Monday, 23 May 2011

A Sanctuary - but for how long?

See Comments below this post for an important update: 24th June 2011

Open Letter sent to Margaret Beckett MP, former Secretary of State for Environment, Food & Rural Affairs, and Member of Parliament for Derby South.

Dear Mrs Beckett

This year sees the seventh anniversary of your visit to Derby to open The Sanctuary bird reserve at Pride Park. It will also be the fifth anniversary of its designation as a statutory Local Nature Reserve (LNR).

Margaret Beckett, when Secretary of State for Environment, Food & Rural Affairs
opening The Sanctuary bird and wildlife reserve with Cllr Ruth Shelton in 2004 
So it seemed timely to write and update you on how successful Derby's first ever bird reserve has been during that time in protecting some of the rarest and most endangered avian species in our city. I still treasure the video of you speaking at the launch about how the protection of UK BAP and Schedule 1 bird species was not only good for Derby City, but good for your former Department’s national biodiversity targets, too.

Despite having plans to help specific bird species, the unexpected always happens. Perhaps the most amazing events were the arrival of a Curlew Sandpiper and then an incredibly rare Dartford Warbler which stayed for six weeks in 2005. It had not been recorded in Derbyshire for 150 years and was a real crowd-puller!  Its choice of The Sanctuary seemed to vindicate the decision by the Lib Dem-controlled City Council to approve the creation of this unusual bird reserve. It had received the support of so many local naturalists groups, and it proved every one of them right.

Derby County Football Stadium as seen from within The Sanctuary.
Curlew Sandpiper just visible in front of reed beds.
In 2005 we won a grant from the Aggregate Levy fund to build two raised viewing platforms which give access for the mobility-impaired. It also created special bare gravel habitats to encourage Little Ringed Plover to breed. Sadly, this schedule I bird has lost many of its bare ground habitats in Derby as the city has developed recently. But these delightful plovers still appear on The Sanctuary every year, showing the value of what we have been doing. We would not normally publicise their presence when nesting, for fear of attracting illegal egg collectors. But these are not normal times.

Sand Martins still nest in abundance in the huge artificial nest bank that you admired when you launched The Sanctuary in July 2004. This year some 50 birds are present – making it the largest of the three known sand martin nesting sites in Derby.

Left to right: Nick Moyes (Derby Museums), Margaret Beckett MP,
Cllr Ruth Shelton, Debbie Alston (DWT)
Who can fail to be moved by the song of the skylark, when its musical notes are heard trickling down from the blue sky above? Their presence here, right in the heart of Derby, was one of the main reasons The Sanctuary was created. They can be heard at Pride Park each summer, singing high in the air above the reserve, but are probably missed by most footballers coming to Derby’s Park and Ride car park on match days. The large raised mound that securely holds most of Pride Park’s contaminated waste was specially hydra-seeded, and has since encouraged both skylark and lapwing to nest here. The short rushy pasture right next to Derby County Football Stadium is also a super place for these magical little birds to be seen.

In 2007 Alan Titchmarsh’s Nature of Britain BBC TV programme  featured The Sanctuary in a regional look at urban wildlife. But despite the publicity, and with so many other key bird species like reed bunting, little grebe, green woodpecker, kestrel, whitethroat, meadow pipit so easily visible, The Sanctuary still unfortunately remains one of Derby's hidden gems. We offer free car-parking to anyone wanting to come just to look into the reserve, rather than use the Park and Ride car park for its intended purpose. We just ask them to sign in at the ticket barrier, though of course its not open on Sundays. It may not be as well known as Derby's other wildlife spectacle  - the Cathedral's peregrine falcons - but most importantly The Sanctuary still continues to do its prime job in protecting key bird species from disturbance. And all within just a 15 minute walk or a short cycle ride from Derby City Centre.

Sadly, it's cycling itself that now threatens the survival of The Sanctuary Local Nature Reserve. A multi-sports arena and velodrome was recently approved in outline to be built on the adjacent Park&Ride car park.  The Council will not reveal the precise extent of the velodrome's footprint, "as the specification for the building has not yet been completed".

We were so grateful for your support back in 2004, and we may welcome your support once again should it transpire that Derby City Council does indeed plan to cycle rough-shod over a designated Local Nature Reserve, and all the wildlife that it so successfully protects.

Yours sincerely

Nick Moyes
(former Keeper of Natural Sciences, Derby Museum & Art Gallery, and Sanctuary Project Team member.)

Background Resources
For anyone wanting to assess the likely damage that could occur from the City Council's velodrome proposal, just compare the aerial photograph of the site against the artists impression on Page 8 of the the Leisure Services Strategy. Feel free to draw your own conclusions before we hear the final proposals from the Council at some later date.

Photos from The Sanctuary at Pride Park, Derby
Lapwing, with Derby County Football Stadium behind.
(Photo S.Whitehead)
Little Ringed Plover can be seen at The Sanctuary most years.
(Photo N.Moyes)
Wheatear - a passage bird, but some suspicion of breeding in past years.
(Photo: N Moyes)
Sand martin flying into artificial nest bank at The Sanctuary.
(Photo S. Whitehead)
Curlew Sandpiper - The Sanctuary's first rarity!
(Photo N. Moyes)

Sand Martin. Each year around 25 pairs bred successfully at Pride Park.
(Photo S.Whitehead)

To visit The Sanctuary, walk or drive into the Park & Ride car park next to Derby County Football Stadium. Birdwatchers travelling by car should stop before the barrier and ask the security man to let them sign for a free ticket. This lets you exit without paying - though you'll still need to collect ( and destroy) the one given to you by the machine to raise the barrier. 
The Park & Ride service operates from 7am-7pm Mon to Sat. Unfortunately,there is no access to view The Sanctuary on Sundays.

Monday, 9 May 2011

My email address

Email-IconMy old work email address of no longer functions. Messages sent to me there at Derby Museum, or to Derbyshire Biological Records Centre neither get answered, nor do they bounce back as undeliverable. They just disappear. This doesn't seem a good way for any organisation to ensure continuity of service provision, and it's especially serious when customers only know  individual's email addresses, and not generic addresses

I have no control over this, of course, having left rather suddenly at the end of March 2011. So, if you want to reach me, just leave a comment on this blog. They're all pre-moderated, so your own contact details won't be allowed to go online. Or contact me via Twitter or Facebook if you prefer.

As Nick Moyes Consulting I'm planning to offer a range of freelance services similar to those I previously did in my post of Keeper of Natural Sciences (as well as one or two others).
Watch this blog for further details, or check out my LinkedIn profile.

Thursday, 14 April 2011

When GLAM met Wiki (Wikipedia and Smaller Museums)

Last week I helped organise a meet-up of museum curators and Wikipedia authors at Derby Museum and Art Gallery in England. This was the first event of its kind to be run anywhere in the UK outside of the London nationals, and so generated a lot of interest. The idea sprang from a 2010 meeting at the British Museum who had just appointed Australian wikipedian, Liam Wyatt, as their "Wikipedian in Residence" for three months. He coined the term GLAM-Wiki to reflect this new relationship.  GLAM stands for Galleries, Libraries, Archives and Museums.

Rachel Atherton, the new Collections Officer,  introduces
Derby's archaeology collections at our GLAM-Wiki Event
The BM event successfully brought wikipedians and curators together to tour behind the scenes ("a backstage pass", as they call it). They also worked with museum experts to improve a number of articles on items in their collections, such as the Rosetta Stone and The Hoxne Hoard. One of those attending, Roger Bamkin, lived near Derby so later that autumn he approached Derby Museum with a view to doing the same thing at a more local level.

We met and agreed to take forward a plan to demonstrate what we could achieve. We aimed at producing three brand new Wikipedia articles, based on subject knowledge and references that I, as a natural historian, already had freely to hand in the museum. With the forthcoming 10th anniversary of Wikipedia the following January, we were tempted to try and arrange an event to coincide with that date. But there simply was not the time; Derby's museums were undergoing significant changes to its buildings and staffing structure, and a number of posts were to be lost by the end of March. (It turned out that mine was to be one of them!) So instead we scheduled in a GLAM-Wiki Backstage Tour day for 9th April 2011 - a time by which we hoped the literal and metaphorical dust had settled on Derby Museums.

Having been made suddenly and unexpectedly redundant at the end of March (see previous post), Wikimedia invited me back to finish off organising the day itself, and to give a presentation from the museum's perspective of how I saw our collaboration. (See video of my talk below) .

The day included a number of optional backstage tours. Archaeologists, art and social history curators, and myself as a former natural history curator brought out items from the collections or took people on trips behind the scenes - the most popular of which was to the recently mothballed Silk Mill Museum.

QR Codes
Tours of the gallery gave everyone the chance to witness a trial we had run whereby we'd installed QR codes in out Geology and Joseph Wright of Derby galleries. Initially these all linked different rocks, minerals and geologists just to the English Wikipedia website, but some innovative work by Terence Eden and Roger Bamkin over the previous couple of weeks had resulted in the development of "" This amazing creation allowed one QR code to be used whatever the language of your phone. This is how Terence Eden explained the development, and you can read more on his blog.

We managed to get a rather rough video of the process in action at Derby Museum using one phone set to the French language, and another set to English. We also ran a race between two code readers: Google Goggles and Quickmark.

- The King of Rome -
InWest End Derby lived a man.
He said "I can't fly but my pigeons can"
Although we had arranged WiFi access for all participants, we hadn't specifically programmed in a slot to edit wikipedia articles, though we were still hopeful. Most seemed to be busy tweeting about what was going on, using the hashtag #glamderby. Thankfully my offer of a bit of cultural speed-dating with the natural history collections was taken up by Andy Mabbett.  He rose to the challenge to create a brand new page on a favourite bird of mine from the museum collections - The King of Rome racing pigeon, about whom a fantastic song had been recorded. It was impressive to see how fast an experienced wikipedian can work when they get the bit between their teeth. Andy also went away with some photocopies from our history files to do further follow-up work from home.

The Wright Challenge
The day ended with the announcement of The Wright Challenge -  an innovative competition with prizes to see how many articles can be produced in non-English languages by Wikipedians who sign up for the Challenge. Points will be awarded according to the size and number of articles produced or enhanced by the close on 3rd September 2011. A prize of £50 UK (or its equivalent) plus a book on Derby signed by Jimmy Wales will be amongst the prizes on offer. This is the first such challenge of its kind, so all you wikipedians around the world will rise to the occasion.

Lessons Learned
I think all twenty five participants at our GLAM-Wiki event appreciated the opportunity to come together in Derby. We shared with them a number of valuable lessons through our admittedly rather rushed foray into QR codes. But the museum staff also learnt a lot about working with wikipedians to improve articles about our museum (and vice versa), and perhaps these will interest most people. I set them out below for those who can't face listening to me speaking!

Lessons learned (1) Using QR codes

  • Write on the back the topic of the printed QR code as soon as it is cut out.
  • A template able to select and print codes with both the Wikipedia name and the topic would be ideal, as would the ability to select size, or having it in a jpeg format.
  • Fix codes at reasonable heights, and not too far away from a case front
  • We laminated our QR codes that were going on open display, and we printed those to go inside cases on gloss photocard, equivalent in texture to existing labels and panels. Comments from Terence Eden's blog post, critiquing our installation, pointed out that matt codes would have caused less glare and be easier to scan (especially had they been larger)
  • QR codes need to be larger if they are further from the viewer.
  • Google Goggles is the most flexible code reader tested out of Quickmark, Neoreader and GG.
  • Get yourself a smartphone and don't do this blind, like we did to start with!
  • Check with a QR code reader as you go along. It's easy to make mistakes.
  • QR codes need to be incorporated into proper museum labelling, not fixed as an add-on.
  • Check the webpage really is worth linking to. (Maybe you can improve it if it's not)
Lessons learned (2) Working with Wikipedia and wikipedians
  • Making minor edits to Wikipedia articles is incredibly easy to do
  • Adding hyperlinks is pretty straightforward, too
  • Understanding how to add references can be tricky at first
  • Ensuring factual statements are traceable is a pain
  • Never state something you know to be true without being able to prove it. This can incur the wrath of other wikipedians.
  • Don't use Wikipedia to advertise your organisation. Just link to it whenever appropriate to do so.
  • Image rights can be complicated. Be willing to supply images at a sensible resolution - this won't damage your income streams.
  • Wikipedians are immensely enthusiastic. 
  • Museums have lots of stuff they can use (give them access to history files and reference books)
  • Wikipedians aren't out to steal our stuff
  • Wikipedians want to help museums improve their offer
  • Wikipedians can do immensely clever stuff
  • They love complexity!
  • The opportunities for collaboration between us are immense
And one final thought . . . 
  • Why has it taken so long for curators to start dating Wikipedians? We were made for each other.

For examples of QR codes being used in other UK Museums, try these links:
Edinburgh - Tales of Things
UCL - QRator

Leave a comment with links to other museums using QR codes and I'll add them here.

Thursday, 31 March 2011

25 Years and 24 Hours

What an odd feeling to be suddenly redundant.
In February the Mayor of Derby was congratulating me and a number of other colleagues for twenty five years of loyal service to the city. In return for the certificate, I thought I'd give him a small package containing just a few examples of the work that I was proud to have done here over that time.

Appreciated: The Mayor of Derby, Councillor Amar Nath acknowledging
staff commitment at a recent long-service award ceremony.

Then yesterday afternoon, after an appalling eighteen day wait following an interview on March 11th,  I was told there was no job for me at Derby Museums any more. That left me just 24 hours to sign up to a local government redundancy package and vacate my office for good.
They'll tell you it's "voluntary redundancy", but I can assure you it is anything but.

Oh, the memories in that office. (Unfortunately most were still there in the form of piles of untouched paper going years back, so they soon found their way to the recycling bin!) I even unearthed  a formal letter of apology from our previous Chief Executive, Ray Cowlishaw for the time back around 1997 when I spent 18 months facing redundancy in the same post before finally being reprieved. On that occasion I was saved, thanks to a massive outpouring of  public support for my post and the award-winning work I've done for Derby. I've felt in debt ever since to the public for their support for me, but was nearly broken by the experience of the prolonged, relentless strain.

But that was then and this is now. Today, everyone expects public servants to do their bit for the economy. (By leaving quietly and turning out the lights as you go, please.) This time around there could be no thirteen year old girls writing in to the papers to save my post, as actually happened. No mass of committed Derby people lobbying ill-informed councillors, or people from organisations around the country putting on the pressure behind the scenes. This time public servants are all expected to go quietly because, after all, "we're all in it together", aren't we?

If, like me, you're foolish enough - or maybe committed enough - to let your work become your life, and to let your life revolve around your work, then you'll probably understand my predicament yesterday. How do you disentangle the various bits of that life from your workplace in the space of just a few hours, and vice versa?

I did manage to find a moment to send out an email to all my local, national and international contacts over the years, informing them of the loss of the last skilled natural historian at Derby Museum, and have so far had 75 responses expressing shock, regret and support. But our museums have least retained three staff with archaeological experience on its staff, maybe four, though in these times when subject specialism is no longer a priority for Derbys museums, that shouldn't matter one bit.
Redundant: Outside Derby Museum on my last day with just a small sample
 of some of the work I've done for the city.

I'm sad to be out. But what a relief too. Relief from shabby management techniques and treatment that I and my colleagues have experienced right across the Council. The appalling disregard for people's sensitivities, the ineptness of some of their actions or inactions which are excused by "oh, it's policy from HR" And of course the platitudes of some of their management speak. This redundancy process has not been handled well. We hear from the unions that management recognises this. They accept mistakes have been made and that lessons have been learned. They've promised they'll do it more sensitively next time around.  Next time around? Yes, you heard right.

So, this evening as I browse through some of the amazing, supportive emails people have sent me today at the news of my sudden departure, I appreciate how lucky I am that people in Derby and right around the world can express their thoughts to me for some of the more visible work I've done for this city. I hear that maybe around two hundred of my fellow council colleagues will also have gone, Many may not be such in such a lucky position as I to receive those direct messages of  appreciation or a chance to speak politely on local radio or in the newspapers as I have done. I hope you will recognise how much everyone in Derby City Council does for its citizens, and how much we all care.

So what now for me?  "Well, you're a maverick", my Head of Service told me a few weeks back, "and there are no places for mavericks inside this organisation."  Well, this maverick still has a lot to offer, and it'd be nice to think that I can still support Derby's great museums in the future, as well as doing other paid stuff without all the stress of the last few years. Maybe another Peregrine webcam project, or another Sanctuary, or another Flora? Oh dear, I've not finished the last one yet.

Better get to work on it right now!

Media coverage of this story for Thursday 31st March:
Derby Evening Telegraph
Radio Derby (Listen Again) (drag slider to 1hr 4mins in)
Derby Evening Telegraph Soapbox (a letter from my former boss)

Tuesday, 1 March 2011

A Social Media Plan for a Museum

Over the last couple of years there has been much talk online about the need for museums to prepare a plan for utilising social media in reaching out to audiences. Despite all the talk, it's surprisingly hard to find good, practical examples of social media plans that other museums have actually written and published. It's these starting points that the small guys often want to copy and modify for their own ends. It can be pretty scary when you face a social media scene like the one shown below. Where do you start? What should you do? And what if it goes wrong? What should actually go into a "social media plan", anyway?

Social Media Landscape

I really wasn't sure myself. So I started looking around. One of my very favourite sources of practical guidance for museums is the Museum Next  blog, run by Jim Richardson (formerly Museummarketing). There you could find all sorts of sensible and down-to-earth advice on how museums should use tools like Twitter, Facebook, YouTube and so on. (It really is worth a good browse around.)

Then there's Nina Simon's excellent Museum 2.0 blog which takes a deep, North American view of all things participatory in museums. I know I don't go there often enough because, whenever I do, I discover a host of real gems of considered opinion and feedback that has been newly added.

If I'm lucky enough to find a social media plan, it's often for a big organisation with plenty of resources, or it takes a very detailed approach to just one social media platform. But what about the small guys? What's written for them? Well, not much. So early last year I thought I'd spend a few free evenings pulling together some of the resources and best advice I could find. I wanted to prepare a draft Social Media Plan for an imaginary museum service. Just the starting point - not the whole kit and caboodle, you understand. Something that laid out what that approach a theoretical museum might take.

Anyway, though now a year out of date, I post it here in the hope that it might just prove of interest, and I'd also invite a bit of feedback and positive criticism. It was written from the perspective of a hypothetical museum that was part of a larger local government organisation, hence all the deference to other over-arching policies and maybe a bit too much starchy formality in the wording (probably not a good idea for something all about social media, but the corporate guys would probably relate to it better, I thought.)   Anyway, here it is . . . 

Ilustration by Hank Green. www.mediaspin,com

Towards a set of Goals & Strategy for the use of
Social Media at our Museums Service
1.   Goals
1.1.  To inspire exploration of nature and culture by increasing public awareness, understanding and contact with our Museums Service, its staff and its collections.

1.2.  To reach out and engage in new ways with new and existing audiences, and to position ourselves as a friendly, responsive museum service with a human voice and a genuine and relevant presence in our communities.

1.3.  To encourage contributions from users to mutually benefit our museums, our audiences and our communities.

2.   Strategy
We will present a business case and develop, prioritise and market a social media presence for our Museums Service in stages. We recognise that resources and experience may be limited, so will only enter new platforms where we are confident there will be benefits, and that we have sufficient resources to maintain and respond to comments and questions. We see this is an investment with dividends some way off, but engagement has always been a part of our jobs – it’s only the tools available that have changed. Our potential audiences have changed, too, both in their expectations and in the means by which they are willing to engage with us and on other.

2.1. We will work on the Five-Step approach to Social Media which involves carefully assessing each new potential platform or project to ensure it is the best and most effective way of meeting our goals.
2.2. We will designate one or more individuals to take responsibility for coordinating this work. We will seek contributions and content from across the whole spectrum of museum staff, from volunteers to director and Friends groups. (see East Lothian Museums Blog).
2.3. Everyone creating online content will have a clear understanding of their roles and responsibilities, not only under our goerning body's Social Media Policy, but also for the reputation of our Museums Service brand and the reason for our use of social media tools - namely engagement with our users and the furthering of our Mission.

In general order of priority we should consider a number of the following  actions (though clearly not all at once):
a)   Review current in-house Web presence and the style of “voice” we use now, and would wish to use in Social Media platforms and on our current website. (see section 5.2)
b)   Assess Museums presence and accuracy on Wikipedia and update factual content if appropriate. (Include local business sites like
c)    Develop our Museums Service Blog – content covering behind the scenes and front of house work at our Museums Service”  Fortnightly updates from a variety of contributors across the service, reflecting the range of staff and volunteer activities and knowledge.
d)   Create a Twitter presence  - presenting a topical voice for our Museums Service, initiating and responding to user-engagement and linking to events and updates on other platforms. (Managed via Hootsuite; RSS feed from blog/website; using relevant hashtags and contributing to #museumfactmonday. #ff #askacurator etc.)
e)   Build and promote an our Museums Service Facebook Fan Page. Attractive landing page and manage Wall updates via Hootsuite & RSS feeds from other platforms/links to other platforms (Flickr/YouTube etc) Object of the week (via app) etc. Ensure we have the resources to monitor and respond to comments left on FB (6)
f)    Ensure we reserve and use clear, logical urls and channel names for Facebook, YouTube, Flickr groups etc. Pro-actively acquire and reserve names for future use.)
g)    Create Flickr Pages and Sets for specific events (using Creative Commons licensing where possible.)  Solicit user contributions via Flickr Photo Group, managed by ourselves. Encourage visitors to take photos and post them to a Group Pool which we administer and devise rules for contributors to agree to during sign-up process. Review existing museum policy on no internal photography, restricting this only to copyright images and where there may be a commercial conflict
h)     Consider a presence on other sites as appropriate to specific projects and the content we create (e.g. YouTube and Vimeo)
i)    Once the main platforms for our Museums Service have been developed, and a base of users/engagers has been built up, we may see value in experimenting with smaller social media projects (e.g. short-term exhibitions, special events or activities,discrete  community outreach projects,   individual museum pages, linking them to all other presences; Virtual Galleries etc.)
j)      Encourage and support our staff to devise original or impressive ways to use social media efficiently to provide changing content or imaginative approaches that engage users, and have positive outcomes.
k)     Ensure we encourage users to share, tag, bookmark or re-tweet the content we create, or that they and others provide.
l)     Assess Museums presence and accuracy on Wikipedia and update if appropriate. (Include local business sites like
m)   Consider use of Wikis for internal use (e.g. the development of our own Social Media Handbook), or for public-facing projects where content could be sought from many parties.
n)     Continue to monitor Social Media developments and assess the opportunities and risks of creating a worthwhile presence in new platforms as they develop.
o)     As new url shortening services are rolled out, ensure we try to create key links to our main pages using memorable shortcuts. (e.g.,,,

2.4.  Our Museums Service will adhere to the Social Media and/or Internet Usage Policies of our parent organisation, seeking further guidance and support where appropriate. We may add to that guidance with our own Social Media Handbook. This might include:
  • how to get approval for a new initiative.
  • elements that should be included in new initiatives, such as:
  • museum logo
  • analytics code/monitoring tools
  • link back to our Museums Service
  • links to other social media initiatives (i.e. staff social media users must friend or follow each other)
  • specific text, tags, or keywords
  • practical guidance on using individual platforms.
  • a list of other social media initiatives at our museums.
  • lists of recommended tools and social sites run by other museums
  • recommendations for user names and a list of user screen names currently in use per tool.
  • approved photos and graphics that can be used
  • information about where to find creative commons resources and any licensing rules.
  • reaction Strategy for comments and feedback.
  • past examples of good and not-so-good engagement by us (intended as a learning tool)
  • devising an exit strategy for each new platform
The above bullets points are based on article by Nina Simon (2)

3.   Launch and Marketing
3.1. We will launch and promote each new presence on any given platform just as we might a new exhibition, via press releases, events leaflets, “find us on Twitter/Facebook” links etc. Each new platform will link to and promote existing ones and vice versa, and all will clearly signpost to the originating organisation.
3.2. We will engage with other museums and relevant sites to help promote awareness of our existence.
3.3.  Whenever possible, our presence on a new platform should be launched prior to a major event, and be used mainly to promote that event. This allows an exit strategy so that if use of the platform is found to be unjustified, we have a clear timetable for use, and can leave that platform at the end of the project.

4.   Monitoring and Evaluation
4.1. We will monitor and evaluate the effectiveness of each social media presence. Evaluation may include measuring the number of contributions; number of comments left; number of followers or fans, number of links followed, plus changes in public attitudes and event attendance where practicable. Wherever possible we will attempt to assess geographic usage of our resources, in order to assess and demonstrate whether local needs are being met by the online services we provide.
4.2. As we increase our presence, we will monitor how our name is used across a range of platforms, using tools such as Monitoring may also include checking the style of content; the style of engagement and any responses, and the links to our sites. We will capture and analyse good and bad examples of our own engagement with users, intending this to help improve our skills and to demonstrate the effectiveness of our strategy.
4.3. We will monitor and respond to comments, both positive and negative, having regard to any Reaction Strategy that may be in place, and the resources available.
4.4. We will monitor and engage with other museums’ social media sites where appropriate (e.g. Museum 2.0, MuseumNext, Mashable), ensuring we stay abreast of new developments in Social Media. We will modify our Social Media Strategy and online presence in response to the changes and demands we perceive.
5.   Content
5.1. Museum content will be user-centred and not limited just to objects.
Our content will be:
·        Discoverable  - easy to find, logical, and hierarchically presented.
·        Meaningful – in Plain English, understandable and relatable.
·        Responsive – to visitors’ interests, moods, locations and needs.
·        Useable and Shareable –A minimum of restrictions on use or sharing.
·        Available Widely – online, onsite and offsite. Write once, then publish broadly across a wide range of mediums. (1)

5.2. The style of voice we will aim for should be:
o       Informed but Informal
o       Human and sometimes Humorous
o       Friendly but not Flippant
o       Engaging but not Erudite
o       neither Corporate nor Trivial
o       Questioning but not Querulous
o       Respectful and Realistic

5.3. We will remember at all times that young people may access and engage with us on our sites. We will try to ensure our voice is understandable and appropriate to that audience. We will not post content intended for audiences whose age is below the minimum allowable for any given platform.
5.4. By creating a voice for our Museums Service that is friendlier and less corporate in tone than the one most of us are used to, we accept that mistakes may happen. We know that content posted online is impossible to remove entirely, so we must be willing and able to respond quickly to criticism. We will support and guide staff who make errors online so that no-one unduly fears using Social Media, or views it as a risk they prefer not to take. Errors or inappropriate comments by us will be corrected as soon as possible after we become aware of them, and we will apologise for any mistakes in a friendly and appropriate manner. Users will be made aware of significant changes to any content we subsequently make as a result of any error or omission on our part.
5.5. Above all, we will demonstrate pride and pleasure in bringing our Museums Service to wider audiences and communities.

6. Current Experience
Our Museums Service already has a number of staff in widely differing roles with familiarity in using a range of Social Media platforms, mostly in a personal capacity. Most notably these include Blogger, Facebook, Twitter, Flickr, YouTube and Wikipedia.  Existing work-related projects also include:
  • example 1
  • example 2
  • example 3
We currently use the following external organisations to provide us with advice, guidance and technical support. 
  • example 4
  • example 5
  • example 6

7. Links & Sources
(used as inspiration or guidance in the preparation of these contributions)

  1. Five rules for museum content (via Amsterdam) Chan, S. 29 Oct 2009
  2. How (and Why) to Develop a Social Media Handbook Simon, N. October 27, 2008
  3. Creating a social media plan for a museum  Richardson, J. Museum Marketing blog
  4. Hierarchy of Social Participation Simon, N. 20 March 207 Museum 2.0 blog 
  5. East Lothian Museums Blog – excellent blog
  6. Brooklyn Museums – considered the exemplar of Social Media use
  7. How to Develop a (Small-Scale) Social Media plan

Sunday, 20 February 2011

When Scurvy Came to Derby

It doesn't sound nice, does it? Scurvy in Derby? But for people like me, scurvy was of great interest when  it spread rapidly through the city streets and along the arterial roads of our county a few years ago.

Cochlearia danica Danish Scurvy Grass) and Bellis perennis (Daisy), Derby City
Danish Scurvy Grass in flower beside a solitary Daisy
at Bass' Recreation Ground, Derby. 
I'm not talking of that horrible disease caused by vitamin deficiency, of course. No, I am talking about our over-use of salt causing something unusual to spread like wild-fire, right across the country.

Thankfully, it's nothing to be afraid of - it's simply the pretty little maritime flower known as Danish Scurvy Grass (Cochlearia danica). Records collated by my team of volunteers at Derby Museum showed it was first recorded at Butterley in Derbyshire in 1972 by local naturalist, Roy Frost. This was an unusual event in itself, as Scurvy Grass normally grows close in coastal areas exposed to salt-spray from storms and high winds. The plant was not seen again until a couple of records were made in 1994. When I stumbled across a massive patch in flower alongside the A516 at Bearwardcote in 1995 its presence and sudden spread in our county was still not fully appreciated.

Having identified the plant as being a rarity (it was at the time, anyway),  I contacted our county plant recorder for confirmation. Pretty soon he responded by saying he was seeing it all along the A38 from Derby to Alfreton. In fact over the next few years it spread right across Derbyshire as part of a UK-wide spread from coastal areas.

Map plotting records at 1km accuracy.
Major roads shown in red.
The main reason for its spread was the rise of the use of salt for winter road "gritting". The salt melts the ice and later washes away, unlike true grit. But the salt contaminates the grass road verge, rendering it ideal for Danish Scurvy Grass to invade. With its tiny seeds it can spread easily, blown by the draught from passing vehicles.

I have jointly run the Flora of Derbyshire Project with Dr Alan Willmot in a voluntary capacity  since 1994, and it has been recording the spread and distribution of all plants and flowers within Derby and Derbyshire ever since. The project has the support of Derby Museums, for it was in 1969 that our museum published the previous Flora of Derbyshire. Over those years a veritable army of volunteer plant recorders and data inputters has amassed over 800,000 computerised records of which the vast majority are now online. Shown here on Derby City Council's website is the account for Danish Scurvy Grass, with its lines of distribution following just the main arterial routes through the city of Derby and out through the county. This account, and another 2000 like it are set to be included in the final published 'Flora of Derbyshire'

Its still quite unusual to find it along minor roads. As many of us experienced this winter, these minor roads rarely get gritted at all during icy weather!

Tuesday, 8 February 2011

The Joseph Wright Cosmic Roadshow

Educator Phobos (aka David Erskine)
In my previous post I told of an event at Derby Museum that I co-created many years ago to reach very young audiences and bring to life the most famous work by 18th century artist, Joseph Wright of Derby. - The Orrery

Digging out and watching the ancient amateur VHS video tape of The Joseph Wright Cosmic Roadshow was a real trip down memory lane for me. And so, as the 20th anniversary of our little production is coming up next week, I thought the time was ripe to digitise the old video tape and get it onto Vimeo.

Each thirty minute performance began with one of the three audio-visual slide shows I created, projected straight onto the wall of the stage area and with the volume cranked right up as far as I dared. (Do try and ignore the shaky camera work during these sequences, if you can, and just try and imagine the fun we had putting them all together!)

Joseph Wright Cosmic Roadshow from Nick M. on Vimeo.

If you want to skip the audio-visuals and just watch my alien friends in action, here are the rough timings:
Educator Phobos and Ursa Major (aka Bryan Shaw)

Introductory a/v       00:00 to 06:00

Cosmic Teleguides  18:10 to 23:00

Final a/v sequence   29:40 to 32:20

The production was devised and created entirely in our spare time, and neither alien you see on-stage is a professional actor. The elderly Educator Phobos was played by my good friend David Erskine, then our Assistant Education Officer at Derby Museum. Ursa Major was played by his friend, Bryan Shaw, then an engineer at Toyota. You might even spot yours truly, right at the end of the video, up there on the gold platform, in my element, controlling all the sound and lighting effects. Of course, this wasn't the normal work for an Assistant Keeper of Natural History - but then I've never been one for sticking narrowly to my subject specialism, and that's when museum work is at its best - when you work with colleagues to be innovative, enthusiastic and really reach out to people in unexpected ways.
Dim the lights . . .
Queue the music . . .

Watching the video certainly made me smile - I hope it does you.
Leave me a comment if you think it ought to be performed again in some form (or is it better to stay consigned to the dusty shelves of a sad old museum curator and his memories?).

Postscript: Not only did The Cosmic Roadshow win Derby Museums a "Highly Commended" Gulbenkian Award for Imaginative Education Work in 1991, it also resulted in both museum staff appearing on the front page of The Sunday Sport - a rather raunchy national newspaper! This weird and wacky rag used a promotional image from our show and ran with a story of  two aliens buying up works of art to take back to their planet. Now, that's just out of this world! To view the actual newspaper, click this link

Saturday, 5 February 2011

A Cosmic Event

Its probably daft to start a new blog by writing about something that happened 20 years ago.
So I'm going to.

The Orrery by Joseph Wright of Derby. 
Earlier this week I got chatting to a museum colleague about some events they're planning at the moment, and we began brainstorming a few extra ideas. We were talking about ways to reach new audiences and bring alive the work of Joseph Wright of Derby - our city's most famous son. There's so much talk nowadays about how we all need to be creative, innovative and inspiring that you could be forgiven for thinking we'd never been that way before. So I told her of a project I ran many years ago to bring one of Wright's most iconic paintings into the young hearts and minds of our visitors. I'd almost forgotten what we managed to achieve way back then, and mostly in our spare time. What I went on to help create was totally unrelated to my actual work as a museum naturalist, yet even now I see it as one of the most inspiring pieces of work I've ever done at Derby, eventually winning a Gulbenkian Award for Imaginative Education Work.

It was called "The Joseph Wright Cosmic Roadshow"

It was the early 1990s. Derby Museum had sent the cream of its Joseph Wright painting collections off on a world tour, including the most famous of his works - The Orrery. Derby's painting were touring in a major exhibition of his work at museums in London, Paris and New York, and they were due back the following year. Big events had to be planned. I got involved and somehow ended up commissioning  a mechanical orrery to help visitors understand what was actually going on inside that magnificent painting. You can still see this working Grand Orrery with its planets whizzing around a model sun inside Derby Museum today - but that's a tale for another time.

Meanwhile I and a colleague, David Erskine, began bouncing ideas around for something educational - something fun. Something quite different. We hit upon trying to explain what was happening inside Wright's painting of The Orrery, but from a totally wacky perspective. And we'd do it as a performance.

And so "The Joseph Wright Cosmic Roadshow" began to evolve. David hit upon the idea of having two aliens  getting to grips with how planets move around their suns.  One alien was to be a teacher, called Educator Phobos, whilst the other was his rather stupid pupil, Ursa Major, and they were to use Wright's painting of The Orrery as the starting point of their explanation. After all, Educator Phobos had met Joseph Wright on one of his many time-travelling jaunts back to earth's 18th century!

Meanwhile I'd been listening to music -Vangelis to be precise.One particular racy piece of music (Pulstar) set my own creative juices flowing, and images of planets and orrery paintings began flashing into my mind. That was it! . . we'd start our production with fast-moving audio-visual slide show before out intrepid aliens came out onto the stage and began making everyone laugh.

Well, our ideas began to grow, as did the scale of the project. David and I spent hours and hours each evening, for weeks on end planning, scheming and crafting the script on my shiny new Amstrad PCW or building props for our show. Meanwhile I worked away with a room full of Kodak carousel projectors, reel-to-reel tape recorders and Electrosonic a/v kit that I'd scrounged from places like Derby Playhouse, Derby University and The Assembly Rooms, whilst David searched amongst his friends for just the right kind of voices for the special audio effects we wanted.

And the day eventually came when Joseph Wright's Orrery painting returned to its home city and was delivered back to Derby Museum and Art Gallery. I was waiting there, outside with a camera, capturing the moment the lorry from Momart came down The Strand with its valuable cargo and Wright's works were gingerly brought inside into the recently refurbished Wright Gallery for re-hanging. Those pictures  were destined to become the end images used in my third and final audio-visual sequence, set to a short but stunningly rousing piece of music by Michael Nyman.

And so on a grey February morning in 1991 the doors to Derby Museum opened at 10am, letting in a massive queue of people for the first of five magical performances of The Joseph Wright Cosmic Roadshow.

Dim the lights . . . 
Queue music . . . 

. . . To watch the Cosmic Roadshow, follow this link to the next post.