Thursday, October 31, 2013

October 2013 Update

Site Visit Homework
For anyone who hasn't experienced a site visit with me, I always carry a notebook with me. This is where I write all of my homework items - requests for information, resources to develop, etc etc. Sometimes these requests are all over the map, and other times people always seem to ask the same questions, no matter what part of the province I'm visiting. This year I heard two trends - governance and summer staff. There seems to be a lot of confusion over roles and responsibilities. Fortunately, there are a lot of resources out there about non-profit governance. For instance, the CMA has a guide on the Roles & Responsibilities of Museum Boards and Trustees. Click here to download it. The Dalhousie University College of Continuing Education also has a large number of free resources on their website; these are not museum specific but provide great guidelines for any non-profit group. Click here to access their resource page. As for summer staff, we have a resource on training & supporting seasonal staff in our reference library, which is available to our members for borrowing.

IMAC Meeting
Your illustrious advisory committee met on the the 25th to talk all things advisory service. We welcomed Jocelyn Gillis from the Antigonish Heritage Museum as our new Northeast rep, and Nova Scotia Museum Curator of History Martin Hubley as our NSM rep (Martin technically joined us in the summer but this was his first meeting). It was also Caryn's first IMAC meeting so we had a lot of introductions and explanations to do with all the new faces. In sad news, it was Anna's last meeting as she is leaving to focus on her academic studies. We want to thank her so much for all of her dedication and hard work over the past few years. I know that not many people ever met her, but she was instrumental in the NovaMuse development process; always providing in-depth and thoughtful analyses of whatever component we asked her to look at. She really will be missed.
Gary once again chaired a very efficient meeting which of course resulted in jokes about military precision. We talked a lot about databases and next steps for, resource development, disaster planning, and marketing. One suggestion was that we ask all our users to include a line in their email signature to invite people to visit the collection online at This might not sound like much, but it's another easy way to promote the site.

Collections Database Info
New resource! I've heard from a lot of people that they like our youtube video tutorials on how to use CollectiveAccess. Well, after much delay, I've got one up on how to edit storage locations. The difference with this one is that you get to hear my lovely voice walk you through the process. A critique of the earlier videos is that people kept expecting someone to start talking. So this time I've cut out the captions and just talked instead. Please let me know which method is the most helpful, or pass along other suggestions for improvements.

We had a great month of database review, getting through 11,756 records from 6 museums. We're still not caught up to where we want to be, but we've made some great headway and are definitely a lot closer. As I've mentioned before, I'm keeping tabs on any trends and this month wrote my second blog post on database tips. Some recommendations are based on changes in standards, but a lot of what I'm seeing can be attributed to inconsistency in data entry. So be sure to read the post and think about your data entry practices. Things were definitely busier this month with data entry work too - 1,642 new records and 2,486 images went into the systems and onto So now we're setting at grand totals of 196,564 artifacts, 80,668 images, and 20,640 georeferences.
Ok, and now it's time for the great regional breakdown:
Southwest - 101,550 artifacts, 36,208 images
Central - 39,365 artifacts, 16,171 images
Northeast - 29,527 artifacts, 18,984 images
Cape Breton - 26,122 artifacts, 9,305 images

Congrats to the Central region for adding the most records, and to the Northeast region for adding the most images this month!

1930s Halloween Costume
Last month's update was so full of info that I decided not to include an image of the month. So in the spirit of the day, let's look at a 1930s Halloween costume. We've talked a lot about clothing in the past, so let's revisit some of the quick issues here. The costume should be on a mannequin instead of laying flat, and the scale should be in the lower left instead of the lower right. That's the negative side. What is really great about this image is the colouring. Those colours are dead-on. You can tell by the colouring of the scale and how the contrasting backdrop is almost the exact same shade in every corner. This is fantastic. So let's just remember the rule about keeping the object in its natural position, in this case on the body, and we're off to the races...or the picnic based on this outfit. Perhaps a Sound of Music performance? The hills are alive with loud, bright flowers??

Manufacturers Database Project
Chris and Caryn have been focusing most of their attention on this project, reconciling duplicate entries, connecting companies that were bought or merged, and assigning companies to a very cool industrial classification system developed in-house. Caryn's research project is to write a technical guide for the database, so has been working on that end of things, writing our data dictionary and coming up with a methodology for adding & updating information once it is linked to the databases and Our next step is to start connecting all the collections to the manufacturers, so our good friend Seth is working on some coding and system updates, and then we'll be off to the races. Exciting times!

Friday, October 11, 2013

Museum Database Lessons - Part 2

Object Names & Capitalization
I can be lazy in my capitalization sometimes when writing to friends via email or Facebook. But when I'm working in a database or doing anything that I want to be viewed as "professional", I become a real stickler. And this is a mindset that I hope everyone adopts. When you look at how Nomenclature 3.0 presents object names, the first letter is always capitalized. They tell you to use Chair, Rocking rather than chair, rocking. But for some reason not everyone is following this standard. At the other end of the spectrum, I'm seeing some records that are entirely capitalized. For anyone unaware of what this means in the written and/or online world, anything entered in CAPS LOCK means you are YELLING at your reader. I know that some of these records have been migrated from very early database systems that automatically capitalized everything, but that doesn't mean you should continue the practice in our lovely new system. The last thing we want is for any museum to look lazy or crazy on NovaMuse, so please remember to capitalize correctly.

Gender Designations
Some museum databases have a gender field, but we use the Object Type field for this information. One of my pet peeves here is that people aren't consistent with how they enter a gender designation. Male-associated objects have been plugged in as man, men, man's, men's, gentleman' many different ways to say it. So let's pick one method and stick to it. If it's a female item, enter Woman's in the object type field. Man's can be entered for male-associated items. You don't know that the owner of the object was a gentleman or a lady, so don't make that assumption. They might have been a jerk with no class at all.


I love our CollectiveAccess database system. It's so lovely. And one of the things that I love about it is that it wants to make our lives easier with shortcuts. Yes please!!  For the category field, this means we only have to pick the most specific, or lowest level, category. For instance, if you have a hay rake, it falls under Tools & Equipment for Materials Agricultural Tools & Equipment → Harvesting Equipment. So in the category field, just enter Harvesting Equipment. 


This field is NOT optional. You need to document who gave you what. Once this name is entered, references to the donor in other fields should be done by calling them "the donor". We don't want to broadcast the names of our donors via NovaMuse. So please stop putting in "donated by XXX" in your history of use or narrative or description or anywhere else. You've already documented it in the Source field.

Acquisition Method

This field is NOT optional. If your paper records are lost of destroyed, the database becomes your proof of ownership. In my first Database Lessons blog post I ranted a bit about skimping on data entry and referring people to the paper records. Again, we have to get out of that mindset. The database is where information from the temporary receipt, gift agreement, donor questionnaire, condition report, and every other document related to the item gets pulled together into one resource. 

Media Files

I know I rant about good pictures in my monthly updates, but I'm still seeing problems here. And honestly, I think this stems from students or volunteers being handed a camera and told to "take pictures of the artifacts". Um, yes. That is technically what they'll be doing. But it's a little more complicated than that. These images are being shared with the world, so don't you want them to be professional-looking and of high quality? So let's do a quick review here:
Gavel & Block
Desbrisay Museum
1 - images need to be at least 1200x1200 pixels
2 - two-dimensional items should be scanned
3 - use the macro setting for detail shots
4 - make sure the object is the only object in the photograph
5 - angles and lighting matters
6 - if the picture didn't turn out, redo it.
7 - the image file name needs to match the accession number, but replace any dots with underscores or dashes (1999.4.5 = 1999_4_5.tif). Don't ever add extra numbers or letters for additional views or it looks like you've changed the accession number. Use qualifying terms for additional views, ie 1999_4_5_side.tif or 1999_4_5_label.tif.
Look at what your peers have posted on NovaMuse and you'll quickly be able to tell what makes a good (or bad) artifact photo.
I've also had a lot of questions from people whose images weren't appearing on NovaMuse. More often than not, the images weren't online because they hadn't been set to be accessible. Once a record is set to be accessible, you have to do the same for any media files that have been attached.

Read Museum Database Lessons - Part 1