Thursday, September 27, 2012

Museum Profile - Randall House

A little while ago I asked Tinisha at the NS Sport Hall of Fame to share her approach to cleaning up their records. In keeping with this idea of sharing success stories, I've asked Christine from Randall House in Wolfville to share one of their recent successes.

"I’ve been asked to share our experience in training and supervising our Digitization Assistant at Randall House this summer in case it would be helpful to others.
In January it was suggested that I (as Co-ordinator on the Passage Project at The Wolfville Historical Society) apply for a grant from Young Canada Works for an assistant to help with our digitization work. The application process was challenging but it included thinking through the job. What would the students work be? What training would he need? How would he be supervised? Was it possible to monitor his work? How would results be measured? It also asked for a timeline – what was planned for the first week, second and so on. These questions which I had to think about early on gave me a framework for the work period as it played out later.
These are the tasks I had in mind and each of these had a training component:
1. Scanning photographs from our archives.
2. Photographing artifacts and uploading/attaching these to the CA entries.
3. Doing basic entries from old cataloguing records (yes, we still had a backlog of these to do)
4. Doing new entries for items not catalogued previously (new accessions or undocumented items)
5. Doing research to fill in gaps and enrich the entries with more information.
6. Using social media (Facebook) posts to promote our activities at the museum.
7. Helping with other museum functions as might be required.

The first two weeks I knew would require considerable training time on my part and on the part of our curator  (our one paid employee apart from summer students) who would be there daily and supervising when I  wasn’t able to be on site. 
Our student was shown around the museum, introduced to his work space, equipment, research resources and our various storage locations. He was given an introduction to Chenhall and the concept of controlled language and introduced to the Collective Access (CA) Program with an explanation of the various fields. Scanning was the easiest task to start with so we began with that. He was shown how to use the scanner, what settings to use and why. He was shown how to file the scans (and later the digital photographs) and how to upload them to an entry. He was made an administrator of our Facebook page so he could make posts. I had arranged a separate id and password for him so that his entries and edits in CA could be identified and all his work was kept in a separate folder on the Passage laptop. This organizational part was useful for monitoring and measuring his work. Also the Collective Access Program logs were helpful in seeing what work he did each day or month.

The curator and I met early on and discussed our respective roles. The assistant had to know who was in charge of what. My concern was that work was done accurately and that the student always had work to do; what was done at any particular time wasn’t as much a concern for me. The curator’s priorities had more to do with what items she felt were important at the time and how he could help with her schedule of work. So our instructions to the student were that if the curator had tasks she wanted him to complete on any day that should have priority but if there was nothing on her list he would work on work I had waiting for him. He always had a box of photographs to scan and attach and a list of research questions to tackle. We agreed also that any corrections to be made which I spotted also had priority so these would not be forgotten.
Our curator instructed the student on how to handle artifacts appropriately and showed him how we photograph them. He also saw how and where items were stored so he could add these locations to entries. He was introduced to our files of paper records and shown how to make a new CA entry from these and also how to enter a new acquisition from information given by the curator.

Sam at work
I went carefully over the work he had done to catch errors early so they wouldn’t be repeated for the whole summer. Thanks to the web-based CA program I could do most of this tracking from home. There was a lot of information for him to digest and I found that he had forgotten some of what I had told him in our first sessions so there was need for a review at this point. This level of attention might be more difficult if our site depended only on volunteers but it was time consuming mostly in the first few weeks and it did pay off in the quality of results.
The schedule of work after this initial phase was not fixed. It varied from day to day. He had some latitude to choose what he did unless the curator or I had particular tasks for him. If it was not a good day for photography he could scan photos or do research. He was also asked on occasion to fill in doing tours of the house when our other student helpers weren’t available (he was taught to do this by the student who gave the tours), or help with other activities such as helping with our Canada Day fundraiser or selling a WHS publication and tickets to a fund raiser event at the farm market. For him these other tasks which came up from time to time were welcome breaks from what could be tedious computer work.
By mid-way in July he was able to work independently but nevertheless through the summer I held short sessions regularly to go over issues that I had found and he kept a Word file of problems to ask me about when I came in.

Our assistant accomplished an amazing amount of work over the 14 weeks he spent with us. He made 588 scans (this number includes some back views), he took at least 565 digital photographs of artefacts, he entered (or enriched with added information) 197 records and 35 entities doing research to fill in gaps -for example information on photographers and genealogies of subjects or related entities.
At the end of the summer our student assistant expressed satisfaction with his work experience and we were able to tell him how pleased we were with what he accomplished. I believe that the training he had from us at the beginning and the monitoring we did through the work period made a big difference to this mutual satisfaction."      

Given the number of questions I've gotten about summer staff and the issues I noticed at some sites this season, I hope that everyone will look at this as their example of how to do things right.

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