Posts Tagged ‘collections australia network’

Two perspectives on putting collections online

The Collections Australia Network (CAN) takes two approaches to putting collections online. Exporting the entire database into an Excel spreadsheet with images or selecting a minimum of five items to be uploaded. Here are two case studies demonstrating both strategies.

RACHAEL ROSE University of Tasmania Art Collection online
rachael rose
University of Tasmania Fine Art Collection registrar and keeper Rachael Rose has successfully uploaded the entire art collection to CAN. Even though she only has general computer skills, she was able to export the whole collection into an Excel spreadsheet without any difficulty. Rachael approached CAN for a little Outreach support. Now researchers and curators can search the whole university art collection online. Email Rachael Rose if you would like to know more about her experience of preparing the university art collection for CAN.

DAVID HARDHAM Glen Eira Historical Society collection online
David Hardham is an IT professional who volunteers for several historical societies in country Victoria. He has been working with the Glen Eira Historical Society in Victoria to raise the profile of the organisation. His first step was to put the collection online in phases so that the society could assess the impact of going online. One of its greatest concerns was the impact on photo sales but the society was reassured that there would be more likely to be a positive impact on this revenue stream. Email David Hardham if you would like to know more about his experience of preparing the Glen Eira collection for CAN.

How did the organisation upload its collection to CAN?
DH: We selected a sample collection to upload rather than our entire database. We did this to see what the impact would be and the effort required to do this as we have approximately 2000 items that is increasing every week.
RR: Exported 1270 records in the database onto an Excel spreadsheet, then matched images, copied them and sent through on a separate disc.

Does CAN’s metadata suit the organisation’s catalogue fields?
DH: Generally yes.
RR: Yes.

What was the impact on resources in preparing the collection to be uploaded?
DH: The time taken in extracting the information from our existing database and re-formatting to the required metadata structure. Now that we know how to do that, we can tailor our database extract to the same order and fields as the metadata and that will make further extracts a lot easier.
RR: Time- although most of the information was in the database, I discovered that over the years and with different people entering data there were discrepancies, typos, and missing details which all needed to be corrected and then checked. It was a fantastic opportunity to get the database into shape, but took a lot longer than I first anticipated. Also matching up images which could be copied across took some time, as many had to be rescanned or photographed. Until this point the database has only been viewed by the curator managing the collection, and so many of the images were only snapshots for identification purposes. To get better quality images for online use meant a little more time and work, but it was well worth the effort.

What was the biggest challenge in preparing the collection spreadsheet?
DH: CAN can only hold one record per item, we have a number of single entry items that have one or more photographs, so we have to replicate the spreadsheet line so that there is only one photograph per line. An example is that we have a single entry that has over 200 photographs associated with it.
RR: Checking all the information was correct against other records – with so many entries it was fairly time-consuming but it also meant I learnt a lot more about each individual artwork in the collection.

What will be your approach moving forward?
DH: Using the answers from the two questions above as a guide, we will probably upload our data in stages rather then an entire database at once.
RR: Learning how to use social media.

What will be the potential benefits in having the collection on CAN?
DH: Provide access of our collection to a wider audience, especially the photographs we have.
RR: People often enquire about what works we have in the Collection, so it will be helpful having an online presence to refer them to. I hope it will bring the Collection to a wider audience for general appreciation and also to aid researchers and other artists.

To what extent will social media be used to share stories about collection material?
DH: It is an evolving story that will expand as more data is catalogued and recorded and made available. We see it as a key item in making the general public aware of what we have and what we do.
RR: This is not something we use now but certainly an interesting possibility in the future.


Where is the Indigenous cultural material around Australia?: AIATSIS

As the Collections Australia Network (CAN) has travelled around the country offering outreach support, it has found many small organisations are the custodians of Indigenous cultural material. The caretakers are not always sure whether the photographs or objects are culturally sensitive so they have decided not to exhibit them or put them on CAN. This is a respectful approach but there is something else that can be done to make sure the material is safe.

Di Hosking and David Jeffery, AIATSIS
AIATSIS Director of Audiovisual Archives Di Hosking and Collection Unit Manager David Jeffery

The Australian Institute of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Studies (AIATSIS) is developing a national database that identifies where material is around the country for research and preservation. This will help identify the artefacts in need of care and items of national significance. Silverfish could be eating the possum skin cloak wrapped in a blanket under someone’s bed or original photographs could be pinned to a noticeboard in the sun. Both items are being damaged and are irreplacible. AIATSIS is asking all organisations to contact the peak body to let them know what material they have in their collection. AIATSIS can offer resources to help organisations establish what material they have, determine access rights and strategies on how to care for the material. If the item needs care that the organisation is not able to provide, alternative arrangements can be made to loan or donate works to AIATSIS or the National Museum of Australia (NMA). Please email David Jeffrey to start a conversation.


AIATSIS offers a free workshop and manual on how to store, document and record called Keeping History Alive. Group bookings are available and it runs from one to five days depending on the needs. They also offer outreach support when travel costs are paid. Please email Access Unit Manager Tasha Lamb for more information on this course.
Sarah Rhodes


Female factories: Taking freedom from the past

Bonney Djuric sees parallels in the lives of convict women and the recent experiences of wards of the state. The Parramatta Female Factory Precinct housed orphans, convict women, girls at risk and those in need of psychiatric care. As a former Parragirl, Ms Djuric is campaigning for the precinct to be preserved, with hopes to regenerate the neglected buildings into a cultural centre. She is looking to the project manager of the Cascades Female Factory Historic Site Shirley McCarron for guidance and inspiration. Mrs McCarron is responsible for transforming the derelict piece of land in Hobart, Tasmania into a National Heritage Site and has recently submitted an application for World Heritage status.

This video explores the lives of wards of the state and convict women through the eyes of two inspiring women Mrs McCarron and Ms Djuric.

Email Bonney Djuric if you are able to support her dream of making the Parramatta Female Factory Precinct a heritage centre. Please email Tanya Gadiel MP for a copy of the petition to sign for the protection and preservation of the precinct.


Plundering and poaching: Tasmania’s whaling history

Hobart was the biggest whaling port in the southern hemisphere in the 1800s but now is the launch pad for anti-whaling vessels, like the Sea Shepherd and Ady Gill. Maritime Museum of Tasmania curator Rona Hollingsworth worked with the Collections Australia Network (CAN) to make a video about Tasmania’s rich whaling history. While CAN was visiting Hobart to help galleries, libraries, archives and museums put their collections online, it took the opportunity to look at historical collections from a contemporary perspective.

While watching this three minute YouTube video, think about how stories in the news cycle relate to collections. What messages can be explored in a digital story that compare the past with issues in contemporary society?

Please email Sarah Rhodes with any ideas that CAN and its Partners could collaborate on.


Podcasts on museum entry experience

There has been some interest on the can-talk listserv in podcasts on the museum entry experience. We have had a little dig around and come up with a starting point for further investigations in this field, including a YouTube search. When making a list of interesting videos from YouTube, CAN imagined some of the issues the current redevelopment of the Tasmanian Museum and Art Gallery might be considering.

Podcasts and videos on museum entry experience

1. Experienceology
2. Museum Mobile
3. “Innovation in Museum Design” [Redesigning the Louvre and Museum of Modern Art (MOMA)] Part I
“Innovation in Museum Design” [Redesigning the Louvre and Museum of Modern Art (MOMA)] Part II
“Innovation in Museum Design” [Redesigning the Louvre and Museum of Modern Art (MOMA)] Part III”
4. Broad Contemporary Art Museum LA with architect Renzo Piano: YouTube
5. Designing a museum experience: YouTube

CAN Partners also sent through links to resources on how to make podcasts and vodcasts. David Milne, at Queensland Museum, sent through an excellent link to Apple’s Guide to Making a Podcast and tips on how to make them rank highly in searches. Apple also offers a guide to finding your favourite podcast.

Here is the link to a list of museum podcasts CAN published in its Outreach Blog early last year. NSW-based museum consultant Desmond Kennard sent through museum pods 2008 list of top ten podcasts. It also hosts podcasts as an alternative or complement to iTunes.

Sarah Rhodes


Tips+Tricks: Photographing collections

Powerhouse Museum Photography Manager Geoff Friend offers tips+tricks on how to photograph heritage collections. Geoff has worked at the Powerhouse Museum for 26 years and in that time has built a photographic studio that would make any organisation envious. But in this article he offers suggestions on how to make-do with limited resources. It can also be downloaded from Sector Resources on the CAN website.

“Necessity is the mother of all invention” – Thorstein Veblen

Powerhouse Museum Photography Manager Geoff Friend

Ideally images should be taken with a digital SLR as they have better noise processing; which means the pixels do not appear rough when shooting in low light conditions. The digital SLR should have a full-frame sensor. A non-full-frame sensor has a multiplying effect so a 35mm wide-angle lens becomes a 52mm lens.
(Geoff uses a Canon 1DS Mk3 and Canon 5D)

If the budget only allows for a compact camera, it should have at least 10 megapixels to ensure high resolution images. These cameras are good for photographing events and exhibitions for the organisation.
(Geoff uses a Canon G10)

Most digital cameras have video capture which is great for the web.

Use a low ISO (film speed) such as ISO 100 to achieve the finest resolution.

Lighting_setup Lighting set-up to photograph the chair pictured below

The Powerhouse Museum uses professional electronic studio flash equipment – Broncolour floor packs with separate flash heads. The team uses a 1m x 1m softbox with a diffusion screen placed 50cm from the flash head to create a soft yet directional light source.


When using lighting equipment, avoid bare heads pointing at the object. Pulling the light source back from the object reduces the intensity of the light so that the detail is not burnt out. Angle the light so that it picks up the texture and pattern on the object if desired.

When photographing two-dimensional objects, make sure the light source is even. For example, place two lights on either side of the item at 45 degrees. Make sure the plane of the camera lens is perfectly parallel with the object.

If an artwork is behind glass, it is preferable to remove it from the frame. If it is too difficult, then cut a small hole in a piece of black velvet and shoot through the hole.

If the organisation cannot afford sophisticated lighting equipment, then it is a good idea to use natural light with the camera on a tripod. In this case a cable release cord or self-timer function on the camera should be used so there is no camera shake causing blurry photos. Avoid using the tripod’s centre column extension because it is unstable.

Please email Geoff Friend at the Powerhouse Museum for any technical questions.


The experience of building the Virtual Museum of the Pacific: Peter Eklund

Professor Peter Eklund talks about the development of the Virtual Museum of the Pacific – one of the first projects run out of the recently established the Centre for Digital Ecosystems, at the University of Wollongong. He and Peter Goodall built the website using Web 2.0 principles so that people of the Pacific could access their own cultural heritage collected by the Australian Museum since its inception in 1845. In this article, Professor Eklund gives CAN readers an insight into the technical issues that had to be considered and some of the challenges the virtual museum will face in the future.

Late 2006, I pitched the idea of a Virtual Museum of the Pacific to the Australian Museum. I had been working for many years developing a navigation paradigm using concept lattices. My PhD student Jon Ducrou and I had developed and evaluated several prototypes but what we needed was a real collection to work on. Australian Museum Director Frank Howarth and then Deputy Director Les Christidis were keen to do something “experimental” in the Museum and Web space, over and above their existing corporate Web-site efforts that are themselves innovative.

We applied for a University of Wollongong new partnership grant which paid for a DHTML prototype and allowed us to encounter first hand some of the issues that would later become central to the successful development of the Virtual Museum of the Pacific. On the back of this, in the following year 2008, we finally received backing from the Australian Research Council (ARC) for the Virtual Museum project.

I decided that we needed a very experienced hand to manage the project so I hired Peter Goodall who had nearly 30 years experience in the IT industry, Peter had worked in start-ups in Silicon Valley, for IBM in the US and most recently at Objective Corporation. Peter’s job was to work in the Museum on the project using an “insourcing” model of customer engagement. It allowed the Virtual Museum to be owned by the Australian Museum – not driven by outsiders.

An early issue for the Australian Museum (AM) and the research team was what would be in the Virtual Museum? The Pacific collection seemed a good starting point for a number of reasons but the collection was vast, containing nearly 60,000 objects of which only a small subset could be sampled.

Peter and I decided on an early increment that would get the content ball rolling. We proposed to sample 10% of the objects (about 40 objects) before Christmas 2008, we argued that this would be used to measure the overall time cost to the museum for processing 400 pacific objects. It also started the object selection process. The first 40 objects were from diverse locations, made of many different materials and represented a broad range of domestic and cultural objects. This was ideal for navigation using concept lattices. Melanie Van Olffen, our collaborating anthropologist at the Australian Museum, established this selection pattern and it continued to the project conclusion with great success.

Another piece of detective work for the research team involved understanding the corporate taxonomy used by the Australian Museum to classify their collections. The metadata used by the Virtual Museum for navigation and discovery within the collection is imported from the Australian Museum’s collection management system. The current collection management system is the Museum’s third generation of systems computerising its records of the Pacific collection.


To understand the evolution of the Pacific collection’s metadata we give an overview of the typical life cycle of their records. The Australian Museum acquired the objects in its Pacific collection from many sources over 150 years. The process of adding an object to the collection is reasonably uniform and easy to illustrate by example. The ‘fish hook’ was entered into the Australian Museum’s ‘Register of Ethnology’ on September 22, 1971. This entry is the first association of collection metadata with the object, and allocates its registration number. At some later point an index card was created which included the object’s provenance, and more detailed descriptive text, and (on its reverse-side) the object’s physical dimensions.

Later, as objects are added to the content management system, they are further described, and have a simple, practical corporate taxonomy applied to them. The spreadsheet documenting the Museum’s taxonomy presents the ‘organisational warrant’ for the metadata, the normalized way of describing things at the Museum. The Australian Museum’s “Archaeology and Anthropology” taxonomy is two-level, with 27 categories and 709 object types distributed across those categories. The development of the current taxonomy for the cultural and archaeological collections was developed by the Australian Museum’s Stan Florek, as an alternative to large general systems which tend to ‘lose’ objects in their many alternate paths.


From information collected during preparation of an initial 400 objects for the prototype of the Virtual Museum, we estimate that only about 45-50 percent of the objects in the collection have an entry in the electronic collection management system, a common problem with all large historical collections. Nearly all objects need metadata “scrubbing” to bring them up to a uniform exhibition standard.

Scrubbing involves normalising spelling and thesaurus checking, for instance testing whether “mother of pearl” or “pearl shell’ should be used or whether a “dagger” should be a tag or whether “knife” is preferred. The Virtual Museum project revealed that an average of one hour’s effort per object is required for basic metadata entry and scrubbing, and another hour to write an interpretive label (reminiscent of the descriptive card in a museum exhibition case).

So, while the metadata and photography adds enormously to the value of an object for research and Web-based exploration, there is a significant cost involved in establishing an adequate information base for it.

In reality there is very little ‘overhead’ in preparing objects for publishing using the current Virtual Museum infrastructure. Nearly all the museum’s effort goes directly to improving the documentation of the collection – which is its core business. Also, the fact that this improved information can be immediately published to the Web without a lot of intervention by technologists, rather than lying relatively hidden in the collection management system, is a great motivation for the museum staff.


In short, a key finding of the Virtual Museum of the Pacific is that the completeness of the metadata for the Pacific collection is enormously variable and therefore considerable work has to be done by the Museum and its staff beyond that performed by the Virtual Museum developers. We expect that this observation applies equally to other museum collection content and is an important consideration in developing Web-based Virtual Museums.

Peter Eklund


Allsorts Online 09 on the Web

The Collections Australia Network (CAN) has posted six videos from the Allsorts Online 09 Forum in Adelaide for the benefit of those people who were not able to travel the distance. Science communicator Susannah Elliot talks about how cultural institutions can use history to look at contemporary issues. Gavin Artz explains how the arts can benefit from the disruptive digital revolution from the perspective of the Australian Network for Art and Technology (ANAT). Gavin Bannerman offers wild and entertaining stories about a mobile hairdressing salon in Cape York from the State Library’s Q150 digital storytelling project.

The presentations are a snapshot into some of the innovative projects happening in the sector. The panel discussion at the end of the forum was a terrific debate as to where the sector is going. It questioned whether institutions should become broadcasters or whether their role should remain as collectors and preservers of history. This is an issue the National Film and Sound Archive now faces as it relaunches its website Australian Screen Online. Allsorts Online 09 was hosted in collaboration with the State Library of South Australia and the Australian Network for Art and Technology (ANAT). Here are some photos on Flickr of the event. State Library of NSW’s Ellen Forsyth uses Twitter as a note-taking device. The Twitter hashtag for the forum was #Allsorts09.

AusStage: Collective Intelligence and Data Visualisation for Performing Arts eResearch

Dr Jonathan Bollen: Senior Lecturer, School of Humanities, Flinders University
AusStage is the Australian hub for research on live performance, linking researchers in universities, industry and government. It stimulates smart information use, promotes collaboration on innovative methodologies, and integrates access to collections. AusStage is extending its infrastructure to harness collective intelligence, to visualise the knowledge embedded in the AusStage database, and to deliver next-generation tools and services for information analysis, while continuing to populate the database with comprehensive coverage of live performance in Australia.

Jonathan plays a leading role in coordinating research for the AusStage project, with particular interests in data visualisation. He is co-author of Men at Play: Masculinities in Australian Theatre since the 1950s (with Adrian Kiernander and Bruce Parr, Rodopi 2008). His research on gender, sexuality and performance has been published in The Drama Review, Social Semiotics and Australasian Drama Studies.

Disruptive Digital

Gavin Artz, CEO, Australian Network for Arts and Technology (ANAT)
Gavin Artz’s experience in business management ranges from multi-national companies, to not-forprofit community organisations. His diverse background spans arts and commerce – with a BA in Politics; Double Bass and Composition Studies at the Sydney Conservatorium of Music; a Graduate Certificate in Business Management; and he is now completing his MBA. After working as a professional musician for many years, Gavin is currently pursuing creativity in business management with a focus on governance and strategy.

Digital Storytelling: Storylines – Q150 Digital Stories

Gavin Bannerman: Oral History and Digital Storytelling Coordinator, State Library of Queensland
Storylines is the State Library of Queensland’s digital storytelling project to capture the people, places and events that make up Queensland in its 150th year. Hear about the challenges of interviewing aboard moving steam trains, trying to contact travelling hairdressers in Cape York and making the outcomes accessible to the public.

Gavin has commissioned, created, acquired, registered, documented and made accessible oral histories and digital stories that relate to SLQ’s strategic objective of capturing “Queensland Memory.” Gavin is trained as an archivist, receiving a Graduate Diploma in Records Management and Archives from Curtin University. He has been involved with arranging and describing archival material, training cultural organisation staff in image digitisation, and consulting with Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander communities regarding cultural clearance for images in SLQ’s collection.

Open Access: Conquering Copyright

Jessica Coates, Project Manager, Creative Commons Australia and the Creative Commons Clinic, Queensland University of Technology
Navigating the ins and out of copyright law can often be the most costly and difficult part of providing open access to a collection. Jessica will talk about what can and is being done by collecting institutions worldwide to share their collections and engage with audiences in the digital era – legally.

Jessica examines the legal mechanisms that encourage innovation in the creative industries, and promote and track the implementation of the international open content licensing movement, Creative Commons, in Australia. Prior to working for the Clinic, Jessica spent most of the last decade as a copyright and communications policy officer with the Commonwealth Department of Communications, Information Technology and the Arts (DCITA).

Web 2.0 and Social Media: Collections, Flickr and the Media

Jenny Scott, Content Services Librarian, State Library of South Australia
In her presentation Jenny describes the process by which she brought a small private collection to the attention of a nation. The collection of photos and documents that could have easily been lost or discarded over the previous 60 years became the foundation of a Web 2.0 project that gained front page media attention.

Jenny is implementing the State Library’s presence on Flickr. After completing an Associate Diploma in Photography in the early 1980s Jenny operated her own commercial photography business at Port Adelaide. In 1993 she graduated BA in History and Politics from Adelaide University and in 1994 Graduate Diploma in Library and Information Management from the University of South Australia. After three years as an archivist with State Records of South Australia in 2000 she moved to the State Library of South Australia to take up the position of Curator Pictorial Collection.

Building Relationships with Media to Promote Research

Susannah Elliot, CEO Science Media Centre, Adelaide
Mention the word science to a senior editor and you’ll see them shift uncomfortably and look around for an excuse to get away from you. But talk to them about the dust storms in Sydney, why there are more mosquitoes this year, the science of Taser guns or even the bizarre mating habits of redback spiders and you’ll have their interest.

The reason for this is that those outside the realm of science and research still see it as an academic pursuit of little relevance to their daily lives. This talk is about making research the topic of media interest by making it relevant to the current debates and the breaking news with which we’re all consumed.

Susannah works with the news media to inject more evidence-based science into public discourse. Prior to this she spent more than five years in Stockholm, Sweden, as director of communications for the International Geosphere-Biosphere Programme (IGBP), an international network of scientists studying global environmental change. In the 1990s Susannah managed the Centre for Science Communication at UTS, where she helped establish the successful Horizons of Science series of media roundtables and was involved in numerous other initiatives such as Science in the Pub and Science in the Bush.


Seeing the Two Worlds: Dr Joe Gumbula

The University of Sydney Archives has taken a leading role in the research, interpretation and access rights of Indigenous material in Australia. The university’s first Indigenous Research Fellow Yolngu Elder Dr Joseph Gumbula worked with academic Dr Aaron Corn to research photographs taken in the 1920s and 1930s in north-eastern Arnhem Land. The images were taken during the early settlement of the Miliŋinbi (Milingimbi) community by anthropologist William Lloyd Warner in 1927-29 and the missionary T.T. Webb from 1926-1939. Dr Gumbula also looked at records created by Professor AP Elkin and Dr Annie Margaret McArthur of Miliŋinbi (Milingimbi) and Galiwin’ku (Elcho Island).

In this video, Dr Gumbula and University Reference Archivist Julia Mant talk about the Yolngu-led project that was started with an Australian Research Council grant in 2007. It covers how access rights to the university archive collection were determined – categorising the photographs into garma, dhuni and ngarra access groups according to Yolngu way. Dr Gumbula reflects on how the consultation process with the Yolngu elders, whose family are depicted in the images, has had a significant impact on the community. Not only has the project had a profound impact on him personally, but it has created opportunities for a better understanding between the two worlds.

Miliŋinbi (Milingimbi) and Galiwin’ku (Elcho Island), North-Eastern Arnhem Land

The Macleay Museum is currently hosting the exhibition Makarr-garma: Aboriginal Collections from a Yolŋu Perspective. Guest curator Dr Gumbula shares his understanding of Aboriginal artefacts in the Macleay Museum from the Yolngu perspective. The exhibition at the University of Sydney charts the course of a day using objects, artworks and natural history specimens, historical and contemporary photographs, sound and light. It will run until 15 May 2010.

The Gumbula Project team, Julia Mant (far left), Dr Joe Gumbula and Dr Aaron Corn (centre)

Further reading
Matjabala Mali’ Buku-Ruŋanmaram: implications for archives and access in Arnhem Land


PROVcommunity: a social experiment in a digital world

Asa Letourneau set up PROVcommunity for the Public Record Office Victoria just three weeks ago. It is a social networking ning for people to meet and discuss the Victorian archives. It also incorporates the PROV wiki where people can set up a topic or add information to an existing page. Asa works in the Online Access team across a range of initiatives including online exhibitions, social media applications, and website development.

More and more I have been looking at social media and considering how PROV might use these applications to increase public awareness of, and access to Victorian government archives.

To date PROV has experimented with Flickr and a wiki, however, we have not had a place where users and staff can discuss the archives free from the confines of a physical location or the limitations of Web 1.0 functionality. Given that the world of social media is so new (especially to the archives sector) and moving so rapidly, I thought the first thing I would do would be to take a leap of faith and create a PROV ning.

PROVcommunity came into the world three weeks ago and is a trial initiative to explore ways in which PROV can promote understanding of the state archives through community discussion in an online environment. It is a virtual meeting place where researchers can share, discuss and ask questions about the Victorian state archives in a relaxed and welcoming environment. Visitors can add photos and videos, check out the latest news in the archives world and hopefully get to meet some really interesting people!

Having a ning will hopefully allow PROV to not only communicate more intimately with our users, but also give us the opportunity to hear what our users are saying about PROV. What I’m personally really looking forward to is seeing the degree to which PROVcommunity brings people with similar interests together, and furthers their knowledge of the state archives.

I can see the ning providing a whole raft of learning outcomes for both public and staff alike: skills development (creating and using social media), crowd sourcing (evaluating information gaps in data sets), and opening up for public discussion draft initiatives/strategies on a scale that has not been possible before.

One of the best things about creating the ning has been the type of discussions it has already started within PROV itself: How best can we promote and make accessible the archives in a radically changing Web 2.0 environment? How are our users’ expectations changing as they become more familiar with the benefits of social media applications, that is, hyperconnectiviity, shared knowledge, shared power?

We all now have an obligation to tackle these questions in a timely fashion and I’m hoping that PROVcommunity might provide some of the answers and possibly some new questions for us all to think about!


Allsorts09: Collecting sector and media partnerships

Commercialising publicly-owned content. Feeding cultural heritage collections into the news cycle. Profiling the eccentricities of curators. Sharing collections with ABC Online. Cultural collectors as producers and broadcasters. The ideas discussed in the Allsorts Online 09 panel discussion, in Adelaide last week, challenged conventions and offered new perspectives on how the cultural sector operates. Allsorts09 drew on different media, arts and academic practices to start thinking about the future of the collecting sector in new ways. The sector will be able to contribute to Australia’s National Cultural Policy through the Government’s current public consultation process.

Chris Winter (ABC Innovation), Sandra McEwen (Powerhouse Museum) and Angelina Russo (Swinburne University). Photography by Tasmanian Museum and Art Gallery Social Media Co-ordinator Brent Blackburn

Swinburne University academic Angelina Russo opened the discussion on the future of cultural institutions by focusing on the connections between broadcasters and the collecting sector. She suggested the future of the museum will be as publisher and broadcaster. Curators will become commissioning editors. Ms Russo cited four examples where relationships have been built between media organisations and cultural organisations.

*Smithsonian Channel set up with an online television channel with Showtime Networks to capitalise on it extensive collection.
*Who Do You Think You Are? BBC and SBS broadcast archival material into living rooms about the family history of celebrities. This brought amateur genealogists back into the collecting sector as they researched their own histories. Who Do You Think You Are? strengthened the relationship between museums, archives, the offical sponsor and the BBC and SBS.
*Origins of Australian Football website looked at the history of AFL using the State Library of Victoria collection. The library used a major celebrity (AFL) to push content out and then drew on people’s curiosities to bring the audience back in.
*Te Papa and the Colossal Squid. Te Papa filmed the public defrosting of the squid donated to the museum frozen using a web cam. Discovery Channel was invited to make a documentary and TV journalists were also present. Te Papa web team blogged, tweeted answering an active respoionse from the international scientist community. This built strong public interest in the lead-up to the exhibition over the next six months. The exhibition was tied in with public lectures, a children’s programme and an online 3-D game involving building your own squid.

The Allsorts09 panellists were: Susannah Elliot from the Science Media Centre suggested a Sarah Keith (SBS), Ingrid Mason (Collections Australia Network), Sandra McEwen (Powerhouse Museum), Fee Plumley (Australia Council), Angelina Russo (Swinburne University) and Chris Winter (ABC Innovation).

ABC Innovation Manager New Services Chris Winter has been actively working to remove the boundaries between the collecting sector and the national broadcaster. He believes collecting institutions like the Powerhouse Museum and State Library of NSW see the ABC as an attractive platform to showcase its material through projects like Sydney Sidetracks. Mr Winter also looked at the changing way broadcasters present stories. Four Corners, for example, airs its documentary on ABC1 while repackaging it for the web with timelines, maps, edits and behind-the-scenes interviews. These different formats attract different age groups. Ms Russo agreed that broadcasters and the collecting sector are natural partners. They need to support each other but do not necessarily need to collaborate. She also identified republishing and repurposing as the next point of tension.

SBS National Manager Client Solutions Sarah Keith agreed with Mr Winter that broadcasters have become a content delivery business and can no longer afford to look at themselves as producing television and web material separately. SBS focuses on content and audience as an overall brand approach. SBS no longer has a Director of Television and a Director of Online but it has a Director of Content. This wholistic approach operates in the advertising department where the SBS sales team sells across platforms. They look at which audiences SBS needs to connect with and who they want to partner with.

The cultural sector is going through an identity crisis, says Collections Australia Network National Project Manager Ingrid Mason, who believes cultural institutions need to ‘get to grips with what they are actually supposed to be doing’ onsite and online. They should be drawing on skills used in the media, the arts and academia to achieve its core function. The blurring lines between these sectors is a necessary function for success, Ms Mason says.

The role of Web 2.0 in the collecting sector has increasingly significant in the last few years. Creative Commons Clinic Project Manager Jessica Coates remembered only a couple of years ago people were worried that posted comments would undermine a curator’s authority. Now conversation has come a long way. A speaker in the audience articulated the importance of museums positioning themselves as an authorative figure in the education system as students needed trusted sources.

Arts Council Digital Programs Officer Fee Plumley stressed that people find their own trusted sources. ‘We find an aggregator that provides reliable information. We are all experts in something. The didactic approach of only one expert is outmoded. It is great that we all get to be experts in one field,’ Ms Plumely said. She also emphasised that as more people participate in the online environment, traditional sources will be more highly valued. People will want to pay for high resolution photographs as more low resolution photographs are seen on the Internet.

Museums take authority very seriously, says the Powerhouse Museum’s Prinicpal Curator Sandra McEwen. There is a need to maintain boundaries yet museums realise people are learning in different ways and so they need to deliver truth in an entertaining way. The ABC has come to realise the way news has to be delivered is based on social capital. There is tension between social capital and maintaining the brand, says Mr Winter.

Science Media Centre Chief Executive Officer Susannah Elliot’s is wary of the blurring lines and news services maintaining credibility. Lobby groups infiltrating the news broadcast process. Ms Elliot stressed the need to ensure separation between lobby and evidence-based information.

Allsorts Online 09 ended with some exciting possibilties for future partnerships and collaborations with the collecting sector and the media. Both entities need to have a conversation with its audiences and both draw on archives to share and preserve cultural heritage. Web 2.0 has made way for an exciting future and a new way of looking at collections.

Sarah Rhodes

Top image caption: High heeled shoe on tricycle, `Liquorice Allsorts’, designed by Ross Wallace, used in `Parade of Icons’ Sydney 2000 Olympic Games Closing Ceremony, Sydney 2000. Collection: Powerhouse Museum, Sydney. Part of the Sydney 2000 Games Collection. Gift of the New South Wales Government, 2001.


What curators and online producers can learn from journalists in the art of storytelling: Liina Flynn

Liina Flynn works at the Tweed River Regional Museum as a curator and storyteller. She is also a journalist, graphic designer, photographer and IT consultant who has worked within the world of image and text for many years. Liina shares her experience in these range of disciplines with the CAN community.

With so many ways to deliver our messages, we need to rethink how we gather, construct and deliver stories to the world. In addition to the medium of print, the online medium is becoming a standard part of every household, and more people are combining image with text and sound to tell their unique stories and express their views of the world.

Working for a museum made up of three historical societies, I meet a lot of people interested in family histories. Many of the people working at the museum are volunteer researchers who do a great job of tracking down information, but they don’t have the confidence to put the research together into a story for publication, so I’ve attempted to put together some tips on how to think about constructing a story.

As a journalist, when I’m writing news stories, there are some basics that need to be said – what, where, who, why, and when are pretty important, but so is engaging the interest of the reader, watcher or listener. Reporting news is really telling stories about things that happen to people. When telling stories about history and object collections in museums, relating the objects to people and how they used them or were affected by them, will make for a more interesting story.

Choosing what to put in, and what to leave out.
Maybe you want to tell the story of an early pioneer to your area. With a bit of research, you find dates, ages, births and marriages. Telling the facts straight is a bit like eating dry toast – while some people may like it, it’s not appealing to most unless they are really hungry or on a strict diet. You can make the straight facts more interesting by tying in some research about the culture of the area, or other information from the era which relates to the story you want to tell.

If the scope of a story is too long and broad, you’ll need to focus on one part of it in order to keep the story short enough to make your point, without getting bogged down in too many details e.g. If your subject incorporates logging, fishing and road building, you may need to choose one of these aspects only to talk about. Are you making a movie/writing a book or a short story/one minute feature?

What do you write about and what resources do you use?
Start with what you have – photos, research, published books, borrowed images (with permission of course – make sure you give credit to anything you borrow). If you don’t have enough information, you may need to conduct your research in other organisations, or reconsider what you are going to write about. Even if you are pretty sure you think you know something is true, always check that your facts are correct.

Keeping the story interesting
When I’m reading a story, the first thing I’ll do is to read the first sentence or paragraph to see if the subject is interesting to me. Not only do you need to give the reader an idea of what the article will be about if they keep on reading, but you need to make it interesting and make them want to keep on reading past the beginning (and hopefully all the way to the end). Put the most relevant first, least relevant last, or that’s what they tell you. Sometimes it’s about finding the most interesting thing about your subject matter and leading into the story with that.

You don’t need to ‘make it all up’ yourself. Let your resources tell the story. Do your research then let the quotes from your sources, books and interviews deliver the information you want to tell – you don’t have to re-interpret and re-write all your research, you might just need to summarise concepts to link together some of the different ideas in your story as told in quotations.

When writing, use everyday language. Unless your audiences are exclusively specialists in a field, change the words you use to common terms. If a reader understands what you are talking about, they’ll be more likely to read till the end (and that’s the point isn’t it?)

If you are having trouble finding a ‘voice’ in your story, read your script / words aloud. If it doesn’t sound right or ‘flow’, re-write it until it is easier to read and sounds more like a conversational voice.

Don’t be afraid to re-write!
While we want to deliver the facts, the idea is to find some of the more interesting points behind the story you are trying to tell. Sometimes you might start with an idea for the story you want to tell, but the more you research and learn about the subject matter, the more your ideas change. When you find something really interesting, you might want to re-write and change the way your story begins to give this information first – all good writing is re-written, sometimes many times.

Always have other people read over your work – they can tell you if it reads well, is understandable or interesting. Sometimes you can get stuck on how to tell something, and a bit of feedback from someone can help you to get past the hurdle!

Whatever you do, don’t give up – keep researching and make notes of the more interesting points when you find them along with references of where they came from!

For more advice on the art of storytelling, email Liina.


Cancer research – A model for standards: Andrew Rozefelds (TMAG)

Cancer research data is fed into one national database to ensure consistent standards are met. Tasmanian Museum and Art Gallery Collection Manager Andrew Rozefelds asks whether the collecting sector could learn from this model.

Listen to interview

My name is Andrew Rozefelds. I work at the Tasmanian Museum and Art Gallery, and I’m in charge of collections and research at the museum.

My area of responsibility covers all of the collections held at the museum. And this includes science collections, including botany, zoology, and geology. It includes cultural heritage and indigenous cultures, and also the fine art collections as well.

We’re working on the digitisation of data for the OZCAM, which is zoological collections online for Australia. We’re working on the Australian Virtual Herbarium project, which is herbarium-based records online. These both fall into the area of the Atlas of Living Australia project.

At the same time, one of the curators here is working on an electronic e-flora for Tasmania. He finished the first volume of that last year, and is working on a new part of it this year. These family treatments have been published as fascicles electronically, and they’re available to all researchers online and cover about 40 families of Tasmanian plants.

The biodiversity issues involving both herbarium and zoological collections… One of the interesting issues is issues of sensitivity of data. This comes into play when you’re looking at records for endangered species and rare species. You may not want all of that information to be accessible to the public, mainly because some of these species are endangered. And collectors will actually go out and decimate a population in some cases, particularly for some of the rare orchids and things like that.

And also just access to some areas. There’s always a risk of introducing pathogens to those areas as well. This is one of the reasons why they restricted access to the Wollemi Pine community in New South Wales, because they didn’t want to risk bringing pathogens into that area which could perhaps decimate the population.

One of the issues is to decide which data should go on the web and which data can be made accessible. But there are national protocols that they’re working towards, part of the Atlas of Living Australia project.

As people may or may not be aware, cancer is a notifiable disease in Australia. So, all records get collated and information is stored systematically, and there are World Health Organisation codes for recording data about the disease. And state governments around Australia basically collate all their cancer information in a standard template, so they can actually look at where the disease is occurring. They can look for environmental factors and things like that.

It raises interesting issues, because they put in very strict standards as to what data could go in. And all of the data is reviewed in Canberra to ensure that it is actually consistent. And it’s a model that, perhaps, museums could look at, in terms of ensuring – particularly for biodiversity data – that standards are maintained.

In the case of the cancer work, my understanding is that they record information like whether it’s a primary, secondary, or tertiary. They include information about where it was first detected, the organs affected, and the type of cancer. And all of this information goes into a national database.

And I guess, with biodiversity data, it’s the same kind of requirement. We’re trying to basically provide access to a range of stakeholders with accurate, consistent information. So, national standards are definitely needed.


Calling all curators – what does social media mean to you?: Erika Dicker

Powerhouse Museum curator Erika Dicker is preparing a paper to present at the Museums and the Web 2010 on the changing role of the curator. In a very Web 2.0 approach, Erika is crowd-sourcing the content of the presentation by asking the curatorial fraternity to complete an online survey. It will be interesting to hear her findings as the lines are blurring between curators, other museum departments and the general public, so please take the time to share your thoughts.

Erika Dicker’s curator profile portrait, used in her Object of the Week Blog, on the Powerhouse Museum website.

Museums and galleries are very quickly putting their collections online, reaching and interacting with a new audience via the use of social media.

But what does this mean for curators?

Curators have traditionally been knowledge specialists responsible for an institutions collection. But when that collection and information is made widely available via the internet, to be viewed, used, shared, and manipulated, where does that leave us?

Do curators know what social media is? Do we use it? Or are we more likely to throw up our hands and say: “What the hell is this Twitter thing anyway!?”

The up and coming younger generation has been dubbed “generation c”, the ‘c’ standing for content or even curator! This essentially refers to the fact that this generation is one that uses social media to curate their own content, and content of others, such as photo galleries on Flickr, or blog content. This even extends to the numerous museum exhibitions that have been crowd sourced, allowing online users to curate the content for real exhibitions. Where is our place in this new world where everyone has the ability to curate their own content online, and increasingly on the museum floor?

The junction of social media and museums is so often controlled by an institutions web services or IT department, now it’s time to find out what impact it has on curators.

I am currently undertaking a large survey of curators internationally to find out the answer to this very question. This will form part of a paper being presented at the Museums and the Web conference in April, 2010.

So this is your chance to let it be known what you think. Do you use social media? Do you understand it? Do you despise it? Do you love it? And ultimately how do you think it has impacted on your life as a curator?

Complete the survey here and please pass this survey on to your curatorial departments.


Preservation funding: Tamara Lavrencic

Historic Houses Trust of New South Wales Collections Manager Tamara Lavrencic explains what is involved in managing a preservation needs assessment. This recording was made during the Community Heritage Grant awards presentation on November 10. This material can also be found in Sector Resources on the CAN website.

Preservation Needs Assessments (supplementary material)
The goals of a preservation needs assessment are to enable your organisation to identify risks to, and develop a long-term preservation strategy for, the collection. The assessment takes the form of a general survey, i.e., one that looks at the general condition of the collection and the suitability of current storage and exhibition methods and the current storage and exhibition environment as well as other uses for the collection. For community groups, a preservation needs assessment almost always involves calling in a consultant to help you with the technical details.

How to prepare for a preservation needs assessment
The consultant will require background information, which you can collate before you contact them. Prepare for the preservation needs assessment by reading the information sheet on Preservation Needs Assessment, which can be found on the Community Heritage web page.

Other documents useful for the conservation include the original application form submitted for a Community Heritage Grant and the report on significance assessment if you have one.

Choosing the consultant to do the preservation needs assessment
An experienced, qualified conservator should undertake the preservation needs assessment. When you’re selecting a conservator, ask for references from previous clients that they’ve undertaken preservation needs assessments for and where possible, ask to see an example of a report. Check that the conservator carries insurance. The professional body for conservators is the Australian Institute for the Conservation of Cultural Material (or AICCM), Incorporated. You can obtain lists of qualified conservators in each state from the State Divisions or from most State Institutions (Art Galleries, Museums, Archives and Libraries). The AICCM web site provides the contact details for private conservators working in each state and territory.

New graduates of Museum Studies and similar courses generally don’t have enough experience to assess the preservation needs for collections.

Cost estimate
A preservation needs assessment usually involves a conservator carrying out a site visit to assess the environmental conditions and condition of the collection and spending a further 2-3 days collating the information and producing the report. Depending on the size of the collection, it may take 1-2 days to assess the building and collection and will cost around $4000. Travel and accommodation costs will add to the cost if the conservator does not live locally. Ask for a written quote that details the components such as: on-site visit, travel costs, report writing etc.

Briefing the consultant
Ensure that the consultant is aware that the preservation needs assessment is expected to result in a report with an action plan and prioritised recommendations. The Community Heritage Grant Office will provide a template for Preservation Needs Assessment, which follows the outline below. The conservator is required to use the template for the report.

The report should include the following:

Title page
*Name of the organisation
*Title, eg. Preservation Needs Assessment
*Author of report
*Date of report

Table of Contents – Should include page numbers for quick reference

Executive summary
*A brief introduction to the organisational aims/objectives and:
*Up to three key recommendations from the assessment
*Any key issues that will impact on the organisation’s ability to implement the recommendation outlined in the report
*Key recommendations – A summary of the key/major recommendations for further action listed in priority order and cross-referenced to the main body of the report.

Collection Description
*Condition – Includes the types of objects/formats are collected, size of collection, significance, use and alternatives to physical access. Looks at the overall condition of the collection and notes what parts of the collection are in poor condition and most at risk.
*Building – Description of the building type, construction materials and any glaring concerns.
*Environment – Surveys the internal temperature, relative humidity, light and dust levels and assesses whether they pose a risk to the collection. Looks for evidence that the environment is putting the collections at risk.
*Storage – Comments on whether the materials or method of storage pose a risk.
*Display/exhibitions – Provides an outline of the existing exhibitions and display layout of the organisation, including outlying buildings and spaces provided for temporary exhibitions.
*Housekeeping – Examines the cleaning/housekeeping practices used throughout the building and assesses whether they contribute to the long-term care or deterioration of the collection.
*Visitor impact – Assesses the impact that current visitation level has on the wear and tear to any part of the collection and/or building fabric.
*Disaster preparedness – Checks whether there a disaster plan or a list of emergency contacts.
*Training needs – Looks at what training has been given and what is needed for current and future plans.
*Recommendations – Summary of recommendations from above sections, in a prioritised plan of action. Should indicate those that are urgent (need to be done in 12-24 months) and those that are medium to long-term.
* Authorship – Indicates who has written and contributed to the writing of the report, their positions and qualifications.

Finally, make sure that the consultant is happy to take calls if questions arise after the report has been handed over.

Managing the process
If the consultant requires some funding up-front, only make a partial payment. Retain the final payment until you’ve had a chance to read the report and ensure that it meets the requirements outlined above. It’s acceptable to ask the consultant to rephrase a section if you’re not happy with it.

Ensure that the recommendations are realistic for your situation. While the report may well be used to successfully apply for further funding, it still needs to identify projects that your organisation is able to sustain.

The terms preservation, conservation and preventive conservation are interrelated and often used interchangeably. The Australian Institute for the Conservation of Cultural Material (Inc) defines these three terms as follows:
*Conservation: The conservation profession is responsible for the care of cultural material. Conservation activities may include preservation, restoration, examination, documentation, research, advice, treatment, preventive conservation, training and education.
*Preservation: The protection of cultural property through activities that minimise chemical and physical deterioration and damage, and that prevent loss of information. The primary goal of preservation is to prolong the existence of cultural material.
*Preventive conservation: Action taken to retard or prevent deterioration of or damage to cultural material by control of its environment. This is done through the formulation and implementation of policies and procedures for the following: appropriate environmental conditions; handling and maintenance procedures for storage, exhibition, packing, transport and use; integrated pest management; emergency preparedness and response; and reformatting/duplication.

Conservation is usually undertaken by conservators, people trained in the theory and specialised practice of materials conservation. They work in a variety of places such as museums, art galleries, libraries, archives and in private practice.

Preservation and preventive conservation are undertaken by individuals and organisations that collect cultural heritage; historical societies, community groups, museums, art galleries, libraries and members of the public to name but a few.

The Community Heritage Grant program brings conservators and collecting organisations together through funding grants for preservation needs assessments and conservation treatment. Preservation needs assessments (also known as preservation surveys) and significance assessments are the building blocks for preventive conservation. While a significance assessment helps you understand what is important or unique about your object or collection, preservation needs assessments tell you what condition the objects are in and what factors pose risks to the permanence of the collection.

It is preferable to have the report from significance assessment available for the conservator prior to undertaking the preservation needs assessment, as it will help the conservator to determine priorities and levels of conservation and preservation treatments.

The assessment involves a visit by the conservator to look at the building structure and assess its ability to protect the collection. The conservator also examines the collection for signs of damage, and assesses whether the damage is the result of the nature of the materials used in construction of the objects, environmental factors (temperature, humidity, light levels etc), handling or a combination of factors. For more information on the signs or indicators of damage, visit the AICCM visual glossary

A preservation needs assessment:
*Evaluates the organisation’s policies, practices and conditions that affect the preservation of its collections,
*Assesses the general condition of the collections and how to preserve the collections long-term, and
*Identifies specific preservation needs and prioritises recommended actions to meet those needs.

Together with significance assessment, the preservation needs assessment report provides the information necessary to form a preservation or preventive conservation plan, which may include the following actions:
*Stabilise or upgrade the storage and/or display environment, including building repairs, relocation of sensitive materials, reducing light levels, controlling relative humidity.
*Rehouse parts of the collection in enclosures that will help preserve them.
*Reformat unstable formats such as nitrate film, acetate film, videotapes, cassettes and newsprint. Reformatting may involve microfilming, digitisation or photocopying records that are in an advanced stage of deterioration.
*Conservation treatment of significant, and at risk, items from the collection.
*Develop procedures and policies, including those on disaster prevention and response, preservation and collections management.

Tamara Lavrencic
Collections Manager
The Mint, 10 Macquarie St, Sydney NSW 2000
t. 02 8239 2360 | f. 02 8239 2444 |