One of the Strategy’s aims is to maximise the potential of Scotland’s collections and culture. To help achieve this aim we encourage and support museums to implement digital working practices to make their collections more accessible and to inspire and deliver new forms of audience engagement, research and interpretation. We are very aware that to get museums on board we need to assist them in undertaking a great culture shift as it is a very different way of working and sharing information about museum collections. To encourage that shift, MGS highlights how digitising collections is important to the future of museums. Opening up digital access can introduce the content to a huge potential audience and help a museum to fulfil outreach objectives. It can greatly increase the reach and reputation of the organisation. For example, images donated by the National Library of Scotland are being used in a variety of Wikipedia pages, getting on average around 1.2 million page views per month.
MGS supports the development of digitisation skills through our National Skills Development Programme. We also offer knowledge exchange and networking opportunities and provide factsheets and case studies on our website. MGS also developed and delivered a Digital Transformation Conference in March to encourage enhanced digital working practices within the sector and to help support the organisational culture change necessary to help those in museums adopt a digital mindset. We also encouraged participation in the SMART Tourism initiative where museums worked with universities and local small to medium sized enterprises to develop their use of technology.
MGS works closely with the sector to determine what support is required to enable museums to meet the National Strategy’s priorities around Collections and Engagement. MGS developed a Digital Action Plan which looks at the opportunities and challenges behind the sharing of collection data digitally. We have set up the MGS Digital Transformation Network where practitioners share ideas and explore how digital opportunities are changing roles, remits and expectations of museums and galleries. The group also looks at the changing relationships with audiences. The network held its first meeting in February and new members are welcomed via LinkedIn.
MGS encourages and supports the sector’s digital ambitions in a number of ways. Our investment programme supports a wide range of projects including setting up a content management system (CMS) to fund innovative digital projects.
So what do we look for from a museum embarking on a digital project? Developing a digital strategy is essential. A museum should have a clear plan as to how they will share and use the content. Groam House in Rosemarkie is an example of how a museum has used a digital strategy to provide focus. Their approach was to digitise as much of their collection as possible in order to make it more accessible and easier to interpret, whether that visitor was in the building or accessing it remotely. Funding from MGS enabled the museum to procure the core technology needed to support their aspirations and allowed them to invest other resources into developing the content and visitor interface.
After the planning stages have been thought through there are very exciting possibilities as to how museums can share their collections. The Highland Council is using apps to share data about museums and heritage sites across the Highlands and Moray. Museums can create their own image gallery and visitors can also upload content. This approach allows visitors to forge a very personal connection with the museums.
Museums still hold collections for the communities that they serve but it is exciting to see how they are embracing digital working practices and making that information and knowledge available for much wider audiences.
Wikimedian in Residence
In February Sara Thomas became Wiikimedian in Residence to assist Museums Galleries Scotland in its digitisation programme. The project is part of the GLAM-Wiki initiative (galleries, libraries, archives, and museums with Wikipedia; also including botanic and zoological gardens) helps cultural institutions share their resources with the world through collaborative projects with experienced Wikipedia editors.
“It’s to get people excited about open data and from Wikipedia’s point of view enriching the encyclopedia with the knowledge and expertise within Scotland’s cultural institutions.
I will train museum curators and staff to edit Wikipedia and contribute to its 16 sister projects.
The idea is that open data is important for museums and galleries and that there are benefits for the organisation and audience and also the chance to reach a global audience.
It’s really important to encourage data online whether on their own website or on Wiki.
We have a full spread of people from those digitally literate and those less so as well as a huge age range.
The first four months I spent at Glasgow Museums working on local level and now I’m based in Edinburgh to stretch to museums all over the country.
We will be offering training for museums in Edinburgh and I will also go out and do training on site. We are trying to get museums and galleries encouraged in online collections data.
It’s really an extension of the organisation’s outreach and engagement.
We are encouraging curators to get involved with editing and with talk pages to pass on advice and run events with the Wikimedia community.”