The Museums Computer Group's annual conference has been an annual highlight for some years now, and in 2022 I donned my mask and went to their in-person event. And only a few months later I'm posting this lightly edited version of my Mastodon posts from the day of the event in November 2022… Notes in brackets are generally from the original toots/posts.
This was the first event that I live-blogged on Mastodon rather than live-tweeting. I definitely missed the to-and-fro of conversation around a hashtag, as in mid-November Mastodon was a lot quieter than it is even a few weeks later. Anyway, on with the post!
I'm at the Museums Computer Group's #MuseTech2022 conference.
Huuuuuuge thanks to the volunteers who worked so hard on the event – and as Chair Dafydd James says, who've put extra work into making this a hybrid event https://museumscomputergroup.org.uk/about/committee/
Keynote Kati Price on the last two and a half years – a big group hug or primal scream might help!
She's looking at the consequences of the pandemic and lockdowns in terms of: collaboration, content, cash, churn
Widespread adoption of tools as people found new ways of collaborating from home
Content – the 'hosepipe of requests' for digital content is all too familiar. Lockdown reduced things to one unifying goal – to engage audiences online
(In hindsight, that moment of 'we must find / provide entertainment online' was odd – the world was already full of books, tv, podcasts, videos etc – did we want things we could do together that were a bit like things we'd do IRL?)
V&A moved to capture their Kimono exhibition to share online just before closing for lockdown. Got a Time Out 'Time In'. No fancy tech, just good storytelling
Took a data-informed approach to creating content e.g. ASMR videos. Shows the benefits of 'format thinking'. Recommends https://podcasts.apple.com/us/podcast/episode-016-matt-locke/id1498470334?i=1000500799064 #MuseTech2022
V&A found that people either wanted very short or long form content; some wanted informative, others light-hearted content
Cash – how do you keep creating great experiences when income drops? No visitors, no income.
Churn – 'the great resignation' – we've seen a brain drain in the #MuseTech / GLAM sector, especially as it's hard to attract people given salaries. Not only in tech – loss of expert collections, research staff who help inform online content
UK's heading into recession, so more cuts are probably coming. What should a digital team look like in this new era?
Also, we're all burnt out. (Holler!) Emotional reserves are at an all-time low.
(Thinking about the silos – I feel my work-social circles are dwindling as I don't run into people around the building now most people are WFH most of the time)
Back from the break at #MuseTech2022 for more #MuseTech goodness, starting with Seb Chan and Indigo Holcombe-James on ACMI's CEO Digital Mentoring Program – could you pair different kinds of organisations and increase the digital literacy of senior leaders?
Working with a mentor had tangible and intangible benefits (in addition to making time for learning and reflection). The next phase was shorter, with fewer people. (Context for non-Australians – Melbourne's lockdown was *very* long and very restrictive)
(I wonder what a 'minimum viable mentorship' model might be – does a long coffee with someone count? I've certainly had my brain picked that way by senior leaders interested in digital participation and strategy)
Lessons – cross-art form conversations work really well; everyone is facing similar challenges
(Side note – I'm liking that longer posts mean I'm not dashing off posts to keep up with the talks)
Next up #MuseTech2022 Stephanie Bertrand https://twitter.com/sbrtrandcurator on prestige and aesthetic judgement in the art world. Can you recruit the public's collective intelligence to discover artworks? But can you remove the influence of official 'art world' taste makers in judging artworks?
'Social feedback is a catch-22' – can have runaway inequality where popular content becomes more popular, and artificial manipulation that skews what's valued?
Now Somaya Langley https://twitter.com/criticalsenses on making digital preservation an everyday thing. (Shoutout to the awesome #DigiPres folk who do this hard work) – how can a whole organisation include digital preservation in its wider thinking about collections and corporate records? What about collecting born-digital content so prevalent in modern life?
(Side note – Australia seems to have a much stronger record management culture within GLAMs than in the UK, where IME you really have to search to find organisational expectations about archiving project records)
#MuseTech2022 Somaya's lessons learnt include: use the three-legged stool of digital preservation of technology, resources and organisation https://deepblue.lib.umich.edu/bitstream/handle/2027.42/60441/McGovern-Digital_Decade.html?sequence=4 – approach it holistically
Help colleagues learn by doing
Moving from Projects to Programmes to Business as Usual is hard
Help people be comfortable with there not being one right answer, and ok with 'it depends'
#MuseTech2022 Next up in Session 2: Collections; Craig Middleton, Caroline Wilson-Barnao, Lisa Enright – documenting intense bushfires in Aus summer 2019/20 and COVID. They used Facebook as a short-term response to the crisis; planned a physical exhibition but a website came to seem more appropriate as COVID went on. https://momentous.nma.gov.au has over 300 unique responses. FB helpful for seeing if a collecting idea works while it's timely, but other platforms better for sustained engagement. Also need to think about comfort levels about sharing content changing as time goes on.
Museums can be places to have difficult conversations, to help people make sense of crises. But museums also need to think beyond physical spaces and include digital from the start.
Also hard when museum people are going through the same crises (links back to Kati's keynote about what we lived through as a sector working for our audiences while living through the pando ourselves)
#MuseTech2022 David Weinczok 'using digital media to go local'
60% of National Museums Scotland's online audiences have never visited their museums. 'Telling the story of an object without the context of the landscape and community it came from' can help link online and in-person audiences and experiences
'Museum Screen Time' – experts react to pop culture depictions of their subject area eg Viking culture https://www.nms.ac.uk/explore-our-collections/films/museum-screen-time-viking-age/
Blog series 'Objects in Place' – found items in collections from a particular area, looked to tell stories with objects as 'connective threads', not the focus in themselves
'What can we do online to make connections with people and communities offline?'
(So many speakers are finishing with questions – I love this! Way to make the most of being in conversation with the musetech community here)
Next at #MuseTech2022, Amy Adams & Karen Clarke, National Museum of the Royal Navy – digital was always lower priority before COVID; managed to do lots of work on collections data during lockdowns.
They finally got a digital asset management (DAM) system, but then had to think about maintaining it; explaining why implementation takes time. Then there was an expectation that they could 'flip a switch' and put all the collections online. Finding ways to have positive conversations with folk who are still learning about the #MuseTech field.
Also doing work on 'addressing empires' – I like that framing for a very British institution.
Now Rebecca Odell, Niti Acharya, Hackney Museum on surviving a cyber attack. Lost access to collections management database (CMS) and images. Like their digital building had burnt down. Stakeholder and public expectations did not adjust accordingly! 14 months without a CMS.
Know where your backups are! Export DBs as CSV, store it externally. LOCKSS, hard drives
#MuseTech2022 Rebecca Odell, Niti Acharya, Hackney Museum continued – reconstructing your digital stuff from backups, exports, etc takes tiiiiiiime and lots of manual work. The sector needs guides, checklists, templates to help orgs prepare for cyber attacks.
(Lots of her advice also applies to your own personal digital media, of course. Back up your backups and put them lots of places. Leave a hard drive at work, swap one with a friend!)
New Q&A game – track the echo between remote speakers and the AV system in the back. Who's unmuted that should be muted? [One of the joys of a hybrid conference]
We'll be heading out to lunch soon, including the MCG annual general meeting
(Missed a few talks post-lunch)
Adam Coulson (National Museums Scotland) on QR codes:
* weren't scanned in all exhibition/gallery contexts
* use them to add extra layers, not core content
* don't assume everyone will scan
* discourage FOMO (explain what's there)
* consider precious battery life
Now Sian Shaw (Westminster Abbey) on no longer printing 12,000 sheets of paper a week (given out to visitors with that day's info). Made each order of service (dunno, church stuff, I am a heathen) at the same URL with templates to drop in commonly used content like hymns
It's a web page, not an app – more flexible, better affordances re your place on the page
Some loved the move to sustainability but others don't like having phones out in church.
Ultimately, be led by the problem you're trying to solve (and there's always a paper backup for no/dead phone folk)
Q&A discussion – take small steps, build on lessons learnt
#MuseTech2022 Onto the final panel, 'Funding digital – what two years worth of data tells us'
(It's funny when you have an insight into your own #MuseTech2022
life via a remark at a conference – the first ever museum team I worked in was 'Outreach' at Melbourne Museum, which combined my digital team with the learning team under the one director. I've always known that working in Outreach shaped my world view, but did sitting next to the learning team also shape it?)
And now Daf James is finishing with thanks for the committee members behind the MCG generally and the event in particular – big up @irny for keeping the tech going in difficult circumstances!