18/01/10: The week in cultural heritage online

bridgetmck[This week’s guest post is by Bridget McKenzie, founder and CEO of Flow Associates]

Taking the baton from Mike Ellis to share some links and comments on stuff this week, it’s been hard to focus on what I’ve found interesting in our profession, as my attention has been so taken by the disastrous earthquake in Haiti. It does prompt reflection for us in that much of a capital city has been destroyed, including historic buildings and the lives and works of some practising artists. I can’t imagine how we would deal with that. Scientists now think that extreme storms, increasing in frequency with climate change, can trigger earthquakes. The susceptibility of  Haiti to natural disasters (repeated floods & hurricanes) is probably due to deforestation by its French colonisers. So much of the value of cultural heritage institutions has been about preserving things and buildings, but in some places like Haiti and as time goes on for many more places, that may become a very difficult challenge. That’s one reason why I believe digitisation of culture and knowledge is so important (as long as we do it as efficiently as we can). And digital tools aren’t just useful for posterity but for the ‘here and now’, for example in the way they’ve been so rapidly deployed to help the rescue effort, with satellite maps and data services for locating relatives and so on.

I wonder if the ’emergency’ facing our sector, in the form of funding cuts to education and culture, will give us the impetus to deploy digital tools in more agile ways. This week both the Conservative and Labour parties made funding statements for culture at the RSA State of the Arts conference. Here’s a useful comparison and summary. In a scenario of funding cuts can we convince politicians that digital strategy can actually save money and produce value, and not just be a drain on budgets, with vague outcomes?

As we run up to the election, our various quangos are jostling to advocate the value of culture either through bold statements (like this from NMDC), through holding expert enquiries (like this from MLA) or through consultations (like this from ACE).

In the meantime, there is much to celebrate as museums & culture shift towards openness and collaboration. Here are two great examples:

The BBC and British Museum launched their major History of the World project. A positive reception has been obvious from so many tweets from regional partners announcing their contributions and schools getting excited about adding objects to it (e.g. Thomas Tallis @creativetallis on twitter).

The other good news is Culture24 releasing some sets of data feeds (venues, resources, events/exhibitions) with 3 levels of access (open, redacted, full), available in RSS, OAI-MPH & SOAP formats. This is just a pilot with more data & formats in the pipeline.

There’ll be more news to come over the next few weeks about open cultural data (for example about Culture Grid and DCMS digital strategies) and I’m pretty sure you in the Museums Computer Group will be the first to know. And the first to comment, bless you! Next to take the baton is Jim Richardson from Museum Marketing.

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2 comments on “18/01/10: The week in cultural heritage online
  1. Dear Ms B
    Interesting round up. Thanks
    On the BBC/BM project – I agree it is another example of collaboration.
    However, it’s also a great example of the role of the museum as broadcaster, as signaled by Neil MacGregor and Sir N Serota last July at the LSE.

    As I note in a blog post of my own yesterday, [http://www.peoplepoints.co.nz] the notion of the museum as broadcaster – as opposed to producers of the odd online video- needed a lift.

    It would be good to hear of others?

  2. Thanks for pointing that out Paul. Yes, it is a good example. I’d be interested to know of more examples. The idea of broadcast always makes me see the metaphor of concentric circles or ripples. This BM/BBC project was visualised at the UKMW09 conference as a set of concentric circles with the BM at centre, other museums outside that, and public participation beyond it. The BBC was decentralised, in the diagram, acting as an enabling platform. It doesn’t quite go all the way towards that in reality because the website is fully BBC, the Relic programme is very CBBC etc. But, it would be interesting to see how broadcasters could manage shifting out of the centre much more, especially for the online presence of projects.

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