Adam Corsini on using social media to open up collections and challenge staff to find new methods of engagement
About the author: Adam Corsini is the Museum of London’s Archaeology Collections Manager. Adam worked as a field archaeologist before moving to the Museum of London’s Archaeological Archive, where he has worked over a decade. In 2008 he was co-creator of the Volunteer Inclusion Programme; a multi award winning scheme that centres on training an inclusive mix of people in collections care practices, to improve the accessibility of archaeological material. In recent years, his focus has turned towards public engagement, adding public presentation training to volunteer projects. His most recent volunteer programme, ‘Unearthing Outer London’, has explored the possibilities of public participation, fusing collections work with public engagement, resulting in sector-leading models of best practice for both museum volunteering and visitor involvement. Adam spoke at the Digital Engagement Seminar – part of the Museum Ideas 2017 conference in London.
Museums can easily fall into the trap of using the same artefacts for public engagement, returning to our comfort zone: the best known objects, the easiest to explain, or designated handling collections. The consequences of this can lead to much of the collection being unexplored and a loss of enthusiasm for explainers. In recent years the Museum of London’s Archaeological Archive has used social media to interrogate its store, opening its collection to wider audiences and challenging its staff into finding new methods of engagement.
“The Museum has used social media to interrogate its store, opening its collection to wider audiences and challenging its staff into finding new methods of engagement”
The origins of #ArchiveLottery go back to 2012 and the Day of Archaeology. It works by people tweeting random numbers to the Archive, these numbers represent a shelf which we then go to and select one item located there. The object is quickly photographed and tweeted back with a brief description and link to the Museum’s excavation catalogue. A new section of the store is explored each hour; with each section having their own numbered shelf range. Tweeters enjoy both the unpredictability of the game and the fact that each person ‘wins’ a personal object (many retweet their wins); The Archive benefits from rediscovering our collection and promoting public engagement in a fun way. Tweeted artefacts are logged and potentially used in future events and store tours. Indeed, this led to the next stage in #ArchiveLottery’s development.
Whilst the Twitter version of #ArchiveLottery returned for future Days of Archaeology, in 2015 the Archive began to incorporate the scheme into our regular Archive tours. When reaching the finds area, a visitor is invited to select a random shelf and the tour guide proceeds to select a box and talk a little about its contents. This section of the tour is well received, with visitors particularly enjoying its unpredictability and the tour guide’s challenge to explain an unprepared object at random.
“#ArchiveLottery has been a way to showcase our archaeology in the digital age. In essence it is an interactive online activity that embraces unpredictability, improvisation and fun with artefacts”
The most recent development of #ArchiveLottery saw its transfer to the Museum of London’s foyer. Here, numbers are generated by visitors selecting three numbered, mystery boxes; the digits form a shelf number whilst the boxes’ contents form an object handling session. As the object handling takes place, an item is selected in the store, photographed and tweeted. The tweeted artefact appears on a screen alongside the object handling and forms the final item for discussion. A second screen features a live skype feed so that events can unfold in realtime.
#ArchiveLottery has been a way to showcase our archaeology in the digital age. In essence it is an interactive online activity that embraces unpredictability, improvisation and fun with artefacts. Its result has produced a fresh approach to engagement exploring the benefits of using social media. Recent #ArchiveLottery days have resulted in over 34.6k Twitter impressions and other organisations such as the Wimbledon Tennis Championship Museum have been inspired to run similar schemes using Facebook Live.
Archaeology Collections Manager, Museum of London
Published: September 2017