Posted on May 7, 2012

Promoting social media in the physical museum: Asian Art Museum, SF by mia!
What's a GLAM? This is the word (imported from NZ or Australia I think) that people are using for cultural institutions nowadays it seems (it stands for gallery, library, archive or museum). There is even a GLAM-wiki available showcasing open access data projects in cultural institutions.

With the launch of the Nelson Mandela digital archive, and the news that Google will also be working with IZIKO museums to digitize some of their collection, the digital word is on everyone's lips.

As more of our collections are digitized (and this is a challenge which we are still facing in South Africa) the issue will become not so much whether the cultural institutions go digital, but how they use digital tools to engage their audiences.

As Nick Poole, CEO of the Collections Trust in the UK says in a recent blog, what comes after digital is the age of connectedness. What does this mean for cultural institutions?
'Connection is what we do - showing people the global implication of their personal context, demonstrating that cultures across the world share more in common than in conflict, empowering literacy in the fullest sense - linguistic, informational and cultural - to equip this future generation with the tools both intelligently to navigate the abundance of information and to use it to achieve social justice.'

Improving the interface between cultural institutions and their audiences is a major aim of the digitization of collections, probably more important than benefits from digitization for the preservation or management of the material. Even before we have fully digitized our collections and before mobile media have changed the landscape of internet access (a process that will soon overtake us) we can start thinking about how to harness social media for connectedness.

Using digital tools to engage audiences

GLAMs have been using digital tools for some time now to engage their audiences: a Dutch initiative called Open Cultural Data, for example, aims to make cultural datasets available under open conditions and stimulate their re-use. GLAMs are also using data from their audiences to improve their own holdings. Read these three reports on how cultural institutions are doing this.

It's expensive to design your own interface to your collections, unless you have a sponsor like Google. Many interfaces for access to videos, photos and social networking are free. This blog is about some of the considerations GLAMs might have in using one of these new free social networking platforms, specifically one called Pinterest. While there is no need to panic, especially if you want to increase access to content that is in the public domain, there are copyright considerations users of all these free platforms should consider.


What's Pinterest? Pinterest is a virtual pinboard that allows you to post (or repost) images onto an online 'board' for public viewing, with comments and notes. The pictures link to their original sources (usually websites). The site's mission is to 'connect everyone in the world through the 'things' they find interesting'. This includes heritage, archives, museums, books and so on, right?

Pinterest is worth investigating because it already has massive reach. It has been in closed beta (a testing phase) since 2010 but in January last year, it had less than 120,000 users. Today the site has about 12 million users, more than flickr and picasa. Over 100 million people visited the site in the period 12 Jan-12 Feb 2012. These users spend more time on the site than on other social networking platforms, with the exception of Facebook. You can still only join the site by invitation, but you can ask for an invitation by visiting their website.

Can Pinterest be useful for GLAMs in Africa?

Pinterest is useful for raising public awareness about, and generating online traffic to, your website or your brand. This could be useful for GLAMs. With the recent and projected expansion in African internet use – Tim K's pinterest board gives some nice graphics on this - it could be useful to all kinds of African cultural institutions.

GLAMs and their publics are already using Pinterest. Although African coverage is still largely confined to tourist shots, SABC Media Libraries already has a Pinterest board: Karen du Toit has blogged about the possibilities of using the platform. The New England Museum Association has a Pinterest board to showcase the work of its members and its own activities. Birmingham Museums has a board about its exhibitions and topics relating to its collections. The Smithsonian's National Museum of African Art has a Pinterest board. The San Francisco History Center / San Francisco Public Library has a photo archive of its own images on Pinterest. Curiously, people are using Pinterest to explore their family histories graphically.

There have recently been quite a few blogs about the possibilities of using Pinterest to promote the work of GLAMs and to increase public engagement with them.

The Future of Museums project says 'Pinterest could be your museum's new best friend. It is a way to share and encourage sharing with a low barrier to entry and participation.' I particularly liked the way they started a board for each of the seven trends profiled in their new report, TrendsWatch 2012: Museums & the Pulse of the Future.

Melissa Mannon is upbeat about the many possibilities of Pinterest for informing and engaging the audiences of cultural institutions through visual boards.

Since it would not necessarily involve uploading my own pictures (although this can create problems, see below the note on copyright), I could imagine quite easily putting together my own exhibition online using a Pinterest board, as Matthew Caines suggests in his blog.

Jenni Fuchs details some interesting ways in which museums have been using Pinterest in her blog, pointing to their potential in fostering collaboration as well as generating debate.

Joe Murphy suggests that Pinterest may also have institutional uses for libraries (and of course archives), such as using the pinboards to create an easy interface to toolboxes of resources or collections or to teaching resources. An even longer list of possible library / archive uses of Pinterest is available here.

Concerns about copyright

One of the concerns raised about the use of Pinterest has been copyright. Of course, sharing images that are not subject to copyright - and that you want to be widely shared and used - is not a problem. But what about images that are under copyright, and whose copyright your institution does not own? According to the terms under which you sign up, when you post content on the site, you do grant Pinterest broad rights to use that content.

Putting other people's pictures on Pinterest may not be considered 'fair use' by copyright holders. Therefore, you -should only pin content you own or have a license to use' according to Gonzalo E. Mon writing for Mashable and Kirsten Kowalski, who deleted her pinterest boards because of this issue. Nancy Sims, the Copyright Program Librarian at the University of Minnesota Libraries, makes the point however that uploading content whose copyright is owned by a third party would not give Pinterest any rights over it: -if you uploaded stuff that you didn't have a right to upload, you have not magically given Pinterest the right to sell that image'.

Nancy Sims brings us back to earth a bit when she compares the terms and conditions of a number of social networking sites. She makes the point that:

-While the way Pinterest functions certainly raises a number of copyright issues, they're not significantly different from the issues raised by many other social sharing sites.'

Still, these copyright concerns have to be addressed by Pinterest because the whole point of the site is to share content created by others; many people want their content to be shared and we need to be able to distinguish between those who do and those who don't. Kirsten Kowalski says the following:

I have been in communication with Ben Silberman and his staff over the past several weeks. They continue to assure me that changes to the terms of use are coming. The fact that it is taking so long is actually quite encouraging to me. They obviously know that there isn't a 'quick fix' to the issues and they have been taking their time to talk to users, artists and lawyers to make sure that they are addressing the concerns appropriately.

When Pinterest recently changed their terms of use to allow people to pin their own work, i.e. use it for self-promotion, Kowalski felt that they had not resolved these issues fully.

Photo credit: Promoting social media in the physical museum: Asian Art Museum, SF by mia!

Harriet Deacon is the UK correspondent for the Archival Platform.