Anra Kennedy


Carnival Conference Feburary 2012

Anra Kennedy

Anra Kennedy (Click to read/hide)


Just briefly introduce to you Anra Kennedy. Anra is the Content and Partnership Director at Culture 24 where she’s been exploring culture online for over 10 years. Anra is an ex-teacher, her first role there was as a volunteer feature writer, she went on to lead their award winning education programme, and is now responsible for all projects, overseeing editorial, data and partnership strategies. We very much want to welcome you to the Conference Anra.

Anra Kennedy:

Thank you.

My talk absolutely fits perfectly with what you were talking about with open, living, working archives, because I’m here to tell you about why I love digital collections, digital archives, and hopefully inspire you with some examples of my favourites and tell you why they’re my favourites.

Just a practical thing, I haven’t had time yet to give this presentation to Tola, but it’s on the desktop here, because there are lots of web addresses in it so there’s no need to scribble them down, because I will be whizzing through this. You can have the presentation afterwards to get those URLs.

Culture 24, just to give you an overview, I’m really lucky in what I do, in that I have what someone described as a ‘helicopter view’ of a very big and fast changing sector. Culture 24 is a charity, mainly publically funded, though, like all of us, trying to make our own money in other ways as well.

We’ve been going for 10 years and basically what we do is we have the UK’s national database of museums, galleries, archives, libraries, heritage sites, castles, science centres, all sorts of culture centres except not the performing arts, that’s the easiest way to describe it.

We gather information from those venues, all sorts of information, from the basic stuff like postcodes and when they open, to all of their event and exhibition information and stuff about what they’re doing digitally, as well as collection overviews. We put all of that into a great big pot, a great big database. I won’t get technical but it’s a highly structured database that lets us then publish lots of websites, so we have a team of journalists who write about what’s going on in the arts and heritage sector in the UK on our Culture 24 website.

We run something called, ‘Museums at Night’, which is a national late opening weekend in May. We’ve also, and this has been really big for us this year, recently signed a contract for 3 years to supply the BBC website with information about what’s going on in the arts and heritage sector, so for the first time there’s a really clear channel for venues, whatever size they are, but they have to be non-profit, non-commercial, but, as long as you fit that criteria, to have what you’re doing promoted on the BBC’s website to their many millions of users.

So we do a lot of behind-the-scenes data sharing work, we do research, and we run conferences and events. Out latest piece of research was around how to measure engagement online, how to really track what users are doing on your website and in your social media channels, it was called, ‘Let’s Get Real’, and there’s a picture of it on the slide. I do have a few copies of it in my bag and you can save me carrying them back to Brighton if anyone wants one, and you can download them from our website.

Just to quickly set the scene for what I mean by ‘digital collection’ or ‘digital archive’, I don’t think I said we have almost 5,000 venues in our database, about 3,000 resources and websites, and a lot of what we do is actually just trawl all of this stuff every day and recommend things, write about things, and feature them, so we really get to know this stuff. In particular I’m focussing on some of my favourite projects where technology and content, and really importantly creativity and often the drive of just one or two people who’ve driven projects to do something really imaginative, have resulted in an online archive project.

Also really importantly, because there are sorts of amazing online collections, the latest controversial one ‘Pinterest’, I don’t know if any of you have seen that, and there’s Flickr and YouTube, and these huge things that are online collections, but I’m particularly focussing, wonderful as they are and they have their place, on projects that have a memory organisation, have an archive, a library, a museum, a gallery, either leading or working in partnership with the community generating that archive. I think it’s really important in terms of longevity, legacy and sustainability, and you’ll see in the case of these [ slides ], just in terms of reach and networks, these are all linked with memory institutions, memory organisations.

So the first reason why I love living, open, working digital collections is because they connect people, and they connect stories, across time and across place. It’s just magical. This is something that over the last 10 years has just happened so quickly, and the project I’m going to start with is called, ‘Remember Me’, a project run by the United States Holocaust Memorial Museum.

‘Remember Me’, is one of the most gripping, touching and important digital archive projects that I’ve ever seen. It’s not on a huge scale, but working with a range of different archives the Holocaust Memorial Museum has put online 1,100 photographs of children who were Holocaust survivors. They were all children whose photographs were sitting in various archives and hadn’t been identified, and nothing was known about the context or the stories of these children. The Museum put them on the site, they put these photographs up, and they put a call-to-action with them. They put what information they had and they have a button next to the photo and it says, ‘I remember this child’, so of the 1,100 photographs on there a third of them have now been identified and their stories are now being told.

These are a couple of screen-shots [ slide ], and I know it’s really hard to see the detail but the little orange flags next to the photographs say, ‘update’, and really importantly the child in the picture has to agree that their story goes on the website, but if the child is happy for their story to be told then it goes on the website.

This project has connected families of survivors, descendants of survivors, people who cared for those children, people who helped them to escape in the first place; it’s created so many connections. It’s a really special project and I really recommend you have a look through.

I think they’ve been so successful because they’re embraced social media, so this is a really good example of an archive that’s working, reaching out, living and creating splashes of publicity. They use the Museum’s Facebook presence really successfully, they’ve got 34,000 fans on Facebook, which it’s hard to tell how meaningful that is, but I think what’s really important is that there are lots of conversations, so it’s not about the big numbers but it’s about the conversations happening, and people tracking these children through Facebook is one of the ways.

Again through Twitter they develop that community feel. The Museum as 107,000 Twitter followers and they tweet about, ‘Remember Me’, keeping it in the public eye, keeping people updated. They’ve just recently announced the fact that they’d found a third of the children, and ‘Remember Me’ is mixed in with the main Museum Twitter stream but they’re using it really successfully.

YouTube, they’ve had 1.25 million views on the Museum’s YouTube stream. They’re using film on YouTube, I mean they only have five films relating to the ‘Remember Me’ project but they’re so powerful; they have one of the historians who has worked on the project, they have one of the Holocaust survivors who was found, tracked down through the project, and one of the researchers. Even just those three voices they just flesh out that archive in a really powerful way, so that’s definitely well worth a look.

Now this is where it gets slightly geeky and sometimes people glaze over, and I hope I won’t do that to you, but the second reason why I love digital archives and collections is because they enable us to explore knowledge, and to explore stories in a way that we couldn’t before, the combination of the digital collections and the digital tools that we have. I mean they help us organise that knowledge in a way that just, I keep saying, ‘the last 10 years’, but when I started out with Culture 24 as a writer if you told me then I’d be earning my living doing this now, it was just unimaginable what we can do with these archives.

Last summer I was lucky enough to go over to San Francisco to a conference with the really catchy name of ‘Linked Open Data in Libraries, Archives and Museums’, a LOD-LAM get-together. It was absolutely inspirational, because a big US charitable trust flew a 100 people from all over the world who worked with digital collections, not just techies, because I’m not a techie, but people like me who work on the more editorial and content side, people in policy. They got us all together to talk about the potential different technical means of sharing collections and opening up collections, and this was one of the projects [ slide ].

I was sat next to a guy at dinner the first night who was working on this and he was passionate about it. ‘Hidden Patterns of the Civil War’, it’s done by, I just love the fact that there’s a lab called this, The Digital Scholarship Lab at the University of Richmond.

What the Hidden Patterns project does is using technical tools, not just technical tools, because they start off with the technical tools and then they have people to do another filter, they can’t rely on it completely, the technology’s not good enough on its own yet, but technical tools to pull from a range of sources, and they’re looking at the history leading up to the Civil War in the State of Virginia, during, and just after the Civil War. They’re particularly looking at emancipation and they’re pulling information from court and hospital records, local newspapers, election records, military and prison records, all sorts of sources that were all sitting in their own little separate pots and silos until this technology came along, until (a) they were digitised and made available online, but then (b) the technology came to drill into them and pull facts together across them.

One of the pieces of technology they use really well is Google Earth. What they’ve done is they’ve looked at, and that map [ referring to slide ] you do need to enable Google Earth, it’s quite slow to load but it’s worth it, tracks emancipation as it happens, so whenever there was any mention of a slave being freed or escaping, of owners advertising when people had run away, all of that has been discovered, analysed by historians and researchers, tracked and put on to this map, and you can, across a set time period, explore. Because it’s Google Earth you can zoom in and see what that place looked like, so there will be a newspaper article from 1864 about a forest and what happened to a family in that forest, and then you can zoom in and see what it looks like today. It’s incredible.

This is another part of that project [ slide ], again you won’t be able to see any of the text, but tracking ‘The Despatch’, which was the local newspaper, and this is all about mining the text and looking for meanings in the text, so they use maps, charts, graphs, all sorts of ways of organising that knowledge.

Really importantly, the stories are so important, that knowledge organisation side is so important, but the bottom line for me is that digital collections are just absolutely gripping. If they’re done well, if they’re opened up well, they can be fun, they can have interest from whether it’s you researching your community or your family’s history, to finding out about something you have absolutely no connection with or idea about, but if its well-presented and if it’s open and living it draws you in.

This [ slide ] I should have coming along later. I might talk about that, remember what that looks like. I’m going on to the next one.

The V&A Museum have launched this ‘Channel’, as they call it, and to me it’s just an exemplary piece of editorial packaging of collection material online. It uses, which I think is particularly pertinent to this Conference today, audio visual material, it’s mainly about video. It’s like a magazine online, V&A Channel; it has got all sorts of snippets of film, it relates to what’s going on in the Museum’s building, but it also relates all the time, it pulls you back in, every time you click on a record it pulls you into their collection. It links you, it doesn’t sit a piece of film in isolation, it shows you where it sits amongst that collection, and it encourages the user to journey through what they’ve got and make connections.

I really like the way , [ slide ], it’s probably too small for you to see, that they’ve decided to split the Channel. Their navigation is around people, things and happenings, and it’s just a really nice way in. This is the happening side [ slide ], it’s all very Queen Elizabeth, because that’s the big new exhibition at the moment, but it’s not just a site for Royalists.

This is an example [ slide ], a screenshot, there’s a fantastic interview with these twins, twin photographers, from Cape Town, South Africa, talking about their photography, talking about what it meant to grow up in Cape Town, all about their art. As you can see form that menu on the side there you click from the V&A Channel, you open it up to actually view the video, and you’ve got a huge range of other photographers and other journalists you can go on to explore that archive. I just think it’s a lovely example.

Coming close to the end, the last reason why I love digital collections, and this isn’t so much of a personal love but more with my work hat on, is looking at the potential internationally. I’ve used international examples already, because of course online there are no boundaries geographically so they become irrelevant.

‘Europeana’, I don’t know if anyone’s heard of it, but to give you an idea of the potential when you’ve got your digital archive really up and running Europeana is a huge European Commission funded project that’s been going a few years, it pulls together digital collection objects from across all of the Member States. They’ve just announced in January that they had their 20 millionth object on the site.

I will be absolutely honest, and I know the team very well so I can say this, the site itself is not a brilliant user experience, but the site isn’t the point. They’ve been working so far on the technical side of just getting all of that content pulled together from all over the place, and that’s been a huge logistical challenge. In the UK an organisation called, ‘Collections Trust’ gathers that content for us in something called, ‘Culture Grid’ and it pumps it through, so hopefully your archive will be going off into Culture Grid at some point in the future and ending up in Europeana.

Europeana just now is starting a project working with us to try and make people aware of this stuff now, and what we’re doing over the next 3 years in Culture 24 is embedding content in Europeana in commercial, mass market services, like Trip Advisor, Rough Guides, BBC, so to get your stuff out there.

That’s a little screen shot [ slide ], because I looked for ‘carnival’ in Europeana and there’s a little bit of stuff but hardly anything. It’s fabulous that you’re doing this project because there’s this gap and we need you in there.

Ending up on this very daunting picture, and this is my challenge to you all today, because I first came across this at that San Francisco conference. This is an incredibly geeky picture of linked open data sets, so every blob on that picture is a mass of information that’s completely open for people to come along and dip into. Remember that slide I had with the pictures, the faces, that’s an example of a geeky programmer in New Zealand who’s taken pictures from a portrait collection in New Zealand and made this lovely exploratory toy where you can discover the faces.

He did it a few weekends ago to just experiment, and all of those blobs on there, this is actually out-of-date now because this is from last September, but my challenge to you is in a few years, I won’t give you a deadline, it would be fantastic to see your material, to see the carnival archive, as one of those blobs in that crowd. The blobs are all connected by the black lines, you know I was talking about the organisation of knowledge and the pathways, and how people find your stuff and use it and reuse it, more and more our sector’s moving towards this model, and it’s so important that we’re all as open as we can be with all of this stuff, so that’s the challenge, it would be fantastic to see the carnival archive in there.

Recording ends 21:56 minutes

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