All posts by Jeff

Jeff Guin is a #digitalheritage specialist. His personal mission is to help people discover and protect their cultural heritage through web communications. voicesofthepast.org

Digital heritage pros share top tips for developing strategy

You’ve probably heard for some time now that you need a digital strategy, but what does that mean? There can be many facets to developing a strategy. Really though, you only need to grasp a few key ideas to establish your mindset and focus first on the aspects that are most important to you and your audience. For this post, I asked some trusted friends in the field to share their top tips for framing a digital heritage strategy.

Don’t Confuse Needs and Wants

“Many times we come into the creative process with a really strong idea of what we want—or rather, what we THINK we want. More often than not we’ve been charmed by something we saw somewhere. Maybe it’s a new piece of hardware. Or a shiny interactive. Or a really generous check (with or without strings). We are lured by the siren song of a design idea that may or may not actually meet the needs of the place, heritage, or collection we are trusted to interpret. Getting clear about your goals, actual needs, and nice to haves up front will help minimize the pain of mismatched expectations as you move ahead in your development process.” 

Stacey Mann, Museumism

Invest in Visual

“For Mount Vernon, our key was investing in visual mediums that translate really well from our mission.  Our Virtual Tour was one of the first investments and it has paid off tremendously.  One of the second best investments was in video, particularly hiring for a few years someone to regularly create short form video on our YouTube channel.  At one point were were up to posting 95 videos per year and because the history and storytelling rarely changes those are all still paying dividends on views and driving subscribers.  One thing cultural institutions like ours overlook is YouTube is the second largest search engine.  Treat videos like SEO for your website and it will be a great strategy.”

Matt Briney, Vice President, Media & Communications, George Washington’s Mount Vernon

Start with Purpose and (Good) Data

“Customer Relationship Management (CRM) is a tool. A repository of the organization’s collective knowledge about its guests, members, and donors. Successful CRM implementations start with two things: concrete problems/needs data can help solve and… good guest data. An example of a concrete problem might be “After two years of Covid-19 closures, we need to retain members now more than ever. How do make ensure first-year members renew?” The data to drive this would come from an integration with the ticketing system to link ongoing membership sales, card scans, and renewals. You can then start chipping away at the problem by creating dashboards to monitor first-year member renewals and implementing email marketing automation programs to ensure members visit and use their benefits over a year, and build a sense of relationship with the organization.”

Steven Beasley, Field Theory

Invest in Flexible Platforms

“Many stories, objects and resources need to be strategically curated to tell history. Not only are there many different kinds of assets in digital storytelling, but the relationships between these elements weave a complex web. That’s why we focus so much on building flexible platforms that enable these stories to come to life. Where it’s the entire platform, a log form story page, or mini-site. the palette of content storytelling tools needs to be robust enough to express all aspects of these stories.”

Eric Holter, Cuberis

Leave Time and Space for Content Development

“In any digital installation project, it can be easy to become so enchanted by the technology that we forget what visitors really connect with: storytelling, content. Creating original content takes a ton of time and resources and needs to be planned into the project from the outset, whatever the intended technological solutions might be. Content has to come first. When it doesn’t, you’ll find yourself too late in the process and with too much of your budget spent and not enough time or resources left to create the story — the part that’s really going to capture your visitors’ hearts and minds.”

Jeremy Taylor, Project Director at GSM Project

Design with People in Mind

“I think when you hear the term “digital strategy” or “digital transformation”, you automatically jump to the technical aspects: what’s the technology and platforms that will be used. But digital strategy should start with people. It must have utility for those who’ll be using the technology and following specific processes. The first place to start is understanding the ecosystem of users and what their needs, pain points, and goals are. Often times, we think of “users” as the end user or customers. But we need to take a much broader view to include users as both customers and internal staff and stakeholders. Digital strategy within an organization needs to be considered from an internal and external perspective. Lastly, as ideas and solutions start to take shape, it’s important to take a “design with” approach to prototype, test, and refine ideas with users to ensure that their needs and pain points are addressed, and value is being delivered.”

Traci Thomas, Platinion Lead Strategic Designer (BCG Group)

You don’t have to start with an answer

And finally, a tip from me, which echoes the ideas above. There’s a fine line between prescribing something you want for your audiences and only creating experiences that are built up based purely on what they say then want. It’s alright to start out with an educated guess based on your visitor interactions and then TEST TEST TEST to chart a course to the final project. Set up a testing protocol, using paper prototypes if you need to. Have some type of spreadsheet or database to put testing results into and then use that to inform how the product develops. Make sure your development vendor is on board with this process, and committed to interpreting and iterating the results.

Hope these tips help move your strategy forward. I’ll continue adding to this post. In the meantime, if you have any tips of your own, please share them in the comments.

Toolkit for developing a community of digital history makers with your own GLAM Cyber Cafe’

Sometimes creating in the digital heritage space can feel lonely, if not thankless. It has always been challenging but it has been especially true in the COVID era. Virtual meetings have been a coping mechanism, but there’s nothing like being in the same room together while the ideas flow.  As we seek to find a way to connect with one another again, I thought I’d share some tips and models you can use to bring like-minded digital folks together where you are, whether it be virtual or in person. 

Active Meetups

I’ll start with a few models that are currently out there, and then go into the idea surrounding a model that I specifically developed.

  • Wiki Salon: Folks in the Wiki space are holding Wiki Salons. As of this writing they are mostly virtually through Zoom. These usually present a theme for creating or editing articles in Wikipedia and The Commons. Here’s an event listing from a New York group and a Philadelphia group. Here are general instructions on holding a Wiki meetup.
  • THATCamp: The Humanities and Technology Camp. This was inspired by the old BarCamp concept. Sadly, the organization behind THATCamp has died. However, the concept behind still exists on the old site.
  • CodeforAmerica is back and holding hybrid virtual/in-person meetings. This is the big one, that seeks out ways to make government work better through meaningful presentations of data and development of useful digital tools. They have a summit scheduled in May 2022. There are also regional groups in cities across the U.S., though most seem to be on hiatus.
  • Also in Philly, there’s a Maker’s Meetup that is about 3D printing+++ .
  • Other digital humanities groups on Meetup.com.

The GLAM Café Concept

When I was volunteering for the Philly Digital Humanities group, I proposed the idea of the GLAM Café as a monthly coffeehouse-style event that would extend the organization’s good work and good will during the once-a-year THATCamp throughout the year. Its purpose more broadly was to afford digital heritage enthusiasts and professionals in the Philadelphia region a regular opportunity to connect, collaborate and learn from one another. We held it from 5-8 p.m. on the second Tuesday of each month. The museum conference center I worked for provided the space, and snacks were sponsored. Though I moved to Miami in 2014, the GLAM Café continued for several years after.

Checklists

Below you can find the checklists and considerations that I used to plan the GLAM Café. And you can check this Google Drive link to find logo and signage templates, as well as images from the events we coordinated in Philly.

Buzz-Builders

  • Door Prizes & Swag: Stickers, pens, overstock from institution gift shops and publications.
  • Podcasts & Blog Posts featuring participant projects
  • DH “Angel”: A help desk at the meetup for helping to orient newcomers, or provide perspective to help people become unstuck with their projects.
  • “Theme Nights” For Archives, Archaeology, Historic Preservation, Etc., with a specialist guest from the field.

One Hour Before Event Start
Setup Digital Help Desk on non-GLAM Cafe Tuesdays. Send broadcast announcement

@Meetup Group Page

Use forum function for virtual white papers (and discussions)

Active Projects

Featured “Follow Tuesday” GLAMCafe’r: Profile on projector with project working on.

Materials to Order/Create

  • Branded paper coffee cups
  • Flyers: Promote/debut at museum events
  • Promo business & postcards, e.g. http://us.moo.com/ distributed @THATCamps
  • Name tags
  • Promo contest (win a travel mug by collecting 10 cards) 

“Connecting” Resources

  • Literature stand for digital humanities white papers (invite people to contribute their own)
  • Large screen with Wikipedia Project Page displayed
  • iPad with Meetup.com group set up (for folks to register, or add their project ideas)
  • iPad showing video on loop of GLAM topics
  • Name tags (with color code interest “tagging”?
  • Streaming chats/hangouts that talk about a case study
  • Power strips!
  • Loyalty card with an attached service prize 

Ambiance

  • Locate “set dressing”
  • Directional signs
  • Promotional material
  • Projection of logo on whiteboard
  • Create “nooks” with furniture and lighting
  • Soft music
  • Live tweet stream projected
  • Projects board
  • Coffee smell
  • Barista with espresso
  • iPad co-working stations 

Outcomes and Outputs

  • Poster/booklet/screen display of online projects people can “adopt.” Unassigned
  • Build audience advocates for digital and social media
  • Build a brain trust of digital leaders to strengthen digital initiatives Unassigned
  • Offer digital learning opportunities for staff

Logisitics

  • Confirm coffee and food with conference center
  • Confirm SPACE with the conference center
  • Set up coffee cart
  • Set up brainstorming tools around the space: whiteboards, easels with paper and markers

Audiences/Partners/Advocates
Primarily local, and select regional groups. These are folks with an interest in consistently using digital tools to communicate.

  • Area Museums
  • Wikipedia Groups
  • Area historical societies

Core Collaborators

DH community
GLAM Institutions
Area Wikipedians 

Example of Reporting and Metrics

(Sample report from Philly GLAM Café) 

At least 36 people attended, about half of whom were involved in PhillyDH. People interested in Wikipedia started arriving around 4.30, and mostly left by 7.00 or 7.30. PhillyDH people arrived between 5.00 and 6.30 and stayed until 8.00. PhillyDH held a breakout meeting from 6.00 to 8.00. There is overlap between the two groups, so having rolling times may work well.

The large round tables in the GLAM room worked well; we should have 4 or 5 of them next time instead of 3. The lounge-style seating was used somewhat in the beginning, but not once the groups broke apart. We may want to have some available. People rearranged the tables in the breakout room into a rough circle so that they could all see each other during their meeting. They may break into smaller working groups next time. The small rectangular tables are good there because they are easy to rearrange. The lighting was good.

Having a mix of sweet and protein in the snacks is important. The Greek yogurt was popular. Bagels with cream cheese would be a good choice as well. Cookies, danishes or biscotti are all good complements. All three drink options (coffee, tea, water) were used.

We should plan to accommodate those who come early. For the next GLAM Cafe, the PhillyDH breakout group plans to meet from 6.30 to 8.00, giving people time to attend the GLAM Cafe beforehand. There was a sense that the first meeting was largely a meet-and-greet, and that people would like the next meeting to be more work-oriented (focused on getting things done more than on talking).

Email Notification Format and language

Hi folks,

Beginning Nov. 12 we’ll have a regular opportunity to  connect, share and collaborate with digital heritage enthusiasts and professionals alike when the “GLAM Café” debuts at [PLACE]. The GLAM Café is a coffeehouse-style event brought to you in partnership with [GROUP]. Come by any time between 5-8 p.m. to join in. If you enjoy it, mark your calendar for future meetups on the second Tuesday of each month.

Why Should I Come?

Sometimes it’s easy to become so focused on our own institution and its immediate needs that we forget we’re all part of a larger community of Galleries, Libraries, Archives and Museums (often referred to as GLAM institutions). Those working in this community are facing many of the same issues we do as a cultural heritage institution in the digital age. We all have unique experiences and perspectives that, when shared, can collectively lighten the load and make the path to digital success clearer.

What should I bring?

  • Bring your curiosity: You’ll have access to expertise ranging  from social media to web exhibits to Linked Open Data and beyond.
  • Bring your ideas: You can also find a project to participate in or potentially even a collaborator for your ideas.
  • Bring yourself!: The point of this meetup is to provide a time, space and support for making progress on GLAM-related digital projects that don’t seem to fit into your schedule otherwise. Feel free to just claim some sofa territory and work solo on that Wikipedia entry you always wanted to correct, or grab a white paper and read up on what others are working on.

Whether you want to socialize, study, or mercilessly hack some poor unsuspecting data set, please come enjoy coffee and snacks in a relaxed atmosphere. 

How can I participate?

If you’re looking to be part of a discussion group, you’ll have two breakaway opportunities at this event:

  1. A digital humanities discussion.
  2. An interest meeting for a planned Hack-a-thon that helps GLAM institutions open up their data for more impact.

To learn more about the folks you might meet at this event and to receive regular reminders of these events, visit the meetup group at the following link: [Insert Link Here]

And please share this announcement with anyone you think may be interested!

Many Hands Make Light Work

Hosting this event was one the most fulfilling things I did during my time in Philly. It made my day job easier by having creative people to bounce ideas and challenges off of. And it’s just so much easier to face those challenges with a community of like-minded people. This concept is very scalable, so I hope you’ll use these tools as a foundation and start your own!

If you know of any other active meetups that I missed, feel free to post them in the comments here.

A guide to my heritage Twitter Lists, developed over the past decade.

Twitter tells me I joined up more than 13 years ago. As much of a cesspool that Twitter can be, I’ve always found a way to get better use of it by creating “lists” and I’ve been a more active user of the lists function than I have been in blasting out content to the world. According to Twitter, a list is “a curated group of accounts. Create one or subscribe to a list created by others to streamline your timeline.” I thought I’d share some of the lists I’ve built covering the the various cultural fields that you can subscribe to, or just find like-minded people to connect with.

Note that people on these lists have other interests besides the topic they are listed for, so there is a variety of content you will find in each. Social media has more noise than ever, so be prepared to skim for the good stuff. Once you get there, Twitter will have a function that allows you to follow any of these lists. When talking about tech or digital, you can engage with any of these topics using the hashtag #digitalheritage.

So here’s the list of lists …

Archaeology: This is one of the first lists I began to curate because so many archaeologists were trying out social media ahead of other cultural institutions back in the day. With more than members, it has about a post and hour. Notable tweeters there: Shawn Graham, Archaeology News Network. Sample tweet from the feed:

Archives: This 60-person list covers numerous aspects of archival practice, including digital preservation. Includes NY Public Library Labs and Paige Roberts as well as several folks I knew in Philly–Michelle DiMeo of Science History Institute and Matt Shoemaker from Temple U. Updates a couple of times an hour on average. Example of one of the tweets there:

Built Heritage: The list primarily covers historic preservation. With more than 80 members, it normally has new posts several times an hour. Notables include National Trust for Historic Preservation, Society for the Protection of Ancient Buildings and many local historic preservation organizations. Engage with the hashtag #builtheritage. Here’s an example of a tweet there:

Conservation:  With close to 40 members, these folks are good about tweeting what they are working on, whether it’s paper, architectural, etc., etc. A few of the members there are AIC/FAIC, Berta Blasi and AIC-Art Conservation. Sample tweet:

Digital Humanities: There are 128 very active tweeters comprising this list, covering a lot of the fields in this post. They are largely involved in digital projects. Notables include Digital Heritage Innovation Lab, Historical Cats, Tracy Jentzsch and Sarah Stierch. Sample Tweet: 

Folklife: My master’s is in folklore and oral history, so couldn’t let this be unrepresented. It only has about 16 members though, so let me now if you have any suggestions for folks who might fill it out. Tweeters: Kaitlyn Kinney, TellHistory, Dale Jarvis. Example of a tweet there:

Geneaology: A group of about 50 genealogists and researchers. These folks really tweet about this topic as a passion! Includes people like Lisa Louise Cook, Elyse Doerflinger and interment.net. Typical Tweet:

GLAM-Wiki: A list of people working in the GLAM-Wiki field, be they Wikipedians in residence, at any of the GLAM institutions, or just enthusiasts from the institutions themselves. Just a note, this is a very politically active group. Sample Tweet:

Heritage Influencers: Thought leaders in the heritage field who exemplify the spirit of new media. Some notables: Shawn Graham (probably half the tweets!), Nina Simon (naturally), Mar Dixon (naturally as well) and my old buddies, Past Horizons.

History: This list has 64 members and you’ll get a lot of straight history facts and “this day in” posts. Who you’ll see there include American History Association, HistoryHit podcast, and Chris Samuel. Frequent hashtags: #history #fineart #twitterstorians. Representative Tweet:

Museums: Museum Twitter accounts have traditionally been largely run by PR and marketing folks fulfilling an administrative agenda in a corporate voice. However, there’s innovation here and there and still useful and entertaining content to be found even from the traditional types. This list has about 160 members and features the MoMAs numerous house museums and Seb Chan. Hashtags to engage by: #tweetmuseums #musesocial and simply #museums combined with whatever word describes the type of museum you’re talking about. Very typical tweet:

Sites & Tourism: There are more than 60 people and organizations on this list dedicated to advancing the cultural heritage of specific sites. These are as likely to be advocacy organizations as superfan individuals dedicated to the protection and promotion of a place that holds special memories for them. Hashtags: #thisplacematters #WorldMonumentsWatch #FanPhotoFriday. Sample tweet:

Notable lists by others in the Twitterverse

Art Conservation 3.0 and Cultural Heritage Preservation by Dale Kronkright

Archaeology by Dr. Corilie Mills

Art Conservation by the good Mr. Richard McCoy

conservy/hist pres by the good Ms. Nancie Ravenel

Heritage/History people by Richard Salmon

Historytweeps by Nezka Pfiefer

A tech guy adopts e-ink thinking and decimates his home electronics … here’s what manifested.

I’ll preface this post by stating my day job is working in technology in cultural sites and has been for 20 years. I started Voices of the Past in 2008 as a manifestation of my personal mission to equip folks with digital tool and practices that help them build their legacies–both personal and community. I do love to see those connections made. But balance is key, and I’ve been the proverbial boiled frog these last several years with technology encroaching on every facet of my existence.

That realization came a several months ago when I read Greg McKeown’s advice about making “one decision that makes 1,000” and decided to apply that to every facet of my life. One of those decisions I labeled “e-ink thinking.” To me, this means identifying what is the bare minimum tech you need to enhance your life, ridding yourself of as many things possible that would be considered distraction. A black-and-white kind of existence as opposed to the constant swirl of color and noise from our streaming video world.

From childhood, even in the 1970s, too much TV, bright lights, large crowds, loud noise, etc. would unnerve me. I talk about this a bit in another post “You don’t have to be a king to find your voice.” I needed to find a way to mitigate that and take back control of my brainspace.

Before: Tech Overrun

For those of you who use apps to turn on your lights, I was already a Luddite, and God bless if it truly enhances your life. For me, every device (defined as being powered by electricity or battery) generated another layer of distraction and brain fog. Here’s what I started out with at home:

  • 55″ Roku TV
  • iPad Air
  • iPhone 11
  • iPhone 6s and iPhone 5 (used mainly as digital photo albums)
  • Amazon Echo
  • Amazon Kindle Paperwhite
  • Apple AirPods (and various other Bluetooth earbuds)
  • Brother Electric Typewriter
  • MacBook Air with ALL the bluetooth peripherals
  • Mac Mini G3 (for all my OS9 games!)
  • Desktop PC
  • A combo record/CD/radio player.
  • DVD player
  • Freewrite Traveler Word Processor

After: The Read/Write Life

What’s left are devices that are generally either E-Ink or audio-based. Here are the last pieces of tech still inhabiting my residence:

  • First generation Amazon Echo
  • Amazon Kindle Paperwhite
  • Brother Electric Typewriter
  • Light Phone II
  • Freewrite Traveler Word Processor
  • A combo record/CD/DVD/radio player.
  • and I’m counting my “gaming” device: Dataman, the handheld I had when I was about 8 years old.

I’ve been working with this setup about four months. It was maddening those first two weeks. But, slowly I realized the dream: No passwords to constantly have to remember or two-factor authentication hassles. No updates or freezes. No constant notifications.

Among my goals related to this decision was “To be at home in my own mind.” A critical component of that was to get rid of the constant external noise in my ears. This meant being more intentional about podcast and music listening. While my Light Phone does do podcasts and mp3s, you sync them manually through a desktop computer. When I made this decision, it was with the knowledge that I’d be spending a lot of time in waiting rooms and commutes without these crutches to entertain me. It meant making peace with what’s in my head, which often felt so raw and just not a place I wanted to be. But getting past that withdrawal stage, I find that has changed. I enjoy opportunities to think and contemplate and generally be grateful that at least in my personal life, all is quiet.

Concessions and Adaptations

Making this decision hasn’t changed the fact that there are some things I still have to get done requiring tech and media, but there are things you can do in those cases that are intentional and not simply distractions. And there are very satisfying ways to spend discretionary hours that have nothing to do with a phone or computer.

  • I have an old iPhone 6 in my truck glove compartment in case I REALLY need a device for a special app-only use–primarily travel related.
  • I went to cash-only spending for discretionary items so no payment apps or credit card necessary. I’m much, much more mindful of money now.
  • I can use library computers.
  • I am consuming the surviving library of 40 or so favorite CDs and as many DVDs that I was never able to let go of.
  • In addition to that, I read physical, paper-bound books everyday. I hadn’t finished a book in years prior to this. In the last month, I finished three.
  • My echo will play my Amazon Music items, including podcasts and Kindle books if I just have to have that fix.
  • I go to the gym six days a week, and never miss.

Manifestations

My life has changed in the last few months, and that’s no exaggeration. Here are some of the ways:

  • I’ve lost 25 pounds and counting, packed on a lot of muscle and ran my first 5k down in Key West in January.
  • I naturally developed systems for planning and evaluation rather than trusting a device to tell me when to do things. My brain alone always know where I’m supposed to be over the course of a week, and when. And I pretty much always know what time it is instinctually.
  • My productivity has soared measurably.
  • I’m more mindful, optimistic and contented.
  • A full night’s satisfying rest, every night.
  • Rather that identifying as a writer and never doing it, now it’s part of my daily morning routine. Also, I treat myself to a “free day” meal at Panera once a week where I spend about four hours straight writing creatively on my Freewrite.
  • After 10 years of battling. Resistance in updating this blog, I’m now posting to it on a weekly basis and for the first time have an editorial calendar with about 40 ideas in queue.

I know there is much more to come. Dreams that I thought would never come true because of unmindful living now seem very tangible. It will take a while to build momentum, but you know what?

Timelapse Toolkit for Cultural Sites: 9 Ideas + Tools

I like the symbolism of timelapses–snapshots of moments captured and contextualized. It kind of reflects how we view history. The understanding of little moments; piecing them together.

They’re effective for storytelling and relatively simple to produce too! If you’re ready to dip your toe into timelapse, here are some content ideas, as well as equipment to consider if you decide to try it out. A lot of the prime examples seem to be older, so please do comment if you’re aware of any other great use cases out there!

1. Growth of Plants

Living collections undergo changes during their lifecycle that people can’t stand around and perceive as happening. The range of sizes and displays can vary widely, and here is one of the most grandiose examples of this is the Corpse Flower, which only blooms every 7-10 years, from the Chicago Botanic Garden.

2. Conservation & Preservation Projects

The timelapse shows the restoration of the Great Hall at Chicago Union Station, including the 219-foot-long skylight that is at the center of the train station as well as the construction of a new high-performance skylight above the historic, 2,052-pane original.

3. Building & Construction Projects

Forget the Corpse Flower–if you’re looking for true scale, building projects are immense and can span a very great deal of time. Timelapse is the best option for capturing that journey. Here’s an example of the Gay Head Lighthouse being moved BY RAIL to protect it.

4. Participatory Art

Art&Seek and Art Conspiracy  invited the public to create the event’s first “Graffiti Wall.”  Attendees were invited to make their mark on a  chalkboard mural. This is a great concept for potentially showing the demographic range of your audiences. The event page also has some useful tips on how the timelapse was created.

5. Illustrating Science

Illustrating cause-and-effect is one area where timelapse photography excels. Rather than explaining the science or process in detail, sometimes the simplest and most engaging approach is to show it first. This video by the Canadian Conservation Institute shows silver tarnishing at an accelerated rate using an egg. See many more of their interesting timelapses at their YouTube Channel.

6. Decorating a Space

In one of the more captivating examples of timelapse I’ve seen, The Royal Pavilion Museums and Trust shows the decoration of multiple spaces, from start to show. If you’ve got to decorate for a holiday or special occasion anyway, why not share the effort? You might inspire someone.

7. Documenting Environmental Effects

In 2017, I had just started my new position at Vizcaya Museum and Gardens when Hurricane Irma paid Miami a visit. We’d just gotten a new Brinno timelapse camera and one of the security guards suggested we tether it to a balcony overlooking Biscayne Bay to see what happens. That was an inspired thought! Though Irma was not a direct hit on us, the storm surge produced enough fury to knock down pieces of the “Barge,” a breakwater/sculpture just outside the museum’s Main House. The Barge largely did its work to protect the Main House, but sustained some battle scars. Fortunately, we had just 3D documented it. This timelapse shows the fateful event that September day:

8. Exhibit Installations

You can create a timelapse effect using video as well. The example below was a first attempt at this concept, using snippets of video to show the phases of exhibit installation at a museum I worked at in Philadelphia.

9. Contemporary Art Projects

Going back to Vizcaya, here is a timelapse I took of a contemporary art project in which coverings are being sewn for the furniture akin to what would have been done by house staff members ahead of the summer months back when the house was built 100 years ago. The public was able to watch the work being done during the museum’s regular hours. The timelapse was used in an iPad kiosk at this location after the project was concluded.

Tools & Cameras

Capturing a timelapse is fairly simple if you have a sturdy camera and trip, and adequate light. Since audio is not an issue, it reduces a lot of complexity.

Brinno: This is a workhorse brand that I’ve used for years, and was used (along with a weatherproof housing) to document the hurricane event above. Keep in mind, if the the preview screen is on the back of your camera (as is the case with some of these models), it’s going to be awkward to see if you tether the camera to a post or building. But some use AA batteries, which can last for three months, so you’re really only limited by the size of the SD memory card you put in it.

GoPro: The GoPro’s ruggedness and small size make it ideal for this task. It has a built-in timelapse feature and captures super hi-res imagery. On the downside, the battery drains fast, and your ability to capture may be just hours rather than weeks.

DSLR: If you want really good quality with endless flexibility for settings, a DSLR camera is a viable option. You choose the battery size, the memory size and the resolution. Here’s a guide to using a camera you may already have.

Smart Phones: Most everyone has a smart phone these days, which has the timelapse feature built into the camera. Here are a couple of tutorials that provide detail on the functionality. Check here for iPhone and here for Android.

To button this up, here’s a video comparing the above methods.

Additional Resources

Cover image credit on Wikimedia Commons

Dark times and leaps of faith

Sometimes the process of building and losing can be more than you’re able to bear. Your soul compels you toward leaps of faith.

My life is wonderful these days. For the past six years, I’ve worked at a historic site I love and admire with people I respect. But there have been cycles of those dark “learning” times, that were necessary to get me here.  One of those leaps has been on my mind lately and it happens to be the one that got me here. 

In spring 2014, I took a solo vacation to Florida and then road tripped to Louisiana. I needed to reconnect to what shaped me to figure out my next evolution. It had been a few years before (about ten years ago as I write this ) that I moved from my hometown in Louisiana for a job in Philadelphia. A lot of fine accomplishments came out of that experience, including several lifelong friendships. It was a necessary step for growth in my life and personal mission and I’m grateful for it. At the time of that trip though, I was disillusioned and depressed. 

Scheduling this trip was a Hail Mary for my wellbeing. It was instinct and all I knew is there was no choice. Had to do it. And it had to be here. 

So I flew down to South Florida in the midst of a massive tornado outbreak, with flights variously diverted and bumpy. When I finally arrived and picked up my rental car I hoped the road trip portion of the trip to my hometown in Louisiana would be the restful experience I needed to clear my head and get some perspective. I was within three hours of my destination when I got  onto the 18-mile Atchafalaya Basin bridge where a tanker truck had fallen over and set the bridge on fire, trapping me for more than two hours. Here’s what I tweeted from there:

Pretty pathetic, eh? Sometimes I take the Universe personally if everything has been directed against me. I’ve worked at it, and trust me, have come a long way in that regard.

As soon as I hit the city limits my hometown I felt I was back where I belong. So little changes in a small town even over the course of three years it was like I never left. For the next three days I found myself the embrace of my Mom and extended family; a feeling that I had not experienced since I left. She cooked all of my favorite things: fried porkchops, gumbo, chicken and dumplings, banana pudding … for a moment, all was right.

Road tripping back to South Florida, I felt like I met my destiny. The vibrancy of the culture and the warmth of the climate felt like slipping into my skin and I felt a new me emerging in the process. A few months later, that recognition suddenly manifested a job opportunity, in Miami. While that workplace situation was ultimately a stepping stone, it moved me along to where I needed to be, and that’s where I remain. Other areas of my life crumbled and rebuilt in the same fashion even going into the COVID era. It’s been a process of “painful but more perfect.”

Now in my 50th year, I’ve experienced these cycles a handful of times and no doubt they will come back around at some point. But I’ve learned to trust my instincts, and the machinations of the universe, in each rotation. As long as I can remember to run into that next leap I’ll be okay.

Case Study: Yours Truly, an interactive archives project

Archival documents play a critical role in shaping the human story of a cultural site. In many ways they are the closest we can get to understanding the intent behind the creation of such places. Yet very few visitors are able to access them, or know where to start when those archives are available online as part of a collections management system. Over the course of 2020-2021, I managed development of a project that leveraged human-centered design principles to contextualize archival correspondence and humanize the founder of Vizcaya Museum and Gardens while illustrating some of the thinking that went into teh Estate’s construction.

“Yours Truly, James Deering” (virtualvizcaya.com) helps visitors to Vizcaya as well as online audiences get an answer to their most-asked question: who founded the Estate and why? Despite his great wealth, James Deering was a private person who did not marry or have children. What we know of him comes from the letters and telegrams he wrote during the construction of Vizcaya in the 1910s, which to this point have been inaccessible to the public. This project fashions his correspondence into an online storytelling experience that gives the user choices regarding what aspects of Deering’s personality they want to explore and guides them into a process of crafting their own narrative about who he was.

On-site visitors are able to activate the mobile experience through QR codes placed in the museum and gardens. Aside from the digitized letters, the experience also extends the narrative with additional multimedia content (e.g., 3D scans, 360 maps, etc.). Collectively, Yours Truly offers visitors context, discovery and surprise in Vizcaya’s storytelling approach.

Human-Centered Design

In 2019 the John S. and James L. Knight Foundation asked Vizcaya to participate in a cohort aimed at instilling the values of human-centered design in museums. That involvement resulted in the Yours Truly concept.

The project’s goals and outcomes include the following:

  • Established a digitization plan for archival materials
  • Procured modern digitization equipment and digitized more than 3,000 pieces of correspondence
  • Development of a responsive content management system based on WordPress that forms the basis of all future interactive experiences on the Estate and online
  • Human-centered design process that is now applied for all audience-facing projects
  • Installation of site-wide wireless access for visitors to the Estate
  • Experimentation with expanded forms of multimedia storytelling
  • Development of a user/visitor tracking system “Personamatic” based on Google Sheets/Forms/Data Studio for user studies

CLICK THE IMAGE TO SEE A PDF CASE STUDY OF THE PROJECT

User Expectations

Team members worked to avoid prescribed interpretations of James Deering’s correspondence, wanting Vizcaya’s visitors/users to gain an appreciation of them based on their interpretation of his words. In the age of smartphones and tablets and times of pandemic, expectations for interactive technologies have changed significantly. The initial intent was to heavily use kiosks stationed throughout the museum that would be updated via a newly established wireless access mesh. With the COVID-19 pandemic’s onset, the development team shifted to using a bring-your-own-device model to access the experience triggered by QR codes on signage throughout the Estate.

Visitors can often be seen in museums using pinch-and-zoom gestures, swiping, and scrolling through content. In much the same way, expectations have also changed regarding how museums and heritage institutions tell these stories effectively. The goal is to create enough novelty and intrigue—use just enough narrative to evoke emotion, inspire memories from the experience—to leave the user with a thirst to know James Deering in the museum and beyond. Vizcaya worked to achieve these objectives with an approach that will inform its future interactive endeavors.

Experience goals based on user testing and capabilities of the technology/online platform

  • Establishes “hooks” (highlighting letter excerpts) to provide focus considering the depth and complexity presented in the content.
  • Refine narratives and navigation keys to improve satisfaction for onsite or remote users in reading and using the interactive experience.
  • Foster user curiosity and encourage deeper exploration of collections with interest-based drop-down options for digital media within the platform.
  • Host a creative platform to reimagine James Deering’s personal life and business trades by combining digitized archives and other digital media.
  • Enhancing onsite and virtual visitor engagement by creating feedback mechanisms for sentiment, reflections and feature requests.
    Explore-by-Map interface in which users can find context-driven content using the floor plan of the Main House.

Digital Strategy Components Advanced during this project

Interactive Experiences CMS
Yours Truly establishes a scalable content management system that serves as a repository for Vizcaya’s archival and object collections, and platform that allows contextual ties that engage users.

Personamatic Audience Studies Platform
Yours Truly is the first project to leverage this unique mix of Google Forms, Sheets and Data Studio to record and visualize audience testing feedback. As data from additional projects is added, the more refined and powerful our audience analysis will become.

Beyond Vizcaya Storytelling Platform
Beyond Vizcaya (also funded by Knight) is an emerging multimedia storytelling platform wherein content has the potential to be co-created by audiences. The lessons learned from Yours Truly development directly informed the structure and technologies behind this platform. With both, Vizcaya is learning how to tell stories in the digital space.

Sitewide Wireless
Vizcaya underwent a total replacement of its IT infrastructure as Yours Truly was beginning. As part of the process of making Yours Truly available to on-site visitors in a bring-your-own-device scenario, Vizcaya was able to offer wireless access to the public for the first time, covering most of the Main House and some of the gardens.

Digitization Infrastructure
Also as part of Yours Truly, Vizcaya developed its first plan for archives digitization and was able to procure modern equipment, as well as the needed help, to make part of the correspondence collection accessible for the first time. Additionally, Vizcaya was able to add four terabytes of storage to its servers to store the digitized collections and their derivatives.

Natchitoches Historic Foundation: Community-Based Preservation Nonprofit

English: River Walk, Natchitoches, Louisiana
English: River Walk, Natchitoches, Louisiana (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

I served on the board of the Natchitoches Historic Foundation throughout much of the 2000s. NHF focuses on preservation, education and advocacy of cultural heritage in my hometown of Natchitoches, La. My work was focused on promotions and design of print and digital assets.

Brochure Newsletter Writing and Design

The newsletter was still in print at that point, and I took it to a process color quadfold, designing it in Adobe Indesign. It conveyed the necessary information in a concise, easy-to-consume manner.

Tradeshow Display conceptualization and design

NHF held numerous events, and was looking to take its message to events by others during that time. I put together the design shown below, which was printed, laminated and adhered with velcro to a trifold tabletop fabric display.

Gala Invite Postcard

This print postcard was used to promote NHF’s biggest fundraiser, the Preservation Gala. It’s a simple black-and-white design accented with fall colors. The design and typography echos the look and feel of the membership newsletter.

Sacred Places Tour Poster

One of NHF’s most popular events was the annual tour of American Cemetery, the oldest cemetery in the state. Community members would tell the stories of those interred while dressed in period costume. In 2006, the tour was renamed the Sacred Places Tour and expanded to churches and other sacred sites of historical significance. NHF hired a professional photographer to capture representative scenes from these places and I designed the 16×20″ posters below, which were used to promote the event.

Website

It was NHF’s website where I first cut my teeth on WordPress. As in, I developed the site as seen below and then exploded it and had to start over. It was developed with an early StudioPress theme.

NHF 07 website

Information Technology: The less-fun, crucially important foundation of digital heritage evolution

In 2017, I was faced with an interesting choice: the cultural site I had been serving as a digital strategy consultant was willing to make my contracted position a full-time one. The catch is that I would have to manage the IT function too. My specialty and focus has historically been audience engagement and not the nuts and bolts of what makes everything tick. Additionally, I would have to supervise the institution’s migration from a County managed services model to a total new, internally managed IT infrastructure.

I loved the site and thought it had great potential, but didn’t want to drift off course of a career I both enjoy and have mindfully charted for the past 20 years. It was during this time of internal struggle a chance meeting with a guy named Matt Tarr at a Museum Computer Network conference cleared my mind on the issue. In response to the dilemma, he told me “if you control IT, you’re set with the rest of what you want to do.”

My mind knew what he meant. Struggles with IT departments past really took the wind out of my sails when it came to interactive development. Still, it took a while for my heart to catch up. A while meaning two years of getting the right people and partnerships in place, and then going through the mindboggling process of establishing and then actually migrating every conceivable communications system — radio, telephone, network, internet, etc., while with no service downtimes.

A year past that harrowing event, I can tell you Matt was absolutely right. Having systems that we can control and scale have made a recent grant project funded by the Knight Foundation much easier than it would have been otherwise. Having wireless access for visitors for the first time has made developing bring-your-own device experiences that we all pretty much now have to offer much easier. We also have servers we can scale and policies we can tailor to our needs. Thanks to that process, remote work platforms were already in place before the pandemic hit.

Sure there are pain points. Cybersecurity issues loom large in an era when even Microsoft and Solarwinds are getting hacked. I worry about it everyday. But that’s a fair trade off for gaining a greater knowledge of what makes tech tick, and the boundless creative possibilities that then present themselves.

Heritage Education: A national model for instilling cultural stewardship

During my National Park Service years, I was privileged to work on a project initiated by Congress to serve as a national model for heritage education. This included development of the marketing and promotional material to communicate with participating teachers and program supporters.

The initiative was piloted as Heritage Education–Louisiana. Classroom teachers, preservation specialists, and learning professionals were consulted to ensure that the program met preservation ethics and provided professional development for teachers in innovative and evolving educational theology and techniques.

Meeting the needs of classroom teachers who must not only cover curriculum standards and benchmarks, but must also consider high-stakes testing, the program aided teachers in creating integrated lessons and activities that use local cultural resources such as archaeological sites, historic structures, and cultural landscapes as the foundation.

Workshops, Mini Grants, a website and quarterly newsletters were avenues by which the program strove to meet its goals of:

  • Enhancing and enriching Pre-Kindergarten through 12th grade curriculum;
  • Instilling a sense of cultural stewardship in tomorrow’s leaders; and
  • Serving as a national model for other states.

The program lost its congressional funding after the pilot phase, and limped along until about 2010, but it’s still a worthy model for heritage education. Everyone who participated in it saw its value. You can read more about some of the resulting products and activities at its legacy web presence.

Outstanding products include:

The Summary Report embedded below won an Addy Gold Award for best print publication. It was developed with a matching program brochure and website.

Heritage Education Summary Report by jkguin on Scribd

Heritage Education Brochure by jkguin on Scribd

Heritage Lessons was a quarterly newsletter for and about teachers in the program.

Heritage Lessons Summer 04 Newsletter by jkguin on Scribd