Back at 'Reality Ranch': Social Media Pioneers and Defenders of the Fort

There is an interesting discussion thread about some institutions blocking social media communication for their staff. This started off as a short reply but has mutated into comment on broader related issues which may be worth a quick squiz. Museum Australia’s adoption of Ning as a communication platform caused initial problems as our Sophos anti-virus screening software identified the site as being for ‘dating purposes’ and blocked access. Ning has now been added to the safe list – although it is likely that only a few ‘trusted’ staff users with bona fide professional interests will access the site.

The issue of whether GLAM sector institutions enable, and encourage, staff to use a broad range of social media platforms in pursuit of extending work-related professional dialogue, and the dissemination of information, is wrapped up in broader organisational issues rooted in ‘workplace culture’. Museums and libraries are no different from businesses or schools that are either ‘open and responsive to change’ or comfortable with traditional, ‘tried and tested forms of producing the goods’. The State Library of Queensland for example, positively advocates the use of social media and has funded staff participation, and set an across the board expectation that, library staff pursue the European ‘Licence 2 Test Drive’ course. Time has been set aside for this self-directed staff professional development within work time. This laudable pioneering spirit is also found at the Powerhouse Museum, Museum Victoria and several other state museums and libraries.

We certainly live in interesting (and rapidly changing) times. There is a loud and significant clarion call from Commonwealth and State governments to digitise collections to enable free public access to our cultural assets. As Senator Kate Lundy stated in her address at the GLAM-Wiki conference in Canberra in August, this is the 'default position of the government’. This implies the GLAM sector adopting a spirit of openness, sharing and connectedness. Other inducements to participate in an open access, communication revolution include: the Government 2.0 Taskforce initiative, the Government Information Licensing Framework (GILF) and the need to respond, in this state, to the
Queensland 2020:Ideas to Action in order to facilitate
'universal access to our arts and cultural assets’.

Back at 'Reality Ranch’ many GLAM sector institutions are contending with multiple challenges, not least of which are retaining staff during financially challenging times and maintaining traditional visiting audience numbers. Developing a policy for the use of social media (or helping to reduce your institution’s carbon footprint) may be mere peripheral points on the strategic planning radar. Other contributory forces which contribute to a state of partial inertia (in terms of the adoption of social media and digitisation strategies) lay with curatorial staff and the IT staff responsible for internet security. There are naturally honourable exceptions to this generalisation; this observation is far from being a slight on their good work. However, curators and IT gurus have reasons for maintaining the ‘status quo’; changing the role of curatorial expert to facilitator can be challenging for some (and anecdotally, liberating for others). Responding to public comments made after uploading digitised photographs of collections onto FLICKR or Wikimedia Commons is a tremendous form of social engagement for example, but this is thought to be time-consuming by sceptical staff. Raising the defensive internet screening barriers even higher is also an understandable response from people responsible for protecting the integrity of the data held on servers, which are subject to attack by a minority of the public with malevolent intent.

My personal view is that it is prudent to develop an understanding of the reasons why some GLAM sector institutions are not moving forward in embracing social media strategies at the pace advocates would like, and external government directives demand. There needs to be a better understanding of institutional workplace culture and any arterial blockages to progress before a remedial stent is applied. Resolutions to 'clear the barricades' include the social media pioneers demonstrating to others in the GLAM sector the pathways they chose, illustrating how the views of sceptics were won over and internal incumbrances overcome. A large dollop of assertive leadership and having 'champions for the cause' in high places are essential. The benefits of engaging in opening up public access to collections and interacting with the public using various forms of social media has to be seen to outweigh the reasons for ‘defending the fort’. To that end there are some great ideas being shared around through CAN and I hope, in time, through MANEXUS.

Website Links

SLQ Licence 2 Test Drive:

Senator Kate Lundy’s GLAM WIKI conference address

Collections Australia Network Outreach

The painting of 'Early Pioneers' was sourced from a school's learning resource in America and may be subject to copyright.

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Comment by David Milne on November 5, 2009 at 10:08
And here's another viewpoint.....

Perhaps it is not so much the loss of potential revenue and any leverage that may be squandered following sizeable investments in the production of online resources that is the real concern, but the loss of control of content (and any real and perceived ramifications of such loss of control).

The role of institutions as gatekeepers and interpreters of their collections is under threat in the free/shared economy that the Internet has made possible, and perhaps there is a fear that many of the roles that institutions currently play will eventually become superfluous in the era
of crowd-sourcing content ...

Sebastian Gurciullo
Comment by David Milne on November 4, 2009 at 15:46
The debate continues over on CAN with publicly circulated comments from Gary Vines and David O’Halloran. Here are their thoughts on related issues.

Galleries charging for access to artworks that we communally own through our taxes is pretty outrageous. The collections of public galleries should be available online – for free.

The same can be said for a policy of no photography in public exhibitions. Many quality international museums allow photography but some, including some in Australia do not. Why should visitors be denied permission to photograph an exhibition? It does not infringe copyright to take the picture. It is the use to which the picture is put that is the issue. Private study and private interest is ok.

Do museums exist to privide access to art? If the answer is yes, then allow access.

David O’Halloran

As an occasional contributor to Wikipedia, and with a personal philosophy that all knowledge should be freely shared, I disagree with the approach of the National Portrait Gallery. Wikipedia is a free service, it is not in the business of making money by ripping other peoples work. The digital rights argument is more difficult to make for publicly owned works that are no longer the sole income source for the creators. for example with on-line music or misappropriation of living artists work.

I wonder why our public institutes are so fearful of free public use of their collections. Are they just another form of corporate entity with commercial impulses the same as any other capitalists, or is their role the dissemination of knowledge and education. If the latter, than anything that can help make information more available, and get more people looking at and thinking about their collections should be a good thing. If the former, then how about they stop taking our taxes.

I note that the NPG makes the claim that its high resolution scans are recent work and therefore not public domain. but most of what is on the internet can be seen in the same light, whether it is a holiday snap in the Louvre on Flicker, or a painstakingly transcribed lyric from a hip-hop fan site. There is a further argument that the nature of images has changed because of the internet, in particular in the way it has become a communal system, and therefore images, sounds and ideas in digital media are no longer property or chattels that can be controlled as they have been in the past, without restricting the internet to the point where it ceases to be.
Gary Vines
Comment by David Milne on October 29, 2009 at 10:32
This post has prompted a fair amount of conversational traffic, not all of which has been channeled through NING. Here's a public comment below, circulated amongst the CAN network, from Piers Crocker, a musum colleague in Norway. Piers provides a European perspective on the issue.

Subject: SV: [can-talk] Blocking social media communication for staff incultural institutions

At a recent Museums' group networking conference here in Norway, we were treated to a presentation detailing the explosive expansion of the internet social media, and encouraged to dive in or ignore them at our peril. Yes it is time-consuming, yes we may not like unfiltered critical comment about our institutions - but we may like the positive comments - but these media give us (older, maturer, wiser ones...) an unvarnished "consumer report" of what the next generation of museum users think about us now, and where they would like us to go on their behalf. Perhaps even worth the Collections Council (if it continues to exist) employing someone part time (work experience, school leaver?) to surf the social media and collect comments about museums. Just a thought from the Frozen North...

Piers Crocker
Norwegian Canning Museum, Stavanger.
Comment by David Milne on October 27, 2009 at 11:45
Thanks both Ingrid and Jenny for your responses. I have read, and very much enjoyed, your respective posts highlighting the innovative work that is going on in the field of social media. Clearly I am an unashamed advocate!

In a previous life I ran an educational consultancy, often (but not exclusively) helping out principals and staff in poorly led schools where innovation was often either deflected or rejected. What I learnt from this experience was that one dynamic messiah alone (often the deputy head) rarely changes embedded institutional culture. Indeed it is only when hearts and minds of staff are won through the gradual introduction of innovative practice that is demonstrably beneficial to the organisation that real change occurs. I see more similarities than differences between educational institutions and the GLAM sector. Successful organisational change strategies can be applied equally well in schools and universities as museums and libraries.

It is very encouraging to read about innovative engagement strategies using social media being developed around the country as well as the steps being taken to enable on-line digitalised cultural assets to the public. I am hopeful that the trickle becomes a flood and that most GLAM sector institutions will be able to look back at this period of time as one of significant capacity building.

David Milne
Manager Strategic Learning
Queensland Museum
Comment by Jenny Scott on October 27, 2009 at 10:02
Hi David,
It is a given that in the past governments of all persuasions have been wary of the things public servants may do with new technologies and given the culture it was most common to ban its use until the tide of change forced a rethink. It is my experience in South Australia that government is more affirmative of the official use of social networking for official purposes - certainly there has been work done on establishing guidelines for public servants using these resources. You may have seen my posts re the way we at the State Library of SA are using Flickr as a collection development tool and other government agencies are using SN media to reach audiences and customers for whom these are the preferred means of communication. For some this will be appropriate but not for others and I believe it is pointless even foolish to embrace SN media because it is new without considering or understanding why we are choosing it.
Jenny Scott
Content Services Librarian
State Library of South Australia
Comment by Collections Australia Network on October 26, 2009 at 18:21
Hi David,

The CAN team applauds your post...

After attending the National Public Galleries summit in Townsville and hearing about the constraints technical or social on museum and gallery practitioners to make good use of freely available social media spaces, I blogged about it on the CAN Outreach blog:

Myth and Reality (social media sites/networks)

The intent (hope?) was to help practitioners focus on how to decide what to use and then make the case for using social media spaces and tools to engage with current and new audiences or stakeholders.

I'm glad also to report that a colleague working at a regional gallery here in NSW was inspired after a chat to go back to work and write a business case for access to social media sites and submitted the business case to her council IT department. I don't know the success of that business case but I do know that the gallery director decided anyway to set up a Flickr group to draw upon expertise not available in Australia to help identify a 17th century painting in the collection and the gallery also has a Facebook account. So sometimes it may be a case of gathering momentum... aside the daring do.

Ingrid Mason
National Project Manager
Collections Australia Network (CAN)

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