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Ask the Expert Q&A 26 January 2017: Digital Collections – with Martin Fell

Martin Fell, Digital Team Leader at York Museums Trust will be answering your questions on Digital Collections on Thursday 26 January between 1pm to 2pm GMT.

Martin is the Digital Team Leader at York Museums Trust, tasked with digitising the collections of York Museums Trust and putting these collections into the public domain.

Martin Fell, Digital Team Leader at York Museums Trust will be answering your questions on Digital Collections on Thursday 26 January between 1pm to 2pm GMT.

You can post questions before the Q&A session, on 26 January , or you can converse in real time with our expert. You can use the comment box below to post a question, or you can use twitter with the hashtag  #mdyask.

Comments have to be moderated, to protect the blog from spam, so if your comment doesn’t appear straight away, don’t worry, we’ll get to it as quickly as we can.

If you have a problem submitting questions, either in the comment box, or via twitter, please email your questions to [email protected]

If you have ideas for subjects you’d like to see us cover in future, or would like to take questions yourself, please get in contact with us and let us know.

Your Comments

  1. Martin Fell |

    Looking forward to answering questions on collections online, licensing and digitisation!

  2. Gillian Waters |

    ‏@RachaelABowers asks @YMTdigital & were there any things you would’ve liked your online collections to do, but couldn’t for any reason? #mdyask

  3. Gillian Waters |

    ‏@RachaelABowers asks @YMTdigital what mistakes did you make – any tips we can learn from? #mdyask

  4. Gillian Waters |

    @RachaelABowers asks @YMTdigital – what was the main catalyst for putting your collections online? #mdyask

  5. Martin Fell |

    Question: @RachaelABowers asks @YMTdigital – what was the main catalyst for putting your collections online? #mdyask

    Response: The main driver for publishing online was to show the world what is in the museums’ collections. On our previous websites we only had 50 or so objects showcased. Now there is access to 160,000+ and around 40,000 images.
    Personally, I was driven by a desire to introduce open licensing at York Museums Trust, provide a useful tool for imagery of collections to be downloaded and shared and ensure that content relating to our collection – held on behalf of the public – was free to re-use with as few limitations as possible.

    tl;dr: Improve accessibility, reach online audiences & encourage re-use #mdyask

    Throwing a few responses out early where I can! Keep those questions coming

  6. Fiona Green |

    What do you love most about working digitally with museum collections?

  7. Martin Fell |

    Question: @RachaelABowers asks @YMTdigital what mistakes did you make – any tips we can learn from? #mdyask

    Response:
    Our mistakes:
    We took some shortcuts to ensure a rapid delivery that we knew would come back to bite us. But we also knew that it was such a herculean task to get support for complete publication of everything and open licensing by default that we needed to move the project forward quickly to prevent it stalling completely.
    We are going to replace the sticking plasters that hold the current online collection together with something much more robust in Phase II development. Watch this space.

    Things other institutions can learn from:
    Start with a simple goal. Ours was open access to the entire collection.
    Bring in all stakeholders early and have effective consultation.
    Don’t underestimate how time-consuming and important myth busting is. The biggest challenge for me was convincing people open licensing was important (and busting the myth that we were sat on a potential gold-mine of imagery that would make us our fortunes)
    Clearly define the benefits.
    Make sure your online collection fits into the broader ecosystem of digital projects – for example digitisation, online engagement…
    Get something up quickly. Deliver early, even if functionality is limited. Visibility is so important. We didn’t want to spend years creating a spec for the ‘perfect’ online collection when we had only just embarked on our first digital engagement projects (on Wikipedia for example). The jury was still out as to what functionality would be most useful.
    Don’t lose sight of your initial dream. You can always revisit.

    tl;dr: Biggest mistake (challenge): Taking shortcuts that we knew would cause work down the line. Biggest lesson: Consultation with stakeholders is vital

  8. Martin Fell |

    Question: ‏@RachaelABowers asks @YMTdigital & were there any things you would’ve liked your online collections to do, but couldn’t for any reason? #mdyask

    Response: We wanted the collection published in a really short time-frame and we bundled up the online collection in a wider web portfolio redevelopment – i.e. it wasn’t a standalone project. This meant we made a huge number of concessions on functionality.
    Things we would have liked to include in the original build were zoomable imagery, linked data, clean & static urls, potential for user feedback and user-generated content.
    All these things – and many more – are set to be addressed in our overhaul of the online collection, which is a project that is already underway.

    tl;dr: We left out lots of things because of time constraints. Phase II of the collection will address as many of these things as possible.

  9. Martin Fell |

    Question: @YMT_FionaArt – What do you love most about working digitally with museum collections?

    Response: Two things:

    Collaboration. Digital cuts through the entire organisation in various ways and almost all departments have some element of ‘digital’ work to be done within them. This can only be achieved by working together and it is what I enjoy most. This is also true of our work with external partners. Shared goals and collaborative outputs trump star objects and bling.
    Sharing. Open licensing has been the most powerful tool for handing collections back to the people that appreciate them the most. We (YMT) might look at a collection and give it a narrative that meets our mission, engages our audiences and explores challenging themes; but if you hand it over to others (digitally), with no caveats on its re-use, you increase the potential for both creativity and impact hugely.

    tl;dr: Collaborating on projects at the cutting-edge of technology use. Sharing, sharing, sharing.

  10. Gillian Waters |

    @YMT_Rachel says “As part of the staff @YorkMuseumTrust, I use the online collections regularly. What benefit do they serve internally @YMTdigital? #mdyask”

  11. Martin Fell |

    Question: @YMT_Rachel – As part of the staff @YorkMuseumTrust, I use the online collections regularly. What benefit do they serve internally @YMTdigital? #mdyask
    Response: Interestingly, we hacked together a simple Google-style search which is not possible with our Collections Management System. The biggest initial win was people being able to find stuff in their own collections without incredible knowledge of accession numbers!
    Internally, it gradually becomes a repository for our latest digital imagery. And because everything is free to download and re-use, stuff can be dropped on the blog or social media really quickly.
    It now services the vast majority of our image requests – without the need for paperwork and internal management of that process.
    It can very often solve visitor / researcher enquiries.

    tl;dr: Made the collections more searchable. First port of call when hunting for imagery. Solves visitor enquiries #MDYask

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