thing on Amazon and have upgraded from there. And that brings me back to when you are trying to learn how to do some of this stuff, you think I do want to do a blog or I do want to do video, go out and find somebody that you think is doing a terrific job. And watch it. And look for the details. Don’t worry about all the big picture stuff that they are talking about. I really believe that it’s in the details. That’s where the real connection happens, and the quality happens. And then right now I have my new Macintosh, which is kind of the video, auto center. I have my old PC that I finally got a new flatscreen for. I had my laptop because I do go and I do do presentations. Last year I invested in my own projector so now I can say, “Yep. I can go to a seminar,” and I can be set up to go. And my latest is my Boom, I guess you can call it a Boom for my mic. Before it was always on my desk, and you know, I would go crashing and it would hit the floor, and I would bump it and that kind of thing. Now it’s on a Boom. It looks like like it does in a radio station. And I think it was a $100, but it seemed like an extravagance to me. I waiting a long time to spend the money on it, and it is a godsend. That and the popscreen for the microphone. So, like you are asking me, if you hear somebody you think is doing a great job or you like their video. You’d be amazed. People are so helpful. I email people all the time, “By the way, can you give me an idea or an clue or whatever,” and people are always willing to share. That’s one of my mottos: ask, ask, ask. Don’t be afraid to ask, all they can do is say, “No, I’m too busy.”
Guin: And that’s the great thing about the web, you can ask people all over the world. You’re not limited to just your local area.

Cooke: I had a podcaster in Australia contact me and say, “Oh, I heard your podcast. Loved this, loved that, but you might tweak this to get the sound better.” And he had been doing podcasts for two years, so it was amazing.
[INTERVIEW ENDS]
Lisa Louise Cooke speaks nationally on genealogy topics. She is also the author of the book Genealogy Gems: Ultimate Research Strategies as well as the Genealogy Gems News Blog.You can listen to more of our interview in the Voices of the Past audio podcast on the shownotes site and on iTunes. 

And our shownotes site is also the place to find out more about all of the stories we’ve told you about today. That’s all for this edition of the netcast. In the meantime, we’ll see you online.

ICOM president visits Seoul, praises Korean museum system for protecting "intangible" cultural heritage

Alissandra Cummins, President of the International Council of Museums (ICOM), praised the achievement of Korean museums and their protection of intangible cultural heritage. She visited Seoul last week for the editorial and advisory meeting of the International Journal of Intangible Heritage of the ICOM-ICME ― International Committee for Museums of Ethnography ― which took place at the National Folk Museum of Korea.

“Over the last ten years, I have become more aware of the Korean system for protecting intangible cultural heritage and what has been impressive is their knowledge about what they have and what is important in terms of representing different aspects of cultural life in the country and then reflecting that in a number of different ways,” Cummins said in an interview with The Korea Times.

The ICOM president emphasized the whole system of living human treasures, which is often difficult to find.

“Only a few countries do it. It is a process that we think really it should deserve a lot of attention. Korea has been very good about informing other countries and helping them to become aware of these kinds of systems, indeed, developing knowledge about the importance of apprenticing younger people to learn from the master traditional bearers is the important aspect of that,” she said.

Read the story at Korean Times …

Kate Chopin House: Taking a look at a heritage recovery operation

By Jeff Guin

A lot has happened in the three months since the U.S. National Historic Landmark Kate Chopin House was destroyed by fire. Much goes into a salvage effort of this scale, and you may be surprised that how much care has been taken with the remains of the building and of its surviving contents. Voices of the Past recently spoke with Dustin Fuqua of the heritage research organization Cultural Lore about his experience leading the rescue operation. Here are some of his insights on the topic.

Any salvage operation is stressful, but cases where the structure defines the community are especially difficult. Rescue workers are faced with the challenges of limiting access to the site while being sensitive to the grief of the community. All the while, they must also be mindful that the structure and the heritage resources it contains are degrading by the minute.

The situation is inherently unsafe from the get-go and will likely remain that way until the structure is taken down completely. Fires can reignite days after the initial event. Charred walls of brick or bousillage may crumble at any time. Rescuers use personal safety equipment like masks and gloves–and good sense as well–when approaching any salvage operation.

The case of the Kate Chopin House was especially dire, with perhaps only 10 to 15 percent of the Bayou Folk Museum contents surviving in any recognizable condition. For those precious few objects that survive the fire, other environmental threats immediately arise.

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For paper objects soaked with water from fire trucks and lying amid the smoldering warmth of embers, mold blooms immediately and degrades the fibers. As the home of a famous writer, this structure had some very valuable paper items. So what to do? Believe it or not, rescuers wrapped the books in acid-free paper and put them in a freezer until they can be properly conserved. Freezing the items inhibits the growth of mold and prevents further environmental damage to the paper.

Metal objects are affected by the warm, wet environment of a fire scene as well. Oxidation starts immediately, resulting in rust on metal objects that may have already been weakened by extreme heat. A quick, but careful removal operation is necessary to keep these objects from becoming further casualties of the disaster.

As with many disasters, the path of destruction can take unexpected turns. For example, Dusty reports finding a stack of Confederate currency in good condition while huge pieces of 19th century furnishings were incinerated without a trace. The wooden objects that survive are also cared for, potentially for reintegration into a rebuilt structure or as a memorial.

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Thanks to the first response efforts of the Cultural Lore team, the NSU Masters of Heritage Resources program and the National Park Service, we will have some remnant by which to remember the Kate Chopin House and Bayou Folk Museum. But what’s happening now? I’ll tell you next week. In the meantime, you can read more about this project or contact Dusty through the Natchitoches Preservation Network website.

Related images:

Kate Chopin House Ruins

Kate Chopin House - Fire

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Detoxifying American Indian artifacts

Decades of antiquated preservation methods have led to the contamination of American Indian artifacts with toxic metals, potentially damaging the artifacts while posing danger to the conservators working with them.

With a grant from the National Center for Preservation Technology and Training, Timberley Roane, associate professor of biology at the University of Colorado at Denver and Health Sciences Center, has been researching a means to resolve an environmental quandary involving toxic substances and artifacts such as kachina dolls, pipes, pottery, blankets, mounted animals and ceremonial masks.

“Historically, artifacts might have been treated with a variety of different pesticides to preserve the objects from insects and microbial damage,” Roane said. “Two of the most prevalent pesticides that we’re most concerned with now are mercury and arsenic, as the toxicity of these metals to biological systems is under review.”

Roane, a Lumbee tribe member, collaborated with a Navajo friend who works with the Environmental Protection Agency to conceptualize the use of bacteria as a possible means to extract mercury from these artifacts without damaging them. Due to the presence of mercury, for example, and the risk of dermal or inhalation exposure, some of these artifacts could not be put back into cultural use.

Roane is working with bacteria already living on the artifacts that will allow her to change mercury into a gaseous form that can then be disposed of properly. This builds on her past research that uses naturally occurring bacteria for environmental cleanup.

“With funding from the NCPTT, we’ve been able to isolate mercury-resistant bacteria capable of removing mercury from contaminated media,” she said. “We are very excited by the prospect of being able to remove mercury from treated museum materials, in hopes of mitigating the toxicity of these materials for not only repatriation to tribal members but for anyone who comes in contact with them.”

Traditional methods of removing toxic metals include chemicals, ultraviolet light and heat. These methods can damage materials, which led to Roane’s desire to research less invasive methods to clean collections.

“You have to treat them gently and with respect, especially since some of these materials are considered living by their native peoples,” she said. “New methods like those proposed by the grant procedures offer new hope.”

Roane was granted access to Native American collections at the Arizona State Museum for her research. Dozens of samples have been taken and documented. After the bacteria are grown in the lab they are screened for their ability to turn mercury into a gaseous form. Those bacteria are then tested further.

While much is not known about contamination levels in native artifacts, Roane’s research represents a promising step toward dealing with the contamination from the past while preserving these significant cultural artifacts for the future.

“The start to this project shows a lot of potential,” she said. “We plan to continue our efforts in using bacteria to remove mercury from collections and hope to eventually develop an effective mitigation technology.”

Armchair tour of museums and Web 2.0

Nina Simon Armchair Tour of Museum 2By Nina Simon

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

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.

Library of Congress on Flickr

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

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.

Museum blog types compared (with examples)

In this post on Museum 2.0, I compare the different types of museum blogs and offer a self-assessment tool to determine what type might be right for you.

Beth’s Blog and the WeAreMedia wiki

Beth Kanter is an extraordinary social media maven with a focus on non-profits.She covers everything from Web 2.0 tools to fundraising strategies on her blog and on the NTEN WeAreMedia project site.

Useum

The North Carolina Museum of Life and Sciences is doing a series of no- to low-cost experiments with Web 2.0 and documenting them here.

Science Buzz and Red Shift Now

The Science Museum of Museum and the Ontario Science Center each maintain impressive community sites that integrate real-time visitor feedback from the Web and the museum floor here and here respectively.

Teaser image by Shelley Bernstein on Flickr.

The Bleak House at 48 Doughty: Dickens House Museum

Don’t tell anyone, but museums bore me.

Maybe it’s all in the presentation. My Rick Steves-inspired tour of the British Museum will be posted soon, and it did have some fascinating moments. But artifacts set in polished glass cases, thousands of miles from where they originated don’t do it for me.

I like context. That’s why I love house museums. Add an element out of classic literature and I’m there.

So its not surprising the Dickens House Museum has been one of my favorite, if unexpected, experiences on this trip. For someone who isn’t looking for it, the museum is easy to miss. It’s one of a long line of undistinguished row houses on Doughty St., with only a sidewalk sign and small plaque to indicate its existence.

You enter the house into a long hallway that ends in the ticket counter/gift shop. The friendly staff takes your money and offers you the opportunity to view the orientation video on loop in the basement of the four story structure. Then you’re on your own.

The first room is a small dining room which has an oblong shape, which is quite interesting when you study it closely. Even the doors are rounded to fit flush when closed. Here, and throughout the house are busts of Dickens, when he was young, old and in-between. It makes you realize what a celebrity he was throughout his career.

Charles Dickens was the novelist who raised social commentating, as well as the “author reading,” to an art form. The Dickens House museum is his only surviving London home and it’s where he published and completed some of his most famous works, including The Pickwick Papers (the first book I ever read by him), Oliver Twist and Nicholas Nickleby.

Upstairs is the “reading room,” commemorating his pioneering efforts to commercialize on his success through paid public readings.

Along the way are scattered paintings, rare books, manuscripts, original furniture. Even his toilet chair. My favorite part had to be his desk materials, neatly organized as he kept them: pens, inkwells and even a porcelain monkey he kept around for inspiration. Seems these organizational quirks are common to the writer’s pyche, no matter the century.

And just beyond it is an apparent bedroom converted for the exhibit “Ignorance and Want: the social conscience of Charles Dickens.” The exhibit explores the people and events behind the heroes and villans of Dickens’ writings. I found the story behind Nicholas Nickleby particularly interesting.

To get more of the history, check out the online tour, which details the house’s contents room-by-room.