Borderless Collections – Starting a Collections Community (R)evolution | Digital Collections Programme

1) bristol museum

The Museum’s Digital Collections Programme (DCP) was represented at a recent John Ellerman funded Strategy Workshop for UK collections at M Shed in Bristol. The event, coordinated by Isla Gladstone of Bristol City Council Culture Team, brought together a range professionals from across UK museums and related sectors including the UK biological recording community, policy specialists, the BBC Natural History unit and informaticians to discuss the development of a coordinated approach to digitising UK regional museum collections.

As part of the workshop, Helen Hardy (DCP Programme Manager) presented an overview about measuring the impact of digitising collections and Vince Smith (Head of Informatics) spoke on new research opportunities created by bridging digital collections across institutions. Vince also highlighted several European initiatives including DiSSCo, the Distributed System of Scientific Collections which is working to unite the digital collections of all European natural history institutes.

The Workshop


The workshop generated support across UK stakeholders for increasing cooperation and improving coordination in bringing national and regional digitisation activities together. Linking in citizen science, biological recording efforts and volunteering communities, the workshop identified the potential for organising a national digitisation effort to mobilise regional collections and new ways to increase the impact of UK museum biodiversity data. Museums that have already started digitising their collection shared lessons from their experience and links with the recent Culture is Digital report and the Mendoza review of UK Museums. The workshop highlighted the value of taking a national collaborative approach by drawing on strengths across and beyond the UK museum sector.

The UK strategy workshop covered topics ranging from citizen science, story-telling techniques, benefits mapping and engagement, to planning for and sustaining international collaboration. Some of the questions asked throughout the day included:

  • How to justify value of our collections?
  • What are the biggest challenges and the best outcomes at the regional sector?
  • How do you get your scientific collections voice heard at the higher levels?
  • How to balance the complex roles of Museums as educational, scientific and cultural organizations?
  • How do we get our collections data cited, down to the level of individual specimens?
  • What makes most the most difference?
  • How can we share expertise, hardware and/or capital?

With the help of Kathryn Jeffs, Producer/Director of the BBC’s Blue Planet II, workshop participants also started to develop a vision for their combined digital collections, aided by brainstorming and storytelling techniques used by the BBC to develop their award winning natural history programmes.

A short concept note is currently in development to follow up on the themes and issues identified in the workshop. You can also read a full account of the workshop activities by Deborah Paul of the iDigBio initiative and can be read on the iDigBio Blog.

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