Embracing Digital Culture for Collections by Sarah Powell

In September last year MTG Hawke’s Bay opened its doors exhibiting the Hawke’s Bay Museums Trust collection in a redeveloped modern building.  While the facility itself is a trailblazer for current architectural trends, the online presence of the museum was somewhat underwhelming. Through my role as a Collection Assistant specialising in digitisation, I saw a wealth of potential to highlight aspects of the museum’s broad collection to an online audience.

I was fortunate to attend the 2013 National Digital Forum conference where I was inspired by Simon Tanner who discussed ways of understanding the value and impact of digital culture. He investigated ways for cultural, heritage and creative sectors to cope with the challenges of meeting the public desire for digital content whilst maintaining curatorial responsibilities. His solution was the “Balance Value Impact Model” which he created to assess the value and impact of digital culture on users and adjust the content to meet their needs, rather than creating masses of digital content that has little or no value to anyone¹. Using the BVI Model I approached MTG Director, Douglas Lloyd Jenkins, with a strategy that looked at the ways social media could be used to leverage our existing online archive and photographic collection, convey the untold stories of dormant artefacts and create a meaningful experience for our online audience.

With his support my first approach was to use MTG’s existing social media pages to publish stories around objects with historical links to the Hawke’s Bay region. In line with current online trends a Pinterest page was created where we could easily curate themed photographic sets directly from our online catalogue. Further to this, multiple “behind-the-scenes” blogs were published to our wordpress site, covering our autumn installation of exhibitions.  We then established a fortnightly blog schedule and recruited participants from the collections team.

blog 1

Behind the scenes photos of MTG staff working on the autumn exhibition changeovers.

In consultation with the Collections Team Leader we embarked on larger projects which would add depth to our online resources. One example was digitising a recent donation of 150 letters between Bernard Madden, a serviceman in WWII, and the family he left behind in Napier when he embarked on his four year charge in the New Zealand armed forces.  These letters allow for an otherwise unseen view of military service and the home front in what was certainly a tumultuous time.

L: Letter from Bernard Madden, 20 September 1941, gifted by Barbara Madden, collection of Hawke’s Bay Museums Trust, Ruawharo Tā-ū-rangi, 2013/65/10. R: Bernard Madden, photograph courtesy of Barbara Madden.

L: Letter from Bernard Madden, 20 September 1941, gifted by Barbara Madden, collection of Hawke’s Bay Museums Trust, Ruawharo Tā-ū-rangi, 2013/65/10. R: Bernard Madden, photograph courtesy of Barbara Madden.

Another project was photographing a selection of Art Deco Textiles from the HBMT collection in time for Art Deco Weekend and sharing them online in an image gallery. This allowed for the extremely fragile textiles to be viewed time and time again without the risk of being damaged through exhibition display. We were also fortunate to have a local secondary school student who completed her work experience at the museum earlier this year. As part of her placement she created a stunning photographic essay of the museum from her perspective, which we have posted on our Flickr page.

L: Lights, by Gloria Reid. R: Beaded dress and shoes, c 1920, France, gifted by E.C Blackmore, collection of collection of Hawke’s Bay Museums Trust, Ruawharo Tā-ū-rangi, 84/95, 84/96

L: Lights, by Gloria Reid. R: Beaded dress and shoes, c 1920, France, gifted by E.C Blackmore, collection of collection of Hawke’s Bay Museums Trust, Ruawharo Tā-ū-rangi, 84/95, 84/96

However, the largest collaboration for the museum was linking up with DigitalNZ as a contribution partner by sharing our online content from our photographic and archive collection. From all of these efforts we have noticed a steady increase from online visitors, a growth in the amount of time visitors spend perusing our online catalogue and increased interaction and engagement with our online users. As we have yet to truly assess the impact and value our increased online presence has created for our users, judging from the overall increase in online visitors we are definitely on the right track.

Sarah Powell
MTG Hawke’s Bay
Collections Assistant Photography

 

Watch Simon Tanners’s 2013 NDF talk here https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=kDyBCmPomFQ

[1] Tanner, S. (2012) Measuring the Impact of Digital Resources: The Balanced Value Impact Model. King’s College London,  October 2012. Available at: http://www.kdcs.kcl.ac.uk/innovation/impact.html%5B1%5D

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