This April I was in Dublin for a few days, speaking at Collective Imagination 2019, the conference for users of TMS museum collection management software. This is a brief post about the conference and my lecture, and a visit to the Dublin Museum of Natural History.
We’re coming up to the autumn conference season, and once again I’ll be going to the annual conference of CIDOC, the international committee for documentation that forms part of ICOM, the International Council of Museums – this year it’s in Heraklion, in Crete. Before the conference proper, I’ll be running a workshop on Sunday 30 September, along with colleagues from CIDOC’s Documentation Standards Working Group, for developers of digital collections management systems, focussed on the development of ‘EODEM’, an Exhibition Object Digital Exchange Mechanism.
We plan to kick off the development of a mechanism that lets users of different collections management systems share as easily as possible the information about their objects, and those objects’ requirements, that is needed when objects are lent from one institution to another. The lender should be able to just press a button to share the data, and the borrower just press another to import it into their system. This would eliminate a huge amount of the retyping that goes on when different museums exchange information about objects that they are lending and borrowing.
First, though, we need to identify the information that museums need to share. We’ll base the core information that identifies and describes the objects themselves on an existing standard, Object ID; but we need to know what information museums needs to share about borrowed objects’ requirements.
And here’s where I hope you can help us: the easiest way to do this will be for us to look at the information different museums request when they borrow objects. This is often requested using a ‘loan object information request form’, which the lending museum is asked to fill in for each object, giving its environmental needs, minimum security levels, etc. We’d like you to send us a copy of your museum’s ‘loan object information request form’ (blank, of course: we really don’t need sensitive individual object information, just the empty form so we can understand what you need to know). Drop me a line in the comments box at the foot of this page, and I’ll email you an address you can send the form to.
Once we have the forms, my colleagues and I will collate them all, draw up a list of the different pieces of information museums are asking for, and pass it to the system developers to incorporate into EODEM.
If all goes according to plan, future generations of registrars, exhibition organisers, and documentation staff will be forever in your debt!
I’ve just (well, the month before last – but in terms of my writing on this site, that counts as ‘just’) got back from Tbilisi, the capital of Georgia, where I was attending the 2017 annual conference of CIDOC, the international organisation for those working in museum documentation.1 As well as a fascinating range of papers from many countries, visits to Georgian museums (and opportunities to sample Georgian wines), I facilitated a couple of sessions dedicated to the CIDOC Documentation Standards Working Group (DSWG)’s Encyclopaedia of Museum Practice – ably helped by my co-facilitators, Maija Ekosaari and Jan Behrendt, and filling in for the DSWG’s co-chair, Jonathan Whitson Cloud.
I’ve been keeping quiet about what I’ve been doing since starting work as Collection Information Manager at the National Gallery in February last year: much has been routine, and I was still planning the more ambitious part of my work, the Gallery’s Collection Information Project. But the project is now underway, with a project manager and data wrangler both now at work.
However, rather than post something here, I’ve taken the opportunity of an invitation to write a piece for the blog that has just been set up by CIDOC, the international organisation for museum documentation, to describe the problems that we face at the Gallery, and how the Collection Information Project plans to solve them. You can read it here.
Every now and again, a cry of anguish from appears on Twitter from Mark Carnall, Life Collections Manager at Oxford University Museum of Natural History, labelled with the #MuseumDocumentation hashtag. This is hardly surprising: like most of us who work in documentation, particularly those dealing with collections which have built up over a period of time, Mark often has to deal with multiple object records of variable quality.
Last Friday, he decided to live tweet a day spent cleaning reptile records in multiple databases (as he points out, one of these was a Word document, which really does stretch the definition of ‘databases’). Because this gives a nice insight into the kinds of problems that many of us face at regular intervals, I’ve Storifyed his tweets for posterity; you can read them here. As you will see, in addition to the usual difficulties caused by a collection’s documentation ‘evolving’ over time, natural history collections seem to suffer from some particular problems of their own – including the (to me) surprisingly fluid nature of many scientific names.
July was a busy month – so busy, that I’ve only now finished writing up notes from the five different conferences, workshops and meetings that I attended in just over three weeks. But why spend so much time out of the office? Continue reading One month, five events
In preparation for a short talk which I’ll be delivering with Angela Kipp of the Registrar Trek blog at one of the CIDOC strands at the ICOM 2016 conference in Milan, I’ve been looking at how the #MuseumDocumentation Twitter hashtag has been doing, using a snapshot of the last nine days provided by TweetReach. I’ve Storified the top tweets and contributors, and you can see the results here.
Recognise yourself amongst the top tweets or contributors?
The whole talk is available elsewhere on this site, albeit rather buried, because I’ve treated it as a publication rather than a post – fair enough, given that it’s a few thousand words long. But I thought a quick summary might be interesting for those of you who don’t want to read the whole thing. Continue reading Reviewing your collections?
My colleagues who work in museum documentation have rightly been indignant about an article published by the Daily Telegraph yesterday, under the attention-seeking headline ‘Half of world’s museum specimens are wrongly labelled’.1 Continue reading Why half the world’s museum specimens are wrongly labelled
- Sarah Knapton, ‘Half of world’s museum specimens are wrongly labelled, Oxford University finds’, The Telegraph (published online 17 November 2015) <http://www.telegraph.co.uk/news/science/science-news/11998634/Half-of-worlds-museum-specimens-are-wrongly-labelled-Oxford-University-finds.html> accessed 17 September 2015. [↩]
I was flattered to receive an email a few months ago from Nick Poole, at that point still the Chief Executive of Collections Trust, asking me to speak at the Trust’s forthcoming annual conference. Nick suggested that I might ‘take a look at where we are today with documentation, which challenges have been solved and which are still to be addressed’ – all in twenty minutes! Those of you that know me will also realise that this isn’t really the way I work: I prefer to start with the detail and work outwards from that, rather than beginning with grand abstractions about the bigger picture. But after a quick exchange of emails, Nick and I agreed a subject, and I gave my lecture at the Collections Trust 2015 conference at the Natural History Museum a few weeks ago.