Archive for April, 2010

Benchmarking digital repositories: Chloe Brookes-Kenworthy

Chloe Brookes-Kenworthy wants to set a benchmark for good practice in digital repositories. To do this she is asking all collecting agencies across the country to complete an online survey on their practices. The Edith Cowan University research student also works as the assistant archivist (metropolitan), at the Lands and Property Management Authority, in Sydney.

‘I want to determine what good practices exist in digital repositories in cultural heritage. I want to establish if there are any agencies that have fully considered making their repository ‘trustworthy’, according to TRAC – the Trustworthy Repositories Audit and Certification: Criteria and Checklist,’ Ms Brookes-Kenworthy said. She selected TRAC for its comprehensiveness and potential to evolve into an industry standard.

Ms Brookes-Kenworthy believes that if people are aware of an industry benchmark when building a digital repository, they will have the capacity to expand. Not everyone wants to be a trusted repository as they have different commitments and requirements but it is important to have the option to extend practices and services in the future.

The results of individual agencies who complete the survey will remain confidential. Ms Brookes-Kenworthy is aware that people’s expectations of their results could be artificially low as many people are working alone and feel they are not doing a very good job when quite often the opposite is true.

Opt-in invitations are being sent to list servs and all managers of digital repositories are encouraged to respond. Email Chloe Brookes-Kenworthy if you would like her to send you the opt-in email. You can also complete the survey over the phone as an alternative to online.


Putting collections online: a state of mind

Baseline is a perfect example of what an organisation can do when there are a few staff members who are passionate about making collections available online. The Land and Property Management Authority (LPMA) launched its beautifully designed online database last week. The LPMA, like the Western Plains Cultural Centre, Manly Regional Art Gallery and Mundaring Shire Art Gallery have overcome any potential obstacles, like staff and budget shortages, to make their collections available in stages.

Nicola Forbes and Susan Kennedy built the LPMA online collection website Baseline in just one year

As soon as Corporate Records and Information Services Manager Nicola Forbes started at the LPMA in 2007, she wanted to make the photographs, surveys, maps and land grants, sales and auction posters and survey drafting equipment available to regional audiences through an online database and virtual exhibitions. It was also a good opportunity to start cataloguing the collection – one that had grown by virtue of being one of Australia’s first government agencies.

Auction Poster for Sir Joseph Bank’s Estate, Botany, 1921

Within months of working in the beautiful Lands building on College Street in Sydney, Ms Forbes found the first land grant New South Wales’ first governor Lachlan Macquarie issued stored in the chemical cupboard for ’safekeeping’. It was a major find as it was signed on the day Governor Macquarie stepped off the boat – researchers had always believed he started issuing the grants the following day.

Ms Forbes is extremely proud of Baseline. When asked how it came about, she says: ‘It was an act of love because we really wanted to do it. My two staff did it in their spare time’. As soon as the project was approved in principle, she hired Susan Kennedy and together they drafted a project brief. Then they bought collection management system KE EMU, a digital camera and Adobe Creative Suite – a software package used to build websites. Ms Kennedy designed the site in accordance with the State Government’s CSS guidelines.

Mullumbimby Soldiers’ Settlement Estate

It became a very organic process. They had to work backwards. First building the website. Second, methodically adding artefacts to EMU. ‘We don’t know what we have so it is like being a bower bird,’ Ms Kennedy said. The team enter significant items into the CMS as they come across them, realising it will take years to complete. Narratives have always been an important part of the website for Ms Forbes and so she has designed a section on baseline for virtual exhibitions when they come across interesting collection of material, like the soldier settlement images.

Ms Forbes and Ms Kennedy gave themselves a one year deadline to launch the site in time for the exhibition on Governor Macquarie, 1810: Expanding Sydney, at the Museum of Sydney and last week’s FIG Congress in Sydney. The secret to these impressive young women’s success has been to use their skills and resources to build the site in-house. Of course, this meant working on weekends in the last few months to achieve their goal.


Repatriation and collections online

Should cultural institutions be primary caretakers or should families be encouraged to look after their own heritage. Is a museum or archive’s role to collect unique material for the benefit of society or should private collectors share the expense of the storage and conservation. The Sisters of Mercy West Perth, in Western Australia, has recently faced this very quandry which resulted in the photographic album being returned to the family. Before repatriation, the images were digitised and put online through the Collections Australia Network (CAN).

GirlposingPortrait of student of St Brigid’s College, Perth, Layfayette Studios, c1934

Annie Medley found a beautiful black album in the Sisters of Mercy West Perth archives, its pages filled with silver gelatin prints of convent school life at St Brigid’s Lesmurdie. The album belonged to student Betty Phillips who, after caring for it for 70 years, decided to donate it to the archives with the belief that her family would not care for it. But in 2009, Mrs Phillips’ children asked for the book to be returned to the family. The sisters honoured this request but it has been a great loss to the archive collection. Ms Medley, a congregation archivist at the Sisters of Mercy, started researching the history of the book and its carefully composed images made by Layfayette Studio in the 1930s.

These investigations have raised questions such as – Could the album have been used to advertise the school to prospective students and their parents or was it made specifically for Betty Phillips? What is unusual about the album, she says, is that it is the only one known to exist. She encourages anyone to come forward who knows of another example of this documentation from the between the war period.

As soon as the family asked for the album to be returned, Ms Medley worked hard to produce high quality scans of the photographs and photographed the album before repatriating the unique material. This week the Collections Australia Network (CAN) put the photographs online so that this remarkable record of lifestyle in a 1930s convent can be accessed by other students and the Sisters of Mercy across the world.
Interior of boarders bedroom of St Brigid’s College Lesmurdie. Layfayette Studios, c1934.


Sourcing Skint! online: Annie Campbell

Skint! Making do in the Great Depression is a new exhibition that is now on display at the Museum of Sydney – a topical exhibition given the recent economic downturn. ABC Stateline has put a short video on YouTube with historic footage and photographs and an interview with this week’s guest writer, Historic Houses Trust curator Annie Campbell. Ms Campbell sourced much of the exhibition from online collections. ‘Without those online collections, the job of curator would be very laborious.’ The National Quilt Register, in particular, and the National Library of Australia (NLA) offered rich content online.

While the stock market crash of 1929 spawned a decade of high unemployment, poverty, low wages and lost opportunities, it was also a remarkable time for resourcefulness and resilience. Today we can learn a lot from the men, women and children who made it through the Great Depression.

Despite the ongoing hardship, the Great Depression encouraged a culture of ‘making do’ and ingenuity. Old clothes and linen were darned and patched and existing items ingeniously put to other uses. In the exhibition we showcase some surprising examples of this make-do mindset of the 1930s, including colourful wagga rugs (actually quilts) and rag rugs, hand sewn aprons made from hessian sugar bags, a cake tin made from a kerosene tin, furniture made from wooden packing crates, and children’s makeshift toys. The enterprising jobless also devised novel ways of earning money and began referring to themselves as ‘self-employed’. They made and decorated goods using any material at their disposal. Included are pincushions made out of jam tins, flowerpots made out of kerosene tins and clothes pegs made out of fencing wire, which were sold door to door. Surprisingly, some of these items are still used today.

skint‘Block boys at St Peters’ (detail), Sam Hood, 22 April 1935, Courtesy of Mitchell Library, State Library of New South Wales

Waste not, want not – this is a valuable point of the exhibition considering our contemporary mass consumer driven society. We can adopt make-do principles of our own, particularly in light of our growing environmental awareness. More importantly, in the exhibition visitors can explore then and now comparisons and discover the differences and similarities we all share today. The fear of unemployment or paying the mortgage or rent are not solely concerns experienced during the Great Depression. Some people are facing similar hardships today.

Notes from the exhibition feedback will be uploaded onto the HHT website

To focus solely on despair, despondency, politics and the economics of the Great Depression would only tell half of the story. How did these people overcome adversity and triumph? The objects on display convey the people’s stories of survival, optimism, creativity and ingenuity while a film commissioned for the exhibition allows the ‘bread and dripping kids’ to speak for themselves. They are stories that will no doubt touch and affect every visitor to the exhibition and maybe even encourage some of us to ‘make-do’.


Regional gallery puts collection online: Western Plains Cultural Centre

The Western Plains Cultural Centre (WPCC) is one of Australia’s first regional galleries to make its collection available online. Collections Officer Jessica Moore started her role at the centre managing the merging of two separate museum and gallery collections to make up 3500 objects with little to no documentation.

Over the last year, she has catalogued and written small significant assessments for 88 artworks and 30 museum items while also running a deaccessioning program. Her strategy has been to select the most significant works first to go online, with some 1000 items online at the end of the project. Ms Moore is currently aiming to uploading four objects a day, with plans to put the whole collection online by June 2012. The website has been designed with an education bent with a video conferencing program at the facility complementing the online collection, specifically catering to the Department of Distance Education needs.

GaryHeeryGary HEERY (b.1950), Chapman’s Zebra (Equua burchelli chapmani), 1996, Gelatin silver photographic print on paper, Animal in Art Collection/Dubbo Regional Gallery, (c) Gary Heery, (c) photographed by Greg Piper

It took one year for the WPCC to research, buy and install the collection management system Vernon. “We were fortunate that the people from Vernon could come in and offer technical support but I still had to teach myself,” Ms Moore said. “It was at times a frustrating process, mainly convincing the council the legitimacy of the project and that it wouldn’t cause a security breach.”

Vernon is commonly used by large and medium-sized galleries. Ms Moore suggests that this could be attributed to an excellent image management technical support.

Mundaring Arts Centre in Perth also has its collection online. If any other regional or city galleries have their collection online, please email the Collections Australia Network (CAN).

For advice on how to start planning to put a regional gallery’s collection online, please email CAN or Jessica Moore at the WPCC.


A museum without a collection: National Automobile Museum of Tasmania

Imagine a museum without a collection or a conservation department. A museum that does not require a storage facility and has the luxury of being able to change its exhibitions every three months. A not-for-profit heritage organisation that financially is self-supporting. When curating its temporary exhibitions, the National Automobile Museum of Tasmania (NAMT) treats its network of car enthusiasts as its collection, inviting car clubs to lend their cars and motorbikes.

Ford1928 A Model Ford (owned by Tasmanian bushwalker and photographer Frederick Smithies O.B.E 1885-1979)

Museum manager Phil Costello also relies on car enthusiasts who offer their treasures after visiting the museum. One Sydney man was visiting the Museum while on a driving holiday around Tasmania in his 1982 De Tomaso Pantera GTS and decided to offer his sports car as a short-term loan in the permanent display of 50 cars and 50 bikes. Within a few months, he decided to sell it through the museum. It is one of a few exhibits for sale where the Museum will take 2.5% commission.

Police1929 Harley Davidson J Model used as a New York Police Department vehicle

The Automobile Museum owes much of its financial success to merchandise sales in the shop. It has grown so much that a motorbike has replaced the display car and now there are plans to build a glass showroom to the west of the building and expand the shop presence. NAMT also relies on the admission fee and modest private donations. The only Government funding the Museum receives is the use of the building from the Launceston City Council.

This is an interesting example of how a museum can operate commercially and raises the question of the importance of holding a collection. For more information on how a museum likes this works, email Phil Costello.

BrockRichards1977 A9X Torana Hatchback

Temporary exhibitions in 2010
April – June: The Swinging Sixties
July – September: The Art of the Coach Builder
October – December: American Independence

VW1964 Volkswagen Samba featured in the Swinging Sixties exhibition