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.
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.
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.
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
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.
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.