By PAUL BRISLEN
After teaching art in the highlands of Papua New Guinea, Aucklander Roger Smith was looking for a new challenge and found it online with a hobby website that has become the toast of the international museum scene.
Smith's site, Global Museum, was recently voted the best "museum professional's site" and is regularly visited by more than 6000 museum professionals in 107 countries.
Smith said he started thinking about better communications systems while working for the UN.
"I'd been involved with communications for the International Council of Museums and was frustrated by the delays in getting information from the central office."
That frustration found an outlet in the mid-1990s with the emergence of the web.
"It was all about e-commerce and I decided to become an affiliate of Amazon to sell books about museums and history. So I built a website and then realised I needed to drive people to the site."
Smith promoted it by offering news and information relevant to the museum professional, and a situations vacant column. Today the book site is a small part of a much larger museum portal.
One of Smith's readers and long-time fans is Beryl Rosenthal, director of exhibitions and public programmes for the Massachusetts Institute of Technology Museum.
"Previously, it was difficult to find out about what was going on overseas unless you read international journals and newspapers, or were a member of ICOM [the International Council of Museums], which was way too expensive," she said.
The site was a way of keeping up with overseas events and issues.
"That is critical because we tend to get focused on what is going on locally but this website makes us recognise that we really are part of a worldwide museum community."
The site was much more than simply a way of finding out what was going on.
"There are times when I read about other museums' challenges and say to myself and our staff, 'boy, we thought we had trouble,' or, 'This is a great idea, how can we learn from this?', or 'Can we help support this person's project?' It expands your circle of relationships and 'brains to pick', so to speak."
Smith said his day job, running the website at Auckland University of Technology, benefited from his work on the museum project.
A spin-off site is devoted to dinosaurs and another to Smith's other passion, photography.
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