Free, Shared, Online Tools for Museums

by Allyson Lazar (disclosure: I moderated this session)


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Technology seems to be a key buzz word in the museum world these days. Many people are still a little tech-shy, but that changes day by day. But while people may feel less afraid or daunted by the idea of online technologies, they still aren't always quite sure what to do with them. The session on free, shared, online tools at last week's WMA conference introduced some of the ways that Internet technologies can help with everyday projects in museums such as digitizing collections and curating and developing exhibitions and sharing information with the public.


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Lynn Bethke of the brand new Museum of Culture and Environment at Central Washington University opened the session with a brief overview of the types and range of tools that would be discussed and then demonstrated how several of these free, shared, online tools help her in her daily quest to digitize her collection. Some of the software she uses includes: Picasa and the GIMP for photo editing; IrfanView for batch photo processing and Kompozer for web page editing. Her presentation can be viewed here.


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Next Sharon Leon, Director of Public Projects for the Center for History and New Media at George Mason University spoke about one of CHNM's projects, Omeka. Omeka at its most basic is a web publishing platform--like a blog--for museum collections that can be used as a research tool. However, that is not really doing Omeka justice. Omeka allows museums to create detailed, rich pages about collections objects, including text, photographs and videos, that can be used to develop online exhibitions. And because Omeka adheres to strict metadata standards, searching for information and keeping the information portable are simple tasks. Sharon's presentation can be viewed here.

Bob Ketner, Virtual Community Manager for the Tech Virtual, is also working on developing


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exhibitions--only while he does the developing in a virtual space, ultimately the exhibitions are created in a physical space. The Tech Virtual is a "collaborative online design platform for developing museum content"--a virtual testing ground for exhibition development and evaluation. The Tech Virtual makes use of Second Life--where only a person's imagination limits what can be designed and built--as a virtual space for building potential new exhibits. Bob's presentation can be viewed here and in addition he also has a list of resources available here.

Along with describing the various tools they use, the three panelists also addressed such questions as, "What does free really mean?" All of the software that they discussed is free to download, free to use. Space for hosting information and maintenance or customization of databases, software, websites, etc is not free--but it can still be cheap. And just in case words like "free" or "cost-effective" aren't enough to get your board on board with these technologies, the panelists also pointed out that these tools allow for both evaluation and data collection--both key to the metrics that are so important to funders these days.

Although it wasn't mentioned much directly in any of the presentations, online social networking was also very present in the session. Sharon was "tweeting" the session on Twitter using the tag #wma09 for easy searching. In one particularly great moment, James Leventhal in the audience asked about a creative commons plugin for Omeka and Sharon responded by tweeting that suggestion to the Omeka development team who were in their afternoon meeting. Talk about instant gratification!

Both Bob and Sharon mentioned that their projects are currently looking for volunteers as well; the Tech Virtual is looking for museums who are interested in making use of this virtual workshop for developing content and Omeka is looking for volunteer museums for a new hosting program that is going into Beta--that is, in addition to simply offering the software, CHNM is now offering to host museum websites that make use of the Omeka software. Anyone reading this post who is interested in either of these programs, please visit Bob and Sharon's websites and contact them!




Fantastic! I didn't know about Omeka but now I do it looks like a much better solution to the project I am working on. Thank you!

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