Category Archives: Websites

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.

£70 stoneSSGB edt 4559warrior duck 4857

Getting an archival tree-view to sort properly online

The digital team at Bristol Culture face new challenges every day, and with diverse collections come a diverse range of problems when it comes to publishing online. One particularly taxing issue we encountered recently was how to represent and navigate through an archives collection appropriately on the web.

Here’s what Jayne Pucknell, an archivist at the Bristol Record Office, has to say:

“To an archivist, individual items such as photographs are important but it is critical that we are able to see them within their context. When we catalogue a collection, we try to group records into series to reflect their provenance, and the original order in which they were created. These series or groups are displayed as a hierarchical ‘tree view’ which shows that arrangement.”

So far so good – we needed to display this tree-view online, and it just so happens there is a useful open source jquery plugin to help us achieve that, called jsTree.

Capture

The problem we found when we implemented this online, was that the tree view did not display the archive records in the correct order. The default sort was the order in which the records had been created, and although we were able to apply a sort to the records in our source database (EMu), we were unable to find a satisfactory sorting method that returned a numerical sort for the records based on their archival reference number. This is because the archival reference number is made up from a series of sub-numbers reflecting sub collections.

So this gave us a challenge to fix, and the opportunity to fix it was possible because of the EMu API and programming  in between the source database and collections online.  The trick was to write a php function that could reorder the archive tree before it was displayed.

Well, we did that and here’s a breakdown of what that function does:

The function takes 2 arguments – the archival number as a text string, and the level in the archive as an integer.

1.) split the reference number into an its subnumbers
2.) construct a new array from the subnumbers
3.) perform a special sort on the new array that takes into account each subnumber in turn

in theory that’s it – but looking at the code in hindsight there are a whole heap of complexities that would take longer to articulate here than just to past in the code, so lets make it open source and leave you to delve if you wish – here’s the code on Github

Another subtle complexity in this work is described further by Jayne:

“You may search and find an individual photograph and its catalogue entry will explain the specific content of that image, but to understand its wider context it is helpful to be able to consider the collection as a whole. Or you may search and find one photograph of interest but then want to explore other items which came in with that photograph. By displaying the hierarchy, you are more easily able to navigate your way through the whole collection.”

Because of the way our collections online record pages are built – a record does not immediately contain links to all its parents or children. This is problematic when building the archives tree as ideally we wish each node to link to the parent or child depicted. We therefore needed a way to get the link for each related record whilst constructing the tree. Luckily we maintain the tree structure in EMu via the parent field.

The solution was to query the parent field and get the children of that parent, then loop through each child record and add a node to the tree. This process could be repeated up the parents until a record with no parents was reached and this would then become the root node. Because the html markup was the same for each node, this process could be written as a set of functions:

1.) has_parent: take a record number and perfom a  search to see if it has a parent, if it does return the parent id.

2.) return_children: take a record number, search for its child records and return them as an array

2.) child_html: take an array of child records and construct the links for each in html

Taking advice from Jonathan Ainsworth from the University of Leeds Special Collections, who went through similar issues when building their online pages, we decided not to perform this recursively due to the chance of entering an infinite loop or incurring too much processing time. Instead I decided to call the functions for a set number of levels in the tree – this works as we did not expect more than seven levels. The thing to point out is that when you land on a particular record, the hierarchical level could be anything, but the programmed function to build the tree remains the same.

Here’s the result – using some css and the customisable features in jsTree we can indicate which is the selected record by highlighting. We also had to play around with the jsTree settings to enable the selected record to appear, by expanding each of its parent nodes in turn – to be honest it all got a bit loopy!

Capture

….here’s the link to this record on our Collections Online.

Hope this is of use to anyone going through similar issues – on the face of it the problem is a simple one, but as we are coming to learn in team digital – nothing is really ever just simple.

 

 

 

A week in the Bristol Museums digital team

rachel-and-darrenHello! My name’s Rachel and I’m a Heritage Lottery Fund Skills for the Future graduate trainee. I am usually based in Worcester as part of the Worcestershire’s Treasures project, with my traineeship focused on audience development and events. As part of the traineeship I’m able to do a week’s secondary placement at another museum or heritage venue, and this week I joined the Bristol Museums digital team to get an insight into what they do, and generally learn some new stuff. I got in touch with Zak and Fay as I knew I wanted to spend my week elsewhere learning more about museums and digital. I had seen both of them speak at conferences – Zak at the Museums Association’s annual conference in Cardiff, and Fay at Culture 24’s Digital Change: Seizing The Opportunity Online in Birmingham – and thought Bristol seemed like the place to be for museums and digital!

I’ve been involved with some really interesting and useful things since the start of the week. On Monday I did some content management on the development site in preparation for user testing later on in the week. On Tuesday I sat in on a meeting with fffunction, and then joined the museum’s new digital marketing intern, Olivia, in creating some content for social media. As the Shaun the Sheep trail started this week, we had fun coming up with some awful sheep-related puns – keep an eye out for these on @bristolmuseum! pirate_shaunOn Wednesday I visited The Georgian House Museum and The Red Lodge Museum, conducted some visitor surveys down at M Shed, and then yesterday I sat in on some user testing sessions with teachers, for the new learning pages of the website. They were given a number of scenarios to work through and it was really fascinating to see how users interact with the site and the different ways people navigate through it.

Some of the other useful things I’ve been introduced to this week are the organisation’s Audience Development Strategic Plan and their social media guidelines, and how data collected from users is collated and reported.  I also sat in on a meeting with some of the team involved with the upcoming exhibition death: the human experience to discuss the digital engagement to go alongside the physical exhibition and programme. This is just one example of the collaborative nature of the digital offer, and it came across to me that it is viewed as an integrative part of the exhibition, as opposed to just an add-on, which is really positive.

It’s also been great seeing how a different museum works. The museum I work at is quite different, in terms of size, staffing, collection and audience, and so coming to a large local authority museums service with seven physical sites has been a valuable experience in itself.

Overall I have had a brilliant week, I think it’s been a good overview of the team’s work, with lots of variety and things to get involved with. I have felt really welcome and included, and everyone at the museum has been so friendly. Thanks so much to the team for hosting me this week, and especially to Fay for letting me follow her round for most of it. My traineeship comes to an end shortly, so hopefully you’ll see me on a digital team soon!

bristolmuseums.org.uk – phase two, milestone three

m_shed_venue_hireWe haven’t done an update on website phase two in a while, mainly because we’ve been busy bees behind the scenes with testing and implementing lots of new stuff.

We’re now in the midst of milestone three, having done some work on improvements in milestone one and having held our milestone two workshops a little while back. We recently went live with some fresh new venue hire sections: http://www.bristolmuseums.org.uk/venue-hire/

After workshops and testing we decided to go down the route of event types for venue hire – we have lots of interesting conferences at M Shed, really exciting evening events at Bristol Museum & Art Gallery and lovely weddings at Blaise Castle House Museum so can adapt these depending on what people need and what our offer is. People can find information on room spaces such as capacities, download our menus and contact us to book really easily.

Know anyone who wants to hire a pretty special venue in Bristol? Send ‘em our way!

event_espresso_whats_on_190615Right now we’re in the middle of developing our ticketing functionality, which we’ll be using for our what’s on events (to replace third party sites such as eventbrite) and eventually for learning workshops. For this we’re using WordPress plugin Event Espresso; we’ve been really impressed with how this works and we’re pretty confident it’ll make the user experience so much nicer for people wanting to book with us. There’s a lot of work for us to do on fulfilment (we need to decide what to put on confirmation emails and tickets), setting up a new database and making sure people can navigate through registration easily.

Next up is user testing with teachers and learning people which will be at the beginning of July. We need to cover a number of things for learning: showing our offer (school workshops, gallery visits, teacher training etc), giving users the right information to be able to plan their visit (such as risk assessments) and then being able to book and take payments, so we’ll be testing all of this.

learning workshopsWe’re aiming for learning sections to be in place before the new school year and what’s on updates to be in place before our next What’s On guide comes out in September.

bristolmuseums.org.uk – phase two, milestone two

Well it seems it’s March already. This means we’re now two milestones into project website phase two.

We’ve done a chunk of work on events filtering, which you can try out here: http://www.bristolmuseums.org.uk/whats-on/ Hopefully you’ll agree it’s pretty simple and useful. Of course we did a spot of user testing for it and got lots of positive noises from people – let us know what you think of it.

broWe also worked a bit on improving how our opening times are displayed. We added the option to add ‘notes’ to particular days, which is mainly for Bristol Record Office who have a range of opening times across any given week or month. We’re really trying to make it as clear as possible when our sites are open (and of course each of the six sites have different opening times across different seasons over any given year).

Other stuff for milestone one included nicer 404 pages, WordPress upgrade and some other bits and bobs from phase one.

So, onto milestone two. During February we held three workshops – for venue hire, what’s on and learning. In these we got a load of people from all over the service together to map out who our users are and what they need from us for each. Ben over at fffunction is going to talk more about how we get from the workshops to the prototypes in a future post, but for now I’ll leave you with a couple of images to show where we are with our venue hire section. At the moment we’re testing the prototype and putting together some visual designs for it. I’m sure it won’t be long until it’s live, and in the meantime we’re starting to think about how we show our learning offer and enabling users to book workshops online.

visual
Visual designs for venue hire
prototype
Venue hire prototype

 

Websites coming out of the woodwork

Screenshot of the portcities websiteI’ve worked at Bristol Museums for just over two years now, and still now and then I’ll be chatting to someone or receive an email saying “oh, did you know that such and such website is ours?” Which I then add to my growing list and maybe have a little grumble to myself about.

Now, on the one hand, it’s great that people are telling us about these (anyone else want to let us know of any more, please?) but on the other it creates a bit of a headache for us in keeping track of exactly what content of ours is online and how people are using it.

It’s easy to just assume that, because they’re pretty old and incredibly out of date in some (most) cases, that they’ve been forgotten about and people don’t use them. This isn’t necessarily the case, though.

One example of this is the Portcities website – http://discoveringbristol.org.uk/ – which was made around 2003. It gets a huge amount of traffic – just over 470k unique pageviews in 2014, which is coming up for nearly half of the amount we get to our main website www.bristolmuseums.org.uk (around 1m a year and growing).

I looked at the analytics for this with Jane from our Learning team recently, and there are some other interesting things that we can see:

  • There’s a dip in traffic over the summer and during school holidays, suggesting it could be being used as a learning resource
  • Most of the content looked at is about Bristol and Transatlantic Slavery
  • The main bulk of visitors (around 45%) are from the US. This is nearly twice as many visits than we get from the UK
  • 86% of visitors find the website from search

There’s clearly a purpose for this content, so we need to think carefully about what we do with it. We’re working really closely with our Learning team to try to map this out, find the opportunities and see what we can do to best serve these users.

bristolmuseums.org.uk – Phase Two Planning

We’re now starting work on phase two of our website, www.bristolmuseums.org.uk, as Zak has already mentioned. So here’s a bit more detail about what we’re planning, once again following the GDS phases of service design.

(Note: if you’d like to read about what we did for phase one, you’re in luck – we’ve lots of posts about it on this here blog.)

We’ll be working with the guys over at fffunction in three stages over the next three months. From an evaluation of user needs and developing on from phase one, we’re going to be focusing on things that generate revenue and make it easier for people to book with us; whether that’s improvements to the what’s on sections (which get the majority of visits), learning and venue hire.

Milestone 1 – January 2015

Updates and work carrying on from phase one on opening times, events filtering, navigation and what’s on sections.

Milestone 2 – February 2015

Workshops with the programming, learning and venue hire teams to really get to grips with what our users need from us online in these areas.

Milestone 3 – March 2015

Workshopping and implementing a ticketing solution for the above, making our online shop look a bit nicer and researching and implementing online donation functionality.

We’ll keep you posted with how it’s going and what we discover.

Starting website phase two

In 2014 we launched www.bristolmuseums.org.uk in what we imaginatively called ‘phase one’ which not only gave us a service wide presence but allowed us to:

  • Follow the GDS service delivery approach for the first time – discovery, alpha, beta to live
  • identify real user needs through a discovery phase
  • plan to make the website a platform to help us delivery services for years to come
  • share publicly through a conference, blog, workshops and other events everything about the project
  • Keep my job – i half joke that i’d have quit if I wasn’t able to get the project done

We learned lots from doing this project and have done amazingly well with our key performance indicators.

With more than six months data under our belts as well as a ratified new service structure and direction for 2015-18 we are turning to starting phase two. Fay Curtis will be leading this project between January and April 2015. Check back regularly for updates.