Friday, June 22, 2012

Last Day at the Museum of the History of Science

MHS banner from Winter 2010-11 advertising a 360 degree panoramic tour

Engraving of the East Front of the Museum by Michael Burghers, 1685Today was officially my last day as Web Officer at the Museum of the History of Science in Oxford, which has the distinction of being housed in the world’s oldest surviving purpose-built museum building, the Old Ashmolean, an early impression of which is as right.

I had the pleasure of working there since October 2009 with a close-knit group of dedicated, friendly and enthusiastic staff with a wide range of interesting backgrounds. So I was sad to leave and surprised how difficult it was to hand in my keys and especially the University card - I felt quite bereft as though I had lost part of my identity.

I found the Web Officer role similar in many ways to a previous one where I was responsible for anything Web-related; it requires some flexibility as the duties are varied, ranging from system administration (at the command line) and documentation through to some elements of graphic design, particularly image composition. In summary I would characterise much of the effort as consolidation - in terms of the Linux-based hosting provision, and the use of WordPress as the gateway to the entire online presence.

WordPress gets used mainly for blogging, albeit with resources built around it, but at MHS it is used as a content management system. Perhaps the most significant development was the integration of the KE EMu collections management system, for which I prepared the following slide for the 2011 KE EMu User group meeting, held at the Natural History Museum.
A lot of the work was behind the scenes. A particular challenge was search engine optimisation (SEO); it took me a long time to realize that a WP upgrade had inserted canonical URLs into the header, leading to just a handful of collections pages being indexed. Once I had removed that and made the page titles more distinct the index grew and more visitors came.

Just occasionally I could do something a little different. For instance, when faced with slightly blurred image, I suddenly realized an opportunity to create an inverted reflection in time for the somewhat wacky and hugely successful Steampunk exhibition:

Steampunk Live Mannequin
(I manually traced the figure; some regions have little contrast so I suspect an automated tool would probably struggle)

The old uniform is brought into the present, whilst the photographers (who strive to capture the present moment) recede into the background, into the past, by being faded to grey.

Now too my fleeting role as Web Officer will start to become a faded memory. However, I'm not leaving the museums world, as soon I shall start another role, supporting not one but many museums ...