All posts by Lacey Trotman

Rowan Whitehouse joins the Digital Team

Hello! My name is Rowan Whitehouse and I am currently working as a cultural support apprentice for Bristol Museums.

I have been doing six week rotations around various departments, and as part of my third, with the digital team, I’ve been asked to review some of the technology around the museum.

So, to find some!

I noticed that the distribution of technology around the museum is heavier in areas with a higher number of children. Whilst there is a lot around the ground floor, particularly the Egypt and Natural History galleries, levels definitely drop off the more steps you climb, towards the Fine and Applied Arts galleries. I think this is due, in part, to many children’s interests leaning on the dinosaur/mummy side, rather than Bristol’s history of stone pub ware. Perhaps there are also certain established ideas about what an art gallery should  be, whereas many of the historic collections lend themselves well to interactive displays.

Upstairs, the technology has a distinctly more mature focus.
I chose to look at a tablet/kiosk in the European Old Masters gallery for an example. The kiosk itself fits well into its surroundings, the slim, white design is unobtrusive – something desirable in such a traditional gallery space. The kiosk serves as an extension of the wall plaques, it has an index of the paintings in the room with information on them. I think this is a great idea as the size of wall plaques often constrain the amount of information available.

A big drawback I felt however, was that the kiosk was static and fixed in one place. I observed that as people moved around the gallery they would continually look from the painting to it’s accompanying plaque, taking in both at the same time. Though the kiosk has more information, it would need to be able to move with the user to have the advantage over the plaques. On the position of the kiosk itself, I think it would receive more use if it was positioned in the middle of the room, rather than in the corner, where it is overlooked. Signage on the wall advertised a webpage, which could be accessed on a handheld device and provided the same information as the kiosk. I felt this was a better use of the index, and could be made even easier to access via a QR code. I wonder though, if people would want to use their phones like this in a gallery, and whether ideas about the way we experience art are the ultimate obstacle. I’ll be researching how other institutions use (or don’t use) technology in their galleries.

I wanted to see how technology is being used differently with the historic collections, so I headed back downstairs to the Egypt gallery. I observed a school group using the computers at the back of the gallery, both the children and their teacher struggled with the unusual keyboard layout and rollerball mouse, unable to figure out how to search. Eventually, they came upon it by chance, and enjoyed navigating the images and learning more about the objects in the gallery. The computers also have a timeline view, showing the history of the Egyptians, and an “Explore” function, where specific subjects could be looked at.

I think the location of the units massively benefit interaction, the dedicated space with chairs really invite and encourage visitors to engage. On using the technology, I felt that the access problems could be easily fixed by some stickers highlighting the left mouse button function, and something to resolve the stiffness of the rollerball.

My favourite interactive pieces in the museum were in the Egypt gallery. I loved the screens that featured the discovery of  a body, and asked the user what they thought about the body being in a museum, and gave the user the option of viewing the body at the end of the text. I felt like this type of interaction was fantastic, and rather than just providing information, engaged the visitor directly and was a great way of broaching questions that may not usually occur to visitors.

I’m looking forward to the next six weeks, and learning more about digital engagement in museums.

With such a fantastic collection, it’s exciting finding new ways of presenting it and helping visitors interact with objects

Update from the Bristol University development team:

Since October we have been working with Computer Science students from the University of Bristol to redesign the interface for our digital asset management system.

After initially outlining what we want from the new design, there have been frequent meetings and they’ve now reached a stage where they can happily share with us their project so far.
Quick, appealing and easy to use, this potential new interface looks very promising!

The week our office turned into a photography studio!

With one of the main aims this year being to improve our online shop, myself and Darren decided to improve and update some stock photos. We enrolled in a crash course from resident photographer David Emeney and by the end of session thought we’d be able to do it, easy.

However, we came to find that photography is not as easy as it seems! First came the issue of space. Although David kindly allowed us to use his studio in the basement, with no computer nearby to check pictures and in fear of messing with any of his equipment, we though it may be best  if we set up a studio a little more close by.IMG_20170109_154103292_HDR

In true Blue Peter style Darren and I set about creating our own in-office photography studio by collecting bits and pieces from around the museum to mirror the one in the basement. Cardboard tubes were stapled together acting as a rod to hold the white background in place, this was held up by string wrapped multiple times around our window bars, counter tops were cleaned as to not make the paper dirty and even a staff noticeboard was used behind the paper to block out any natural light. Of course our office had to be rearranged first to fit such a project inside, a move which would have me non-stop sneezing for a few days as the settled dust was disturbed!

After a while of playing with the camera’s settings trying to find the right ones, we set to work to photograph stock. With thanks to Debs for letting us borrow geology’s light, the products came out well and the online shop now looks a lot smarter for it. Having this type of light was key to taking a good image, the close proximity between the product and source of light and changing the camera’s white balance when needed added extra quality.

It was a really good experience getting to know the manual settings of a camera and how each product requires a slight adjustment, also to be up to date with what products we currently have in store. I look forward to doing more stock photo shoots in the future and hope, at some point, to have all products photographed like this to keep a consistent look for the online shop.

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My Digital Apprenticeship with Bristol Museums

My name is Lacey Trotman and I am currently in the fifth week of my Digital Apprenticeship with Bristol Museums. Having left college this June completing a 2 year A levels course in History, Art History, Sociology and Film Studies, the summer was spent searching for the right role for me. Despite College pushing for students to attend University – and many of my friends doing so, I felt the pressures of study and exams to degree level were not for me at this time. I chose instead to look at apprenticeships as it gave me a chance to put my skills into practical use in a real world setting.

Since starting on October 4th I have already begun to work on various projects broadening my range of skills and understanding: tackling the Discovery Pens, writing ‘How to’ guides, resizing images, composing surveys, working on the online shop, diving into the fast paced world of social media and editing blogs for the Museum website.

My first impression is that it’s an amazing place to work, with many opportunities to
undertake and progress.  It’s also clear to see that there is a lot of work going into such an institution with many more departments behind the scenes than I could possibly have imagined.

I have always loved visiting museums and galleries. As a proud Bristolian I feel Bristol Museums provide some of the best in the country. Growing up, family holidays were full of excurst-michaels-mountsions to castles and places of historical interest. Most recently, we visited St Michael’s Mount in Cornwall. Our seaside cottage faced the historic site making for picturesque views at all times. With Poldark loving parentbarbara-hepworths we also visited the historic mines and ruins of work houses on the Cornish coast. Cornwall was also the home to legendary artist Barbara Hepworth, one of my key artists to feature in the Art History exam I completed this year; so I was thrilled
to see an original piece by her on our day trip to St. Ives.  Even better is that a few weeks after starting this apprenticeship, Winged Figure was newly installed in the gallery confirming this is definitely the best place to work!

Throughout my childhood I visited all the venues that come under the Bristol Museums canopy. My first trip to The Red Lodge Museum, was with Primary School. I remember being asked by the staff if I wanted to dress as Queen Elizabeth I for the class picture, but afraid of the spotlight I volunteered my best friend instead! Blaise Castle was always a childhood favourite of mine and I can also remember visiting the old Industrial Museum with its variety of transport, planes and trucks. However I banksywas delighted when the new M Shed opened offering fun and interactive features for free. I have not yet gotten over missing the iconic Banksy vs Bristol Museum exhibition or Dismaland, just 40 minutes away in Weston. With such strong links to Bristol, Banksy is a favourite artist of mine. Recently he paid my old Primary School a visit leaving a large mural on their classroom wall.

The next two years fill me with excitement and expectation. The addition of a marketing qualification will add further qualifications to my growing C.V.  I hope to excel in my role growing in both confidence and ability; I am keen to ensure I make the most of this experience and hope that all I have to offer will been seen as a positive addition to the hardworking Digital Team.