Museums of the Future


[Intro Music] [Applause] Hi. My name is Seb, and this was my first
day I went to, you know, primary school. And it was at primary school that I realised
that science, and design, and these kinds of things, that is now my life in my office,
were kind of cool. So this is kind of my office here.
It changes. It’s got, it’s got planes, it’s got trains, which is a super
cool office to have. It’s also got my past growing up in the 80’s, so my past is here too, which is a bit scary,
and makes young me feel very old. So today what I’m going to talk about is really
a bunch of ideas, and ideas that a lot of other people have had, and a lot of ideas that
my teams have had, and my colleagues have had. None of them are really new,
but what has really changed, now is that the technologies are available
to make these ideas, that have been going around
since the 50’s, possible. And they’ve accelerated the pace
of change too. So museums are facing a relevance problem, the web
has made this relevance problem more exaggerated. Here’s a group of school kids, you were probably
in a group of school kids similar to this, 20 years ago, 15 years ago, 10 years ago. They still come in and they fill out those
work sheets, and they go around to find the things
on labels, which are now here. This is a more efficient way of filling
out those same work sheets. And kids, we love kids coming to play inside
museums now, but play happens everywhere. This is part of playful learning,
and it’s a really important thing. But what I’m interested in is whether a museum
can actually become a platform, not just a place, not just a nice place
to actually visit, but a place which is a platform for ideas and communities. And a place where, you know, stories are told,
not only by us, people who work inside, kind of, museums,
but by the people that come to them. But also, they’re also a physical experience,
and one of the things the web hasn’t kind of done, is that physical experience. And of course, museums have these things
called collections. They’re really expensive to kind of maintain
and they are really critical. They are what makes a museum a kind of museum. So here’s a pyramid. At the bottom is all of our, kind of, collection. Only about 36% of the Powerhouse’s collection
is what, we kind of call well interpreted, the documentation is very good for it. 5% is what you can see when you walk
in the door to an exhibit. Here’s one of the things that goes on behind
the scenes, the 95% of the collection is worked on daily. So let’s kind of flip that around, and this
is one of the things the web has made possible, the flipping around, the whole collection
is available through our website. That collection is picked up by, uh, people,
who relate those objects to their own, kind of, stories of their lives. And it allows them to experience
that collection anywhere they are, and that little yellow triangle
is that tiny little thing at the bottom. So here is an example of some of the stuff
in that, kind of, 95%. So the museum also works as a kind of lens
on the past, and here’s a bunch of negatives. We’ve got thousands and thousands of these,
kind of, negatives. By themselves they are kind of meaningless.
They aren’t even produced. Here’s when they are, you know, produced. This is the Victoria Markets, also now known
as the Queen Victoria Building. This is around the 1880’s.
There’s one motor car in this scene. Now putting them out onto the web frees them
from the limitations of a museum’s gallery. Here, kind of, they are on Flickr, freely available
for anyone to take away and reuse and repurpose. So back at this image. This image has more
meaning when it is able to be taken and put beside, in place,
the current image of the building. So we’ve started to do things with mobiles where you
can now be in front of the Queen Victoria Building and get a lens on the past through your phone. Or the beach. No, there’s no permission needed to re-use
these images. There’s no, you don’t need to request it from
us, and this has enabled other people to go away, and take all of those same images and do fabulous
things with them too. They’ve taken this image from the 1880’s
and someone in Fillmore has remixed it. That’s kind of cool, yeah, no permission asked. And other people have had the same idea of
moving those old images into the present. So here’s um, a here’s a project by Paul Hagon,
of the library in Canberra. He’s taken those same images and put them
into Google maps. Here’s a project from the ABC, where the ABC has
taken these images and their own images, and other people’s images and their archival
footage, and linked them up. Here’s a group I became aware of in America, who have taken these same images
and done Sydney from America. And here’s another project we’ve become
aware of who’ve set up a site to help us tag and catalogue these images. And, we are not only letting this happen,
we are also learning from it, and we are taking the information people give us in these other
places, similar to Flickr, these tags are now appearing
back in our own catalogue. So all of that repurposing
and reuse is coming back to the museum itself. This is making us think more of connecting
collections up. So here’s a comb, this was made in the 1930’s
in Spain, and we catalogue these, and we say this related to all of these subjects, beauty and hair care,
Spanish culture, we do that, but then we, we look on it one morning, a couple of weeks
ago, someone’s added a URL to it, not us, it’s someone in the public,
so let’s see where this URL goes. It goes to this, which is a digitised
Sydney Morning Herald piece, that talks about us, acquiring the comb in 1960. This is connected
up by the visitors to the museum, not by us. So back with this comb, this kind of got us,
kind of got us thinking that maybe there is more rich content in our text already, so we’ve
started text mining our collection of records and pulling up people. So here is a person,
who happens to be the person who took out a patent to manufacture cellulose. We now connect that to his book about cellulose,
this is using a product called Worldcat, and then we can see where in the state library
we need to go to borrow it. Super cool. This is what the web does really,
really well, right. What I’m interested in is how we can get this to come
into the physicality of the museum itself. How can someone visiting the physical museum begin
to tell us these kind of additional things? So we started putting URLs on labels,
but this is a very “one way” thing. We’ve done it in some clunky ways, these are
really inelegant solutions, they are pushing this sort of web presence to the galleries,
which is not, really, what we want. We want people to come to us, not our information
to necessarily go to them directly. This has been one of the most successful projects. This is getting; we’ve had 2,500 of these in
an exhibition. People filling out paper forms telling us
what kind of things are. Anika is wrong, wrong,
of course, it’s not elephant poo. And I’m thinking now that in fact
with the museum itself, it’s possibly about more paper-based kind of things,
and less visible technologies. But for this to happen, the biggest challenge
is for visitors to museums, to want to tell us their knowledge about things,
and to demand that we listen to them. So I’ll tell you what happens next time.
Thanks a lot. [Applause]

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