Elsewhere in the blogosphere update November

Do people still use the word blogosphere? It’s been rather quiet here at Fistful of Cinctans and that’s because I’ve been writing a lot elsewhere, so like those cheap flashback sitcom episodes that are mostly made up of footage from older episodes, here’s some pointers to other stuff I’ve been writing instead. Continue reading

Google Cultural Institute and The Natural History Museum

Last week, the Natural History Museum London was the latest institute to engage with the mega brand x mega brand love in that is Google Cultural Institute partnerships. Presumably, they’ve partnered with most of the major art museums so the attention has finally turned to natural history* (at the time of writing, Google Cultural Institute still haven’t announced the project on Google+, evidence perhaps that even Google doesn’t use Google+). Although these projects, where the Google Cultural Institute partners with a museum to present their collections through the Google Arts and Culture platform, aren’t exactly new, the addition of one of the UK’s big natural history museums is a chance to examine whether these are any good yet.

The tl:dr version of this blog post is no. No they aren’t. Continue reading

How and why to cite museum specimens in research

About once a year, I take the time to comb through the Internet for references in books and journal articles to museum specimens in the collections I manage. Despite the fact that I give all the researchers who visit the collections instructions for keeping the museum informed if/when their research gets published, sometimes it doesn’t happen. Sometimes it’s an innocent mistake: it can be a decade between data collection from specimens and publication and in the tweaking of manuscripts remembering to let the museum know about publications citing their specimens can drop off the priority list. Sometimes however, it seems like researchers failed to listen to what those annoying museum people said and just ‘forget’ or just make it up entirely.

Recently the researchers and collections managers at the Oxford University Museum of Natural History have undertaken a big drive to try to find orphaned citations of our collections going back to 2010 for our reporting cycles and with dogged determination to leave no stone unturned, we’ve managed to find an order of magnitude more citations that weren’t previously linked to the collections.

It’s really fundamental to the scientific process, the future or museums and the legacy of biological sciences that hypotheses and research can be repeated and that we can trace the theory back to the evidence that leads to new conclusions being made. It’s really important to properly cite specimens and here’s why and how. Continue reading

Gamifying Museums- The Logical Extreme

Last week my Twitter feed was all #MWXX which I presume had something to do with Museums and the Web, probably the 20th conference, it may also still be happening such is the opaque nature of the events conference hashtags refer to.

In any case whatever #MWXX was, it seemed to be filled with some of the best and brightest of those working with museums ‘and the web’ but more broadly digital. Ever since my Museum Studies training, I’ve had an interest in museums and the digital as a digital native urghhh, I mean ‘millennial’ but more importantly the incredibly slow pace in which museums are really getting to grips with the interesting stuff that is happening on the Internet and in video games, digital art etc. Last year, there were some very silly suggestions that museums are now ‘post-digital’ and we should stop banging on about the digital as some magical future thing.

Digital is everywhere. It’s just another tool in the toolkit. I’d very strongly argue that with rare, normally uncelebrated good examples, most museums are very much analog and that Digital still equates to a not very good website, crappy gallery interactives, an unreliable app developed circa 2009 and not very good online databases. Which might actually be fine because I suspect that us urghhh ‘millenials’ are actually quite bored of digital. Give us bespoke, handmade, tangible, esoteric and analog. I’m a slave to digital platforms at work and play and I want to spend my downtime away from them. There’s a seed of a thought there that I’ll expand on in another post, maybe. But, as a keen gamer I’m quite sad to see that gamification of museum spaces just hasn’t happened in a very real way. Sure, if you read Reality is Broken in 2012 you’d have believed that by 2016 even our toasters would be recording our high scores and spamming our friends with toasted bread updates but turns out that gamification flourished in the Silicon Valley Petri dishes but didn’t squirm much further.

When you do see museums engaging in games and gamification, it’s often in a very earnest, shallow and eduware kind of way. More Fun School 3 than Never Alone and 100% less interesting, engaging and inspiring than Minesweeper. Museums should skip steadily progressing 20 years behind digital culture and jump right up to date borrowing the scummiest and unethical but addictive and sometimes lucrative practices from current social media platforms and the ballooning free-to-play models that even giants of gaming seem to be pursuing. Introducing the MyMuseum app (working title). Continue reading

Sea Fables Explained

I’ve been using the excellent Biodiversity Heritage Library recently for both work and play based research into animals and specimens. If you don’t know it, it’s an excellent initiative by a consortium of natural history institutions with a short and sweet mission, taken from their website.

The Biodiversity Heritage Library improves research methodology by collaboratively making biodiversity literature openly available to the world as part of a global biodiversity community.

In essence, it’s digitising and releasing the history of biology, for free to reference (you can make a donation though) or under creative commons for others uses which takes the sting out of trying to hunt down all the early references, many of which include original taxon descriptions and it includes publications that are incredibly rare or valuable and in some cases very odd. One of the very best things they’ve done recently, well 2012, is release over 24,000 images to flickr which is a great thing to do but is also a different way of browsing the history of biology. Although the image searching could be a little better, the released images are sometimes in little ‘curated’ albums which are just a pleasure to browse. Here is the BHL fLickr page and a few of my favourite albums are Sloths!, Monsters are Real, a gorgeous collection of desktop wallpaper squid and, ahem, Octopi. One particular highlight brought to my attention from the images alone, and the subject of this blog post is Sea fables explained. London :W. Clowes and sons, ltd.,1883. WHICH YOU MUST HAVE A LOOK AT. Continue reading