I’ve not yet spoken to anyone working in museums and galleries who has said ‘yeah, it’s pretty quiet at the moment, budgets are plentiful and we’ve got so many staff”, so was looking forward to hearing Mark Pajak speak about the ‘create once, publish everywhere’ approach that he is working on at Bristol Museums and Galleries.

Firstly I was stunned by the size of the collection, 1.75 million objects, did I hear that right? It brings home the volume of items that we are all working with and why efficient approaches are required!

Mark spoke about the different digital platforms that provide collections information, which all stem from the Collection Management System, such as the online Collection Search and interactives within the display space.

To explore the narrative based structure that Bristol use I delved into the Fine Art collection online and was presented with two narratives: ‘Places of Desire’ or ‘Reality Questioned’.  http://museums.bristol.gov.uk/narratives.php?irn=8765Both tempting, I opted for ‘Reality Questioned’ which provided me with some interesting exhibition text followed by individual images to click on which contained object information and a gallery label. I really like this after-life of exhibition text and labels as so much time goes into exhibitions and interpretation, to achieve something permanent from them seems a great idea both for institutions and visitors. Another feature that I like is the current location information about the item.

Mark spoke about some of the challenges of the one size fits all approach, such as a notebook that would benefit from a digital page turning rather than a succession of thumb nails. There are also currently no loans online. The next steps in the project are making sure that google is optimised and that social media can be used to share object information.

Where I work at National Museums Scotland, the team are working to get more of the circa 12.4 million items online. This started in 2011 when items in newly opened galleries were put online. We are currently up to 32,200 online records with this number being refreshed on a monthly basis. The ‘create once’ model has been used in our Photography: A Victorian Sensation exhibition  http://www.nms.ac.uk/national-museum-of-scotland/whats-on/photography-a-victorian-sensation/which contains images within gallery interactives, on the online catalogue and in our first ever Massive Open Online Course (MOOC) https://www.coursera.org/course/vicphoto


1/6 plate heavily tinted ambrotype, depicting a seated man, in a Union case with eight-sided decorated geometric design, unsigned, late 1850s – 1860s
From the Howarth-Loomes Collection at National Museums Scotland
Image © National Museums Scotland


I think the use of social media and digital is extremely exciting but more importantly vital to keep our collections and institutions ever present. The do once, use again approach is one I’ll be trying to apply to other areas of my work wherever I can as the quiet moment hasn’t arrived yet!

Katie Robson, Assistant Registrar, National Museums Scotland