April 30, 2009
* An open letter to whoever it may concern at the Department of Culture, Media and Sport *
My attention was drawn recently to a Freedom of Information request which was made to you regarding museum web statistics.
The request was made by an ex-colleage and friend of mine, Frankie Roberto, who used the rather lovely WhatDoTheyKnow website to submit it. For those who don’t know, this site lets anyone submit and track FOI requests publically.
As you’ll of course know, the original request went something like this:
Please could you send me the monthly website statistics for all of
the museums which you hold data on, for as far back as the data is
Please also specify which metrics (eg hits, visits, unique
visitors) are used, and which software is used to measure the
statistics (if available).
Frankie submitted this on 15th April 2008.
A fair amount of correspondence seemed to go on between you and Frankie. I won’t repeat the content here. Instead I’d like to jump straight to the last letter on the thread, dated 6th June 2008. Here, you say this:
Following a search of our paper and electronic records, I have established that the information you requested is not held by this Department. We would advise you to seek the information from the website managers for the individual museums in which you have a particular interest.
This caught me slightly by suprise.
For seven years while Head of Web at NMSI I used to (twice yearly, if I recall) – gather and coordinate web statistics for our three national museums (The Science Museum, London; Railway Museum, York and Media Museum, Bradford). And (again, providing my memory hasn’t gone really badly wrong), I seem to remember that it was DCMS who asked for, and received, these stats.
I had a fabulous time working for NMSI, but I can say without hesitation that these six-monthly forays into the depths of log files and Excel spreadsheets were consistently the least pleasant bit of my job. It was important, however: DCMS web stats were, and probably still are, one of the measures by which funding was distributed to national museums. So we knuckled down and got on with it, painful though it was.
It was therefore with a certain amount of concern that I read your letter to Frankie.
Now – I do fully understand that organisations are big and that processes change. I also understand that things get lost. So I’m not going to get hysterical – but I do think it’s important that you maybe go have another look for them. Frankie tells me he doesn’t need the stats any more, but the more I think about it, the more I think it’s important that these are made public and available. At the very least, it’ll make me feel better for those dark Excel days.
I look forward to hearing from you