The year that was, and the year that will be

2012 was a year of ups and down for me. I snapped and broke quite a lot of my collar bone, and shoulder area on the 1st January and was left without the use of my arm for a good while, I think I managed to work the sling look, but I couldn’t quite escape looking like a wounded duck with a broken wing.  My Mam was incredibly poorly at the beginning of the year, and that shook me to my core.  It is something that I don’t/can’t/won’t think or write about.  It’s too hard.  So the lows were low, but the up’s were ridiculously high. I won Public Engager of the Year and QRator won the Museums and Heritage Award for Excellence in the Innovation Category – the team got to dress up! I had a snazzy red dress (which a waiter poured a jug of milk over, not the best form of celebration) and a QR code temporary Tattoo.  I also learnt to ski in Lake Tahoe, went on a road trip though California, got a personal trainer and started attending boot camps.  I’m the fittest I have ever been. Exercise has always been my way of processing all my academic thoughts, putting things into perspective.

Here’s a list of things, places and projects I’ve done this year:

Places visited

San Francisco, California

Lake Tahoe, California and Nevada

Truckee, California

Selma, California

Yosemite National Park, California

San Diego, California

Barcelona, Spain

Hamburg, Germany


Conferences Attended

Museums and the Web 2012

Museum Next 2012

Engaging Digital Audiences in Museums

Digital Humanities 2012

Digital Transformations Workshop (x 2)

Museum Association Joy of Text Event

UK Museums on the Web 2012


Museums and Galleries visited

Grant Museum

UCL Art Museum

Wellcome Collection

Imperial War Museum London

Imperial War Museum North

HMS Belfast

Horniman Museum

Museum of Brands

Nottingham Castle

Nottingham Contemporary

New Art Exchange

The Baltic

The Biscuit Factory

The Laing Art Gallery


Museum Picasso

Museum of Contemporary Art San Diego (MCASD)

San Diego Air and Space Museum


Projects, and Committee Work


Social Interpretation

Totem Labs

Share Academy

Digital Learning Network

Ignite London

Engagement Advisory Board and Research Panel of the Horniman Museum and Gardens’ Collections, People, Stories project.

Behind all of this, and the driving force for everything is my PhD. I’m now in my final year, year 3 – pulling all of my previous research, data collection and thinking together and writing it all up. I like being busy, and enjoy new challenges, so trying to keep the focus on my PhD has been hard. I’m incredibly bad at saying no. Moving to Nottingham at the end of 2011 was an attempt to be out of sight out of mind, so people wouldn’t be able to ask me to do exciting things, and I could focus solely on my PhD. But the yeses still came, and I got to do some pretty cool stuff, meet and work with brilliant people, and learn new things.  Trying to balance the research, the writing, the project work, the professional experience and normal life things, is something I really struggle with.     I’ve really enjoyed my data collection, flexing my thinking muscles and working on new projects. But my work and research in 2012 led to multiple crises of confidence and an every growing feeling of impostor syndrome.

The sad reality is that today a PhD won’t get you a job.  I’ve always wanted to go into an academic post, so I can bring my own brand of enthusiasm to new minds, but realistically a good academic post is very hard to find.  You need to be a known name, have experience in everything, and ultimately be exceptional. I’ve always been ambitious and a hard worker (and I have two wonderful inspiration supervisors to guide me on my way; Melissa Terras and Claire Warwick), but I’m also equally lacking in self-confidence and never think I’m good enough. Not the best mix when hoping to go out into the big bad world of academia.  But 2012 has taught me that academia might not be my only option and I’m very grateful to both Jane Audas and Martin Belam for demystifying the world of freelance work and for the digital museum community for continuing to be a source of opportunity.   2013 undoubtedly will be hard, but I’m hoping by the end of my thesis it will bring perspective, enjoyment and some easing of that impostor feeling.

Claire Warwick wrote a really great blog post about Bradley Wiggins yesterday, you might be wondering what that has to do with my PhD or academia.  But actually it has rather a lot.  Doing the impossible is possible. Claire also bought me a copy of Steve Peter’s The Chimp Paradox, which actually resonates with me quite strongly.  Oonagh Murphy has written some really good new years resolutions on her blog; I’m going to add a few of my own below taking into consideration caging chimps and world class cycling:

  1. Do Less, Better
  2. Think logically not emotionally
  3. Balance ambition with reality
  4. Enjoy the journey.
  5. Stop saying yes to everything
  6. Slow down and attend to the details. The turtle wins out over the hare.

Comic strip summing up my PhD?


I discovered this whilst reading Chris Unitt’s post about runaway comments. Chris has some interesting things to say about The Oatmeal’s latest comic strip, some thoughts and musings on making things for the web . Check it out.  Visitor commenting is clearly harmful…

This image in particular pretty much covers the preconceived view of visitor commenting in museums and represents a vast percentage of  my PhD research.


General overall scheme of things

I’ve had a bit of a theme overhaul here. I hope you like it.  I was a bit bored with the previous theme, and sometimes it nice to have new look.  It has been prompted from the interesting things  blogger are doing with introducing new ways to view blog posts, in an attempt to change the way people consume content and make it new and visually exciting.  The new look for my blog isn’t really dynamic but it’s clean and fresh looking and it makes me happy.

Coming back from Museums and the Web (I still have lots to digest from this – games, mobile parade, Google Art Project just to name a few!) has given me the head space to really start to get to grips with The Elmer PhuD.

I’m going to be looking specifically at how museum visitors both online and inside the gallery make sense of digital content.  The aim is to look closely at the steps through which museum visitors construct meaning from, and interact with, the digital museum information.   I want to be truly focused in the user and not the museum. Almost all current museum studies focus on the observer or the museum.  Asking questions which are museum focused; Do you like us? Which of things we do you like? Why? On top of multiple choice questions where the museum visitors tick off the good and bad experiences. While some of these questions are more user focused than others, all start from a museum perspective, and are a constructed reality that the museum visitor has to fit into. So I’m going to try and turn that on its head. And look at characteristics of visitor behaviour and ask specific questions about the why, what for and how.

I’m also in the midst of planning the next Digital Learning Network event at The National Archives in June, as well as the next think drink (stay tuned for that one!).  The DLNet day at TNA should be really great. We will be looking at how teachers use digital resources in the classroom and what they actually want from museum, library and archive digital resources.   The day will include Q&A with teachers; top tips for evaluation, an overview of methodologies for digital resources and there will also be nifty demos of whiteboard technology.  It should be a really busy day!

QRator is ticking along nicely, the Grant Museum is having a grand old time with the iPads and the website is now live so you read all the comments even when you are not in the museum.  You can also have your say via twitter on some excellent questions about natural history museums, conservation, animal testing and extinction.

InterFace is also drawing ever nearer. All the lightening talk delegates have been notified and we have a great selection of speakers, workshops and cake lined up!

In the next couple of weeks, Museums at Night is coming up! I’m excited! I will be heading to Newcastle for the Late Shows! I can’t wait to have a peek in the Victoria Tunnel! You can see my itinerary here.

And then there is #MuseumNext! Awesome.

The Elmer PhuD.

Today I officially start my Digital Humanities PhD. Scary. For reasons I can’t quite recall (twitter was involved I’m sure) it has been renamed the Fudd. The Elmer Fudd. So Be vewy vewy quiet, I’m hunting wabbits.

I was lucky enough to be awarded the UCL Digital Humanities Scholarship after a scary interview process earlier in 2010 (I think knowing the interviewers makes the whole process worse, the fear of letting them down as well as myself is horrific).  Thankfully my interview went well, quoting Field of Dreams ‘build it and they will come’ was a personal highlight.  Not a lot about my working environment will change, I will still be a part of UCLDH, and working on a few projects, however most of my time will now be working towards a Doctorate rather than a monthly pay check.  I am incredibly nervous, and excited in equal measure about getting started.

The aim of my research is to explore the value, usefulness and importance of online museum content from a users perspective, by developing an awareness of the perceptions that users have of the museum information environment both on main museum website as well as on external social media applications, and assess how this will influence metrics and evaluation.  And most importantly what on earth people do with that content once they have found it.

“The thing people are amazed about with the web is that, when you put something online, you don’t know who is going to use it—but it does get used.” Berners-Lee 2010

I want to know why, what for and how.   In order to create improved access to museum resources it is important to improve our own understanding of how users seek, interact with and use museum content. So my research aims to enhance our understanding of the value and impact of digital cultural content by exploring user information seeking and interaction behaviour.  The research also aims to provide evidence of museum impact upon users within a more distributed web 2.0 environment.  Quite a lot of research has been done on specific user groups’ information-seeking behaviour within libraries, archival and legal services (have a look at Warwick et al 2008, Rimmer et al 2006, 2008, Makri 2008). However much less is known about the information seeking behaviour of user groups using Museum online content.  So I want to draw upon usability, participatory and information seeking behaviour research to add to the understanding of how and why museum visitors access and use online museum content.

So yes the official start. 10th Jan 2011. I guess this is a bit of an artificial construct really, in the sense that I have three years to complete my research and the first day could just as well be today or last week or in three weeks time. But I feel ready to start the project, in fact itching to start.  It’s werid to think that my academic &  museum profesional career, my hobbies and my passions to date have combined to this big juicy scary research project.  Terrifying.  I’m trying my very best not to panic and write my thesis in my first week.

Wish me luck. Let’s see how it goes!