Thursday, June 24, 2010

monthly status reports ?

I've been thinking recently that it might be a good idea to implement a more regular system of keeping in touch and updating each other on the status of project tasks -- something like a check-in / status update. Towards that end, I would like to start doing a monthly email where each of the project partners is given a chance to report on the status of things on their end. Just so we're in better touch with each other, on a more regular basis, since we've all been busy this spring, and a bit more out of touch than I would like.

I'm hoping to also post some of those more informal updates here on the project blog, so that it becomes a resource that we can refer to later. I encourage you all to subscribe to be notified of blog updates -- I've been starting to update it more frequently, with interesting info both about our project, and similar projects underway at other institutions. You can enter your email where it says "Subscribe via email" at the top left of the page.

To kick off the conversation, the following is a list of tasks that are still in process, and I'd love folks to chime in where they have something to include.

Current tasks:

- catalog data transfer to Robin (should be finished already, or near to finished)

- DMNS photography/digitization -- how are things going on that, Chip?

- working towards the catalog launch -- Robin, what remains to be done, and can any of us help? And Jim, is there anything you need on your end?

- catalog evaluation -- I'll be starting to finalize the questions and instructions for Jim and the team at Zuni for running the focus groups. I'm also STILL working with UCLA's IRB to get the human subjects paperwork all taken care of.

Thanks for staying in touch, everyone! Hope you all are well.


Wednesday, June 23, 2010

paper brainstorming - typology of digital collections

Ramesh and I had a conversation last week where we talked about digital museums/collections -- an area of research that I've been working on recently (and posting about on this blog: here, here, and here). Eventually this will be developed into a paper, and I wanted to put some of our ideas up here on the blog for everyone's discussion and consideration.
  • Once I've looked through a bunch of examples, Ramesh wants me to build a typology of sorts, based around how these digital collections work with new media and allow other ways of interaction with communities.
  • Creating it so that it's not just a list, but a landscape of what's out there in terms of these digital collections (not digital museums, because we're not talking about online exhibits, but rather online catalogs).
  • Articulating their relationship with one another and with our project
  • Based around certain variables : ie. use of blogging, semantic tagging, other sociotechnical issues
  • thinking about different axes - mapping those examples, then presenting in context, and comparing/contrasting with where our project stands
  • also addressing a larger set of questions about how information institutions open up and represent other voices, and the sociotechnical issues that come up
By 'sociotechnical', I mean the problems/issues that arise at the intersection between people and technology. For example, systems that aren't designed to accommodate controls around sensitive information, or allow communities to set permissions for access based on their own cultural protocols of access.

The important thing is to situate our project relative to other digital institutional collections-based projects that are working with communities. Looking at the institutions, and the systems. Not necessarily all indigenous communities, but it wouldn't be a bad thing if all our examples had that in common.

Eventually this will be developed into a paper that is a justification for our project relative to what's out there. With a title that's something like "Enabling Voice in Digital Collections" (have to define what we mean by voice, and how different systems enable voice). The key would be to extract that model/ those variables and placing different projects along an axis/axes. Possibly we can include some evaluative data from our project, but maybe not (depending on whether it ends up being relevant).

Thursday, June 10, 2010

Things to think about : questions from IMLS

Ramesh was just telling us about his recent meeting with the team from IMLS that came to Los Angeles for the recent AAM meeting. They had some important questions/points to consider, and I wanted to put them here for us to start thinking about and possibly responding to.

A. First of all, they wanted to know more about the system -- what it is going to look like, whether there will be a web page or something for public access (and by public I assume they mean everybody, not just 'public' (in-person) access at a terminal at AAMHC). Also, they were curious what the Zuni interface would look like. I think that we're getting to a point where we might start having something to show off (right Robin?) -- at the very least we have the working Filemaker Pro database that Robin and Curtis have been tinkering with, based on the catalog that the DAM sent to AAMHC last year. I think Robin will have to say more about this.

B. Something else they mentioned was the UIUC (University of Illinois Urbana Champaign) Digital Collections and Content portal.
I've seen this site before, possibly when we were working on the grant application? It seems that IMLS is encouraging their funded digital projects to participate in this portal, in essence placing all of their digital 'eggs' in one basket. Which I am not sure is exactly what we are going for -- it appears to be a big giant portal that allows access to all these nifty collections, but you still have to go through the portal to get at the collections. As laudable a goal that the interoperability of collections metadata is (with larger and larger portals), sticking it all in one place like this is just one method for making technology work better between museums and source communities.

In reference to this UIUC portal, Robin made the point, "what we are trying to do is to make real event driven data sharing." Meaning that rather than having to go through one of these portals to get at interesting information, that information is being pushed towards you (triggered by an 'event' such as an upload or annotation to a catalog record). Again, this event-driven data sharing issue goes back to the idea behind WebHooks, which I talked about in an earlier post.

C. Also, they are wanting to know more about how this project can be sustainably adopted at Zuni, and how our project can easily scale to other museums and other indigenous communities. I think the important point to make here is to focus on the 'information push' aspect of what we're doing. The biggest thing we're doing here is not that we're building a local database at Zuni with catalog records from all the different partner museums, but that we're essentially connecting that local database with the catalogs of the partner museums in a way that data can get pushed back and forth -- this connecting piece is the thing that we hope will scale to other museums and other communities. Reinventing the museum catalog as something that many communities have something to contribute to -- curatorial experts and source communities both.

So in essence, what we have to offer to other museums & source communities are two sides of the same coin -- on the one side, an ethical/social/political stance that wants to open up the way that information is accumulated and shared in museum catalogs; and on the other side, a concrete technological way of making that happen.

Wednesday, June 9, 2010

ECHO project

I'm following up with a few more interesting projects from the Museum 3.0 discussion I mentioned in the last post.

From their presentation at Museums and the Web 2008:
"ECHO (Education through Cultural and Historical Organizations) is a federally funded partnership of six cultural institutions in Hawai'i, Alaska, Mississippi and Massachusetts linking Native and non-Native communities, and re-connecting Native people with collections of Native American art, objects and history."

The current list of institutions involved are the Alaska Native Heritage Center, the Bishop Museum in Hawaii, the Mississippi Band of Choctaw Indians, North Slope Borough, and the Peabody Essex Museum -- quite a geographically dispersed group!

The focus of the project's collaborative websites seems to be more oriented towards highly-polished, content-heavy web-presentations, rather than relying on emergent, Web 2.0-style systems to produce content. What they have achieved in terms of institutional collaboration is laudable, but upon closer examination that's one of the only similarities this effort has with our project. The thrust of what they are doing seems to be more focused on the collaboration between institutions rather than how institutional collaborations can also involve communities directly, getting them to produce content and participate in catalog creation.

Most relevant to our project is the ECHOspace website, which is a shared catalog portal of the different partner's collections. Again, though, users are not seen as agents of participation, but rather just consumers of the information.

Closer to what we're aiming for is another related website, Artscape, which was created by one of the ECHO partners, the Peabody Museum. According to the Archives & Museum Informatics presentation,
"it includes two innovations addressing needs most clearly voiced, in PEM’s experience, by Native museum professionals and communities. First, the structure of the database is open, allowing, for example, for multiple documents, images, audio or video files to be attached to a single object, and allowing for commentary from multiple viewpoints – consulting curators or cultural experts, for example – to be attached to a single object record."

I like the user interface on this museum's site, with three different areas permanently on the screen -- the upper area is for a user's personal collection, the middle area is for searching and looking closely at catalog entries, and the lower area is for reviewing search results via thumbnails and titles and dates when the user mouses-over. Despite the nice interface, and the claim above, the ability for a user to participate is limited to this 'personal collection' thing -- no way to annotate or contribute to entries. It is not clear what happens when "cultural experts" have something to contribute or correct in the catalog.

All in all, the ECHO project seems to be an ambitious effort, and what they have produced in terms of educational content (especially related to school curriculum) is quite an achievement. And it seems reflective of what their main intention is. Similar in some respects to what we are trying to produce, but very different in others.

Thursday, June 3, 2010

Plateau Peoples' Web Portal

After reading through the fascinating discussion taking place over at Museums 3.0 about social networking and museums working with source communities, I've got a basketful of interesting museum projects to write up and share.

The first of these is one of Kimberley Christen's latest efforts, the Plateau Peoples' Web Portal. (Kim's work has been very inspiring to our project team for several years now).

From the 'Project Overview' page:
"This project aims to create not just a digital portal to view content, but also a different paradigm for the curation, distribution, and reproduction of Native peoples' cultural materials."

From the 'Visitors' page:
"Whereas in many museum and archive settings knowledge is "given," here we have sought to create a space to open dialogue and allow many perspectives to sit side by side. Instead of "finding" information, the portal seeks to be a space where knowledge is created in constant conversation."

The collection is mostly archival in nature (ie. photographs, articles, clippings, and the like). There are several interesting features built into the system, particularly in how the architecture is organized first into 'tribal paths' (Yakama, Coeur d'Alene, and Umatilla) , and second into categories like 'lifeways', 'government to government relations', 'artistry and artifacts', 'language', 'religion', etc. I also really enjoy that for individual records, there are all kinds of descriptive metadata available in addition to the original catalogue record -- related items, map, tribal catalogue record, tribal knowledge, people, and "categories, tribal paths, and restrictions".

I like that the information isn't all visible at once, but that the user has the option of looking at the metadata that he/she is interested in, bit by bit. In terms of usability, this is a great way of keeping the information overload problem down to a minimum.

While it looks like they still have a ways to go in terms of gathering comments from community members, I always appreciate seeing a well-designed and well-oriented project along the same lines as our own. Great job Kim and everyone on the project team!