This panel explored the ways in which different organisations are working with user groups, partners and communities to redefine what is meant by their ‘audience’ and how this relates to forms of digital engagement.

John Coburn, Tyne and Wear Archives and Museums

This talk will explore digital R&D being undertaken by Tyne & Wear Archives & Museums (TWAM) in collaboration with diverse audiences, creative technologists and academic partners. These digital projects – online, in venue, and in public spaces – seek to involve audiences in a collaborative excavation of collections, encourage new ways of looking at what is unearthed, and provoke public dialogue and ideas.

Through working with the public to research and creatively reuse collections in innovative ways this digital experimentation in turn hopes to inspire new audiences. The talk will describe the benefits of working with non-traditional partners in undertaking interdisciplinary research and how the novel outputs not only expand audience reach but also speculate on the future of the museum, the archive and their collections.

The talk will consider the influence this ongoing activity has on the practice of the organisation. In particular, the questions it raises around the challenges of digital collections access, the perceived and desired role of the museum in supporting this work, and how these projects have informed the design principles of future TWAM projects.

Projects that will be referenced include Decoded 1914-18, an AV programme reusing collections and offering new reflections on the WW1 commemorations; Tributaries a participatory sound experience and app, developed with US artist, Halsey Burgund, that digitally curates museum collections as sound alongside publicly contributed voices (scheduled for launch summer 2015); Succession, an online tool developed by Mitchell Whitelaw that reuses TWAM collections and speculates on the abilities of algorithms to curate digital heritage online.

Yvette Jeal and Gwen Riley-Jones, University of Manchester

Voices was created under the University of Manchester Library strategy, Leading, challenging and connecting 2013-2017, to explore how our Special Collections can be used to connect in new ways and with new audiences.

The project included two strands – one explored in-depth engagement with audiences identified under the University’s Social Responsibility agenda and the potential impact of our collections in areas such as wellbeing and employability; the other (Voices Live Library) looked at broadening access through creative digital approaches to generating new audience-led interpretation.

Voices Live Library (January 2014 – July 2015) included two social media campaigns, gradually building on boldness and levels of engagement. Our first, ‘Photo a day’, was a simple image-driven campaign tied to topical events aimed at our existing Twitter and emerging Instagram followers requiring low-level effort from the audience. Our second campaign, ‘This is (not) a love poem’, required higher levels of effort in the form of contributions of poetry, inspired by images from the collections.

Our last campaign features the interplay between physical and digital audiences – by exploring the selection process around our co-curated exhibition on gothic culture and inviting digital audiences to question it.

Working with a digital marketing consultant we explored characteristics of digital audiences and learned we should:

  1. Tell stories, agree on tone (frivolous? Serious?)
  2. Be transparent, open, inclusive and interactive
  3. Be prepared to plan resource and decide on campaigns based on audience effort

Our campaigns have engaged audiences, increased them in number and interactivity, engaged staff at all levels across the Library and made our collections relevant to a modern audience.

Going forward, through our new Audience Development Plan we will:

  1. clarify what relationships we can sustain with our digital audience
  2. seek to embed digital engagement across the whole Library
  3. hope to extend our audience role beyond enjoyment of our collections, e.g. tagging images from our collections and providing content for our CMS and public programming.