World of Open Source: David Hickling

Artbank’s Digital Officer David Hickling talks through the simple steps of putting your collection online. Our guest writer brings clarity to what previously seemed to be a daunting task.

OK, so you’ve managed to research and plan your digitising project. Not only that but you actually had your budget approved, well some of it, and then you managed either to find someone to actually do it or you probably did it yourself. So how can you get your collection online so people can see it?

Artbank uses a Collection Management System from KE Software – EMu. It is a very good system but probably outside the budget of smaller organisations.

EMu (Electronic Museum) has an inbuilt web-based search tool. It has generic search and display pages which can be redesigned to suit the look of your organisation. This requires some knowledge of (x)html and CSS to get the look to match your branding. Its programming language is PHP so if you want to change search terms you would also need to know some PHP code. It is handy to use as an intranet but it of course still requires a web server to make it public. This can cause problems with security if, like Artbank, you are connected to a large network. Artbank is a program of the Australian Government Department of Environment, Water, Heritage and the Arts. Understandably, the Department is a bit particular about who has access to the network so the web server must be separate to the network and needs to be placed in what is known (in IT speak) as a De-militarized Zone. Sounds scary…

For smaller organisations there are easier and much cheaper options. Enter the world of Open Source. You might have heard of the operating system Linux or the web browser Mozilla Firefox. These are both Open Source and free to use. There is a difference. Free Software and Open Source are parallel concepts. Open Source is usually but not necessarily free.

Take advantage of Open Source software. Many Open Source products have matured into great, stable options. Good examples of free software which can be used to get your collection online are the website Content Management System – Joomla! (yes, unfortunately it has an exclamation mark) and the blogging tool – Wordpress – which can also be used as a CMS. Most, if not all organisations already have a website but it might be useful, if you are not the web manager or designer, to demystify the process a little.

To get a website up and running inexpensively from scratch there are three steps.
1) You need a domain name e.g.
You probably already have one registered. It should cost no more than AU$50 for two years registration for a or a .org domain name. If you are paying more than this then it’s time to look around for a new registrant.
2) A website hosting company
There are some very good companies which provide unlimited bandwidth and unlimited space and a good control panel from which you can add databases, configure email, see your files etc.
You should be able to get all this for around AU$120 for a shared server. Again, if they charge much more than this and it’s time to shop around. If you needed a dedicated server – which might be more secure, you would pay something like AU$500-$1000. You could then configure the server as you wanted, although a good company will have the servers up to date with the most recent versions of MySQL, PHP etc.
3) A website!
As mentioned if you need or prefer a blog style site then a good Open Source option is Wordpress. It can be easily configured and is easily extended with plugins.

If you need a complete Content Management System for Free then use Joomla!. This has reached a stable and mature stage and it too is complemented by extra components such as image galleries, newsletter components, calendars etcetera. One component for Joomla! which would be useful for displaying images is an photo gallery called MorfeoShow. It has a function where you can upload a number of images at once and it has numerous options for configuring the way images are displayed.

Just to note it is possible to run more than one system on the same web hosting account – sometimes it might be a good idea to use, say, your current website for your main site and use specialist types of web software for particular purposes e.g. Wordpress for blogging or user generated content. The designs – “look and feel” – can made identical so the different sites can be seamlessly integrated.

Open Source software can be an agile and inexpensive option to showcase your hard won images to the world.

For more information on building your own inexpensive collection management system, email David Hickling at Artbank.

2 Responses to “World of Open Source: David Hickling”

  1. Paul Rowe Says:

    Our web-based collections management system eHive ( has a front end based on the Joomla content management system. It’s a hosted solution, so you don’t need to find a hosting company and the software is already set up for.
    The New Zealand equivalent to CAN, NZMuseums, is built on top of eHive. Each museum has their own secure account where they can catalogue and manage their collection and optionally publish records and images to the general public.
    We’re working on an instant museum website which will allow you catalogue or import data into eHive and then present the collection information with other static content (opening hours, location, current exhibition details etc) within a branded museum site.
    eHive is free for the first 5,000 text records. Paid accounts are based on storage costs and cover the ongoing development and maintenance of the eHive product and servers.

  2. Rew Whittington Says:

    I have to agree with David that the world of Open Source can provide a wealth of useful tools at low cost and sometimes completely free. But beware of the “free lunch” syndrome. Bear in mind that professional after sales service & support is as important as getting the right tool for the job. We have acquired some great Open Source tools over the years and still use some today, such as the “TNGen” Thumbnail Generator (by Stefan Huber ) and “PrimoPDF” PDF Creator (by Nitro PDF ). Some do come with good support, but we look beyond the price and the functionality, to check out the longer-term usability and ongoing “costs”.
    On the other hand, if you have a budget, albeit a small one, check out “Collections MOSAiC Plus” (by IST ). MOSAiC has several ways of feeding the internet, including a means of generating data that goes on to the CAN website.
    Although MOSAiC is paid-for software, it is very low cost and I.S. Technology (the authors) have aimed their application at grass-roots Collections Managers who just want to use the computer as a tool, without having to get technical. Even non-computer-savvy part-time staff have found it easy to get on with. IST also provide free, professional support for the lifetime of the product. They have been known to sort out problems that weren’t even anything to do with their software! (And they even call you back).
    They are a family business and very approachable – I’d suggest calling Sally-Anne on (08) 9592 3149 or Emailing her ( ).
    Alternatively, talk to one of the hundreds of Mosaic users.

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