I recently travelled to Western Australia and South Australia to visit sites participating in the Museum Metadata Exchange project.
I started the trip in Perth and spent Tuesday 2 November 2010 at the Western Australian Museum’s Collections and Research Facility in Welshpool. I presented the project to Stephen Anstey, Curator, Social History and MME site coordinator; Ann Delroy, Head of Department, Social History and Dr Moya Smith, Head of Department of Anthropology & Archaeology. Following the presentation Stephen and Ann looked through the list of collection ideas I had compiled from WAM’s website, Annual reports and other online sources. They selected four collections and we worked through compiling full collection level descriptions for these. Maybe not surprisingly, we found that the collection description which covered the largest group of objects was much more difficult to complete than the others, which were smaller and more focused collections.
As each curatorial area at WAM uses a different collection management system – Social history use Vernon CMS, the Anthropology and Archaeology department use Filemaker Pro and the Maritime Archaeology and Maritime History departments use other systems, curatorial staff have decided to compile CLDs in Excel and then manually upload these into the MME.
My visit to Perth was brief, but before I left for Adelaide on Wednesday I managed a quick visit to the Western Australian Museum and saw an Object Gallery and Australian Museum touring exhibition, Menagerie – Contemporary Indigenous Sculpture. Menagerie is a contemporary sculpture exhibition which features Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander’s works.
I spent Thursday and Friday, 4-5 November, at History SA. On Thursday Kristy Dermody, Online Collections Projects Coordinator and Site Coordinator, showed me through History SA’s draft collection level descriptions and how they’ve been entered in KE EMu.
Full collection descriptions are being compiled by curators from History SA’s three Museums (The Migration Museum, The National Motor Museum and the South Australian Maritime Museum) and are being transferred into KE EMu by Kristy. There were over 20 collections entered in KE EMu at the time and nearly 46 drafts completed in total. These collection descriptions, linked to a small selection of examples, will form the basis of History SA’s collections online when their website is re-launched. Additional object records will then be linked to the collections as they become available. In the afternoon I met with Margaret Anderson, Director of History South Australia and Co-Chair of the MME Steering Committee and later visited the Migration Museum.
On Friday I presented the project to curators from History SA’s three museums and other staff. In attendance were Lindl Lawton, South Australian Maritime Museum Senior Curator; Matthew Lombard, National Motor Museum Curator; Elspeth Grant, Migration Museum Curator; Mandy Paul, Community History Programs Senior Curator; Jill Mackenzie, Public Programs Officer and Kristy Dermody. The presentation focused on the broader context of the project and the thesaurus development. Curators were very interested in the Collection lists from others sites and got some new ideas for their own Collections by looking at these.
Since History SA use a combination of the Powerhouse Museum Object Name Thesurus (PHMONT) and their own locally developed thesaurus there was a lively discussion about how the PHMONT would be developed and extended as part of this project. As we’ve found at many sites, there was also a lot of interest in being able to nominate and elect new terms to the thesaurus.
On Monday 8 November I visited the last site on this trip, South Australian Museum. I met with Robert Morris, Head of Collections and Site Coordinator, and presented the project to Dr Barry Craig, Senior Researcher Foreign Ethnology; Aphrodite Rose, Collection Manager Foreign Ethnology; Tara Dodd, Collection Manager, Australian Aboriginal Collections and Alexis Tindall, Project Manager, Atlas of Living Australia Digitisation. We discussed how the MME offered the opportunity for museums to publish collection level information online while avoiding the pitfalls of legacy data issues associated with publishing individual object records. Much like Western Australian Museum, staff at SAM use a number of different databases to manage their collections and as a result have decided to compile their Collection descriptions using Excel.
Barry Craig mentioned that in the area of foreign ethnology there are resources with similar aims to the MME. The Upper Sepik-Central New Guinea Project (USCNGP) explores the relationships between material culture and language, geography, population, subsistence and environment in two adjacent regions of Papua New Guinea. The data consists of objects located in museums and private collections within Australia and overseas, assembled as a single, virtual collection. In addition Lissant Bolton and Jim Specht’s produced an Inventory of Polynesian and Micronesian artefacts in Australian collections in the early 1980s. Barry also provided a copy of a functionally-based classification scheme created by Dr Andrew Fyfe, Visiting Fellow at the University of Adelaide, while he was a PhD candidate working on the USCNG project. Andrew created this scheme based on the collections he recorded from a particular region of New Guinea for this project.
In the afternoon I had the opportunity to visit SAM’s new Biodiversity Gallery. There were a number of Indigenous artifacts placed throughout the gallery in related environmental conditions. These provided a link to the Australian Aboriginal Cultures Gallery downstairs and illustrated various themes. A bilbly tail apron, for instance, demonstrated Aboriginal use of the biliby, which was once common in Australia, but declined dramatically after European settlement. Placed in the context of the Biodiversity Gallery, these objects are intersting examples of how cultural and historical collections, when viewed from a different perspective, can generate new connections and ideas.
Image Credit: Dr C T Madigan and Sandy preparing Simpson Desert Expedition | Flickr: ABC Archive | CC by-nc 2.0