Tag: social media

Pearltrees = Social Media + Mindmapping + Bookmarks

pearltrees

Okay, so Pearltrees has been around for three years now, and I am finally catching on.  Pearltrees is best described as a visual bookmark system that meshes social media with mindmaps.  I was introduced to the tool by Debbie Morrison who blogs at online learning insights.  Here is her Pearltree.  The basic concept is that Pearltrees organizes bookmarks by type in a branching system.  Debbie’s is a well-organized system that reflects her varied research interests and expertise in education.

My immediate application for Pearltrees was to present the annotated references students collect each fall for my Museum Practices class in the Museum Studies program at the University of Memphis.  Over the past few years, my intent was to build a library of references over time.  Prior to Pearltrees, I envisioned the references might live on a WikiPage or as an Excel file.  Pearltrees is a perfect answer to creating a very effective presentation.  Here is the Pearltree from this year’s seminar that includes a selection of the student’s references and my own organized by topical area within the field of Museum Studies.  I intend to subdivide each topic a bit further.  Specific to my Museum Practices seminar, this Pearltree will be useful as follows:

  • In class I usually run through a good number of websites during a single seminar class.  Presently, I open up a bunch of urls in Google Chrome and present the sites in a linear fashion.  With Pearltrees I can pick and choose references in a nonlinear visual fashion to be in line with the flow of the actual discussion and not the flow of the search engine list.  In this regard, Pearltrees can be envisioned like a Prezi presentation.
  • The Museum Practices seminar has created the annotated references for the past three years.  This year is the first time the results have gotten beyond the e-courseware discussion tab or the Excel spreadsheet.  I really like that next year’s class can check the current Pearltree to be certain their additions are not redundant but increase, grow, and expand the resource.
  • As a practical matter, the cutting edge reference of this year can be old news by next year or the webpage might no longer exist.  As well, the constant addition of links could make a Pearltree unusably complex.  The occasional pruning of the Pearltree will maximize the tools utility.  Also, when you hover over an individual pearl in preview, if the link is dead, you get notice of same and can easily delete the item from the Pearltree.
  • The Related Pearltrees icon or search tools take you to PearlTrees with content similar to your own.  You can then view, pick from other folks Pearltrees and add to your own tree.  As you are cruising the internet with a single click you can add links to your Pearltrees.
  • Beyond classroom presentation, Pearltrees is a fantastic information resource.  For example, I noted Debbie Morrison Pearltrees above.  I know that she has considerable expertise in online education.  If I am looking for current thinking on MOOCs, I know that I am going to get a more focused and relevant set of links from her Pearltrees than if I were to simply do a Google search.  Her Pearltrees will offer me a good entry point and current discussions on MOOCs.

Everything discussed above is available with the free version of Pearltrees.  For a fee customizable features and private Pearltrees are available.

Seemingly, two possible downsides to Pearltrees include:

  • If the service goes away and you have a ton of bookmarks and time invested in the project, the work will go down the drain.  There is no reason to believe Pearltrees is going away anytime soon but even Facebook will go the way of Friendster some day.
  • If Pearltrees decides to start charging for or altering their service – ditto the above concern but a bit less of a crisis.

And of course what review would be complete without a Pearltree of Pearltrees Reviews

Do you use Pearltrees?  If so, does it work for you?

Wikipedia as a Scholarly Resource

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By User:Husky and h3m3ls, Mischa de Muynck and Niels [CC-BY-SA-3.0 (http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/3.0)%5D, via Wikimedia Commons

Over the past couple of weeks, students in my Museum Practices graduate seminar presented their semester projects.  An Egyptology Art History graduate student, Chris Stelter, presented on the 66 short biographies he created for the renovation of the American Legacy exhibit at the National Civil Rights Museum here in Memphis.  He used Wikipedia as a primary resource in the project noting that “. . . using Wikipedia as a main source has helped me make a new mental connection between the available information, what I myself, as a museum professional, want to present, and what a visitor would want to take in.  Since I am providing information for the public and Wikipedia is made by the public, it provides an interesting connection between scholarly research and public intake.”

In discussion after his presentation, Chris noted a certain trepidation at using Wikipedia for a “scholarly” project.  When asked what he would use if he were creating similar biographies for a group of Egyptologists Chris suggested the Who Was Who in Egyptology volume – arguably even less inclusive than Wikipedia.

Regardless of the specific merits in using Wikipedia to collect the Civil Rights leaders mini-bio information, which I find wholly appropriate, I found the class discussion interesting on another level.  As I reflected before in this blog, the very mention of a virtual museum or Wikipedia as a scholarly resource caused audible gasps from seminar students five years ago.  This year after Chris’ presentation the class was able to have a reasoned discussion, while still noting that Wikipedia was loathed by the vast majority of their professors.

I have posted before on Wikipedia as a research tool and specific applications in museums.  Six months down the road from those posts, the potential of Wikipedia as a research and information tool continues to grow.  A mid-year review of the Galleries, Libraries, Archives, Museums with Wikipedia (GLAM) points to this evolving direction. Also, consider the following links:

  • Michigan Wikipedians as “The first student group of its kind in the country, Michigan Wikipedians support the use of Wikipedia on campus for purposes of education. Similar to the Open.Michigan initiative, Michigan Wikipedians foster the development of educational content that can be used globally under open licenses. The club is open to all students and faculty of the University of Michigan, as well as community members who are interested in Wikipedia.”
  • The very entry for Museums in Wikipedia is a 7000 word article with 45 “scholarly” references.  The article covers everything from the etymology of the word to virtual museums.  Were the essay written as an undergraduate honors thesis, the student would be given an A and a strong letter of recommendation.
  • This Wikipedian in Residence link lists the intent, function and experience of individuals who have taken up such assignments at a range of institutional types as essential collaborators, builders, and promoters of Wikipedia.  Scroll to the bottom of the linked page to view projects that the Wikipedians have piloted.

I was reading Debbie Morrison’s most recent post on her Online Learning Insights blog and was a bit overwhelmed when reflecting on the general reluctance of higher education to embrace these potentials, choosing instead to hunker down in their silos.  Then I got to the paragraph heading “Personal Learning Network” in Debbie’s post and it started making a good bit more sense. She wrote about the importance of personal motivation in accepting the new technology. I thought of how in 1994 while finishing my PhD I taught a course back in my hometown titled “Anthropology and the Internet” in a department of eight faculty of whom only three even had email accounts.  One faculty member that year proudly refused the computer the University had offered him choosing instead to continue typing his manuscripts on an IBM Selectric typewriter. However, when he realized he could get the daily Mexican newspapers where he did his research online, he became a convert overnight to the wonders of the digital age.  Based in part on pressure from students in that class, the next year the department had a computer lab set-up.  Can a reasoned and objective assessment of the scholarly applications of Wikipedia be far behind?

How do you use Wikipedia as a tool in your scholarly work?

Archaeology and Open Authority

The guest post below is written by Elizabeth Bollwerk.  I met Beth a couple of years ago in the session “Reimagining the Engaged Museum” at the Society for Applied Anthropology Meetings.  In that session she presented on using the Omeka web publishing platform for engaging communities in museum exhibits. A recent graduate of the PhD program at the University of Virginia, Beth has continued her work in this area.  Below she reports highlights of the 2012 Museum Computer Network Conference especially as related to archaeology and community outreach.

I recently attended the Museum Computer Network (MCN) Conference in Seattle, Washington. For those of you who aren’t familiar, MCN is an organization whose goal is to “support the greater museum community by providing continuing opportunities to explore, implement, and disseminate new technologies and best practices in the field”. In this post I will discuss some of the issues that arose during the conference that pertain to Archaeology, Museums, and Outreach.  I should note one of the great things about MCN is that a lot of the conference content is online. MCN videotaped all of their sessions and these will be available via their youtube channel in a few weeks.  In the meantime I have linked to some of the relevant slideshares, blogs, and twitterfeeds throughout this post to help provide more context for my discussion.

At the Ignite program that kicked off the conference Lori Phillips introduced one of the issues that resonated with me and many others: the question of open authority and museums.  This question was revisited throughout the conference and was widely acknowledged as being one of the underlying themes.  Although open authority is relevant for a wide range of disciplines, Lori’s presentation dealt with the issue of balancing curatorial/expert authority with the broader goal of making museums more open areas of learning and idea sharing, i.e. forums not temples, bazaars, not cathedrals.  As readers of this blog are well aware, there has been a substantial movement to make museums into forums or bazaars where information is not simply disseminated from experts to the public but is actively created through the sharing of ideas from both sides. The question of where “experts” and “scholars” fit into these projects has been somewhat controversial.  While some have argued that curators aren’t needed as gatekeepers, Lori took a more balanced perspective, arguing that we need to make museums both temples and bazaars.  It’s not that crowd sourced or curated projects don’t need scholarly curators, it’s that curators need to share authority, knowledge and expertise in a constructive way AND be open to how the public’s knowledge can broaden our understanding of a subject.  (Those interested in the subject can follow on twitter at #openauth.)

While I think this is a relevant question for any museum, my background in archaeology made me ponder how open authority could impact the discipline and its role in museums. Archaeology has been shifting towards embracing open authority since the post processual movement in the 1980s.  The incorporation of descendant communities has opened up new opportunities for integrating different perspectives.  Additionally, a growing movement in support of public and engaged archaeology has incorporated the public into field and lab projects.

However, open authority is more than just encouraging experts to share their skills and knowledge with a wider audience. One of the aspects of open authority that I find so promising but simultaneously challenging is finding productive ways to integrate “audience” knowledge that can help advance research. One session at MCN that highlighted some projects accomplishing that challenge was the Open Science, Citizen Science – Unleashing the Power of Community Collaboration to Create New Museum Science.  (you can follow the conversation from the session on twitter #mcn2012sci.)  This session focused on crowd sourcing projects that draw from the knowledge of amateur naturalists, astronomers and hobbyists to crowdsource data analysis or data correction.  Arfon Smith in particular discussed the Old Weather and Milky Way projects, which use citizen scientists to transcribe and organize data for researchers. This work helps researchers get through the initial sorting process which otherwise might take days or weeks.  However, curators/researchers are not removed from the process.  Instead crowdsourced entries and cataloged items are tagged as “unchecked” until a curator can double-check the assignment. These activities add value to museum collections, particularly the research collections that are often not on public view.

Another big take away of the crowdsourcing session was from a survey that asked project participants what their motivation was for engaging with these projects.  Overwhelmingly, responders said they participated because they loved knowing their work and knowledge was helping push research and science forward. Clearly these projects seem to be beneficial for both “experts” and “amateurs” alike.

This made me wonder, can we do something like this in archaeology?  No archaeologist is blind to the fact that the internet and social media have opened a number of forums for individuals to exchange information about artifacts.  There is clearly a large audience who has an interest in the material culture of the past and wants to participate in researching and analyzing it.  It is also clear that many of these “amateurs” have a great deal of knowledge about the material culture they are interested in.  In my experience public projects nearly always benefit from volunteers because of the new perspectives and varied expertise they bring to the project. But these projects also need good leaders who are familiar with the material to keep everything running smoothly, hence the need for both the temple and the bazaar. 

Unfortunately not everyone with archaeological interests has time to volunteer at archaeological sites or labs.  This makes me wonder if there’s some way for archaeologists to harness the wider public interest in archaeology into virtual projects where they can work with citizen scientists.  Today there is more archaeological information available to the public on the World Wide Web than ever before. Digital archaeological archives such as The Digital Archaeological Record, the Digital Archaeological Archive of Comparative Slavery, the Chaco Research Archive, and the Comparative Archaeological Study of Colonial Chesapeake Culture, are just a few examples.  These projects have made archaeological information that was once hidden away in museums and archaeological repositories available to scholars and increasingly to archaeological graduate and undergraduate classes.  But can we take another step and engage the public with these databases? There is no question that making collections available for teachers or allowing individuals to learn about sites and artifacts is valuable, but can we open the gates to ensure the knowledge sharing goes both ways?

A great non-digital example of such a project is the Archaeological Metal Detector Training Course led by Matthew Reeves at Montpelier earlier this year.  I think this statement from the Society for Historical Archaeology blog best sums up the potential for projects like this: “At the end of the week, we had a dozen metal detectorists who not only understood how site integrity can be attained through the use of metal detectors, but they were devising new techniques for how this process could be improved.” Incorporating these individuals into discussions of archaeological techniques not only improves their understanding of our methods but their expertise can help improve our methods.

So while archaeologists are taking steps towards open authority on the ground, I’m wondering how can we also make online spaces both temples and bazaars.  I welcome any thoughts or ideas.

Elizabeth Bollwerk can be contacted at eab7f(at)virginia.edu

We Have Met the Marketing/Promotion Enemy and He Is Us

cropped from a painting by Emma Connolly

Digital museums was the topic in our Museum Practices seminar at the University of Memphis this past Tuesday.  One of our readings was Carol Dunmore’s 2006 article “Museums and the Web” from the The Responsive Museum.   The article provides a historical perspective on digital media and museums and illustrates the British national model of museum presentation. For example, the Culture 24 website provides links to hundreds of museums and their activities throughout the UK.  The Show Me website focuses on cultural heritage from a child’s perspective in Britain.  The Cornucopia website provides access to information on over 6000 UK museum and gallery collection databases.

I challenged students to consider if such a system would work in the United States.  I noted the lack of a systematic cross-promotion/integration of US cultural heritage institutions.  For example, the Louisiana Division of Archaeology publishes a fantastic driving tour of the prehistoric mounds and earthworks in Louisiana.  The neighboring state of Mississippi publishes a digital Archaeology Trails but there is no weblink between the two.  Some US states do a good job of promoting within but not across their geopolitical borders.

The C.H. Nash Museum where I am the Director is located on the Mississippi River in Memphis Tennessee where east-west  Interstate 40 crosses north-south Interstate 55.  We routinely direct visitors to the Parkin Archaeological State Park 45 minutes west on I-40 in Arkansas, Wikcliffe Mounds 3 hours north on I-55 in Kentucky, the Winterville Mounds a couple of hours to the south in Mississippi, and Pinson Mounds State Archaeological Park 90 minutes to the east on I-40 in Tennessee.  We also link to all of these archaeological sites on our web page.  For the first time this week, I realized that none of these sites link to our webpage.

My point is not to whine about a grievous injustice in that we promote others but they do not reciprocate.  However, my observation does point to a promotion or presentation problem for cultural heritage regionally in the US.  For example, the Tennessee Association of Museums lists 32 member museums in West Tennessee.  An interesting pattern quickly emerges when examining the member websites.  There is a reasonable probability that smaller museums will link to other museums in the region or those with similar topical interests.  There is very little probability larger venues will link to anyone other than themselves.

Or consider the presentation of archaeological venues in a region.  The Hopewell Culture Center (HCC) at the Mound City Site is operated by the National Park Service (NPS) in Chillicothe Ohio.  However, there is no listing for the HCC on the Ohio Historical Society (OHS) website that owns other archaeological sites and museums of the Hopewell Culture within 50 miles of the HCC.  Nor does the HCC list any of the OHS sites located as close as 50 miles from Mound City.  As well, the homepage for Fort Ancient a Hopewell Culture site in Ohio, owned by the OHS but operated by Boonshoft Museum of Discovery does not link to any of the other Hopewell Culture sites in Ohio whether operated by the OHS or the NPS.  In sum, depending on which website a visitor hits first, one might conclude there is one museum that interprets the Hopewell Culture in Ohio (NPS or Fort Ancient web sites) or many (the OHS).

A devil’s advocate reading the above paragraph can offer lots of “yeah but . . . if you go to this webpage and click here and then . . .” to my examples.  However, the point is finding relevant museums should not be that hard.  I am going to Leicester England in January for a conference where I will spend a few days roaming about the country.  To the extent I am interested in museums on prehistory for the area, I suspect the Culture 24 link will give me good direction.  Were someone from Leicester to visit Memphis, the same single source for information is not available.

“We have met the enemy and he is us” so sayeth Pogo.  In a time when many cultural heritage venues are seeing reduced visitation and tax-based revenues, we should strive to become easier not more difficult to access.  I have a set of books on all the places to stop between Lake Itasca, Minnesota where you can walk across the Mississippi River in two strides and New Orleans, Louisiana some 2000 miles downstream.  I keep the NPS brochure in my car for all of the cultural and natural stops along the 400-mile Natchez Trace that crosses three states from Natchez, Mississippi to just outside Nashville, Tennessee.  Developing a simple brochure or web presence for a Mississippi River archaeological trail between St. Louis, Missouri and Natchez, Mississippi ala the Great River Road could provide a similar resource.  Consider applying for the $2000.00 Southeastern Archaeological Conference Public Outreach Grant by December 1 as seed money for this project!

What are your thoughts on the need for promoting cultural heritage institutions in the US?

Reflections on 101 Blog Posts

My buddy Buddy and me relaxing pool side after a hard ride.

This is blog post number 101 to Archaeology, Museums and Outreach.  My initial intent for the blog, as reflected in my first post in December of 2009, was to offer a platform for discussing innovations and experiences in public outreach around cultural heritage.  That intent came after attending a session on community outreach at the Southeastern Archaeological Conference in November of 2009.  Many of the session participants expressed dissatisfaction with the lack of professional support given to the subject.  I viewed this blog as a response to that concern for like-minded individuals to exchange ideas.

Here is some stuff I learned over the two-year period this blog has been up:

  • For better or worse, Archaeology, Museums and Outreach seems to fill a niche.  There are lots of websites that promote an individual institution’s archaeological outreach projects.  However, there are few others, if any, focused on outreach in general.
  • I have not put much effort into growing this blog, and maybe I really should.  On analytics in general, between followers, searches and direct referrals, I generally run 500 to 700 hits per post, with a consistent increase over the two year period.  You can easily increase hits with blog tags.  I posted one entry  with the title of Measuring Program Success and soon realized that I unintentionally hit on a key search engine phrase.  That single post accounts for 20% of all of this blog’s hits ever!  So it is not difficult to drive traffic to your blog, but what does the reader find once they get there?  To tag every post with “Measuring Program Success” would dramatically up the blog hits but also seems the equivalent of spamming.  What is more important than growing the number of hits is staying on topic.
  • At first, I was surprised by the limited number of comments made to my blog posts.  For most posts there are no comments.  The 120 or so comments received over a two-year period are from about 50 of the posts.  But . . .
  • a rather pleasant surprise from the past two years is the amount of interaction/networking I have done with others in my field I have met through the blog, none of whom commented on a post.  For example, I routinely run into or receive email from colleagues and friends who in-person comment on specific posts, or note that they enjoy the blog.  Excerpts from three of my book reviews are cited on the publisher’s website. The websites of professional organizations and individuals link to this blog.
  • Of particular interest to me has been the role of blogs in academics.  One might expect a tenure and promotion committee to dismiss the energy I expended in the 70,000 or so words I have written for this blog to date – noting that amount of words would constitute at least 3 peer-reviewed articles in top line journals.  Peer review publication is supposed to be the primary indication that the colleagues in one’s given field acknowledge the suitability and worth of your scholarship for publication.  However, as Mr. Dylan noted The Times They Are a Changing.  The change in academia is reflected  in a recent article on the importance of academic blogging in general and for the dissemination of research.  My blog posts to date resulted in invites and publication of two peer-reviewed articles and appointments in the professional organizations to which I belong.  In this new reality, blogs also become an indicator of scholarly research.
  • Finally, I really enjoy writing this blog – the dialogue and ideas that result.  That dialogue is also the reason that I enjoy the classroom setting – the opportunity to engage with students and get their good ideas.  So on the assumption that blogging does not go the way of My Space, Geocities, and Friendster, I look forward to putting together another 101 posts.

Marketing Museums and Archaeology

At the C.H. Nash Museum at Chucalissa, we do a reasonably good job of marketing on a limited budget.  We have a monthly e-newsletter with a 1700 person buy-in circulation that includes 200 press contacts.  We receive consistent press coverage of our events.  Our Facebook page has grown to over 800 likes with a moderate level of engagement.  We have a good regional distribution network for our rack cards.  We are attentive to off-site events in which we can take part.  Also, we are fortunate that the University of Memphis administers and promotes our Museum.

But we still fall short in taking advantage of many opportunities.

Related, this week a very common event occurred at the Museum.  I was at the front desk chatting with two visitors in their late 50s headed toward California.  After learning their general route was along Interstate 40, that they had plenty of time and a strong interest in Native American culture, I recommended several stops along the way.  First, I told them about the Mississippian era Parkin Archaeological State Park about 45 minutes into Arkansas from Memphis.  Next, we talked about Spiro Mounds, just across the Oklahoma border and within 20 miles of the Interstate.  Finally, I highly recommended the complex of Chickasaw Nation of cultural heritage venues including museums and a new Cultural Center south of Oklahoma City centered in the Sulphur/Ada/Tishomingo area.  The two visitors were most appreciative as they were not aware of any of these venues.

Here is the punch line to that story.  Were I not standing at the front desk, did not engage the visitors, they possibly would not have found any of these museums and archaeological sites.  We had no brochures for the locations (our fault) but even more so, there is no website, brochure, or other resource that is a one stop shopping for, how to “plan your road trip west if you are interested in museums and archaeology”

What are some solutions?

  • Gozaic is a service that attempts to fill the void, but after two years, judging by their website they have not been very successful.  Neither Parkin, Spiro, or the Chickasaw Nation Cultural Center show up on their searches. Administered through Heritage Travel Inc., a subsidiary of the National Trust for Historic Preservation, Gozaic has the potential of Culture 24 in the United Kingdom that hosts pages and links that direct the visitor to venues by type, such as prehistoric.
  • Trail guides, such as the Louisiana’s Indians Mounds of Northeast Louisiana, the Megalith Trail of the Morbihan region of France, or the Archaeological and Heritage Trails around Inverness, Scotland UK, are becoming increasingly popular as a means for cultural heritage travel.  However, most of these resources stop at modern state or county political boundaries.  The Great River Road website is an example of a tool that might be of more interest to the regional traveler as it traces cultural heritage venues along the entire Mississippi River corridor in the United States.
  • Perhaps most effective, but least efficient is for each cultural heritage venue to stock the rack cards and basic promotional information for everything within a few hundred mile radius of their site.
  • I wrote about Kent Vickery last week, a former professor of mine who retired to Woodland Park Colorado.  About one year ago, a couple stopped into our Museum.  Again, by coincidence I was at the front desk, asked where the couple were from and they said Woodland Park Colorado.  I asked if they knew Kent Vickery.  They replied they went to the same church as Kent, and he advised them on museums to visit during their trip.  This story and countless others, show that word of mouth seems one of our best promotional tools.
How do you market your site or museum to the cultural heritage traveler?

Upgrade Now or Become Obsolete!

I try to keep abreast of developments in social media as it relates to museums – the tag cloud on this blog reflects that interest.  There are several blogs and e-newsletters that offer insights on how we do social media at the C.H. Nash Museum at Chucalissa. These resources include Nonprofit Tech 2.0,  Marketing Profs Today, and Tech Soup.  One of the most relevant social media blogs for museums is Coleen Dilenschneider’s Know Your Own Bone.

“Upgrade Now or Become Obsolete” is a heading from Heather Mansfield’s newly published Social Media for Social Good: A How To Guide for Nonprofits.   The heading seems a dire warning.  With budget cuts and reduced staffs, how can the medium to small-sized museums be expected to take on the additional social media upgrade?  I don’t think there is an easy answer to this question.  However, Mansfield’s book provides a firm basis to assess a museum or other nonprofit institutions social media presence.  She notes in the Introduction that the book can form the basis of a social media strategic plan.  I agree.

For museums who are beginning to think about mobile apps (Web 3.0), but are still grappling with their social media (Web 2.0), and wondering if the upgrade means they are going to abandon their websites (Web 1.0), Mansfield’s book is ideal.  Mansfield divides the book into three parts based on the noted types of online communication methods.  She clearly demonstrates the interrelationship of the three types.  She argues that one is not better than the other, but serve different purposes.  For example after discussing the Web 1.0 static web page and e-newsletter, the subsequent Web 2.0 discussion of Social Media is viewed as a tool that also drives traffic back to the web page.  At the same time, the web page promotes and is tied to the Social Media.

Each discussion in the book concludes with a list of 5 Must Have and 11 Best Practices for topics such as Website Design, E-newsletters, and Donate Now campaigns.  In discussing Social Media projects Mansfield starts with 11 organizational points to consider before even setting up a Facebook page.  A pleasant addition to the book is that Mansfield provides time estimates that different tasks, such as blogging, Facebook posts, YouTube videos, will take for staff to complete each week.  Although only estimates, I found the numbers a bit on the high side and geared more toward larger institutions than the average museum with only a handful of employees.

Another asset to the book is that each section ends with a list of sites that are Examples of Excellence for the points discussed in the chapter.  “Google This” listings for further investigations are also included throughout the book.  The volume concludes with an appendix checklist to guide the reader through the entire social media process.  Mansfield writes that “To utilize every tool and best practice on this checklist could take 12 to 24 months.  Don’t let yourself get overwhelmed by this.  As long as you have the will, you have the time” (p.xiv).  My takeaway is that if one expects to “do” social media in the next month and check it off their task list, they will be disappointed.  As well, Mansfield notes that one should not expect huge returns, whether in visitation or donations, after publishing the first few e-newsletters or fund-raising appeals.  Social media is a process not an event.

Mansfield’s book will be useful to the novice just launching an online social media presence and for those who have worked at it for a few years but need to review, fine-tune, revise, and update their process.  I suspect that the only folks who will find the book too simplistic are those on the caliber of Mansfield’s Examples of Excellence.  For the rest of us, Social Media for Social Good is an excellent resource.  For myself, I have a shopping list of tasks to get busy on.

What are the key resources that guide your social media process?

Museums, Archaeology & Mobile Apps

Got myself an iPad a couple of weeks ago so I am now learning about the mobile app business.  I have to confess that the biggest draw for me in taking the iPad plunge was to use a music/sound making app called Reactable.  At the same, I sufficiently rationalized the iPad’s portability and work applications as factors to justify the cost.  To dutifully follow-up on the rationalizations, I went to the App Store and searched on Anthropology, Archaeology, Museums to see what all was out there.  There is a good bit of cool stuff.  You can tour Roman-era London via the Londinium app produced by the Museum of London, explore the Please Touch the Exhibit app from the Melbourne Museum, view fine art in the Philips Collection multimedia app based in Washington D.C., and on and on . . .

There is a good bit of museum and archaeology app stuff out there.  But are these apps the latest fad, toys, or what?  As is often the case the American Association of Museum provides a good summary overview text on the subject.  Mobile Apps for Museums: The AAM Guide to Planning and Strategy edited by Nancy Proctor is a good place to start investigating the applicability of these new mobile applications.  Proctor is the Smithsonian’s Head of New Media Initiatives.

In 100 pages, the volume contains 12 brief overview essays on almost all phases of mobile apps from the technical to practical considerations.  An additional 12-page glossary interprets the jargon inherent in any such discussion.  Although a careful read of the entire volume is worthwhile, several essays stood out to me:

  •  Robert Stein’s essay “Mobile Content Strategies for Content Sharing and Long-Term Sustainability” deals with the compatibility of museum apps across time and space.  He reports on a paper he and Proctor co-authored at the 2011 Museums and the Web Conference that addresses this issue and references the TourML wiki as a source for ongoing dialogue.  The upshot of the article is recognizing the importance in the early stages of app development that there are industry standards to assure the production of quality and interactive products.
  • Kate Haley Goldman’s essay “Understanding Adoption of Mobile Technology with Museums” is an important first read for anyone considering mobile apps in museum settings.   Goldman astutely observes that “for institutions already using mobile interpretation, encouraging visitors to use the mobile interpretation was the largest challenge.  Yet for others – vendors and researchers, as well as those considering projects – attracting new visitors via mobile was a primary goal.  This disconnect represents a great opportunity for future research” (p. 67).  Goldman speculates that part of the disconnect comes from the validity and reliability of the visitor survey measures.  She argues for visitor based longitudinal studies to help clarify the issue.  This understanding echoes Clay Shirkey’s concern that internet technology must be relevant to existing behavior.
  • Jane Burton’s essay “Playful Apps” provides another layer of insights as the relationship of the museum user to museum apps. She notes that you can explore physics by playing Launchball from the Science Museum of London or learn about human origins by visiting Meanderthal from the Smithsonian National Museum of Natural History.  She cites Flurry, a San Francisco based smartphone analytics firm report, in noting that “studying the U.S. mobile gamer, we note that she earns over 50% more than the average American, is more than twice as likely to have earned a college bachelor’s degree, and is more like to be white or Asian” (p. 74).  Like Goldman, she finds that conventional wisdom on app adoption and use in museums might be suspect and counter the conventional wisdom of the typical app user.
The collection of essays provides an excellent starting point and balanced overview for anyone wishing to get beyond the immediate must have hype or the flip side of too quickly dismissing the use of mobile apps in museum or archaeology public engagement efforts.  However, except for an essay on mobile apps at the Minneapolis Institute of Arts, no author in the volume considered in a substantive way whether the apps actually fit in with the mission of the museum or organization.  Proposals for adopting such new technology that are thoroughly enmeshed in the mission of the institution will allow justification of the high cost of app development and equipment often needed to operate the systems.  Otherwise, nay sayers (and funders) may argue that we are just jumping on to the latest interpretive fad.

What is your experience with mobile apps?

Museums: Online, Real-Time, or Both?

A couple of years ago there seemed to be a sharp divide between proponents of online vs. real-time museum experiences.  Now the online museum experience is accepted as here to stay.  I was surprised at the lack of hostility from the museum world toward the Google Art Project.  Having gotten past the knee-jerk position of taking sides in the online vs real-time debate, the discussion now focuses on how the two experiences complement each other.  Such is focus of All Together Now: Museums and Online Collaborative Learning by William B. Crow and Herminia Wei-hsin Din, published this year by the American Association of Museums (AAM).

The volume is typical of the AAM publications that offer a general introduction to an area, coupled with an abundance of resources for further study.  The basic premise is laid out in the Preface that states:

We see these changes and innovations as terrifically exciting – not as a celebration of the new media and technologies themselves, but for the possibilities they offer people.  As we shift from the Information Age to the Collaboration Age, these new technologies offer people the ability to work together in ways that simply weren’t possible even 15 years ago.  And, although museums draw strength from their unique physical collections and locations, they also now see themselves as digital collections and communities, located in an increasingly global world (p. 6).

The authors organize the presentation in four parts:

  • A basic discussion of online collaborative learning – the underlying theory, types, resources, and challenges
  • the conditions necessary for implementing online collaborative learning
  • the roles individuals play in the process
  • the tools for building the online collaborative community of practice
A highlight of the book is the substantive case studies that review the methods, successes, and challenges of the online collaborative process.  The case studies include the Smithsonian Commons project, San Diego’s Balboa Park Cultural Partnership of 26 institutions, and other projects both large and small.  The case studies are particularly valuable in that they give equal balance to what worked, what did not work, and future directions.

The message of All Together Now is consistent with that of Clay Shirkey who notes that it is not the media or technology that drives the behavior but rather enables existing interests.  A distinct value of the book takes the collaborative process beyond the online experience to consider collaboration on an inter-institutional basis as well.

Those who are just beginning to explore collaborative online learning will find All Together Now a useful model within which to start their discussions.  For those who have already ventured down this road, the volume contains a framework to assess the efficiency of existing programs.  For all readers, the book has a wealth of online resources to investigate additional online collaborative opportunities.

The authors and case study contributors leave behind the debate of online vs real-time and instead embrace the collaborative reality that marks the current and future phase of museum outreach to the public we serve.  This focus is consistent with the AAM theme for the 2012 Annual Meeting of the Creative Community.

How are you moving your institution or practice toward online collaborative learning?

Advocacy & Museums: Not Just for Administrators Anymore

With shrinking support dollars, advocacy is more than ever a pressing and essential survival skill for public institutions.  The American Association of Museums‘ (AAM) 2011 book Speak Up For Museums: The AAM Guide to Advocacy by Gail Ravnitzky Siberglied is an excellent starting point for the discussion.  As AAM President Ford Bell notes in the volume’s Preface “We advocate for the value of our museums every time we open an exhibit, welcome a school group, send out a press release, meet with funders or hold a special event in the community.  Advocacy can be as simple and personal as chatting with a visitor” (p. xi).  Advocacy work with elected officials and policy makers is the focus of the volume.

Like many AAM publications, the scope of Speak Up For Museums is basic but comprehensive.  The volume covers the limitations in advocacy work for nonprofits, involvement of museum boards, advice from public officials and museum advocates, and a basic civics lesson on government structures and operations related to advocacy.

Two chapters stood out as particularly helpful to me.  First, Chapter 3, An Advocacy Inventory, contains step-by-step templates/guides for compiling institutional data (e.g., visitation demographics, elected and other public officials, and economic data) critical for successful advocacy.

Chapter 6, Start Advocating Today! A Week-by-Week Plan provides a list of 57 advocacy tasks.  The examples range from simple to complex and include adding all relevant elected (city, state, county, federal) officials to your mailing list and social media sites (and vice versa), updating a museum’s virtual presence on websites, Wikipedia and social media pages, and  joining with other area museums in advocacy efforts.

The AAM hosts a Speak Up For Museum webpage with many links and information on advocacy work.

The 125 page volume was a quick read and a ready reference for framing further advocacy work.  My takeaway points directly and indirectly from the book include:

  • Museums continue to move from being collections driven to centering on the visitor experience in the same way that archaeology now includes a public accountability component unheard of 50 years ago.  In this regard, all practitioners take on advocacy roles.  Advocacy is now embraced by the field archaeologist, the curator, and the research scientist, not just the administrators, educators and marketing departments.  Particularly with the advent of social media institutions no longer have the luxury of controlling the means and pace of their advocacy efforts.  Speak Up For Museums focuses on advocacy with public officials.   Although not explicitly stated, the public realm of advocacy also requires a full team effort.  Despite centralized press releases and lobbying efforts, all staff need to create their 3-minute elevator speech advocating for the institution.
  • I have a new appreciation that advocacy is a long-term process that starts with building a relationship today.  I often smile smugly at the Facebook entries from the institution that only posts for self-promotion or Kickstarter/Pepsi Challenge type fundraising efforts.  I suspect the public official feels the same way if they only hear from me when I need something but am not engaged as part of the broader solution.
  • Advocacy is not rocket science.  Advocacy can be as simple as putting one foot in front of the other and doing the next right thing.  Adding the email addresses of all relevant public officials to an e-newsletter list is pretty straightforward and can probably be achieved with a half-hour of Google search time.  In fact, Chapter 3 “An Advocacy Inventory” suggests that the template/guide tasks “can also be done as a case study for a graduate class in museum studies” (p. 16).  Hmm . . . sounds like Project 1 for my Museum Practices graduate seminar in the Museum Studies Certificate Program at the University of Memphis this fall semester – pick an area museum and develop an advocacy guide for them.

Speak Up For Museums is a great resource to start or further develop an institution’s advocacy work.  Although geared specifically toward museums, the application is adaptable to a range of nonprofit agencies.

What are your tools for advocacy?

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