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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

2 Responses to “Putting collections online: a state of mind”

  1. Robert Huber Says:

    Great! Is KEMU also supporting metadata exchange standards such as SPEKTRUM or museumdat? I was playing with CollectConcept which offers XML formatted data via a OAI interface. In Germany these standards have been used to collect data from various museums by the BAm portal (http://www.bam-portal.de). Do australian museums also plan to do something similar?

  2. ingrid Says:

    Thanks for the comment Robert.

    I would say that most collection system vendors and collecting organisations are interested in supporting standards whether they are description practices and terminology (Spectrum) or harvesting formats (museum.dat or OAI).

    It might be worth having a read of the discussion forum for KEMu users with regard to what’s happening with that collection system.

    CAN is moving towards OAI to enable data (collection, event, Partner etc) to be harvested and repurposed. What and who are behind the development of CollectConcept and how does the system differ from Collectish, CollectiveAccess or eHive?

    On a national level, projects worth taking a moment to look at that are founded on the use of standards are the Australian Research Data Commons Party Infrastructure Project (ARDCPIP) and Research Data Australia.

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