Author Archives: collectionsconversations
The North Carolina Connecting to Collections staff provided regional workshops and preservation and disaster recovery services from 2009-2015. Please continue to benefit from this online forum by using the search field (at right) to find a variety of preservation tips, stories from North Carolina cultural heritage collections, and audience engagement discussions.
The Cultural Resources Emergency Support Team will continue to respond to collections disasters across the state.To connect with CREST, please contact Adrienne Berney, Outreach Coordinator, NCDNCR, 919-807-7418 or firstname.lastname@example.org.
This week our C2C staff is in Louisville Kentucky for the AASLH conference. We’ll be discussing one of the big pushes of the CREST grant project—producing fire recovery workshops across the state. We hope to encourage those involved in coordinating professional development workshops in other states to consider whether hands-on fire recovery workshops would be useful to the groups they serve. This type of workshop is fairly unique in that we have partnered with a different fire station or training center to stage a controlled burn of a mock museum that we set up for each one. We’ve done 6 of these and covered the state fairly well geographically. They have all been different in terms of levels of damage to materials and the firefighting staff and procedures involved in each controlled burn. We’ve learned many lessons about working with the first responders, as well as the way materials react to fire, and recovery methods. We want to guide others from around the country to R&D—rip off and duplicate—what we’ve accomplished here in NC.
We’ll be sharing with those who join us the handouts we’ve developed for our participants as well as a supply list for the workshop and pointers for setting up the controlled burn. We’ve also identified some pros and cons for producing this type of workshop to help generate discussion for each attendee (and our blog readers) about whether this would be a viable training in their own areas.
- Pro: Fire recovery workshops have been a useful hook into increasing disaster preparedness. The off-site, hands-on element is a more exciting topic than disaster planning and appeals to a wider range of participants. These workshops have also functioned as recruiting tools for both regional and statewide response teams here in NC.
- Con: They’re a lot of work! Controlled burns require regular rounds of accumulating and storing “expendifacts.” We don’t just stockpile junk but rather try to amass a range of materials (and proportions of them) found in typical historical museum collections. Multiples of the same thing are especially useful to test the protective qualities of various storage materials. Tagging and creating storage mounts, as well as taking photos of each object for an inventory, are labor intensive processes. In the final stages of preparation, the heavy lifting kicks in with loading, unloading, and reloading the cargo van.
- Pro: The workshops have built bridges to emergency responders. By meeting the firefighter in charge of the controlled burn during the workshop, each participant has a contact in their regions. The firefighters we worked with first taught us about pre-plans and we’ve been able to spread the word about this key preparedness step as we travel around the state. Additionally, the triage tags we use for artifact recovery are modeled after FEMA’s Community Emergency Response Team triage tags for human victims. By using a similar system, we’ve allowed the firefighters to gain a quick understanding of our goals.
- Con: Preparations for these workshops requires a great deal of staff time. You need months (and quite a bit of storage space) to accumulate the stuff you’ll burn. If an inventory is part of the workshop (and it has been for ours), the documentation takes roughly a week of full-time work. Another week is necessary for creating storage mounts, packing boxes, loading, and set-up.
- Pro: These workshops have been a useful deaccessioning outlet for institutions around the state (and even beyond, in one case). 7 museums/ libraries have given us items to burn that could not be sold at auction.
- Con: The controlled burns require regular buying and wasting of supplies. In addition to buying expendifacts from thrift stores and yard sales, storage supplies get used up regularly. Metal shelving has been the toughest supply to replenish cheaply. Tyvek and muslin garment covers and padded hangers need to be re-created before each burn.
- Pro: Ultimately, these workshops have been effective as active learning events. Participants have worked with key concepts such as the Incident Command System, practiced triage and fire recovery steps for a variety of materials, and witnessed the reactions of various storage materials to fire.
Do you think it would be worth trying one of these workshops in your own area? Please get in touch, if you’d like more information. We’re happy to share!
We’ve previously reported on Historic House Museum Anarchist activity here in NC, centering on UNC-Charlotte, where co-anarchist Deborah Ryan is a professor, and Körner’s Folly, one of two primary sites of the Anarchists’ recent study. The Anarchist’s Guide to Historic House Museums will be published soon (this fall) by Left Coast Press and this spring Ryan and co-authors published a preview article in the Public Historian. That article concentrates Körner’s Folly and another historic house museum in New York. The authors studied both sites according to an assessment chart they’ve developed. Although the anarchists cited room for improvement, they generally gave Körner’s Folly impressive scores in the 5 categories of assessment: community, communication, experience, environment, shelter. Given the anarchists’ fairly radical ambitions for historic house museums to transform themselves and engage audiences, Körner’s Folly’s overall score of 3.02 out of 5 seems pretty good. (Executive Director, Dale Pennington, posted her thoughts on being part of the study several months ago in this forum.)
Recently, the anarchists have orchestrated a controversial project in New York that highlights a collection object from an historic house museum as well as using an historic building in a new way. (left) This makes an even bigger splash than previous projects incorporating artist interpretations of collection objects and is, at least, a creative attempt to connect a wider community with an institution’s collections. Might this be replicated on/ for one of NC’s cultural heritage institutions? What do you think about bright murals on 18th-century wood siding?
This is a useful discussion of an important topic we’ve discussed before in this forum. Specific examples offer tremendous guidance on enhancing accessibility.
This month marks the 25th anniversary of the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA), which ensured equal access to persons with limited mobility, limited vision, limited hearing, and other disabilities. Shortly after this law was enacted in 1990, museums and historic sites were scrambling to figure out the consequences, especially the cost of installing ramps or hiring sign-language interpreters.
Much of it also revolved thinking bigger and realizing that improving access for the disabled would improve the experience for everyone. For example, lever handles replaced doorknobs, which makes it easier to open a door when you’re carrying a package; enlarging type and increasing contrast on exhibit labels makes them easier to read (which I really appreciated as I grew older); and integrating ramps and removing thresholds is nice for visitors in wheelchairs and for staff who are always hauling tables and chairs for events. For several years, professional associations hosted sessions…
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Last month the Southern Appalachian Archives of Mars Hill University’s Liston B. Ramsey Center for Regional Studies acquired Fiddlin’ Bill Hensley’s fiddle, “Old Calico.” Below Master Fiddler Roger Howell and members of Hensley’s family pose with “Old Calico.”Along with previously accessioned Bascom Lamar Lunsford’s “dehorned fiddle,” the instrument raised an important ethical question for collections stewardship. Should the fiddles be repaired by an experienced luthier so that they can be played briefly as a special feature for the festival that MHU hosts every year in October?
As a species of museum object, musical instruments can provide the curator and conservator with some dilemmas. Musical instruments are designed to be functional objects. They have moving parts or they require physical interaction to fulfil the purpose for which they were made. They have this in common with many other objects including clocks, transport vehicles, arms and armour, hand tools, domestic utensils, scientific apparatus and industrial machinery…The primary function of an instrument is usually to produce sound. If we are not permitted to hear the music it makes, our experience of an instrument is limited and its role as a historical document can only be partially fulfilled.
Lengthier treatment of the issues surrounding playing musical instruments in cultural heritage collections is available in a manual ICOM produced on the subject.
If playing accessioned musical instruments, at least occasionally, is important to your institution, it is a good idea to outline that use in your institution’s collections policy. For one example of an instrument playing policy click here. The highlights of this policy include:
- collection instruments are not available for rehearsals.
- playing time limits are strict.
- appointments are required.
- player cannot bring additional objects into musical instrument gallery.
Does your institution’s collection contain musical instruments? If so, is the original purpose–to create sound–maintained or exhibited? We hope to share future updates on Mars Hill’s decisions concerning the Hensley and Lunsford instruments.
If you’re thinking of including QR codes in an upcoming exhibit as a portal for the students (in the streaker-stroller-student visitor continuum), this post is for you. NC’s own Michael Scott, Curator of Education at the High Point Museum has added comments from his past experience at the NC Museum of History to a fascinating discussion of the QR code issue that appeared on the AAM Registrar’s Committee listserv last week.
The QR codes that we used for the Watergate exhibit saw very low use…the highest usage numbers were for the codes at the edges of the exhibit and very little for the ones inside the exhibit.There [are] also some QR codes outside of the museum for garden plants. One of them had a song attached to it and had received higher use than some of the others, but it was still a low number.
[However,] I still like them. Not a lot of institutions can afford to buy devices or to build an app or to even redesign a full web site to be mobile friendly, but they can still link to a page either on their servers or to something that they have stored elsewhere online. There is a large bar of entry to using them (device, wifi, time, etc…) but I think that just means that whatever you’re wanting to link to needs to be very compelling material. Some information just might not be [attractive] enough for a QR code and not a high enough priority to be in the physical exhibit. Until the use of NFC/RFID becomes more widely used, I see the QR code as really the only tool available to [provide more in-depth information at the point of viewing]. Generally, it think that it’s a matter of finding a balance between content, access, and resources available to an institution. For the same cost (time, money, etc..) as generating a QR code that links it to a video you shoot on a iPhone that’s hosted on Youtube, what other options are there?
Let me be the anti-QR code curmudgeon here. Think about the last time you scanned a QR code? If you can’t remember, or you don’t have an app to do so, that should tell you something. As an iPhone addict, I haven’t scanned a QR code in…maybe three years? The last time I did it was because I was forced to in order to get the information I needed, and then the connectivity was miserable and the experience was ho-hum. If the institution [which] created this situation had just provided a short URL, I would have just opened my browser and gone there, without having to:
- Think about what I’m going to use for QR scanning
- Think about where that QR code is going to take me (and is that page safe to look at- nightmare scenariohere)
- Decide that yes, I want to take the time to connect to wifi, accept the wifi policy, connect, scan, go to the site, and then dig for whatever it is I’m looking for.
- Do all of the above.
QR codes work brilliantly for machines. They’re designed for machines to read quickly. Their applications for humans are, in my personal opinion, small. There’s a lot of maintenance that goes in to making them, a lot of vigilance needed to maintain good links to content, not to mention the creation of the content itself, and the hurdles of bad wifi- particularly if your building is a granite or marble bunker. Let’s add to that the hurdles of privileging content to those who have access to smartphones, and are savvy enough to understand the “scan QR code, get info” mechanics (of course, having on-campus devices to loan helps lower that barrier, but there’s another thing you need to maintain and track and charge, and train non-native users on how to get the content from the QR code).
Tracey suggests creating a web site with additional content and including a shortened URL on the exhibit labels.
You can also use an app to do this if you have one, but that requires a lot of hoops with iOS/android development, and again pushes out those edge cases. A responsive web site works on any device (tablet, phone, laptop, desktop) and can give more people more access (and provide loaner devices to get more people more access). Thus ends my rather long winded treatise against QR codes.
- Tracking numbers: “QR codes let you see what people are the most interested in, which objects draw more attention, where people are coming from and what devices they are using.”
- Shortening label text: “Studies have shown that beyond a certain word count, people move on. ([Microsoft] recently did a study that shows the average human attention span is now 8 seconds, one second less than a goldfish and four seconds less than five years ago).”
- Lack of meaningful insights: “What kind of people use their devices for QR scans? Does it really identify what you want to know about your audience?”
- Logistical problems: “If the QR code is too small, people will lose interest if it is difficult to scan. If it is too large, it can be distracting. You would have to find a balance. Too many QR codes in an exhibit can be overwhelming.”
In the end, Stalvey’s museum gave up on QR codes, in reaction to the low proportion of users to visitors. Tablets that the museum provided were more effective. “The app was built with layers and did not need a wireless connection. It was incredibly time consuming for IT to put together, but it was rare to NOT see people using those devices. We also had them locked so that was the only thing people could access.”
Has your institution experimented with QR codes? When was the last time you used one?
Some of you may have noticed that we have begun to let our regular weekly posting routines lapse several times in the last couple of months. As our C2C team approaches the end of our second IMLS-funded grant cycle (focusing on the creation, training, and activation of CREST), our staff responsibilities have shifted and we are moving from weekly to occasional blog posts. Our project will officially end in November. For those of you who appreciate stories from NC collecting institutions as a way to connect to a statewide network and those of you who benefit from preservation tips, our partner organizations will help fill any void we leave. NCPC promises to pick up the pace with its preservation workshop offerings. It, as well as the Federation of NC Historical Societies, publishes quarterly newsletters for members. NCMC offers weekly announcements of museum happenings around the state. All 3 of these partners coordinate annual meetings with important professional development training and networking components. Both NCMC and the State Archives’ TAP will continue to offer free site visits to connect NC cultural heritage collections with local professional advisors.
Take heart that the NC Department of Cultural Resources will persist in its outreach mandate. Read more about the relevant state statutes in one of our earlier posts here. Many branches of NCDCR offer vigorous outreach programs, including the State Library, the State Archives, NCMOH’s education department, The Federation, and the State Historic Preservation Office. Future federal grant-funded projects will likely allow NCDCR to offer targeted outreach to build on the work that the NCECHO, NC C2C, and CREST projects accomplished in the period 2000-2015.
Until November, stay tuned, because we still have more important issues to discuss and good stories to tell. In the coming weeks, look for a critique and discussion of the value of QR codes in exhibits and an account of the Ramsey Center‘s (at Mars Hill University) struggle with whether or not to allow the playing of musical instruments in its collection. There’s still time for you to contribute your own collection-related stories and advice to this forum, but keep the November deadline in mind. If you’d like to join our illustrious list of guest posters, please email email@example.com. Let’s continue the collections conversations here as long as we can and then extend them into the work of our partners and other NCDCR divisions.
We’ve written about the importance of Knox-Boxes on this blog before and stressed the simplicity and effectiveness of this disaster preparedness step. Contact your local fire department to order and install a Knox-Box. A Knox-Box is a small, wall-mounted safe that holds building keys for fire departments and emergency medical services (and sometimes police) to retrieve in emergency situations. Local fire departments hold master keys to all boxes in their response area so that they can enter a building quickly, without having to force entry. Important information for cultural heritage institutions to stash in their Knox-Boxes include:
- emergency contact list
- floor plans showing utility cut-offs
- list of 5-10 priority artifacts with locations
Several participants in our C2C programs have made progress recently with their Knox-Box implementations. Their news can help motivate other cultural heritage institutions to schedule those regular check-ups with fire fighters. At last month’s Triad Area Cultural Resources Emergency Network (ACREN) meeting, Dale Pennington, Director of Korner’s Folly in Kernersville reported that a regular fire inspection of her institution prompted her to order a Knox-Box for the site and it cost about $250. Firefighters decided that, rather than drill into the historic structure for installation, it would be better to insert the site’s Knox-Box into a metal pole coming out of the ground. This allows them easy access to crucial, site-specific information without compromising the fabric of the unique building.
The High Point Museum already had a Knox-Box before their MayDay preparations motivated them to schedule a pre-plan with their fire department. During the tour of their institution, staff discussed the importance of the museum’s artifact collection and walked firefighters through the storage areas. This collaboration helped firefighters revise the emergency plan for the building and they decided to install a 2nd Knox-Box at the back of the building for quicker access to collections storage. At the end of the pre-plan process, staff members Marian Inabinett and Corinne Midgett enjoyed posing for a group shot with their local firefighters (at right).
Does your institution have a Knox-Box? If not, consider doing contacting your local fire department to begin the ordering process. This small step could be a giant leap for your site’s disaster preparedness.
What connects individuals to artifacts? The answer is often deeply personal, and while it’s possible for museum audience evaluators to trace clear patterns, the connection is often idiosyncratic. A new model of group tour and the internet itself can embrace the individualization of artifact engagement. Check out the following models at major museums—the Metropolitan in New York and the Rijksmuseum in Amsterdam. The much smaller, less well funded museums we work with here in NC may not be able to support the platforms in these examples, but the ideas of customization and engagement can be translated to both history collections as well as to smaller venues. [For example, at left, participants in a Delta Sigma Theta reception at the Greensboro Historical Museum look closely and discuss artifacts in a case related to their organization.]
If you haven’t yet heard of Museum Hack (or even if you have) this TEDx video is a good introduction to the company’s why and how. The founder never liked museums and didn’t bother attending them until a friend gave him a personal tour. Once he was able to explore according to his own impulses and share thoughts and impressions individually, he fell in love with museums and began giving tours to his friends, featuring his top 10 objects and stories in the museum. His tours generated a buzz and became so popular that he’s built a business out of small group museum tours with entertainment as the primary goal. If you were to give a “hack”- type tour of your own institution, what objects and stories would you include?
Online artifact images, accompanied by stories, allow users to customize their own learning (or entertainment) paths. Some institutions have been reluctant to share digitized versions of collection items for several reasons. Among them is the fear that putting collections on the internet will be a disincentive for face-to-face visitors. Despite digitizing and sharing most of its artifacts at high quality resolution for free, the Rijksmuseum in Amsterdam has experienced record-breaking attendance in the last year. Could it be that the virtually unlimited access to collections this museum supplies online actually motivates in-person visits? If your institution shares some or all of its collections digitally, can you correlate that to an increase or decrease in visitation?
In your experience, what other methods of customized engagement with collections have been successful?