April 15-18, 2009
Indianapolis, Indiana, USA

Demonstrations: Description

I Know What This is!

Erik Hekman, University of Applied Sciences Utrecht, The Netherlands
Harry van Vliet, University of Applied Sciences Utrecht, The Netherlands

Many cultural artifacts lack a description at all and those that do are not very useful for the general public. Useful in the sense of understandable and in the sense of helpful for retrieving the artifacts. In the Netherlands some 20 million artefacts in museums await a description, of those that do have a description only half of it is digitally available. The current descriptions themselves are limited to six or seven aspects such as date of acquisition, an inventory number and a genre classification. Meaning that the description is mostly there for administration purposes and not for helping the general public for finding and understanding the artifact. It is not uncommon for a description to have no reference at all to that what is most visible in the picture.

From a professional viewpoint there is reasonable doubt whether this will change in the near future: the task is too large for the few professionals most cultural institutions employ, certainly in light of the large numbers of artifacts that await such a (re)description. With the digitalization of cultural artifacts and the development of a widely available platform that stimulates access and interactivity, the Internet, a new solution presents itself. There are many people ‘out there’ that are willing and have the expertise to say something useful about certain artifacts: amateur scientist, retired professionals, friends of the museum, et cetera. Opening up the collections to these people in such a way that they can enrich the artifacts with their knowledge can help to make those collections more useful for the general public.

Four museums in the Netherlands (Naturalis, Museon, University Museum Utrecht, Dutch Institute of Image & Sound) together with three research and knowledge institutes (University of Applied Science Utrecht, Telematica Instituut, BMC Group) decided in 2008 to explore the potential of these groups of people that in some (professional) way are related to certain collections. The main question is whether these groups can be identified, stimulated to add content descriptions and whether this has an effect on the involvement of these people towards the museum and whether it increases the access of the collection by the general public.

In order to research this question a dedicated social tagging tool was developed in AJAX and implemented: (‘Iknowwhatthisis’). Specific collections were uploaded to the site: a collection of photo’s of dentist artifacts, drawings of Japanese imprisonmentcamps during WOII, and photos of rare beetles. People can add information by tagging the photo’s. Currently we are experimenting with digital storytelling, integrating this into the website and researching the relation between the tags and the stories. Also we ‘benchmark’ are results with data from Flickr and Flickr the Commons. The social tagging tool will be demonstrated, including first results and future work

Demonstration: Demonstrations 1 [Close Up]

Keywords: social tagging, storytelling, museum collections, access, tool