Archive for July, 2009

Archival knowledge and know-how…and collection level description..

There is nothing more satisfying than to hear collecting experts talk about what they know, how they go about doing what they do — sharing their knowledge and know-how. Archival theory is fascinating…and a domain language emerged immediately: evidence, entities, relationships, data models, ISAD(G), ISAAR(CPF), ISO 23081, ISO 15489, Continuum, InterPARES, end-of-life, fonds, series, files, documents, records…and these words are loaded with particular meaning to archivists, archival collection management systems and archival practices.

Birmingham Central Library, Photo Archives


I had the pleasure of attending the Standards, Software, and Strategies – A & D in Action seminar put together by the NSW Branch of the Australian Society of Archivists on Wednesday 29th July hosted by State Records of NSW at the Sydney Records Centre in the Rocks.

Sigrid McCausland (Charles Sturt University, Wagga Wagga) chaired the event and the talks and speakers (aka leading lights) were:

National and international descriptive standards – Kate Cumming (Government Recordkeeping, State Records NSW)

Archival software – Mark Stevens (City of Sydney Archives) – Archives Investigator, Anne Picot & Julia Mant (University of Sydney Archives) BOS/TRIM – , and Chris Hurley (Commonwealth Bank) – MS Access, Lyn Milton, (The Fred Hollows Foundation) – Tabularium, Michael Smith, (University of Western Sydney) TRIM, Prue Heath, (SCEGGS Darlinghurst) – Archive Manager and Judith Seeff, (Sydney Theatre Company Archives & Australian Theatre for Young People Archives) – FileMaker Pro

My thoughts in the main after a day immersed and amongst these professionals was how much talent and experience the archival community has to offer in terms of developing a community of practice. There were presentations from archivists working in entirely different contexts. The benefit of this exchange is sometimes just the perspective I suspect, rather than the exact solution to any immediate challenges.

some leading lights in archival practice


Collection Level Description
I raised some questions about what is happening with the Register of Australian Archives and Manuscripts (RAAM) and where the archival community is heading with standardising different levels of description. My theory is that collection level description is where the single most benefit may arise for cross-sector searching. At the moment it seems that the diverse domains in the collecting sector are wrestling with describing collections at item level. My personal view is that the archival community have the head start and are well-practised at describing collection material at various collection levels. This is not to diminish the value of item level description…each description level has a place and value to searchers and researchers alike.

The international (though locally oriented) leading light (for me) as far as offering comprehensive collection level description goes is the Southern Cross Resource Finder that lists collections that hold information useful for studies on Australia and New Zealand. A local leading light for me is also the ANDS project, in particular the Register My Data initiative…more on that another day.


Podcasting open-access and the commons

ABC Radio National is closely following the development of the Creative Commons and how it affects both the creator and the end-user. Future Tense host Anthony Funnell interviewed David Bollier for the show titled The future of the commons. Bollier is an activist and public policy analyst who talks about the premise behind his new book Viral Spiral: How the Commoners Built a Digital Republic of Their Own. For further reading, click on the links at the bottom of the ABC page.

Others may like to watch Bollier on YouTube – there is no shortage of videos to choose from.


Teachers in residence: David Milne

Experienced teachers seconded to the Queensland Museum are developing teaching programs based on its comprehensive natural science collection. QM’s Strategic Learning manager David Milne is the fourth guest writer in our series. He explains how museum curators are working with Senior Project Officers from Education Queensland to develop educational resource kits for the classroom.

Teachers-in-residence (TIRs) are recruited by the Queensland Museum for their expertise in the fields of science and technology, biology, mathematics, early years provision and indigenous studies. Their role is to primarily develop innovative learning resources, including teaching kits and interactive websites. Professional development workshops are held for general teachers and museum staff. Articles are also written for museum, science and cultural journals.

David Milne, Strategic Learning manager, Queensland Museum

Object-based learning underpins many activities. The TIRs contribute ideas to exhibition displays and activities from a learning perspective and also play a key role in promoting the reach and impact of the QM Loans Service. There is a mutually beneficial quid pro quo relationship – Education Queensland benefit by having imaginative, museological-linked learning resources available for use by students in the classroom. The teachers themselves enjoy rich opportunities for professional growth and skill development in a museum setting. QM has its research expertise and collections highlighted for a wider lay audience.

Queensland Museum Web Learning Resources
The advantage of investing time, money and energy in the development of web-based learning resources is clear. They can be accessed by students and lifelong-learners anywhere in the world. A disadvantage of web-based resources is that students cannot directly observe and handle three-dimensional objects. However, we have tried to overcome this by making the resources engaging and interactive. We will be working on bringing some unique museum objects ‘alive’ with spinning 360 degree software later this year.

Most of the web-based learning resources focus on the middle and secondary school science curriculum and highlight the work of our QM biodiversity researchers. Without ‘dumbing down’ the work that science curators are engaged in, the skill of the TIRs is to understand their research and the techniques used, and to present this in a format that fulfils curriculum objectives in a lively and engaging way. The development of these web materials is very much a collaborative process with colleagues from different sections of QM. Curators share their knowledge and expertise; photographers help by taking quality images; and in-house designers help with the look and feel of the site. Some specialist work is outsourced to external providers, such as Flash programming and illustrations, but the TIRs project manage the whole web production process.

The Strategic Learning team welcome widespread use of these web resources and invite feedback to help future products improve. Here are some examples of the QM web learning opportunities available for schools to use throughout Australia.

A: Students can undertake a Virtual Dissection of a Sydney Rock Oyster which has QX disease (a marine pathogen) and discover more about preserving Australia’s valuable aquiculture industry.

B: Middle School Students can learn about the endangered Water Mouse and its daily fight for survival along its tidal habitat by playing an interactive Mouse Maze game.

C: Backyard Explorer provides students with an opportunity to learn how to encourage plants and wildlife to visit their backyards by creating safe and attractive habitats. A suite of three digital stories is accompanied by a downloadable teacher resource booklet full of activities.

D: The QM Strategic Learning team’s most recent web learning resource, launched in July 2009, is called Biodiscovery and the Great Barrier Reef. It is suitable for students studying the environment and marine biology. The resource highlights the work of QM researchers with expertise in corals and sponges. Information is provided on the human impact on the reef and the pharmacological benefits of marine organisms. There are some beautiful photographs of corals taken during research expeditions. An interactive game, glossary and downloadable teachers’ booklet completes the suite.

Please email David Milne if you would like to know more about building relationships between teachers and curators in an online environment.


How to allow CAN to OpenSearch an online collection using an RSS feed

If your collection is set up to be searched on your own website, it can just take one day of coding to prepare for it to be searched from CAN.  Making a collection searchable using OpenSearch has the potential to broaden your exposure significantly when your collection is being searched on an national collection database. The following instructions on how to build an RSS feed can also be downloaded from Sector Resources.

Making an RSS feed that will hook into CAN is very easy to provide if you have a search already working on your website. All that is necessary is the duplication of the page that performs the search on the website and adjusting it so that rather than providing the output of the search results wrapped in HTML the output of the results wraps them in XML instead.

It may be helpful to examine the XML of the feed that the Powerhouse Museum sends to CAN – this is visible here:

Where ‘chair’ is the search term and the start = 1 parameter is the page number (currently set to send 50 at a time, I think). If you do this in Firefox and view the source you can see the structuring of the result set we would be expecting at the CAN end.

Basically each result set has an item with a: “title”, “description”, “link”, and unique “guid” (which are actually the same in the Powerhouse Museum’s case) and then we use an “enclosure” tag to send a thumbnail link (URL).

And that’s it – pretty easy – most people have been able to spend only a day or two getting it going provided they already have a working search.

If CAN Partners are interested in providing more than the four basic pieces of data (title/description/link/unique GUID) + enclosure tag (link to thumbnail) CAN is more than happy to accommodate that data. For example, PictureAustralia has “categories” and “rights” data, and the State Records of NSW has “series” and “agency” data. Ideally CAN is supplied with a list of other metadata tags by the CAN Partner to extend the standard use of OpenSearch. As long as that extra data is supplied in standard XML in the RSS feed, CAN will look incorporating it in its OpenSearch.

Email us if you need any more information.


Trail Blazing: Fiona Hooton

Fiona Hooton is the third guest writer in our series that aims to share knowledge, experience and resources with the CAN community. Fiona talks about the new project Trail Blazing that Picture Australia and The Le@rning Federation have worked on together. It is a suite of slideshow picture trails with education kits that enables school students to explore and learn about Picture Australia’s wonderful collection of images.

Trail blazing is the practice of marking paths with blazes, which follow each other at certain but not necessarily exactly defined distances, and that mark directions. Picture Australia and The Le@rning Federation (TLF) have been working together to create picture trails that blaze a path through the vast tracts of Australia’s visual heritage.

Fiona Hooton, Picture Australia manager

TLF is a federal, Australian and New Zealand Government initiative. Its purpose is to develop online curriculum content for Australian and New Zealand schools and build resources for the upcoming national curriculum. The primary role of Picture Australia is to increase public access to Australian image collections and to build collaborative relationships with other Australian collecting institutions.

Together TLF and Picture Australia have created a suite of slideshow picture trails. These trails provide interpretation of some of the largest and most magnificent picture collections that are contributed to Picture Australia by collecting agencies across the county. These trails place this invaluable primary source material where it is most needed on the computer screens of 13,000 New Zealand and Australian schools. But it isn’t just passive viewing, as students and teachers can draw all over the projected trail images using interactive white boards, working together to plot visual questions and highlight focal points.

The trails have been curated by TLF researcher, Charles Morgan, an education specialist with many years experience. Morgan is President, of the Network of Education Associations of Tasmania (NEAT) and the Tasmanian Association for the Teaching of English (TATE).

Morgan marks out the collective meaning of his curatorial selection with accompanying education value statements. Like blazes, these statements do more than simply reassure the user he or she is on the right track, they signal the imminent twists and jolts that our visual culture provides.

For example, the Advertising in Australia trail clearly reflects the changing nature of Australian society from 1870 until 1954 through our consuming passions. This trail lays bare the subtle and not so subtle messages that graphic artists and advertisers use in their trade to manipulate our buying behaviour. Some of the past techniques used now appear to be exceedingly comical.

Men and women posing for a toothpaste advertisement, Sidney Riley, 1923, State Library of South Australia.

In Cartoons and Caricatures, Morgan has selected the work of some of Australia’s best known cartoonists, to highlight people and issues of interest at different times in Australian history from 1786 to 1950.

The Billy book, Hughes abroad, 50 new drawings, 1916, Sir David Low, 1891-1963, National Library of Australia.

Most of the trails contain thirty images, but some like the Mawson in Antarctica show are expeditions of epic proportions with over fifty images.

Mawson rests at the side of sledge, outward bound on first sledge journey in Adelie Land, 1911-1914, State Library of New South Wales.

Given the importance of conflict in forging our national psyche, Morgan has dedicated five trails to different aspects of Australian wartime experiences. In Scenes from the Second World War all the icons of war photography: Damien Parer, George Silk and Frank Hurley can be found. Their images etch the shocking details of the consequences of war and the atrocious conditions in which Australian soldiers fought. In ‘Scenes from the Western Front’ the preparations for combat, action at the front, conditions in the trenches and the aftermath of different battles are organised in sequence.

Members of the crew of the cruiser HMAS Canberra engaged in live firing practice with 0.50 inch (12.7mm) four barrel machine guns used in a close range anti aircraft role, 1939-1945, Damien Parer, Australian War Memorial.

Picture Australia functions to bring Australian collections together in one cultural database. The Trail Blazing project reveals the importance for researchers of seeing these collections in relationship with one another. Only the juxtapositions between these luminous collections provide the signposts for us to follow the decisive directions our national heritage has taken and to explore why.
These trails are addictive viewing for anyone looking for answers to these questions.

Fiona Hooton
Picture Australia slideshow trails
This article was adapted from an article published in the National Library of Australia’s Gateways – an online journal for the Australian library profession and community.


Family albums become online digital stories

Reading a family album is an interesting way to learn about our past. The tactile nature of the books tell us how people lived and what they valued. Studying the different materials used in making the album from the paper’s colour and texture, how the photographs were printed, and how the photographs were taken in terms of composition right through to how the subject posed.

‘Home and heart at opposite ends of the world’: Artist Emil Lorenz shows a family who found it difficult to settle in Queensland in the 1880s. State Library of Queensland

But what happens when the family album you are looking through is not your family and has no relationship to you? Is the story still interesting? More importantly, how do you read it when you know very little about the subjects and there is no text? Most people are used to looking at their own family albums and they already know the backstory.

Griffith University professor Anna Haebich created a digital story, during her time as the historian in residence at the State Library of Queensland, about two migrant families from the two main settler countries Britain and Germany. Anna knew very little about these families so decided to read the albums as they were texts. She says of the project: ‘I found a good story in each of the albums, but were the stories real or did I just invent them?’.

Anna believes the family albums of the Nicholson and Lorenz families convey very different experiences in the late 1800s. The Nicholson family was a British migrant success story and the making of the album in 1864 has historical significance beyond the narrative as it is believed the images were taken with one of the first cameras in Australia. In contrast, artist Emil Lorenz shows a family who found it difficult to settle in Queensland in the 1880s. Anna describes it as a case where ‘home and heart (are) at opposite ends of the world’.

Anna’s video is just one of the 70 new stories that have been uploaded to Storylines – Q150 digital stories. The library has invited the public to upload their own stories and there is a blog supporting the site. This has been a tremendous success with submissions from high schools, churches, indigenous groups and families. This digital project is part of the Queensland libraries exhibition Queensland Stories which tells stories of people, places, past present. The exhibition runs until December 31 and illustrates the state’s evolution, diversity and innovation since it became an independent state from NSW in 1859.

You can see the albums in the Heritage Collection Reading Room, at the State Library, or in the new virtual exhibition Becoming Queensland on the State Library of Queensland website. It can be searched on the library’s digital catalogue.


Links: a blog directory for librarians

The national and state libraries across the country are producing some excellent blogs that are worth subscribing to. In particular, that National Library of Australia discusses the ‘Michael Jackson Effect’ in its Library labs Blog. It focuses on the same questions discussed in last week’s CAN Outreach Blog about whether the cultural sector should be reacting to international events to attract audiences. The State Library of Queensland engages in an active and dynamic dialogue between its library and exhibition space and its community. The John Oxley Library Blog is very connected with its community, focusing on social history. At Our Table publishes recipes and stories from the people of Queensland. There is a childrens book club and exhibitions blog.

Links: Film star Helen Twelvetrees on an elephant, Taronga Park Zoo, Sydney, 1936-7, photograph by Sam Hood, Flickr Commons/ State Library of NSW

Here is a list of the blogs from their peers around the country
National Library of Australia
State Library of Queensland
State Library of Victoria
State Library of Western Australia
State Library of New South Wales has embarked on their blog sites with limited enthusiasm. A successful exhibition promotion used a blog to promote Andrew Zuckerman’s Wisdom by running a competition for the person who could submit the best ‘words of wisdom’. The entries can still be read online. My favourite is: ‘Wisdom is a measure of how much you know you do not yet know’. Posted by: Austin Caffin, 18 October 2008 12:55.

As an aside, I thought I would publish two wiki library blog directories. Blog Without a Library is an international wiki for public libraries. It breaks down the blogs into categories: academic, public, school, special libraries which includes corporate and government or anything that is not part of the former libraries listed. There is a list of blogs for internal staff communication within a library, library associations and library directors.

There is also the Australian public library blog directory Aussie Library Blogs: Libraries Interact. Many of these blogs have not been updated for a while but it is interesting to see how individual librarians are using Web 2.0 compared with public institutions. While this article focuses on cultural institutions Lorcan Dempsey’s blog is highly regarded and has pride of place on the CAN Outreach Blogroll.


Blowing one’s trumpet and trumpeting success/failure..?

What is trumpeted and valued differs between people, communities and cultures.

No Trumpeting, Please!

No Trumpeting, Please!

CAN is running a survey on outreach to see what kind of outreach activities CAN Partners and collection sector participants want and value. We are learning what outreach has worked, what isn’t seen of value, what will be of value, and sometimes why it is of value. This feedback is very informative and is useful for planning and targeting CAN’s outreach. So how does this relate to trumpets and what does this have to do with a Clint Eastwood movie?




This constructive feedback is critical and I’d like to thank those survey participants for their time in providing it and invite more of you to complete the survey. We want the good, the bad and the ugly… and we’re ok with hearing what you do and don’t want or value… so trumpet away.

Luckily, on occasion there are pluses to these processes of consultation… last week Sarah received some very positive feedback from a practitioner in WA that looks after a private collection, that she followed up because of rich nature of her feedback.

“what I like very much about what you are doing, is the emails you send with links to information that is both educational and interesting. I also like that topics are often about things that I don’t have the time to research, but after reading about, I may decide to utilise at a later stage in my workplace. Thank you and keep up the good work – we’ll be digitised yet!!!”

In effect we in CAN are trumpeting this success by sharing it with you, but also, we are aware that there are many practitioners in the sector that need help getting to the point of making the collections available online. So comments like this… are really helpful reminders of where outreach energies can be targeted and there is still plenty of work to do.

We aim to get out a summary of the feedback at a later stage.


Copyright procedures for managing websites

CAN has links to the Australian Copyright Council’s information sheets on “Websites” and “User generated content & Web 2.0 websites”. The information sheets highlight the basic elements that need to be considered when designing a website. The terms of use need to be clearly marked on your site so the website owner and contributor understand who owns the copyright. The website moderator must continually audit and assess its content. They must keep a record of the source of any text, photos, links, graphics, videos and audio uploaded by the website owner that could infringe on the copyright law. If there is uncertainty, seek legal advice. The Australian Copyright Council is planning a practical guide to User Generated Content, to be published next year. They have an online enquiry system to let them know if there are particular issues that have not been covered on their website.

It must be noted that the dynamic nature of the web means material can easily be removed if there are any complaints. Contributors and web browsers feel reassured if there are clearly marked procedures to make a complaint, including the contact email and address. This can help to diffuse confrontation.

In sector resources, there are valuable links to further research on copyright procedures for websites.


The Archivist Social Club on Flickr

Building communities around special interests is what Flickr excels at. The State Library of South Australia content services librarian Jenny Scott has set up a Flickr social group for archivists around the world. Archivists are encouraged to upload photos of their peers. It could be a photograph of a staff member in the office or the VI European Conference on Archives dinner they went to in Firenze in 2001 or even at the COFSTA residential school in Bungendore in 1999. This means archivists can make contact with someone they had chatted to over coffee but never met again or they can approach a person they admire but have never had the chance to meet. Jenny does not want institutions or archival collections but the people responsible for the wonderful archival work that is done.

From May 30 to June 2 2001 the VI European Conference on Archives was held in Firenze, Italia. The archivist conference dinner was held in the courtyard of the Palazzo Pitti.
VI European Conference on Archives, May 30 to June 2 2001, Firenze, Italia. Conference dinner was held in the courtyard of the Palazzo Pitti. Flickr/Adelaide Archivist

Jenny has criteria Flickr members need to adhere to when uploading their photos: ‘It maybe educational or comic but never rude or illegal and it must be ARCHIVISTS. I know it goes without saying that a good archivist would not add an image without METADATA, not necessarily full DUBLIN CORE but WHO, WHAT, WHERE and WHEN are likely to make your images interesting and CREATIVE COMMONS licensing will make your photos sharable.‘

Members of the Australian Society of Archivists Beer Special Interest Group entertain Eric during the ASA conference in Adelaide, 2003. Flickr/Adelaide Archivist
Members of the Australian Society of Archivists Beer Special Interest Group entertain Eric during the ASA conference in Adelaide, 2003. Flickr/Adelaide Archivist

Like many cultural institutions, the State Library of South Australia has also uploaded its historic photographs to Flickr. Later this year in Brisbane Jenny will discuss the advantages of using Web 2.0 technology to build new audiences and allow the public to add information to the image descriptions at the Australian Society of Archivists Brisbane conference Voyaging Together.

Email Jenny if you would like to know anymore information about using Flickr or the archivist social group.


Key elements to a successful online collection

Daniel Wilksch, Manager, Online Projects, Public Record Office Victoria, spoke at the Collections and the Web conference, on 24 November 2008, at the Melbourne Museum.

Before starting to develop an online collection catalogue, it is a good idea to research how other organisations have approached theirs. The National Library of Australia and the Powerhouse Museum are leading the way in web-based catalogues. They have already considered questions like – What do people want to see? What should the online catalogue do? Developing online collection catalogues can be a large but necessary jump for small institutions.

Online catalogues command a different way of organising information from the traditional library catalogue and provide a wider range of benefits. Beyond being used for insurance purposes, they help people find your collection items – on site and online, offer information about the item, help with enquiries and act as a marketing service. Web 2.0 technologies can be used to start a conversation with the public about a collection, engaging and building audiences. The United States Library of Congress started this form of social networking when they uploaded their historic photographs to the Flickr Commons in early 2008. Using a similar principle, the Public Records Office Victoria has set up a Wiki on their site to build on their collection descriptions.

People in organisations have different needs to the public so the web team needs to separate management information from keywords, descriptions and object photographs the end user may need. Questions to be asked are – Is it just access or information people want? Should the CSV file be made available for download with all of the information about the object. The catalogue software should provide archival information about the item, as well as physical and digital information about the object.

Libraries, archives and museums demand slightly different function of catalogue software. Libraries hold a collection of books and so require subject thesauri and controlled vocabularies. Museum software needs to create lot of information around an item, such as photographs, places to add information, item description rather than just noting the item. Archives lead the user down a path of how to find a search result object so they can be led back into that search result.

Designing your website for people interested in looking at single pages is an effective way of maximising the Google search. People may not want to navigate your website but use Google as their collection search tool so you should try to accommodate both approaches. A library catalogue card is equivalent to a web page and each web page has a URL (address) used to organise and search for information in the catalogue. Try to provide a list of things in the collection so people can organise their own data.

The key elements to a successful online collection are:
*a page for a collection of items that can be clicked through to one page per entity, each object has a registered address,
*if there is a change of software the address should be transferred so links don’t break and gives items permanent place on the web,
*URLs should be descriptive with the object name and catalogue number,
*URLs should be intuitive so people can guess the URL if looking at another item.
*each page should have links back to the content of the item so people can explore the catalogue,
integrate catalogue information into the website,
*consider a system to store the image of object and its description because a catalogue holds the information not the actual entity,
*embed the catalogue in the website and allow the user to return to the same place to start another search so that information is not duplicated on the website.

Email Daniel if you have any questions relating to online collection catalogues.

Related links to online catalogue software
Online public access catalogue

To listen to more talks from the Collections and the Web conference
Collections and the Web, Perth, September 9, 2008
Collections and the Web, Melbourne, November 24 2008


Michael Jackson exhibit turned into a shrine at the Powerhouse Museum

Many people are talking about dynamic and progressive ways of bringing objects to life on the Web. But there is often a disparity between what is happening online and on the floor of the galleries, libraries, archives and museums (GLAM). When visitors come to a cultural institution they often say- ‘I expected a dynamic and energised museum, more like its website’.

The Powerhouse Museum has recognised this issue and has taken steps to be responsive to its community. Within five hours of the announcement of Michael Jackson’s death, the official crew jacket from the ‘Bad’ tour in 1987 was put out on display in the main foyer as a tribute to the “King of Pop”. The monogrammed jacket was donated by the Museum’s staff member Adam Takesce – it was given to him during the ‘Bad’ tour while he worked for CBS records. This was part of the Museum’s display set up in the star’s honour which included a Michael Jackson doll, swap cards, the Thriller album cover and a condolence book for visitors to write messages in. The marketing department sent out a press release attracting instant media attention, from extensive national coverage on the ABC, TV channels 7, 9, and 10 and Peter Cox gave five radio interviews that linked to the forthcoming 80s exhibition. The display has been turned into a shrine by fans who, in just a week, have nearly filled the book with messages and have left flowers and a card. Online supported the Museum exhibit with Erika Dicker’s Object of the Week blog publishing a piece about Jackson.

The Powerhouse Museum’s actions were inspired by ‘agent for change’ Elaine Gurian – author of the book The Blue Ocean Museum. Elaine describes ‘museums as soup kitchens’ that need to serve the needs of their community. She suggested the GLAM sector needs to find a balance between thinking like a media agency (reacting to events in society) and behaving like a social commentator (interpreting these events from a distance). This way people will look up to GLAMs in times of change. They will remain experts. Not through top-down instruction but through facilitation, interpretation and community building. Nina Simon has discussed this idea in further detail on her Museum 2.0 blog.