Wednesday, June 24, 2009

Making Passage Work

As members of the Passage Project you have recognized the need for electronic collections management in the museum. When used properly, this software allows museum staff, volunteers and visitors to enhance information retrieval. It promotes consistency in record keeping, within the museum and the wider museum community. Further, collections management software facilitates easier exchange of information between museums and has the potential for world wide sharing of information through the internet. While Passage Software is designed to be user friendly, it is like all technology in that it requires users to follow a certain protocol.

To ensure that your museum gets the most out of the Passage software, follow the steps outlined below. These steps will allow you to maintain up-to-date records that meet the professional standard. The suggested order should be followed whether there is one person dedicated solely to the database, if it falls under a wider job description of a staff member or if a larger team is working on the database.

Bare Minimum

Step 1- Create Skeletal Records
By this we mean filling in the six required fields in the database (Arc/Arf, Accession number, Permanent Building, Object Name, Source Name, Accession Date). All items that are owned by the museum or society should have the “Include on the Web” box checked. When entering object names, ensure that the Chenhall Nomenclature book is used to maintain consistency and meet a professional standard. This will provide you with a fully functioning database for your entire collection and will allow you to move on to step 2. Without a minimal record for every artifact in your collection, the database will never truly work for you.

Step 2- Upload to Artefacts Canada
At this point, records should be uploaded to Artefacts Canada. It is not necessary to wait to upload until records are perfect; you can later add to and improve what has been uploaded. Remember, more records can lead to greater knowledge sharing, publicity for the museum and opportunities for future funding opportunities. This will also provide you with an off-site backup of your information.
Refer to Appendix D in the Collections Database Manual for instructions on uploading.

Step 3- Do a Quick Inventory
Step 1 allows you to do step 3 very quickly and efficiently. This inventory should be based on Accession Number and Permanent Location only. Match this information with the database record. Ensure that all artefacts are located in the same building, room and specific location that are listed in their records. If not, artefacts should be located and new locations documented. This step is essential- artefacts, particularly small artefacts, can go missing for various reasons, without the knowledge of staff.
*Repeat Step 2 to refresh the information on Artefacts Canada in case something has been changed.

Value-Added Information

Step 4- Transfer Additional Information from Paper Records
Go back through the ‘skeletal records’ and fill in the additional information from the existing paper records. It is extremely important to transfer history/narrative information from the paper records because if this information is lost it may be impossible to gather again. Some paper records will not have sufficient information about the object (eg. Measurements, colour, material, etc may be left out). If this is the case, this information should be gathered and entered into the database. The goal is to include as much information as possible for each record- don’t limit yourself to the first page of the database!
*Repeat Step 2 to refresh the information and update the skeletal records with the new and improved information on Artefacts Canada.

Step 5- Photograph/ Scan Objects and Add to Records
All artefact records need to include an image. This process should be done systematically by location. Begin photography in a particular room, in a particular section of the room. Ensure that you have paper and a pen to record the accession numbers of the artefacts photographed to rename the digital image. It is important to do this methodically to avoid wasting time photographing the same artefacts more than once. Depending on the size of the collection, it is unlikely that all photography will be done in one day- take your time, get professional quality photographs and document carefully so future photographers will be able to pick up where you left off.
Three dimensional objects should be photographed following the rules presented in Appendix B and Appendix C of the Collections Database Manual. Two dimensional objects, such as photographs and documents should be scanned. If there is no scanner onsite, photographs can be taken of 2D objects.
*Repeat Step 2 to refresh the information and provide a digital image for your records on Artefacts Canada.

Step 6- Enriched Records
Finally, records should be enriched according to CHIN’s standards. Appendix A of the Collections Database Manual lists the fields required by CHIN. Some of these fields (eg. Brand Name) will not be applicable for all artefacts. Ensure that all applicable fields are complete.
The enrichment process allows the staff to research artefacts in their collection. New information can be discovered this way, allowing for more interesting and impressive records as well as increased staff knowledge. To aid this research, libraries, the internet and local authorities on the subject should be consulted. Information obtained from locals should not be overlooked as this is often the most interesting and relevant to the record.
This is an excellent task to assign to summer students as it will improve their research skills and instil a greater knowledge of and appreciation for local heritage.
*Repeat Step 2 to refresh the information and provide provide even more information about your collection to the public via Artefacts Canada.

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