Archive for May, 2010

An insight into the development of Queensland Museum’s online collection: David Milne

The Queensland Museum’s new website went live on International Museums Day last week. Strategic Learning Manager David Milne explains what was involved in redesigning the Museum’s website and making 40,000 collection items publicly accesible.

QMNew Website

Technical Development
Extensive public consultation was undertaken prior to redesigning the website. The new website is underpinned by Sitecore (a content management system) which will enable new content to be added regularly by curators and other staff in a more flexible way. Vernon Systems is the collection management system which holds extensive records of the cultures and histories objects and geosciences and biodiversity specimens held by the museum. Many former discrete databases have been integrated into Vernon; the public can now view over 40,000 records on-line.

Funnelback is the Queensland government approved search engine that has been chosen to explore the site’s rich content. There will be further refinements to page content metadata to improve its ‘findability’ through Google and other search engines. Our in-house database developer used SQL to create a searchable facility for customers to find and borrow over 5000 objects and kits from QM Loans.
The museum holds an outstanding collection of more than 250,000 photographs that document the natural and cultural heritage of Queensland. Fotoware is being used by QM Publications to document its photograph collection in slide, film and digital formats.

The development of the new website has taken over two years to research, build, test and launch and is testament to the collective efforts of many museum staff and the guidance of key external consultants.

Resolving Development Challenges
Undertaking such a large scale web project effectively requires a combination of vital inputs. These include: a clear vision of the information architecture and the final ‘look and feel’ of the website; adequate resourcing (human and financial) and prior experience and leadership of major web redevelopments. Building good collaborative relationships with external providers, consultants and museum staff enabled clear expectations to be set and met. Integrating the Vernon browser within the Sitecore interface was a technical challenge. Through the collective leadership, experience and skills of the Information Management and Information Technology (IMIT) staff and the web consultants the majority of internal technical issues were resolved through discussion and consensus.

QMCollection On-Line

As other GLAM institutions have found, enabling collections to be viewed on-line is of enormous public benefit – but it does necessitate a substantial institutional investment. Updating, aligning and integrating accession records is a vital activity with numerous database fields and millions of objects and artefacts to check. Once collections can be viewed on-line the public will want to see particular specimens and perhaps add information about some photographs and cultural artefacts. There are resource implications for curators to deal with a tidal wave of public queries and for conservators to prepare objects for research or exhibition viewing.

Collections Online
The new QM Online Collections portal enables visitors to search selected data fields held on the Vernon database for cultural artefacts, historical objects, biological specimens and geological samples.

Virtual access to significant ‘type’ specimens from our biodiversity collections is now possible. These are the original specimens that define the name of a particular species, whether it be a bird, mammal, spider, insect, reptile, fish, sponge or any other creature. Below is an example of a holotype record for Austronibea oedogenys

QMFish Holotype

The website’s new ‘Find out about’ section lets you browse or search for information about animals, insects, spiders, snakes, dinosaurs, rocks, transport, clothing, Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander cultures and more. Queensland Museum scientists and historians have created this section to help answer many of the questions the Museum receives from people every day.

There are many more useful features to browse on the new website. These include: information about visiting each of the Queensland Museum’s four public museums and the Sciencentre. An online shop retails quality publications for adults and children, including the best-selling wild guide and pocket guide series. There are many curriculum-linked learning resources for schools and an online search facility for Queensland schools and community groups to borrow objects and kits from QM Loans.

Technical Providers
Public Consultation: Peak Usability
Web Consultants: Reading Room
Content Management System:Sitecore
Internal Search Engine: Funnelback
Collection Management System: Vernon Systems
Digital Asset Management: Fotoware
Loans database development (in-house): SQL
Content Writers: Queensland Museum Staff

Please email David Milne with any questions.

Happy browsing!


Uncertain future for Kenmore Hospital Museum site, Goulburn


The Goulburn community is deeply concerned about retaining access to the old Kenmore pyschiatric hospital site as they believe one of two buyers is close to signing a contract. The heritage listed complex has played a central role in the community since 1895; hosting art and craft workshops, theatre and musical productions, sporting events — even Donald Bradman has famously played there, and a museum. The site, boasting an amazing array of Victorian buildings, has been up for sale since Longreach Capital Pty Ltd liquidated last year and now there are several keen buyers who, depending on the winning vendor, will take the site in very different directions. There was also controversy when Longreach bought the site in 2003 from the State Government. The story has made it to Canberra’s ABC Stateline and the volunteers are actively building support to maintain community access.

Kenmore Hospital Museum volunteers Leone Morgan and Lorraine Hyde are deeply concerned by the possibility of the rumoured plans by one prospective buyer to turn the site into a gated community. Mrs Hyde says while the Kenmore site is listed on the State Heritage Register, the uncertainty that now surrounds heritage and planning laws could mean that the historical integrity of the Walter Liberty Vernon designed hospital-village could be lost forever. ‘These days a development application appears to have more benefit than a heritage listing. We are very worried there could be bulldozers at midnight,’ she said. They are concerned that if it becomes a nursing home, community access will be slowly phased out by the new owners and they will not be sympathetic to the site’s strong links with the community.

Indigenous Ngambri elder Shane Mortimer has a vision to turn the site into a space for creative and agricultural industries to co-exist and interact. He wants to turn the site into a production space — artist’s studios, performance art and a centre for native plant propagation. So far he has raised four million dollars and just needs one more million to develop a place where Indigenous people around the world can showcase their work. He has set up a trust, AARK (Agriculture Art Residency Kenmore), with an appointed board to manage the property. Mr Mortimer has the majority of the community users’ support.

Collection item: Canvas jacket in good condition (as new). Eyelets down each side with 2 pockets in front, both sleeves sewn into pockets, 81cm long x 58cm wide.

Mrs Hyde started working at the Kenmore Hospital site in 1962 and remembers the site being used for a wide range of high profile sporting activities. Cricket has been played on the grounds every summer for over 100 years. International, National and State hockey teams travelled to Kenmore to play demonstration matches against the local teams. Many other sports played by staff and community included soccer, football, tennis, bowls etc. Weekends were extremely busy as the community came to participate or to watch. She also remembers that Kenmore was seen as a leading carer in the field. ‘In 1938 medical superintendants from around Australia travelled to Kenmore to to observe the experiments in colour therapy, just one of the many different types of treatments introduced over the years. It was also a trial hospital for the introduction of medications in the 1950/60s.’ Part of the Kenmore Hospital Museum collection has been uploaded to CAN’s national collection database.

Please email Lorraine Hyde or Leone Morgan with any form of support.


Geelong Art Gallery online: Veronica Filmer

A $15,000 grant from the Gordon Darling Foundation was enough to enable the Geelong Art Gallery to put its entire collection online last month. Registrar Veronica Filmer and her team at the gallery had been working towards this goal since 2003 when they bought the collection management system KE EMu. But they did not have enough money to take the last step to make it happen. ‘Without the grant we wouldn’t have been able to do it now. It would have been years before we did it,’ Ms Filmer said.

Geelong Art Gallery registrar Veronica Filmer

KE EMu was installed and linked to the Intranet in 2004 but they could not afford to link it to the Internet at that stage. The Gordon Darling grant covered the website design ($3000), an additional KE EMu licence ($5000) and an upgrade to the server so that images could be accessed quickly online ($2000). The remaining $5000 covered photography equipment so that high quality images could be taken of the 5,300 items in the collection. Ms Filmer wanted the website to reflect the calibre of its collection — which includes works by Frederick McCubbin, Arthur Streeton and Eugène von Guérard — so the majority of the items were rephotographed and transparencies rescanned.

The barter, Eugène von Guérard, 1854, courtesy of Geelong Art Gallery

Copyright clearance forms were sent out to 588 artists and estates, 455 were located and 70% responded to the Gallery’s request – all of them delighted to have their works reproduced on the website. While every work in the collection is online, those works that have not been given copyright clearance appear without an image.

Ms Filmer’s next step is to continue the copyright clearance process and put more images online. In the future, she hopes to utilise the narratives function in the KE EMu software, like the National Gallery of Australia and Museum Victoria have started to do. That way she can start to build education kits based on the Geelong Art Gallery collection.

The next round of Gordon Darling Foundation funding closes on May 31. To find out more, email or call Aileen on 03 98203168.


Gordon Darling Foundation makes a remarkable difference to accessibility of art


Small parcels of money from a private purse are making a remarkable difference to the public accessibility of art collections in Australia. In just two years, the Gordon Darling Foundation trustees have given 16 grants to state and regional galleries to put their collections online. The Geelong Art Gallery is the latest organisation to make its collection available on its website and they have worked to an impeccably high standard. An interview with registrar Veronica Filmer will be published on Thursday in the CAN Outreach Blog.

In June 2008, $15,000 grants were given to regional galleries after the trustees saw how overwhelmingly successful they were in helping state galleries put collections online the year before. The regional grants were structured in two parts – an initial $10,000, with a further $5,000 available if the galleries were able to match it. The trustees anticipated this would not only increase the pool of money available for the task, but also make other stakeholders and potential sponsors aware of the importance of putting collections online. All of the galleries were able to take up the extra $5,000 offered.

It has been amazing to see what a significant impact $15,000 can have to a regional gallery. While the grant would not cover the total cost of putting a collection online, it has stimulated the gallery sector to work towards this goal. The funding is offered for three stages of development: cataloguing, documentation, digitisation and online access.

The Gordon Darling Foundation, now in its twentieth year, also supports the Museum Leadership Program (in partnership with Museums Australia) and the Darling Travel Grant program. There are three funding rounds each year with the next round closing on May 31. To find out more, email or call Aileen Ellis on 03 98203168.

This is the list of the 16 state and regional galleries who successfully received grants in 2007-08. If any gallery is applying for a grant, please contact one of these galleries for advice on what is involved.

Regional gallery grant recipients for online access, 2008
Art Gallery of Ballarat
Cairns Regional Gallery
Devonport Regional Gallery
Geelong Art Gallery
Heide Museum of Modern Art
Lismore Regional Gallery
Manly Art Gallery and Museum
Newcastle Regional Gallery

Toowoomba Regional Art Gallery

State gallery grant recipients for online access, 2007
Art Gallery of NSW

Art Gallery of South Australia
Art Gallery of Western Australia
Museum and Art Gallery Northern Territory
National Gallery of Victoria
Queensland Art Gallery
Tasmanian Museum and Art Gallery

Photo courtesy of Flickr / ‘Smil


iPhone app follows 7000 nautical mile flight around Australia

Author and aviator Owen Zupp has almost finished his 7,000 nautical mile flight around Australia. He is traversing the country, visiting some of the most historic locations in aviation history over 18 days. An iPhone app was built to follow the journey. The website There and Now and blog, Twitter and Facebook accounts have kept Mr Zupp connected since he left on May 5. Hayley Dean, at the Australian Aviation Museum (AAM), has been actively helping Mr Zupp raise money for the Royal Flying Doctor Service through the AAM’s social networking channels, including a Facebook group set up for the mission.

‘There and Back’ iPhone app screenshot

It is the centenary of the first powered flight in Australia today. To honour this milestone and the achievements of Sir Lawrence Hargrave, Sir Charles Kingsford Smith and Harry Houdini, Mr Zupp wanted to set himself this challenge in the name of charity.

Owen Zupp, route map, There and Back flight around Australia, May 5 – 23, 2010

The museum sector has been very supportive of Mr Zupp in recognition of his voluntary work he carried out for the Historical Aircraft Restoration Society, (Albion Park Rail, NSW) the AAM (Bankstown, NSW) and Bradman Museum of Cricket (Bowral, NSW). He was awarded an Aviation Press Club award in 2006. Owen’s father, Phillip Zupp made the NSW Air Ambulance Beechcraft Queen Air VH-AMB’s final flight in 1985 from Tamworth to Sydney. It now hangs from the Powerhouse Museum ceiling.

Donations can be made on the There and Back website.

iPhone app ‘There and Back’


Game-based learning in a Floating World: NGV

The Floating World, the National Gallery of Victoria’s (NGV) latest online initiative, has just been recognised as an example of innovation and excellence by the world’s leading authority on emerging technologies in education. The US-based New Media Consortium described the project as an example of how games can be used in learning to achieve exciting results through research, creative thinking and problem-solving. This reflects particularly well on the NGV as the education sector is still a few years away from embracing games as mainstream practice.

Find more videos like this on The Floating World

The NMC’s Horizon Report 2010 identifies game-based learning, multiplayer online games in particular, as having an ‘enormous potential to transform education’. Students have the opportunity to take ownership of the subject matter — deepening their understanding of the syllabus. Other benefits are: collaboration, problem-solving, public speaking, leadership, digital literacy and media-making.

NGV multimedia manager Jean-Pierre Chabrol worked with the gallery’s Asian art curator Wayne Crother, the Department of Education and Early Childhood Development and Multimedia Victoria’s Broadband Innovation Fund to create The Floating World. The NGV’s collection of Japanese woodblock prints were used as the basis for students to build animated digital ‘Stories of Old Japan’.

Teachers are able to share and learn from each other’s experiences on The Floating World Ning that was set up. ‘We wanted to bring part of the collection to the kids to be analysed,’ Mr Chabrol said. ‘They can build, describe, animate, script and add music to make a story. And then they can bookmark and share.’ In 2009, twenty schools in Victoria took part in the drag and drop animation game; involving forty-five teachers and 500 students. The resources have now been made available to teachers across the world.


Social media and online collections in Gippsland: Linda Barraclough

The Stratford Historical Society and Museum and Maffra Sugar Beet Museum join Old Gippstown (Heritage Park) in uploading their collection to CAN. This great achievement is due to the dedication and vision of Linda Barraclough who supports a number of collections in Central Gippsland. Ms Barraclough has developed an online strategy to promote the stories behind the collections through her four blogs and various social media applications.

What is your online strategy to promote the collection?
I come from the craft sector where blogging is very popular. There’s a very strong community of people who look at others’ work and comment on others’ work. It’s a very visual form of blogs, not perhaps like the political blogs that rarely have illustrations. So, I run four blogs — two for Old Gippstown. One is just a general cataloguer’s blog to let people know what we’re up to. One, which is Old Gippstown Object of the Week, which is inspired by the absolutely glorious “Powerhouse Museum Object of the Week” blog, and a a blog for Stratford, and a blog for Maffra.

In what other ways do you promote collection items through social media?
Backing up the blogs, we need to have Flickr pages that actually host our photographs. As part of that, you form groups. One of the groups that we have there is Objects in Australian Museums: Help Needed. We post mystery objects there in the hope that people can identify them. Sometimes it’s quite embarrassing. I posted one of this strange object that I found in the kitchen collection that I couldn’t work out what it was. Someone quite firmly said, “Do you realise that’s a hat pin stand?” There’s others, such as something that was catalogued here as a pasta maker that turned out to be a home shaver for an Edison phonograph but was rather beautiful. We posted that.

On the Maffra blog we just put a photograph up there with three young women in neck to knee bathing costumes. Beside it, we put up the scrawl on the back that we couldn’t quite decipher. I use the RootsWeb email lists a lot. We put it up on the Gippstown list and said, “Look, go and have a look at the scrawl. Go and have a look at the people. Can anyone recognise them?” and we finally decided, yes, this has got to be these two young women. A whole community of interest gets involved in things, and then they go off on a different red herring and bring back more information about them. The family historians are really wonderful for that sort of thing.


Do you find the audience is mainly in Gippsland or do you reach broader Australia?
We’ve got two sorts of audiences, or three sorts of audience to do with each of the different social media streams. RootsWeb, where we use the email, this is a bit like the CAN discussion list. That audience is anyone interested in Gippsland anywhere, so you’ll have people just as interested who are in Queensland, New Zealand, and Canada. The Flickr one is definitely international. People search that one, and you have to be very wise in what words you put in there, because you need to think what people are going to search by. So, if you put up a steam traction engine, you make sure you use that word “steam” and “traction” and people come, using a popular search engine, come streaming in on that.

We’ve been posting on the Old Gippstown blog about our tinsmithing collection that we’re going to have up soon. That would be one of the more searched for terms for our work here.

I’ll get up, and each morning when I check the stats, I’ll find some very obscure European countries, and a lot of Americans, and a few Canadians, Turkey, and Istanbul, and all that sort of thing, have been searching on the term “tinsmithing.” We’ve got an international audience. With the blogs, I can’t really define the audience yet, and it’s still developing. It’s still a growing thing.

Is this a paper clip? Or a Boone spa soda siphon?

What is the benefit of putting your collection on CAN
Within about the first week we had the email on, I opened my mailbox and I found an email from Ingrid that said, “We’ve got your connection up on CAN.” We ran up and down the corridors here screaming and dancing and no one could understand what we were carrying on about. It was the most wonderful thing to be able to turn on our computers here and suddenly see our stuff up there on CAN.

We’ve had a few times when we’ve run up and down the roads out there screaming. One of them was when we reunited a sewing machine with its base and getting the collection up on CAN was one of the others. We’ve only got, I think, 1,600 items up there. It’s a small part of the collection. We’ve got 7,500 objects in the catalog. We’ve had a couple of direct contacts from people who’ve got the same sort of thing, and said, “What can you tell me about my Boones Bar Soda Siphon?” and we’ve said, “Well, not a lot, but what can you tell us about yours?”

It’s got potential to bring in those sorts of relationships. We’re also hoping that people might look at it and say, “Well, that was my grandmother’s, and this is the story behind it.”

We started in 1968 and the recording of objects wasn’t good enough for us to have caught all the stories for everything that comes in. We’re hoping that people are going to see the objects and tell us the stories.

Links to culture in Central Gippsland
Gippsland Heritage Park Blog
Gippsland Heritage Park Cataloguers Blog
Stratford Historical Society and Museum Blog
Maffra Sugar Beet Museum Blog
Old Gippstown Flickr account
Old Gippstown Flickr group – public can upload pictures
Objects in Australian Museums – Help Needed Flickr group
Australasian Heritage Parks Flickr group

Photo at top: Old Gippstown Manager Michael Fozzard and Collection Management and Team Leader Linda Barraclough at the Heritage Park


Collectors: Keepsakes and Mementos

The Collections Council of Australia

The Collections Council of Australia (CCA) closed on 30 April 2010. It seems a fitting moment to reflect upon the nature of collecting and acknowledge the energy, support and intellectual insight Margaret Birtley and her team at the Council brought to the business of collecting in Australia.

Collections Council of Australia (CCA)

The CCA have found two new custodians for four of its major projects: the Department of the Environment, Heritage, Water and the Arts (DEWHA) and The Powerhouse Museum. Significance 2.0 and Australian Collecting Organisations Register (OZCOR) are to be handed over to DEWHA. Collections Law: Legal Issues for Australian Archives, Galleries, Libraries and Museums and SAGE (a.k.a Standards And Guidelines: an E-directory) are to be handed over to the Powerhouse. The CCA website remains up and it has been archived in PANDORA by the National Library of Australia. The CCA versions of these sites will be accessible via the Council’s static website until further notice.


Sector Events – Preservation

In the next two months there are two collecting sector events focusing on preservation – a symposium in Melbourne ‘Between Creation and the Collecting Institutions’ 3 June 2010 and a conference in Sydney ‘Digital Preservation: Ensuring the Longevity of Born-Digital Records’ 12-14 May 2010.

Digital Preservation conference 12-14 May 2010

The symposium in Melbourne focuses on two aspects of art collection: the benefits of keeping collections ‘today’s creations are tomorrow’s heritage’ and that most art is not held in national collections, it is held in private hands and by small associations. The conference Sydney focuses on the ‘how’ of digital records management, looking at approaches, methods and tools. These two events raise the same questions: what is kept?; what is discarded?; who keeps it?; how do they keep it?; who gets access to it?; what it costs to keep it?; and why keep it?. These can be hard questions to ask let alone answer. In the realms of digital preservation it is worth noting a change in directorship from Chris Rusbridge to Kevin Ashley in the Digital Curation Centre in the UK and checking out the news on the Twitter archive recently donated to the Library of Congress recently in the National Digital Information Infrastructure Preservation Program. It is also worth looking at the tools page on the DCC and NDIIPP sites to see just what resources are out there. While the realities of physical collecting are being solved, the realities of virtual collecting remain a challenge.


Putting Collections Online

Last year at the Allsorts Online forum in Adelaide collectors from the arts, media, academy and the GLAM sector were represented as presenters. The presenters talked about their online projects and making collection items available online. Whether these practitioners see themselves primarily as collectors, researchers, broadcasters or publishers of collection information is another debate. The aim of having the discussion was to get those actively and those incidentally in the business of collecting in the same room to share thoughts about what happens when organisations put collections up online. For example, an implicit expectation that a collection is ‘a click away’ is set up in the mind of the searcher or researchers online that seems to be quite different to the reality of of actually accessing a collection. For collections filled with moving image, images and text there is some ready translation into the online world via the computer screen. For artefacts, the representation is mostly 2D with some representations that permit zooming and rotation.


The physical spaces of libraries particularly are changing to enable a space that once housed more physical collection material to house searchers and researchers to access the collection online in the library space (or beyond its walls and anywhere). An historical society might find itself in very different circumstances in that they seek a basic requirement, i.e. a permanent home to store the precious local history collection they’ve gathered up with the help (often) of volunteers. The extent of difference in challenges faced by collecting organisations reflects the wonderfully diverse and the highly practical nature of collecting…the intriguing aspect of collecting lies in the collection items themselves and in the kernel of intent embedded in the rationale for collecting.

Maize kernel


Collection Policy
Archives of data, footage, images, and records and artefact and library collections are often developed as an adjunct the the core business of an organisation. This is why having collection policy is so important to enable the brief for collection management to be identified and guide decision-making. The strategic and operational policies express the rationale and identify constraints which can give direction on how issues on legislation, scope, location, access, preservation, assessment, retention and deaccession can be resolved. An opportunity arises through short term gathering or incidental collecting to make use and enjoy the benefits of artefacts and resources close at hand. At some point an assessment of what to let go and what to keep is needed to be more efficient with managing the collection, to change what is collected or made accessible because of a change in collection focus or governance; or to accept a fate of reduced means or recognise the significance of what is collected and to disperse, dispose, sell, or donate a collection.


The Collection Horizon
Meanwhile, across the Tasman in New Zealand there are moves to integrate the National Library of New Zealand and Archives New Zealand into the Department of Internal Affairs. The strategic intent behind keeping these collections is enshrined in legislation and this forms an important aspect of societal fabric and democracy. One of the key issues raised in this process of integration are the statutory independence of the National Librarian and the Chief Archivist and statutory provisions for the role of a Chief Librarian for the Alexander Turnbull Library. In the light of two reports published recently: Culture is not a Department: The Role of Governance in National Cultural Institutions and A Balancing Act: Balancing the need to Protect Collections and Save the Earth – the horizons seem to be changing in Australia too in the collecting sector.