#8 Spaces under development
Connect, create, and collaborate in new and shifting environments
Space, an ambivalent resource in pandemic times. Some cultural heritage institutions have a lot of it right now, having been closed and empty for weeks or even months. At the same time, physical public spaces that feel safe and responsible to meet in right now are scarce - and we miss them.
The pandemic has underlined and re-defined the importance of spaces to connect and collaborate in, whether online or in the physical realm. Video-conferencing and meeting tools have a totally different meaning now compared to one year ago. New social media platforms and features emerged, changing how we socialize online. The means of navigating and creating in these spaces together have changed social relations: From how we meet friends to how GLAMs find and connect to their audiences.
In both worlds though, safety remains a priority as we navigate these spaces to collaborate, connect, and create: Safe spaces protecting us from discrimination and safety for our personal information. What are the roles of GLAMs in this, for themselves as institutions and their communities?
Whatever the mission for your institution might look like: Digital facilitation and curation skills, to encourage collaboration and creativity as well as enabling participation will be key for developing into the organization you want to become. It means nothing less than navigating and bridging the different spaces in your institution and community. These spaces, from the countless homes we’ve seen in video calls during the last months to our institution’s websites, online collections, and social media channels, are opportunities for interaction, on a spectrum from digital to physical. The skills needed to transform this opportunity of connecting the islands of isolation into long-term, resilient connections between people and cultural heritage are crucially needed right now.
In this edition, we are talking about audio-based social media and their opportunities for cultural heritage institutions, hacking GLAM data, and initiatives in the realm of digital volunteering as well as learning about colonial heritage.
1. Let’s Talk about... Clubhouse and GLAMs!
Sorry in advance to everyone who doesn’t want to hear anything more about Clubhouse, the latest trend in social media platforms. We both have reflected critically on Clubhouse, but also see some interesting aspects in this platform that we want to discuss - especially as audio-based social media seem to be an up-and-coming trend. However, we think it’s very important to share resources to learn about the problematic issues with Clubhouse from data privacy to a lack of moderation - you find them at the end of this issue.1
Larissa: Let’s get going. I joined Clubhouse in January out of curiosity and lockdown boredom. What is Clubhouse? If you think of Instagram as primarily focused on images, Youtube on videos, and Twitter on text, Clubhouse is all about audio. Your voice becomes the medium you use to connect with others. And that might be its biggest asset in a time where a lot of us crave being in touch with others. As conversations happen in real-time, feel less staged and prepared than conference talks, you feel much closer to the people in your room than being in touch on other platforms. What do you think?
Medhavi: Clubhouse has surely been an interesting experience - and to be honest, I didn’t sign up with all the enthusiasm. Instead, my first thought was “here’s one more platform to keep up with!”. But over time, I see the various ways in which people have been using this audio-only space and it is quite inspiring. I have two favorites for now: an audio-only, live Lion King musical (I will never get over this) and a curated series of talks focusing on Black History Month backed by a commercial brand in collaboration with an influencer. While there are many possibilities for GLAMs, I love that this platform not only puts the user (audience) at the center of discourse but only works if the user is leading this discourse. I also feel that Clubhouse will come to rely more on individual participation - so perhaps it will give that much-needed opportunity to GLAM professionals to put their voice out there, going beyond the limits of an institutional space.
Larissa: Totally agree with you - I feel that participating in these rooms during the last weeks, I already listened to more individual perspectives in institutions rather than the institutional tone-of-voice often represented on conference stages on and offline. Apart from that, I see an opportunity for professional development for GLAM workers. When I thought about what Clubhouse is comparable to, I immediately thought of the physical conference coffee break. Those conversations are what I mostly miss right now: Panel discussions and presentations have been re-created in and adapted to the digital realm. However, the one-on-one or spontaneous group discussions have mostly been lost in my view in the online conferences I’ve participated in during the last year. I’ve finally met new people in our sector, have had spontaneous, creative, and thought-provoking conversations with colleagues from all over the globe, hopping in and out of rooms, creating new ones to meet exactly the people I want to talk to or get to know.
Apart from professional development and networking, as an anthropologist, I am mostly interested in how live and audio-only social media could work for outreach and community activities. These spaces might trigger spontaneous conversation to discuss and develop new perspectives on our collections. It might even be more accessible for some than video sessions, and Twitter is for example already experimenting with live subtitles in their Space feature.
Here are some activities GLAMs could consider on audio-only social media features!
Think of the voices in archival material: How can we activate the perspectives in historical documents in interaction with a live audience? How can we bring voices from the present to engage with Oral History resources?
Libraries could host book circles with live discussions or reading events for good-night stories. One major opportunity is that you skip the registration part on social media platforms like Clubhouse or Twitter Spaces - and people might be more willing to spontaneously join a conversation or event.
For museums, creating new sensory experiences that are not focused on the physical object, but on the relationships and stories connecting them to people could be an interesting opportunity and challenge. Museum podcasts are already popular communications channels, but with a potential international live audience, the possibilities for interaction and multivocality increase.
Immaterial heritage, in general, might find audio-centered social media to be a good fit as a platform: Think, for example, of music lessons or jam sessions using traditional instruments!
Dig It! is a space for critical discussion, so please join us in the comments or use #GLAMsDigIt on social media. What do you think about the challenges and chances regarding audio-centered social media in the cultural heritage sector?
2. Shout out to… Tim Sherratt
Larissa: In 2019, Tim joined me for the webinar series Open GLAM now! to talk about how GLAMs can collaborate with external users on hacking their data (you can find his talk here). He has created awesome resources to start exploring and using GLAM data, even if you’re a total beginner. Most recently, he won the British Library Labs Research Awards and he so deserves all the appreciation of the GLAM sector. Check out his GLAM Workbench on GitHub and consider donating to his Patreon.
3. The written word
A lot of spaces of cultural heritage institutions, online and offline, are marked by racism, colonialism, and discrimination of marginalized communities. There are amazing and courageous initiatives that confront and deconstruct these patterns of discrimination while creating different, new spaces - one of them is the Museum of British Colonialism, a volunteer-run online, digital museum founded in 2018. In a recent interview, two of the founders, Tayiana Chao and Olivia Windham-Stewart, describe the “need for a space to restore and make visible the suppressed, destroyed, or under-represented histories relating to British colonialism”. While talking about learned lessons from their initiative, they stress:
“To engage with Britain’s colonial history, museums should be seen as spaces to explore what we don’t know rather than present what we do know or what we want others to think. They are spaces for social, emotional and psychological exploration and connection and they can have an explicitly social justice mission.”
Tayiana Chao and Olivia Windham-Stewart
Read the whole interview here.
4. Source of Inspiration
Art Browser TV is like Netflix for art lovers! This recently launched visual arts streaming platform allows you to watch art documentaries, interviews with creatives, films, drama, live events, and performances.
With more art museums pivoting to Instagram and IGTV during the pandemic, the rise of a platform such as ABTV is definitely an opportunity to increase the accessibility and visibility of content. As platforms like ABTV seek to revolutionize the consumption of art content, it would be interesting to see how the art world adapts to building collaborations around these.
5. Start Digging into digital volunteering!
How can we keep those engaged that have served loyally as volunteers before the pandemic hit - and how can GLAMs develop new models of volunteer contributions in the digital realm?
Crowdsourcing transcriptions is one way of encouraging digital voluntarism: The Arolsen Archives have recently been especially successful with their campaign #EveryNameCounts to build a digital memorial with the names of those persecuted by the Nazi regime. They want to be finished with transcribing all the names in 2025. They started in January 2020, and by the end of last year, more than 10,000 registered users had digitized over 2.5 million documents from home. In January, they created a digital art installation in Berlin, projecting the names from transcribed documents on the French Embassy (see image above).
Geo-tagging is another task volunteers can help you with. An especially neat tool is Smapshot by the Swiss School of Management and Engineering Vaud, allowing volunteers to participate in challenges on geo-referencing historical photographs. With the aim of “recreating a virtual globe of past time”, the idea is to use “photographs from various collections [...] to go back in time to the end of the 19th century with a very high resolution”. Since 2017, volunteers added georeferences to more than 115,000 images from various collections. (Thanks for the recommendation, Albin Larsson!)
Digital volunteering can also link physical and digital realms as the Smithsonian National Air & Space Museum recently demonstrated: They have created new roles for their volunteers that enable them to share their knowledge about objects, interacting with visitors - while still staying at home safely. All that was needed was an internet connection, a video-conferencing tool, and a laptop. Read more about it here.
What are your experiences with digital volunteering? Share your ideas or projects with #GLAMsDigIt or add a comment!
🗓 10-12 March 2021: If you’re interested in innovative transcription tools and metadata enrichment, this Editor Transcription Workshop by the Universities of Edinburgh and Virginia might be the right event for you!
“To catalog the uncataloged: What would it mean to use machine learning to finally delve into vast collections which are too onerous to catalogue manually? What if partial collections could be reunited digitally, breaking institutional barriers? What if handwritten and printed collections could be transcribed using algorithms?”
🗓 16-17 March 2021: You definitely don’t want to miss the international NewsEye Conference if you’re working with digitized newspapers. Its focus lies on interdisciplinary collaboration between Cultural Heritage, Digital Humanities, Computer and Data Science. You find the registration and program here.
Calls for Participation
🗓 7 March: Are you a new professional in the cultural heritage sector? Then get to know ESACH (European Students’ Association for Cultural Heritage)! They are waiting for your response to their current Call for Proposals for their conference in June. ESACH supports their speakers with grants to participate in the conference. Find out more.
🗓 31 March: The ICOM International Committee for University Museums and Collections and Universeum is looking for proposals and posters on documenting the past and present, new ways of access and engaging with society, taking stances for their 2021 conference.
* By the way: If you have events or CfPs you want to see here - drop us a line here.
Thank you for your attention! If you like Dig It!, please consider sharing it with friends and colleagues.
See you next month for our next issue!
Rafqa Touma: Clubhouse app: what is it and how do you get an invite to the exclusive audio app? The Guardian, 16 February 2021.
Kevin Roose: Can Clubhouse Move Fast Without Breaking Things? New York Times, 25 February 2021.
Elliot Douglas: Hyped audio-networking app Clubhouse thrives in Germany. DW, 20 January 2021.
Diyora Shadijanova: The Problem With Clubhouse. Vice, 10 February 2021
Jamie Tarabay and Kartikay Mehrotra: Clubhouse Chats Are Breached, Raising Concerns Over Security. Bloomberg, 22 February 2021.
Stanford Internet Observatory: Clubhouse in China: Is the data safe? 12 February 2021.