Saturday, May 31, 2008

May 2008 Update

Another whirlwind month, hard to believe it's over. As you've already seen, I spent a few days in Ontario for a great conference, but the rest of the time I've either been in the office or doing site visits.

Steering Committee
Since Virginia MacIsaac had to step down from the committee we have been without a Cape Breton representative. After consulting with some of the members and committee, I am working on finding a replacement. Several people came highly recommended, and hopefully one of them will be able to fill the position.
The group meets quarterly to ensure that Passage is on the right track and meeting the members’ needs. If you would like to learn more about the committee’s role or are interested in taking part, please contact Karin.

Data Cleaning & Uploading
Although it was once again a very busy month I managed to clean 5635 records from two sites, bringing the grand total of cleaned records to 88,731. This is a slow process so please bear with me as I work my way through the sites. Remember that the province is expecting us to have approximately 200,000 records online by November, so if you had your database cleaned by Chara or Erin last year, please upload them as soon as possible. If you need help with the process or want your summer staff to work on this, just drop me a line and I can walk you/them through the process.

Site Visits
On the road again, Just can't wait to get on the road again...
With the database upgrades completed and museums opening for the season, that means that I get to start making road trips. My goal is to visit two sites a week, so please let me know when you want your visit.
What takes place during a visit? First and foremost I will be installing and reviewing the database upgrades. Once this is completed, we can move on to the data cleaning & uploading process. We can talk about any questions, comments, or concerns that you may have, and I will make sure that these are brought to the Steering Committee's attention if need be. This is a great time for your summer students to get a crash course in museum work, but remember that there has to be permanent staff member or volunteer there to receive the training.

Made in NS – Phase III
The CHIN application was submitted on May 15th for another round of enrichment work. This time we are going to focus on the Chenhall category of Furnishings, which includes Bedding, Furniture, Household Accessories, etc. This was chosen because there is a wealth of information available on NS furniture and manufacturers (partially through the new Manufacturer’s database), and it is a category of great interest to the general public.

I have been working with CHIN on the details of our contract, and we are planning on a start date of July 11th. Because of the success of the past two years' enrichment projects, CHIN has asked that each participating site contribute a minimum of 20 records instead of the usual 10. In order to receive funding we also promised to focus our attentions on those sites who have not been able to participate in years past. The coordinator and/or Young Canada Works interns will be doing site visits and day-long sessions with these museums in order to assist them with the work. By doing this over the summer we will also be able to take advantage of the summer staff, and hopefully encourage & interest them enough to continue with the work on their own. Other Passage sites are of course encouraged to participate again.

Technology in the Arts Conference, Waterloo ON

I spent May 8-10 in the city of Waterloo, Ontario. This conference was very different from the two in April in that it wasn't just for museum people. There were attendees from all aspects of the Arts field, from the film industry to visual arts. Having the opportunity to hear about other groups' projects and how they use technology in their work had everyone frantically taking notes and exchanging business cards.

During Ken Coates’ (Dean of Arts) opening address and welcome to the University of Waterloo, he reminded the group that “what you do, that no technology can offer, is life”. While it can and should be used to enhance our activities, there will always be a desire to experience things firsthand and in living colour.

I attended a session on podcasting, as this is something that PEI has done with their community museums and CHIN is eager to fund more projects like it. We got to play around with recording & editing sound clips, and while this may sound complicated or intimidating, it was surprisingly easy to do.

Embarking on this kind of a project obviously means that you need to buy a microphone. While some people would suggest that you buy the most expensive and high-quality microphone you can afford, the session instructors took a different approach. If it sounds good when you play the clip back, it works fine. That said, Belkin and Samson are two brands that come highly recommended.

If conducting interviews it is a good idea to buy two microphones, one for the interviewer and one for the interviewee. By using Skype you can conduct interviews online and use the plug-in called “Pamela” to record the call. While this may slightly diminish the quality, it is a great way to access experts and other long-distance people for free.

If you have the time and resources, you can release regular podcasts and have them show up in the ITunes store by submitting the url feed. This can help to build a subscriber base to your organization, and therefore more interest, but only if you can generate more podcasts on a regular basis.

Social Networking
Facebook, MySpace…what is it with the obsession over social networking sites? As I mentioned in the CMA update, museums are starting to get on the bandwagon and use these extremely popular sites to their advantage. The fact is that Canadians spend more time online than any other population. Statistics also show that people tend to visit between 7-10 websites each day, which means that building a big site for yourself won’t grab your audience as much as embedding yourself on a major utility site. Not to mention the fact that every time a site links to your main website, it makes you site look more important to search engines.

Social networking should never replace your own website, but it can definitely help to augment your online presence. As Michele Perras stated, “Media are not extensions of ourselves but interfaces with experiences”. These sites can provide you with the opportunity to engage your audience and find out what they want to see in museums in new and exciting ways. Instead of using visitor surveys, you can facilitate discussions online. Your community and audience will then feel more connected and involved, increasingly the likelihood of real visits to the museum.