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

One Response to “Key elements to a successful online collection”

  1. Hubsert Says:

    A good opportunity to get familiar with object documentation and standards is playing with: CollectConcept, a free online collection management system which supports many museum standard and offers a OAI-PMH interface for metadata exchange.

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