Category Archives: Digital media

Digital interpretation in our galleries: Discovery kick-off

Our temporary exhibitions have around a 20% conversion rate on average. While we feel this is good (temporary exhibitions are either paid entry or ‘pay what you think’, bringing in much-needed income), flip that around and it means that around 80% of people are visiting what we call our ‘permanent galleries’ – spaces that change much less often than exhibitions. With a million visitors every year across all of our sites (but concentrated at M Shed and Bristol Museum & Art Gallery), that’s a lot of people.

A lot of our time as a digital team is taken up with temporary exhibitions at M Shed and Bristol Museum. Especially so for Zahid, our Content Designer, who looks after all of our AV and whose time is taken up with installs, derigs and AV support.

But what about all of the digital interpretation in our permanent galleries? Focusing on the two main museums mentioned above, we’ve got a wide range of interp such as info screens, QR codes triggering content, audio guides and kiosks. A lot of this is legacy stuff which we don’t actively update, either in terms of content or software/hardware. Other bits are newer – things we’ve been testing out or one-off installs.

So, how do we know what’s working? How do we know what we should be replacing digital interp with when it’s come to the end of its life – *IF* we should replace it at all? How do we know where we should focus our limited time (and money) for optimal visitor experience?

We’ve just started some discovery phases to collate all of our evidence and to gather more. We want a bigger picture of what’s successful and what isn’t. We need to be clear on how we can be as accessible as possible. We want to know what tech is worth investing in (in terms of money and time) and what isn’t. This is an important phase of work for us which will inform how we do digital interpretation in the future – backed up by user research.

Discovery phases

We’ve set out a number of six week stints from August 2018 to January 2019 to gather data, starting with an audit of what we have, analytics and what evidence or data we collect.

We’ll then move onto looking at specific galleries– the Egypt Gallery at Bristol Museum and most of the galleries at M Shed which have a lot of kiosks with legacy content.  (The M Shed kiosks probably need a separate post in themselves. They were installed for when the museum opened in 2011, and since then technology and user behaviours have changed drastically. There’s a lot we could reflect on around design intentions vs reality vs content…)

We’ll also be gathering evidence on any audio content across all of our sites, looking at using our exhibitions online as interp within galleries and working on the Smartify app as part of the 5G testing at M Shed.

We’re using this trello board to manage the project, if you want to follow what we’re doing.

Auditing our digital interpretation

First off, we simply needed to know what we have in the galleries. Our apprentice Rowan kindly went around and scoured the galleries, listing every single thing she could find – from QR codes to interactive games.

We then categorised everything, coming up with the below categories. This has really helped to give an overview of what we’re working with.

Key Level of interaction Examples User control
1 Passive Auto play / looping video, static digital label, info screens User has no control
2 Initiate QR code / URL to extra content, audio guide User triggers content, mostly on own or separate device
3 Active Games and puzzles, timeline User has complete control. Device in gallery

We then went through and listed what analytics we currently gather for each item or what action we need to take to set them up. Some things, such as info screens are ‘passive’ so we wouldn’t gather usage data for. Other things such as games built with Flash and DiscoveryPENs (accessible devices for audio tours), don’t have in-built analytics so we’ll need to ask our front of house teams to gather evidence and feedback from users. We’ll also be doing a load of observations in the galleries.

Now that people have devices in their pockets more powerful than a lot of the legacy digital interpretation in our galleries, should we be moving towards a focus on creating content for use on ‘BYO devices’ instead of installing tech on-site which will inevitably be out of date in a few short years? Is this a more accessible way of doing digital interpretation?

Let us know what you think or if you have any evidence you’re happy to share with us. I’d be really interested to hear back from museums (or any visitor attractions really) of varying sizes. We’ll keep you updated with what we find out.

Fay Curtis – User Researcher

Zahid Jaffer – Content Designer

Mark Pajak – Head of Digital

My Digital Apprenticeship with Bristol Culture

Hi! My name is Cameron Hill and I am currently working as a Digital Apprentice as part of 

Cameron Hill

the Bristol City Council Culture Team, where I’ll mainly be based at Bristol Museum and helping out with all things digital.

Previously to joining Bristol City Council, I studied Creative Media at SGS College for two years as well as at school for GCSE. A huge interest of mine is social media. Whilst at college I worked with a friend who was a fashion student who sold her creations to create more of a brand for herself. After she came up with the name, I created an Instagram page for the brand and started creating various types of content. Using Instagram stories was a great way to interact with followers. Using different features such as Q&A and polls, it was easy to see what the customers like. Something else we did with stories was showing the ‘behind the scenes’. For example: from picking the fabric, making the item itself and packing the item to be shipped.

As I am writing this it is my first day and so far it has been a lot to take in. One of my first tasks was to upload an image to a folder linked to the various screens around the museum. 

Digital signage not working

Although technology can be temperamental, the first issue we came across was unexpected….

Using my iPhone, I was asked to take an image to upload into the folder but without me realising the phone camera had ‘live photos’ turned on meaning all pictures taken would create small video clips.  After waiting for five minutes or so and the image not appearing we realised that the image was taken in High-Efficiency Image File Format (HEIC). Not knowing what HEIC was I did what anyone in the twenty-first century would do and took to Google.

 

After a little research, I came across an article in a technology magazine, The Verge stating that this format that Apple has added to iOS 11 would be a problem for PC users. From reading various articles online it is clear that a lot of people have struggled 

when trying to upload their files to PCs and not being able to view and edit it. I am really looking forward to my future working here as part of the Digital Team.

 

 

Preserving the digital

From physical to digital to…?

At Bristol Culture we aim to collect, preserve and create access to our
collections for use by present and future generations. We are increasingly dealing with digital assets amongst these collections – from photographs of our objects, to scans of the historical and unique maps and plans of Bristol, to born-digital creations such as 3D scans of our Pliosaurus fossil. We are also collecting new digital creations in the form of video artwork.

Photo credit Neil McCoubrey

One day we won’t be able to open these books because they are too fragile – digital will be the only way we can access this unique record of Bristol’s history, so digital helps us preserve the physical and provides access. Inside are original plans of Bristols most historic and well-known buildings including the Bristol Hippodrome, which require careful unfolding and digital stitching to reproduce the image of the full drawing inside.

Plans of the Hippodrome, 1912. © Bristol Culture

With new technology comes new opportunities to explore our specimens and this often means having to work with new file types and new applications to view them.  

This 3D scan of our Pliosaurus jaw allows us to gain new insights into the behavior and biology of this long-extinct marine reptile.

Horizon © Thompson & CraigheadThis digital collage by Thompson & Craghead features streaming images from webcams in the 25 time zones of the world. The work comes with a Mac mini and a USB drive in an archive box and can be projected or shown on a 42″ monitor. Bristol Museum is developing its artist film and video collection and now holds 22 videos by artists including Mariele Neudecker, Wood and Harrison, Ben Rivers, Walid Raad and Emily Jacir ranging from documentary to structural film, performance, web-based film and video and animation, in digital, video and analogue film formats, and accompanying installations.

What could go wrong?

So digital assets are helping us conserve our archives, explore our collections and experience new forms of art, but how do we look after those assets for future generations?

It might seem like we don’t need to worry about that now but as time goes by there is constant technological change; hardware becomes un-usable or non-existent, software changes and the very 1s and 0s that make up our digital assets can be prone to deteriorating by a process known as bitrot!.  Additionally, just as is the case for physical artifacts, the information we know about them including provenance and rights can become dissociated.  What’s more, the digital assets can and must multiply, move and adapt to new situations, new storage facilities and new methods of presentation. Digital preservation is the combination of procedures, technology and policy that we can use to help us prevent these risks from rendering our digital repository obsolete. We are currently in the process of upskilling staff and reviewing how we do things so that we can be sure our digital assets are safe and accessible.

Achieving standards

It is clear we need to develop and improve our strategy for dealing with these potential problems, and that this strategy should underline all digital activity where the result of that activity produces output which we wish to preserve and keep.  To rectify this, staff at the Bristol Archives, alongside Team Digital and Collections got together to write a digital preservation policy and roadmap to ensure that preserved digital content can be located, rendered (opened) and trusted well into the future.

Our approach to digital preservation is informed by guidance from national organisations and professional bodies including The National Archives, the Archives & Records Association, the Museums Association, the Collections Trust, the Digital Preservation Coalition, the Government Digital Service and the British Library. We will aim to conform to the Open Archival Information System (OAIS) reference model for digital preservation (ISO 14721:2012). We will also measure progress against the National Digital Stewardship Alliance (NSDA) levels of digital preservation.

A safe digital repository

We use EMu for our digital asset management and collections management systems. Any multimedia uploaded to EMu is automatically given a checksum, and this is stored in the database record for that asset. What this means is that if for any reason that file should change or deteriorate (which is unlikely, but the whole point of digital preservation is to have a mechanism to detect if this should happen) the new checksum won’t match the old one and so we can identify a changed file.

Due to the size of the repository, which is currently approaching 10Tb, it would not be practical to this manually, and so we use a scheduled script to pass through each record and generate a new checksum to compare with the original. The trick here is to make sure that the whole repo gets scanned in time for the next backup period because otherwise, any missing or degraded files would become the backup and therefore obscure the original. We also need a working relationship with our IT providers and an agreed procedure to rescue any lost files if this happens.

With all this in place, we know that what goes in can come back out in the same state -so far so good. But what we cant control is the constant change in technology for rendering files – how do we know that the files we are archiving now will be readable in the future? The answer is that we don’t unless we can migrate from out of date file types to new ones. A quick analysis of all records tagged as ‘video’ shows the following diversity of file types:

(See the stats for images and audio here).  The majority are mpeg or avi, but there is a tail end of various files which may be less common and we’ll need to consider if these should remain in this format or if we need to arrange for them to be converted to a new video format.

Our plan is to make gradual improvements in our documentation and systems in line with the NDSA to achieve level 2 by 2022:

 

The following dashboard gives an idea of where we are currently in terms of file types and the rate of growth:

Herding digital sheep

Its all very well having digital preservation systems in place, but the staff culture and working practices must also change and integrate with them.

The digitisation process can involve lots of stages and create many files

In theory, all digital assets should line up and enter the digital repository in an orderly and systematic manner. However, we all know that in practice things aren’t so straightforward.

Staff involved in digitisation and quality control need the freedom to be able to work with files in the applications and hardware they are used to without being hindered by rules and convoluted ingestion processes. They should to be allowed to work in a messy (to outsiders) environment, at least until the assets are finalised. Also there are many other environmental factors that affect working practices including rights issues, time pressures from exhibition development, and skills and tools available to get the job done. By layering new limitations based on digital preservation we are at risk of designing a system that wont be adopted, as illustrated in the following tweet by @steube:

So we’ll need to think carefully about how we implement any new procedures that may increase the workload of staff. Ideally, we’ll be able to reduce the time staff take in moving files around by using designated folders for multimedia ingestion – these would be visible to the digital repository and act as “dropbox” areas which automatically get scanned and any files automatically uploaded an then deleted. For this process to work, we’ll need to name files carefully so that once uploaded they can be digitally associated with the corresponding catalogue records that are created as part of any inventory project. Having a 24 hour ingestion routine would solve many of the complaints we hear from staff about waiting for files to upload to the system.

 

Automation can help but will need a human element to clean up and anomalies

 

Digital services

Providing user-friendly, online services is a principle we strive for at Bristol Culture – and access to our digital repository for researchers, commercial companies and the public is something we need to address.

We want to be able to recreate the experience of browsing an old photo album using gallery technology. This interactive uses the Turn JS open source software to simulate page turning on a touchscreen featuring in Empire Through the Lens at Bristol Museum.

Visitors to the search room at Bristol Archives have access to the online catalogue as well as knowledgeable staff to help them access the digital material. This system relies on having structured data in the catalogue and scripts which can extract the data and multiemdia and package them up for the page turning application.

But we receive enquiries and requests from people all over the world, in some cases from different time zones which makes communication difficult. We are planning to improve the online catalogue to allow better access to the digital repository, and to link this up to systems for requesting digital replicas. There are so many potential uses and users of the material that we’ll need to undertake user research into how we should best make it available and in what form.