Interview: Shelley Bernstein, Chief of Technology, Brooklyn Museum

Posted by Anna Graf in Interviews
Shelley Bernstein

Shelley Bernstein

The first in our series of interviews featuring some of the curators, archivists, collection managers and webmasters behind The Commons.

1. What is your involvement with the Brooklyn Museum archives and the Commons Project on Flickr?

I’m the Chief of Technology here at the Museum and I’m responsible for the Brooklyn Museum web presence which includes not only our website, but also the Museum’s profiles on social networking sites like Flickr, MySpace, Facebook, YouTube, Twitter, and beyond. In terms of The Commons on Flickr, I work directly with Deirdre Lawrence, our Head Librarian ,and Angie Park, our Archivist, to help upload and manage content that is under their direct care. In addition, I coordinate with Deborah Wythe and Erin Sweeney in the Digital Lab, who help get those assets scanned into digital format. Generally, I work behind the scenes coordinating everything and you’ll see me working with the web community the most, though many of our team are now starting to respond using their own personal accounts, which is pretty cool.

2. How did you first hear about the Flickr Commons project, and why did you want to get involved?

I’m on Flickr all the time with the Brooklyn Museum account, so naturally, I found out about it on the Flickr blog. For us, joining The Commons fit into our community-minded mission. On the web, we believe in reaching out to web communities just like we would in our own neighborhood, so extending our collections to The Commons made a lot of sense to us. I had just been in a meeting with Deirdre a month or two before and she was thinking of ways to make the materials in her care more accessible … then The Commons came along and when I asked her about it, she thought it was perfect given what she was trying to do within the larger goals of the institution.

3. What were some of the challenges you faced in the process of joining The Commons?

For us, the issues have mostly revolved around fears of loss of revenue. By policy, we charge licensing fees for commercial use of all images in our collection and those proceeds help fund ongoing efforts to care for the materials, but at the same time we want to upload decently high resolution images so our Flickr community can get the benefit of more detail in the works. With regard to this issue, we’ve tried to make our institutional expectations as clear as possible in our rights statement and we hope the Flickr community values that transparency. This is a delicate balance and something we are constantly discussing and adjusting based on our experiences in The Commons.

An additional concern of ours is staff time. We have no full-time staff devoted to Flickr and a small staff generally, so we are all (Deirdre, Angie, Ed, Deb, Erin, moi) pitching in where necessary to make it happen. With the higher traffic The Commons can bring, we’ve had some trouble keeping up, so we are planning a slower release schedule and think that may help a bit.

4. How do you convert your collections into digital copies?

Most of the Brooklyn Museum assets that you see in The Commons today had already been scanned and fully cataloged. The Digital Lab is just starting to embark on a project to scan and catalog some additional assets which we hope to upload to The Commons. This is actually a complicated process for various reasons, so we are going to do a series of posts on the museum blog to illustrate the behind-the-scenes process and talk about some of the issues. Should be fun to watch that unfold and we will post links to the Flickr Commons group as we publish those.

5. How is your institution using the data generated by Flickr users and what challenges have you faced managing this data?

We won’t begin a project to ingest the Flickr data (mainly tags) into our site until Spring 2009. We’ve just finished a project (today, yay!) to restructure the Libraries & Archives part of our website and now that this phase has been accomplished, we can move on to integration.

6. What is your favourite comments thread on one of your Commons images?

We base our success in all areas of web on personal connections that people make with our materials. For us, it’s not about metrics or numbers — we really want to see people engage on a personal level. This comment thread appeared lately and I think it demonstrates the power of putting these materials online. Here Funchye is doing some research on her family and posted to our photograph and rather than trying to solve this puzzle on our own, I asked roketpad via the research thread in the Flickr Commons group if he knew anything about this — he did and posted back. I had known roketpad had an interest in our Columbia Exposition materials because of comments and correspondence that we had exchanged when we first posted those images. What I love about this is the personal connections and to me that’s what Flickr is all about. As the coordinator of the account, I get to know roketpad based on his engagement with the materials and then can ask him about something about this woman’s photo of her Grandfather. Super.

7. What is the most interesting place one of your images has ended up, or the most interesting way an image as been used as a result of your Commons participation?

Ha! #7 on this list is my personal favorite.

8. What additional ability or functionality do you wish you had with The Commons?

The Flickr Commons group solved many of our issues. Prior to the group, I felt like the materials were disconnected from the rest of Flickr and we just were not seeing the strong community that we had come to know and love (the museum has had a presence on Flickr since 2006). The Commons, from my perspective, was this high-traffic void with very few people really engaging with the materials we posted. Once the group got started, suddenly everything changed and we started to see a community form around the materials, we started to get to know people and make personal connections. That has helped a lot (see question #6 for an example).

9. What has surprised you most since joining the Commons?

The group … read my blog post about why and now I’ll stop gushing over it :)

10. Are there any new and exciting projects or uploads coming up you’d like to tell us about?

I think you’ll see a continued release of the Goodyear archives which are currently uploaded but cloaked on our profile until ready for release. Deirdre and I have also been discussing trying to closely tie The Commons uploads with things going on in the building. In this way, we hope to engage both the people who really enjoy our Commons materials, but also the local Brooklyn audience who come to the Museum often and have been following our Flickr profile for years. In addition, Deborah and I have been working on another project to bring some of the other collection material to The Commons, which we will be blogging about soon. Stay tuned!


8 Responses to “Interview: Shelley Bernstein, Chief of Technology, Brooklyn Museum”

  1. indicommons» Blog Archive » Welcome to Indicommons! Says:

    [...] TOOLS ABOUT GROUP BLOG indico: to proclaim, make publicly knowncommons: « Interview: Shelley Bernstein, Chief of Technology, Brooklyn Museum [...]

  2. Says:

    [...] Flickr members but everyone know how exciting The Commons is. Today on Indicommons you’ll find an interview with the Brooklyn Museum’s Shelley Bernstein, plus examples of members’ choices from the collections, group member research into an [...]

  3. Indicommons launches « Flickr Blog Says:

    [...] Check out their interview with Shelley Bernstein, Chief of Technology, Brooklyn Museum. It’s the first in a series that will feature interviews with the various folk who make the Commons so wonderful. [...]

  4. striatic Says:

    interesting interview. i’m especially curious to find out more about “licensing fees for commercial use of all images in our collection” .. sort of how the system is “supposed” to work, outside of the flickr commons.

    the story behind the statue photo is very compelling, it’s like learning some of the history of revisionist history:

  5. Shelley Says:

    Hi striatic,

    I think each institution does it differently and it’s something that we constantly discuss. I was just on the phone with Deb today and we were thinking a blog post might be in the works on that very topic, so we can really go in depth. If/when that happens, I’ll be sure to update our Brooklyn Museum thread in the group to update everyone. Glad you liked the Ron Mueck show on your last visit here – I still love the fact that you left us that testimonial way back when :)

  6. striatic Says:

    that would be an interesting post.

    i think a lot of us in the flickr commons community have a pretty “flickr centric” way of thinking about the project. to many of us it feels completely normal for this kind of sharing to take place on flickr. incredibly compelling in terms of content, but less novel in terms of the mechanisms and motives.

    whereas from the perspective of this institutions, it is the inverse.

  7. Celebrating the new Indicommons blog « Espaces Arts & Objets Says:

    [...] Indicommons there is a great interview with the Shelly Bernstein from the Brooklyn Museum, member’s choices and research plus some interesting then and now discoveries. There will be [...]

  8. indicommons» Blog Archive » Happy Commonsversary, Brooklyn! Says:

    [...] Interview: Shelley Bernstein, Chief of Technology, Brooklyn Museum — Our first interview was with Shelley at the Brooklyn Museum. It’s a gem of an interview, too, and pretty much launched Indicommons into public awareness (thank, Shel!). [...]

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