Amgueddfa Cymru

Hafan

During the past two weeks our Geology galleries were closed for essential maintenance. Now they are open to the public again, much to the delight of anyone looking after dinosaur-mad 6-year olds, who, quite rightly, have been disappointed by the temporary withdrawal of some of National Museum Cardiff’s most popular displays.

So in you come for a peek of all those refreshed displays. But what’s that? Seemingly nothing has changed?? Everything still looks as it did before the ‘major refurbishment’ – so what was so major about it?

The idea of undertaking maintenance was not to change the displays – apparently our visitors are happy with the way they are – but to update technology and fix things that were broken. This is why you have to look closely to spot what we have been so busy doing. Very busy in fact; including the planning phase, which took several months, we had at least 23 people working on the gallery. It was very busy every day, with staff and contractors working around each other, from the dinosaur foot prints pavement all the way up to the ceiling (which is 12m high in this gallery).

What you won’t notice is that the fire beams were replaced to alert us early and reliably in the event of a fire. You’ll have to look closely to spot the new lights: the spot lights underneath the ceiling are now all converted to LED. You may find that the image quality of the display screens is a million times better than it was before. What you certainly should notice is that the displays are much cleaner. We also repaired damage to displays. As the saying goes: if you touch - we need to touch up. The paint work, that is. And if anyone happens to walk into a display case the specimens inside move sometimes. If we don’t spot this early enough, they can topple off their shelf and break. We used the opportunity last week to put them all back in their place, hence our plea to you: this is now not a race to see how quickly they can be knocked off their perch again, so absolutely no prize for anyone who thinks they can dislodge the displays. Our specimens – which, actually, belong not to the museum but to the Welsh public – are fragile and repairing them costs tax payers’ money, which we do our best not to waste.

There is one thing that is entirely new to the gallery, something which will be obvious immediately to said 6-year old dinosaur enthusiast (and those of any other age, too): the new Welsh dinosaur now has a permanent home as part of our dinosaur display. A life-sized artist’s impression, feathers and colours and all, is now peeking from the early Jurassic back to its Triassic cousins. It is truly magnificent and inspiring, and actually one of the first models to represent the latest research that these kinds of dinosaurs were clad in feathers. The enthusiast in myself wants to add pathos to this announcement, which is difficult to express in a blog. Hence I’ll stop myself right here and simply invite you to come and see it.

Oh, one more thing. While working in the displays in the past two weeks we found countless sweet wrappers, discarded chewing gums and bits of sandwiches and apples in various hidden corners. These kinds of things encourage pests which we don’t want in the museum any more than you would want them in your house. We have the restaurant, café and schools sandwich room where you are welcome to eat, and there are bins in the Main Hall before you enter the galleries. We would be immensely grateful if you didn’t take any food into the galleries.

Find out more about care of collections at Amgueddfa Cymru - National Museum Wales here.

In the last two weeks our Geology galleries at National Museum Cardiff have been closed to the public due to major refurbishments. We are coming to the end now, we are just asking for your patience for a few more days before opening the permanent exhibition again.

We have already written about some of the work in the gallery: cleaning and repairing displays and changing lighting. In addition, we have replaced display screens and fire beams, and here’s why and how.

There are a number of videos in the galleries which used to be played from medieval cathode ray tubes – if you are as old as me you will remember the old TV screens which were always surprisingly front-heavy when you had to lift them. They are larger (deeper, which limits exhibition space), use more electricity and have a lower resolution than the new flat screens we just installed. If you are a regular visitor you will notice that the screens are not sticking out of the wall as much as they used to. And the resolution is sooo much better now! The videos are now much clearer for you, the visitor, while we, the museum, will save money on our electricity bills which we can then invest in improved collection care and exhibitions – everybody wins.

At the same time we used the gallery closure to work at height – underneath the ceiling, to be precise. Fire safety is more than a legal requirement for us; it is part of our work to care for the national collections. After all, if the museum burns down a large part of your heritage disappears forever. From time to time, even fire and smoke detection equipment needs servicing. This was undertaken this week by a specialist company. And this certainly caused a bit of a stir in the building.

As in your house, the smoke detection equipment is situated underneath the ceiling. It’s just that the ceiling in our Geology galleries is about 12m high. We can’t get there with ladders or scissor lifts, not to speak of all the displays that are in the way. The solution was to climb up the walls. So if any staff are still wondering what why there was a man dangling from the ceiling – it wasn’t a burglar, as in the 1996 film Mission: Impossible, but a rope access operator keeping the museum save from fire.

We are now in the process of completing the last few pieces of work and cleaning up in the next few days. The exhibition will be open to the public again on Tuesday 5th July.

Find out more about care of collections at Amgueddfa Cymru - National Museum Wales here.

In 2017 St Fagans National History Museum will be celebrating the 100th anniversary of the Oakdale Workmen’s Institute. The building was at the heart of Oakdale village community for 80 years until it closed in 1987 and then moved to St Fagans.

Exactly 100 years ago, on 3 July 1916, the work of building the Institute in Oakdale began when a ceremony was held to lay the first foundation stones. This type of ceremony is common when large public buildings are built to mark the beginning of the main construction phase. During the ceremony, a trowel is used to place the mortar where the foundation stone is laid and a trowel is then engraved to commemorate the ceremony.

Two foundation stones were laid at the ceremony for the Oakdale Workmen’s Institute in 1916, one on either side of the main entrance door. The stone on the left was laid by Harry Blount on behalf of the workmen of Oakdale Colliery and the stone on the right by Alfred S. Tallis representing the Tredegar Iron and Coal Company, owners of the colliery.

Harry Blount was one of the original members of the Oakdale Workmen’s Institute Committee, formed in 1913. Their meeting place in the early years was in the ‘Huts’, the old barracks which once accommodated the workers of the Oakdale Colliery shafts. In the minutes of the Committee it notes that on 6 January 1914, Harry Blount proposed that they should ‘proceed with the new Institute at once’. At the same meeting Arthur Webb was appointed as the architect and within a month his sketch plan had been accepted by the Committee.

Alfred S Tallis, Managing Director of the Tredegar Iron and Coal Company, was involved with the Institute from the beginning with the promise of a financial loan for the building work. He was also the main promoter of the idea of a model village at Oakdale for the company’s workforce with modern housing built in a rural area, away from the colliery. The work of building the new village began in 1909 and the first street, Syr Dafydd Avenue, was completed in 1913 and designed by the Institute’s architect, Arthur Webb, Tallis’s brother-in-law.

The minutes of the Committee briefly mentions the arrangements for the ceremony held on Monday 3 July 1916; there was to be a cold lunch at the Oakdale Hotel with the full Committee attending and the Oakdale Colliery Band were to play around the village half an hour before to advertise the event. The ceremony itself was at 5 o’clock and Sir Charles Edwards, M.P. was asked to attend and to speak.

The two foundation stones can still be seen either side of the Institute’s main door at St Fagans and the commemorative trowels from the ceremony are displayed on the wall of the Institute Committee Room. Both trowels were donated to the Museum in the months before the Institute re-opened at St Fagans in 1995, by Harry Blount’s grandson and by Alfred Tallis’s grand-daughters.

In 2017, the year of the centenary of Oakdale Workmen’s Institute, the Museum is planning to bring the building alive once again, to reflect its original purpose as a place for the community. We’ll be updating you on the project as we go so look out for #Oakdale100 news in the coming weeks and months.

Visual Audio Display Units (VADUs) still exist in the National Museum Cardiff galleries. We know, because with almost every finger touch on the touchscreen, it sends a little signal to the web server that includes a piece of information describing the last interaction (i.e. ‘please play the video’, ‘please display the menu list’). We record all those messages, firstly to make sure the kiosk is actually working day-to-day and secondly to find out which aspects are popular or not popular, knowledge that is useful to guide future kiosk development. 

Each message is sent as an AJAX call (asynchronous JavaScript and XML) from the kiosk, which is usually a standalone bundle of files running through a web browser (HTML, CSS & Javascript files). The main bulk of the kiosk development is carried out through our in-house web CMS (called Amgueddfa CMS) on a computer that mirrors the public web server, it’s only before the launch that all the necessary files are copied over to the computer in the exhibition space (wrapped up as an ‘App’), where it remains like a satellite away from its mothership (the web server). Beep beep, beep beep.

Patterns of Frequency

A single recorded kiosk command is not particularly exciting by itself but when there are greater numbers, patterns emerge. For instance, if we record each time a video is started on the kiosk we get a round number to how many people were interested in the subject matter of the video (information gathered before they had seen the video). If we also record when people stop playing the video we can start to distinguish patterns in their viewing behaviour. Judging by the average video length played the majority of the visitors saw less than 39% of the total video length, with the longest average being three minutes 17 seconds. Of course, there were also lots of visitors who watch the videos until the end; as you can tell by the 'happy-tail' patterns formed by visitors reaching the film credits at the end of the film (figure 2).  

Overview of the Numbers

I signed-off my last blog with a promise of data relating to the Wi-Fi audio tour during the Chalkie Davies exhibition last year, which I’m including below. To placing the Wi-Fi statistics within the gallery space, I’ve also gathered data from the four large screen kiosks in the exhibition against the monthly visitor figures.

It is immediately clear that the four large kiosks were very popular - they contained a great deal of curated content which included a composite NME magazine, Chalkie Davies film, Youth Forum audio interviews, a comments section and What’s On calendar. I can imagine the relative attraction and easy access of the kiosks goes a long way to explain the comparatively lower figures of the Wi-Fi audio tour, but let us not be downbeat - the feedback received from the visitor survey about the Wi-Fi was positive. 

  • 93% of survey monkey results either felt they ‘learnt a lot about the exhibition’ or ‘it improved their experience as a visitor’ - it must be noted that the number of people who filled in the survey and used the Wi-Fi audio tour was extremely low compared to the overall gallery visitor figures (12 / 42,000), but the survey morsel is still very positive.    

However, I would be cautious in suggesting an Wi-Fi audio tour for short-run exhibitions, mainly due to the diminished numbers compared to the insitu kiosks - the Wi-Fi audio tour could gain popularity following a less exhibition-specific avenue (e.g. providing audio descriptions for the top ten popular objects), which would allow the audio catalog to be built gradually and remain available all year around throughout the museum.

Future Beeps

To conclude, we have been collecting kiosk statistics since 2011. The storage method may change, we could additionally store the data on Google servers via Google Analytics, but however the beeps are stored the way visitor interact with museum kiosks will continue to guide the future kiosk development. 

 

Table showing all the touchscreen events for the Chalkie Davies exhibition with visitor figures for the gallery:

Large touch screen x 4

 
 

Language

7 May

2015

June 2015

July 2015

Aug 2015

7 Sept

2015

Video (film plays)

 

1717

1085

1735

2833

352

7722

Chalkie Interview

EN

1280

1044

1362

1953

338

5977

Chalkie Interview

CY

124

123

164

237

38

686

NME magazine

EN

1209

961

1205

1841

355

5571

NME magazine

CY

60

56

72

148

17

353

NME Next Page

 

1974

2119

2099

2324

530

9046

NME Previous Page

 

1303

1025

1098

1666

463

5555

NME Zoom Photograph

 

985

681

909

1317

430

4322

Music Memories

EN

1409

1076

1464

2311

378

6638

Music Memories

CY

71

60

95

138

17

381

Music Audio (track plays)

 

1766

1583

1806

2410

486

8051

Comments

EN

881

702

840

1383

230

4036

Comments

CY

71

54

78

105

11

319

Comments submitted

 

124

131

168

260

30

713

What's On

EN

783

684

847

1335

241

3890

What's On

CY

55

50

63

126

12

306

Totals

 

12509

10409

12907

18721

3465

63,566

 

Wi-Fi Audio Tour

Using their own mobile devices

 
 

Language

7 May

2015

June 2015

July 2015

Aug 2015

7 Sept

2015

Audio (plays)

EN

316

212

262

394

124

1308

Audio (plays)

CY

10

3

4

4

1

22

Totals

 

326

215

266

398

125

1,330

 

Number Gallery Visitors

 

7 May

2015

June 2015

July 2015

Aug 2015

7 Sept

2015

 

Totals

 

9108

7107

10688

14130

1961

42,994

 

Our Geology galleries at National Museum Cardiff are still closed for essential maintenance. We are changing things around a bit – out with the old and in with the new: we are changing old display screens for new ones; old light bulbs for new ones; old fire beams new ones; old dust – well, for no dust at all. Yes, the dinosaurs are having their vertebrae tickled to release some of the dust of the centuries and keep them looking pretty.

Actually, if you have been to see the dinosaurs recently there is a good chance you have left some of yourself on them. Dust in our galleries is composed of tiny particles that come into the building through our ventilation system (although we have very good air filtration). Other dust particles are fibres from the clothes you wear. But the bulk of dust is, actually – well, there is no easy way of saying this: bits of YOU. Especially hair and skin.

Humans are living beings whose bodies renew themselves constantly. Our skin is our largest organ. New cells are formed constantly at the base layer of the epidermis (the outer part of the skin). These new cells move up through the layers of the epidermis and die as they are further away from blood vessels that supply nutrients. Eventually they reach the corneum, the outermost layer, and slough off.

We love having you in the museum (actually, next time you visit why don’t you bring a friend who hasn’t been for a while). But if you shed your skin while you are in the museum you are inevitably leaving a small part of your body in the building. Nice.

These particles are tiny and very light. They will happily settle on surfaces. Our dinosaurs (and, of course, all other displays) provide ideal surfaces for dust to settle. And no, dust bunnies do not evolve into dust rhinos – so there is no need to set up protective zones to save these cute little things.

Dust will form a layer on objects, which, contrary to popular opinion by people who dislike cleaning, is not protective. On the contrary: dust attracts moisture from the air and then becomes very reactive, which can lead to corrosion and other forms of damage to our objects. This is not only unsightly but can result in expensive conservation treatments or even irreparable damage.

We’re in the business of heritage preservation for the long-term. We want to help keep all of the important national collections for generations to come. This includes removing your dead skin cells from the dinosaur skeletons while we have the space to work in the gallery.

And no, we would not get rid of our vacuum cleaner because it is only collecting dust.

Our Geology galleries are going to re-open on Tuesday 5th July.

Find out more about care of collections at Amgueddfa Cymru - National Museum Wales here.