Elycia Wallis spoke with us about her many experiences at Museum Victoria with online collections and several other collections-based technologies. It was a fascinating discussion that highlighted participation with museums in an online setting.
Dr. Elycia Wallis, PhD is Manager of Online Collections at Museum Victoria in Australia, where her role covers all aspects of publishing collections information online to Museum Victoria websites and beyond. She has worked in the museum sector for sixteen years, starting as a collection manager, then moving into bioinformatics, library informatics, and web project management. Originally trained as a scientist, she holds a PhD in Zoology and has more recently completed a Masters in Knowledge Management. Elycia is the current Chair of the Global Biodiversity Heritage Library Executive, a committee that oversees a project that aims to digitize and make freely available biological literature. She is also node manager for the Australian Biodiversity Heritage Library which runs under the auspices of the Atlas of Living Australia. Elycia is the immediate past Chair of the Faunal Collections Informatics Group, a committee that manages open access to the Australian, collections based, distributed biological datasets. Recent projects for Elycia and her team at Museum Victoria have included producing the Taxonomic Toolkit for Marine Life of Port Phillip Bay, creating a channel for Museum Victoria on HistoryPin, managing Museum Victoria’s contribution to the Google Art project, and developing an iOS app called the Field Guide to Victorian Fauna.
Participation with Online Collections
With over 75,000 records online, Museum Victoria has a rather comprehensive online collection. Elycia spoke on ways in which her team at Museum Victoria has made viewing the collection a participatory experience by offering a comments area and social tagging capabilities. The online collection will be going through some updates soon, and one feature that Elycia would like to see implemented is a way for like-minded people to connect with one another on Museum Victoria’s website. With new features such as these, members of the public that search and view similar items would be able to interact, building a social network around Museum Victoria’s collection.
Another interesting piece of information Elycia shared about Museum Victoria’s online collection concerned what types of users were viewing the collections. It is easy to assume that only the general public use these resources, so designs are targeted towards them. However, in Museum Victoria’s case, a substantial amount of their staff uses the online collection throughout their daily responsibilities. Considering that only particular staff would be allowed to view the museum’s internal collection software, this makes sense in hindsight. Therefore, when designing an online collection, museums should keep their staff in mind and design websites to meet their needs as well.
Elycia discussed the use of other web-based technologies, specifically apps and sites such as HistoryPin. These technologies can offer museums the chance to speak to a wide range of public around the world. When developing museum experiences on these technologies, a global audience should be kept in mind, but this should not come to the detriment of a museum’s local audience. In the case of the Field Guide to Victorian Fauna, an iOS app, the needs of local Australians must be met, as the app is intended to be used while out and about in nature.
The Google Art Project
Elycia also directly spoke about Museum Victoria’s involvement in the Google Art Project. As a scientific and cultural museum, there was some trepidation about the museum’s involvement in this project; however one look at their page will demonstrate that the museum holds many indigenous cultural objects that have great heritage and artistic value.
Elycia spoke on a variety of other topics including crowdsourcing, open access, resistance and difficulties with past projects, and how her PhD in Zoology has played a role in her position at Museum Victoria. Be sure to listen to the full interview below to hear Elycia speak on these and other topics related to her career in museums.
Elycia will be presenting at the Museum Computer Network Conference on Thursday, November 8, 2012. You can follow her on Twitter at @elyw.
Listen to the interview
Listen to the streaming audio above or download the mp3 file.
I really enjoyed listening to Dr. Wallis’ insightful interview. The museum experiences that she shared helped make our readings come to life. I love her expression about making online collections available to whomever and wherever users are looking: “Out to wherever the eyeballs are.” We were also reminded of the importance of creating a participatory site, knowing your users and what they want from the collection, and balancing the curatorial voice which is “louder in your ear.” It was fascinating to hear the behind-the-scenes stories of her many projects and how this growth has led to more sharing, more collaboration and improved knowledge of the collection.
I’m glad you mentioned Dr. Wallis’ comments on greater visibility for collections, Linda. I think it is often thought that we should keep all content on our own museum sites, but if people are not visiting these sites, is this really best use? By sharing collections (and other museum materials) on popular sites, the missions of our museums will be shared with more people.
Thank you for speaking to our class! This was a great interview that touched on a lot of subjects – its impressive to see how much Museum Victoria has done with technology.
I agree that when putting collections online and creating digital collections that the staff needs to be kept in mind – how will the staff be using the images and information? In my own experience I would personally appreciate easier access to high resolution images and basic tombstone information for the pieces in our Founding and Permanent collections.
I love Eely’s expression about getting her collections “out where the eyeballs are” on a more widely used website, rather than depending on the audience to discover them. It is a point that I am trying to drive to our upper management.
I especially found their failed (or less than successful) projects. It was interesting that neither the curators nor the public seemed to be interested in the more “flashy” timeline element. It was even more interesting to see the result of their “heat map” metrics and found out that the public didn’t even click NEAR the timeline
I was also interested to hear that they are planning to get rid of their user tagging project in their next iteration of their online collections management system. After excitedly talking about it with Susan Chun earlier this semester, it is interesting to see just how quickly technologies come and go in our line of work.
As I started listening to Ely’s presentation, I was transported back to Melbourne Museum. I had the privilege of volunteering for a year behind the scenes as a researcher/translator, working in the archives. While listening, my interest was piqued when Ely mentioned the crowdsourced Accessibility project “Describe Me”. What a great way to involve the community! The relative success of the pop-up survey in terms of providing feedback surprised and encouraged me. The reality of Museum Victoria’s technology bringing communities of hobby-ists together is a great model for facilitating lifelong learning. I would love to hear more details about this. Keep up the good work!
I especially enjoyed how the online collections at Museum Victoria include an option for commenting and asking questions. In addition to tagging, I think this provides a great resource and platform for creating a dialogue, even if the museum is not able to keep up with or participate, a conversation can be generated amongst the online visitors.
I am interested in seeing how the public will respond to the crowd sourcing project, Describe Me, once it goes live. The concept of asking visitors to write one sentence to describe the image they are viewing is an interesting one. This not only helps the institution in publishing their works in the most accessible way possible, but provides the opportunity for their online visitors to share their voice and be a part of a project. Wallis mentioned earlier in the interview that one of the main purposes of the online collections was to not only make it accessible to the public but to make it easier for individuals with similar interests to find one another, through tagging, commenting, or questioning sections. This is something all institutions need to be thinking about when they decide to make their collections accessible online. How do we reach our audience and how can we connect them together?
Great interview, Matt! I found the use of the name “Discovery Center” as the descriptor of the team that responded to public inquiries to be very telling. It shows how devoted the museum is to helping visitors and users “discover” their world and be better educated about their community. The fact that feedback rose so much after they established their online collections was also great to hear.
I also love that they have such a streamlined process for responding to visitors.
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