Paul leads HLF on digital familiarisaton day
As part of the Heritage Lottery Fund’s ongoing commitment to keep up-to-date with how digital technology can help with participation and learning, Paul lead the HLF committee and team around various sites in London looking at how digital technology is currently being used.
The first part of the day was spent at the RSPB Reserve at Rainham Marshes using the ‘Discover Wildspace’ app. The app was commissioned by Veolia Havering Riverside Trust and Havering London Borough Council and lets visitors to the marshes explore the wildlife, buildings and history of the area.
The HLF team liked that the app was more than just a guide and incorporated an I-Spy style game which got the competitive juices flowing. One of the team got very excited when he was first to spot the Eurostar hi-speed train which zoomed across the horizon of the marshes. Another factor which was favoured was the ability to hear the bird songs through the app. When you are stood in the middle of the marshes you often hear the bird before you spot it and being able to compare the bird song with the app helped identify the species.
It wasn’t all good though, the team discovered the limitations of using a smart phone outside. Rainham lived up to its name and it rained down on the marshes. The phone screens were then spattered with rain which made it hard to see and also to use the touch sensitive screens. The sun eventually came out but the team found that using a backlit screen when the sun is shining is very difficult to see the details. This is where the ‘Read it’ feature of the app came in very useful.
Everyone then got on the coach and headed off to the Grant Museum of Zoology. If you haven’t been to the Grant Museum, it is a fascinating combination of skeletons, mounted animals and specimens preserved in fluid. With over 67,000 specimens in quite a small space there is certainly a lot to look at.
The team at the Grant Museum and postgraduates from UCL have created a new way to engage the audience in the exhibits using iPads. The QRator project allows visitors to have a say in how an object is interpreted and take part in ongoing conversation with others. The iPads in the museum give people to chance to create digital tags for specimens and answer provacative questions such as “Do animals in zoos have any value for conservation?”
People get to post their comments which future visitors can read. The controversial point that the museum are experimenting with is allowing every comment to be sent live with no moderation. They want to give people the feeling that they are contributing and giving the immediate feedback of seeing your comment is an important part of this. If you simply got a comment box saying something like “Thank you for your comment, it will be moderated and sent live when approved” you wouldn’t get the same connection. So far the experiment is working well with only a couple of spurious comments being spotted among the more thought-provoking additions made by visitors.
UCL also have the Petrie Museum of Egyptian Archaeology on the campus and so we all moved across to see what the team there have been doing with digital technology.
Much like the Grant Museum, the Petrie has an amazing collection of Egyptian and Sudanese archaeology and trying to engage people in new ways is something the team are very excited about. We saw how the team have cannibalised an XBOX to allow visitors to manipulate and study objects through moving their own body; how digital scanning of objects allows people to see the rebuilding process of ancient artefacts; and how 3D printing can be used to give people the opportunity to handle very sensitive objects.
An evaluation report has been carried out on the various digital projects and a lot of positive response has been given. There was a lot of talk about how the technology contributes to the Petrie being a fun place to visit, interesting and in-tune with the times. In the report several people specifically noted that the use of new technology is ‘uplifting’, ‘makes the museum more attractive’, and ‘is something you will remember’. The HLF team all got stuck in and engaged with all the digital projects. From my perspective is was great to see how these projects got people involved in the artefacts at a far deeper level than showing them in glass cabinets.
Finally, after the exuberance of the Petrie Museum the HLF team all moved down the road to visit the British Film Institute to hear about how digital conservation techniques are being used to archive our TV and film heritage. Ruth Kelly, Head of Collections and Information at the BFI, talked us all through the technological minefield of conserving film and transferring it all to digital.
When you start to hear the figures, such as 322,036 hours of SVHS and 93,337 hours of Digibeta, that need to be migrated to digital before the originals decay you start to get a feeling for the size of the project the BFI are undertaking. Over the next seven years the BFI will be needing to store over 22 petebytes of information and so opens the question of where this will all go. A daunting amount of data but this is dwarfed when you think about all the other heritage organisations in the country that also want to digitally archive their collections; not just film but still images, objects and artefacts. Ruth put the idea forward of creating a UK heritage cloud that would allow all heritage organisations to store their data in a single and cohesive bank. A great idea but this would need a lot of backing and buy in from all the heritage organisations as well as from government.
And that is where we left it. A morning trapse around the natural habitat in Rainham, talking about pickled moles at the Grant Museum, getting a heritage workout at the Petrie and finally a lesson in digital conservation at the BFI. It is so good to see so many people getting involved with the question of how digital projects can enhance our heritage and the museum experience. There are so many others out there that we couldn’t visit but this was a great day a getting familiar with the opportunities the digital world holds.