Saturday 14 April 2007

The final day of the Museums and the Web 2007 Conference – and it’s a Saturday with, again sessions starting at 08.00 (I don’t think this would happen in similar conferences held in the UK).

Bookmarking Session

This morning I chaired the session on “Bookmarking”. David Bearman, the conference co-chair, described this as the ‘Brits Session’ when he invited me to chair the session, as the main authors of the two talks, on Visitor-constructed Personalized Learning Trails and Bookmarking in Museums: Extending the museum experience beyond the visit?, were based in the UK. When I met the two speakers, however, I found that the speakers, although working in London, were from the US and Italy (and Jonathon Bowen, who was supposed to speak, unfortunately could not attend the conference).

Despite only having two talks (most of the sessions had three) this was a content-rich session, and I had to draw questions to a close at the end of the 90 minutes. I have to confess that I was initially puzzled by the theme of the session, as bookmarking to me meant either recording my favourite Web pages in my browser or, in the context of social bookmarking, on a service such as del.icio.us.

Kevin Walker‘s talk described what was meant by bookmarking in a museum’s context. It seems that the term refers to the ability for users to record details of their visit to a museum Web site (or, indeed, the museum itself) for subsequent use. This is often achieved not, as I assumed from the term, by recording details on a Web browser within a museum, but by sending the information to the user in their home environment. The information may be recorded in a variety of ways (recorded as a personalised trail, on a PC, by recording the visitors physical location using Bluetooth, by recording their aural comments as they view exhibits, etc.) And the information may also be delivered to the visitor in a variety of ways, including email, SMS messages, etc. Kevin also explained why such bookmarking can be beneficial, particularly in terms of enriching the learning experiences of a visit to a museum.

Following Kevin’s broad overview, Silvia Filippini-Fantoni questioned the success, or not, of bookmarking services in libraries. It seems that bookmarking services are not very widely used. This, in part, is due to the low visibility of such services and also the confusing terminology. Such issues can clearly be addressed – and there is a feeling that bookmarking is not necessarily for everyone (and is likely to be of particular benefit to repeat visitors to a museum).

Small Museums

In the afternoon I attended a session on Small Museums which was chaired by Ian Edelman, Hampshire County Council. Joy Suliman gave the opening talk on Facilitating Access: Empowering small museums in which she described the centrally-provided content management system and hosting service provided by the Collections Australia Network (CAN) which is proving very popular for many small museums in Australia.

The second talk on A Family of Solutions for a Small Museum: The case of the Archaeological Museum in Milan described an open source tool which can be used for developing multimedia stories about exhibits in a museum, which can be accessed either using a Web browser or as a Flash application.

The final talk by Peter Gray, East Lothian Museum has the title Who are you calling cheap?. This was a great talk, describing how a consortium in Scotland had been successful in developing a variety of services without needed significant resources to support the development environment. This approach very much reflects my views on the approaches I think are currently applicable in a variety of areas.

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