Monday, December 26, 2011

December 2011 Update

It's hard to believe that this year is already feels like it just began.

As the ANSM office closes for two weeks in December, we rushed through our time in the office, trying to make sure all the loose ends were tied up before the break. This involved a number of different meetings, final review of documentation, the sending of renewal letters & contracts...lots of stuff to keep us busy. But it was only two weeks, so this update will be brief.

Goodbye Chris
We said goodbye to Chris after a great four months. What a boost to the organization to have such a knowledgeable and fun guy around to help create some new online resources and contribute to the database renewal work. It just won't be the same without him. We're proud to report that he aced his final internship evaluation, having exceeded our expectations at every turn.

Renewal Contracts
Please keep in mind that renewal contracts & payments are due by the end of January. Any questions can be sent by email, or you can phone the office (we'll be back on Tuesday, January 3rd).

Database Renewal Project
Army Museum
There were of course many other things on the go this month which means progress was slower than usual, but a number of museums still managed to add a bit to our tally. Our new totals are 172,009 records and 42,625 images - 595 new records and 805 new images.
Regionally, here's how things sit:
Southwest - 84,118 artifacts, 17,642 images
Central - 34,926 artifacts, 9,178 images
Northeast - 32,611 artifacts, 12,603 images
Cape Breton - 22,199 artifacts, 3,202 images

Congrats to the Southwest region for entering the most artifact records this month, and to the Central region for adding the most images. And for anyone interested in knowing how we compare to the British Museum's online catalogue, we've got 25% of our artifacts photodocumented compared to their 30%. I'm convinced that we can catch them before the website launches.

New Year's resolutions:
1. Figure out how to slow time. Chris' valiant efforts in this regard resulted in an extra hour, but I have a feeling we might lose this in the spring.
2. Launch our new collections website with 180,000 artifacts and 60,000 associated images.
3. Eat more cake.

So goodbye 2011, and thanks for letting us survive the craziness. You're definitely ending on a high note.

Thursday, December 15, 2011

Goodbye Cake Walk

CCI workshop

Wow! How quickly 4 months flies when you’re having fun!  On one hand, I can’t quite believe my internship has come to an end, but on the other, I look back and realize how much has been packed into my time with the ANSM.  Site visits, professional development workshops, website planning, policy writing, research projects…it’s been very busy!  I hope that these projects will all be of some use to the museums of Nova Scotia long after my internship ends.  If that work proves to be half as beneficial to all of you as it was for me, I will be a happy camper.  The work I completed, without doubt, has greatly enhanced my knowledge of museum practice and protocol, and will be wonderful asset to have in my pocket as I move forward with my career in the heritage field.

Between tagging along with Karin on site visits and my own weekend excursions, I’ve been able to meet a lot of wonderful people and visit many great museums across the entire province.  I will be taking awesome memories of whale-watching, hockey games, ghost walks, and general site seeing goodness back with me to Ontario.  However, there is still a part of me that wishes I could stay longer and experience more of Nova Scotia’s beauty and its citizen’s wonderful hospitality. 

birthday cake
A great number of thanks must be given to everyone who toured me around their sites, shared their knowledge, and handed out snacks and goodies along the way.  Pretty much all of the projects I completed during my time with the ANSM would not have been done without your guidance.  Thanks in particular to the ANSM staff for welcoming me into their ranks with open arms and providing copious amounts of cake on a regular basis.  I feel that my ability to intake sugar has reached new levels of absurdity and will have prepared me for the upcoming holiday season in ways never before witnessed.  Of course, the biggest thanks must be directed at Karin for taking me under her wing and cramming as much of her considerable expertise as possible into my brain since September.  She “exceeded my expectations” on a regular basis, and every day I was able to witness firsthand what a wonderful resource she is for museums across Nova Scotia.

So, with that, I guess that’s about it for me.  I’ll be heading back to Ontario on December 19 with a lot of mixed emotions, but with the knowledge that, in my own mind, my internship was a success in every sense of the word.  It was wonderful meeting everyone I did and for everyone I didn’t- I wish I had.  Hopefully our paths cross again somewhere down the road.  Thanks again, and Happy Holidays!
Chris with the famous Crosby dryer at the NS Sport Hall of Fame

Wednesday, December 14, 2011

Dating Artifacts

One of the fun things about our fancy website is that visitors will be able to browse through records by date. So if I'm in a historian who is all about the Victorian Period, the website can accommodate me. Or if I want to relive the 1960s because my memory is a little fuzzy, the website can help me with that. Groovy. Except that if there is no date listed in the object record, the website can't give accurate results. Major downer.
Dates don't have to be perfectly exact. If you know something was made in the 1950s, you can put in 1950-1960 as a date range. Or if you know something is 19th century, you can enter 1800-1900. What we need to do is start narrowing down these date ranges so that browsing by date will be more and more accurate as we work on the system.

We've been talking a lot in the office about how to date artifacts without being an expert on a specific type of collection or time period - basically we've been talking about how to cheat. So here it is, your cheat sheet to artifact dating.

Nova Scotia Historical Vital Statistics
1. If you know who is in a photograph, or who made an object, visit Look up the person and if you're lucky, you'll find a birth, marriage or death record that will help you narrow things down. Other genealogical websites can help with out-of-province individuals.

2. Fashions change every season (or so they say), so for textile collections and all those photos of people, check out what they're wearing. Here's a great blog post to give you some tips.

3. Talk to your local experts:
a) Donors - even if they can't say exactly when something was made or when a photo was taken, they can tell you what they remember about the object, ex. "it came from my great-grandparents' house; we got it after they passed away". Once you tie the artifact to a person, refer to step 1. Maybe they remember buying the object, or getting it for Christmas one year. Their memories will help you start the process of narrowing down a date range.

b) Antiques Dealers - I know I know. We don't always see eye to eye with them, but the fact remains that they have a lot of knowledge on a variety of subjects. So would it really be so bad to ask if they'd be interested in stopping by to help you date some artifacts? Be perfectly clear that nothing is for sale. If they agree, ask what their speciality is and pull out a few things for them to look at.

c) Local Historians - every town has them; the 5th generation cabinetmaker, the guy who used to work at the foundry/mine/factory/fish plant/whatever place before it closed, local collectors...there are local experts who would love to talk with museums about their artifacts.

4) Stating the Obvious - coins are dated, most books have a publishing date, ceramics and silverware have makers marks/stamps, a lot of manufactured goods have patent dates (or numbers that can be looked up to get a date)...various objects in the collection will have a date right on them. Plug this into the begin & end date field and you're done.

"this binder", says Chris
5) Collections Management Resource Binder - remember this? It was compiled by Paul Collins and given out at workshops or during site visits for the past few years. It's big, it's black, and it has tons of information in it on proper museum procedures, including a bunch of resources on specific types of artifacts: books, ceramics, documents, prints, paintings, costumes, glass, and a visual dictionary of random stuff. The section on costumes is especially helpful.

6) Google It!!  This should probably fall under stating the obvious, but I think it deserves its own section. The internet can be very helpful in identifying and dating artifacts. Academics, collectors, and enthusiasts have created reference sites for all kinds of objects. I like to use this as a jumping off point. Maybe the site seems a little funny, but there's a reason they say this [insert random object here] dates to the mid 20th century. Subsequent searches and enquiries using the suggested date may get you better results from more reputable sources.

Over the coming months we'll be sharing dating & reference resources via our facebook page. We'd also love to hear from you. If you have a favourite reference website, please share it as a comment below so everyone can check it out.

Thursday, December 8, 2011

Mapping the Museum

Having just released a new game plan for database work, I thought it might be helpful to examine some of the steps in detail. But before we do that, let's talk about museum floor plans.
I noticed some trends as I conducted data cleaning for the Database Renewal Project. I expected to see some "dirty data", ie records that weren't entered in the proper format or correct field. What I did not expect to see were so many inconsistencies in the location fields. Buildings, rooms, and shelves/units are being named very inconsistently in museum databases. This makes it impossible to print out an accurate inventory list for that building, room, or unit. Remember my previous post about dissociation?  Yup, that fits here.

Ironhill Museum floor plan
It all comes down to the fact that you need a floor plan of your site.  It doesn't matter if it's one room or 51 rooms; a floor plan is essential. The plan doesn't have to be made to scale or be overly complicated. You just need to map out where things are and what they are called. Otherwise when staff and volunteers are doing data entry, you run the risk of inconsistencies and an inaccurate inventory.

Building: use the formal name of each building, such as James House Museum.  Do not shorten this to Museum or James House, or JHM.

Room: each room should be numbered or named on your floor plan so that new volunteers, summer students, and board members can easily understand and locate artifacts and archival holdings.  Some museums like to label their rooms on the door or wall to make things even simpler.

Unit: each room should be sub-divided into sections (the database uses the term unit). In storage this may mean numbering or naming cabinets and drawers, ie Cabinet 2, Drawer 6. In the galleries you should be numbering or naming the display cases. If you have objects hanging on the wall, consider numbering the walls or using directional designations, ie. North Wall.

Once you have mapped out the museum, review the storage location hierarchy in your database. This should match your floor plan exactly. Reconcile any duplicate entries or inaccurate names, moving the artifacts to the appropriate location. Once the locations have been set, they should not require updating unless you obtain a new building, display case, shelving unit etc. The curator is the only person who should be editing the locations. This function should be locked from students and volunteers. This is why we set up additional accounts for volunteers and students - they can edit artifact records, but cannot change the storage locations as established by the curator.

Wednesday, November 30, 2011

November 2011 Update

Janet & Carole give some care & handling tips
We had two workshops this month, CCI's Artifacts in Aboriginal Cultural Centres, and our own Museum Management & Governance.  CCI's workshop was very hands-on, and they brought some fantastic examples of Aboriginal object for us to discuss.  The Management & Governance workshop was preceded by our first real blast of winter, but thankfully the weather was fine as we made our way to New Glasgow. It's hard to make this topic hands-on, but we had some great discussions and it was really interesting to watch the class grab onto certain pieces of information. There was some serious synchronized note-taking going on. We had great turnout for each, and are already talking about where and when the next workshops will take place (in the more winter travel). Thanks to the Glooscap Heritage Centre and the Museum of Industry for being excellent hosts.

As I mentioned last month, we're garnering a lot of interest in our database renewal & website development work. This month I met with the CNSA to discuss their review of Archway and how we are currently on very similar paths. The recent departmental shuffle has put museums, archives, and libraries all under the same umbrella, and there seems to be general agreement that this is an opportunity for us to work together and do some great things. Anita and I also sat down with some friends from the Heritage Division to talk about our process and the sharing of collections information online. We're going to keep these discussions going so we'll be better able to coordinate efforts as all of our projects continue to align.  Very exciting times!

Also taking place right now are Community Museum Assistance Program (CMAP) meetings. As the program is currently under review, community meetings are taking place in each of the regions to ensure that museums' input is incorporated into the final report. If you have not already attended one of these meetings, I strongly urge you to do so.
Here's the list of dates & places:
1. Northeast Region - November 23, 930am-1230pm - Marigold Cultural Centre, 605 Prince Street, Truro
2. Central Region - November 30, 1-4pm - Fairbanks Interpretative Centre, 54 Locks Road, Dartmouth
3. Cape Breton Region - December 1, 1-4pm (storm date Dec.2) - Highland Village Museum, Iona
4. Southwest Region - December 6, 1-4pm - Greenwood Military Aviation Museum, Greenwood

Database Renewal Project - Website Development
We received official word that our SDI funding application for website development was approved. So now we can start to use all that research and background work to kick things into high gear. Our goal is to have the website ready for my 2012 summer site visits. This way I can give sites a sneak peak of their data as it is presented in the site. The official launch will still be September, so we've got 10 months to clean things up.

Chris has just finished up all sorts of documentation and policies. They are in the final stages of approval and should start to appear in our resources section before Christmas.  We've also revised the Passage Game Plan to better address public expectations. Here are the steps in a nutshell:
1. Enter all paper-based info, georeference objects
2. Do an inventory - fill in as many blank fields as possible and get a high-quality image of the object
3. Enrichment - conduct research to fill in more blanks and share personal stories for every object
4. Reconcile loans - there is no such thing as a permanent loan!

There will be an update to the system in the near future (before Christmas), which means that the database will be down for a few hours. Seth and I have been talking about this and will be sure to schedule it overnight so that it won't interfere with anyone's work. I'll be sure to send an email to everyone about the update when it is done.

Les Trois Pignons Centre Culturel
We are still making very excellent progress in the database. I want to commend you all for your hard work. I know it represents many hours and you've been fantastic about adjusting your work plan to prepare for our 2012 website launch.  Kudos to you!
So where do we sit this month?  Well, we added another 722 new records and 2,125 images! We now have 171,414 records and 41,820 images in the database.  Yay team!

And now for that ever-popular regional breakdown:
Southwest - 83,904 artifacts, 17,323 images
Central - 34,735 artifacts, 8,696 images
Northeast - 32,461 artifacts, 12,599 images
Cape Breton - 22,014 artifacts, 3,202 images

Congrats to the Central region for adding the most artifact records and images this month. They had some stiff competition from the Southwest for the artifact records, but blew everyone out of the water with the images.

I am amazed at how many images are being added each month. This is exactly the kind of progress we want to see as we work on website development.  I've been getting questions about artifact photography and the dating of artifacts since we have identified these tasks as priorities, so Chris and I are working on some blog posts to deal with these issues.  Let me know if you have other areas that you'd like addressed and we'll do our best to accommodate.

Tuesday, November 29, 2011

Photographing the Small Stuff

So we've looked at 2-dimensional and 3-dimensional photography, and now we're going to focus on all those tiny artifacts in the museum. This can include coins, buttons, pins, small stone tools, lead shot, badges and medals, etc etc. We've got lots of little stuff, and it requires special attention.

1. Set the camera to macro. This is the little flower icon, and allows you to get much closer with the camera lens. With the Passage-supplied cameras, you should be able to get within 5-10cm of the object. Don't forget to you use this setting on larger objects as well when you want to get a detail shot. And all those ceramics, silver, and other stuff with makers marks stamped on the bottom - macro is your best friend.

  2. Use your tripod. Since the macro setting sets a longer exposure time, the camera needs to be absolutely still for the the image to be clear. Try as you might, a shot without a tripod will not be as good as one with a tripod. Small tabletop tripods are also available and well worth the investment if you have a large collection of tiny artifacts.

3. Use the self-timer. This is another very helpful tool when using macro and a tripod. Set the timer to two seconds (or something comparably short) and push the button. So if your hand bumps the edge of the camera or the pressure of pushing the button moves the camera slightly, the lapse in time allows for everything to settle before the shot is taken. It also ensures that the longer exposure takes place without movement, thereby giving you a much clearer image.

If you are comfortable playing with your camera settings, you can also try adjusting the aperture (generally speaking, a larger f-stop number gets you a better close-up shot), but the auto settings coupled with macro should give you a decent image.

Ok, now let's look at some tiny artifacts from our collections.

First up is a lovely fake tortoiseshell hair comb. It's small, but not tiny. However, the detail of the marbled plastic can quickly be lost if the picture is not taken close-up. One of the general artifact photography rules is to centre the object in the shot, but if the scale is larger than the object, this can really ruin the aesthetics of the shot.

In terms of setup, this is a great 3d artifact image. The object is dark so the light background fabric was used to provide contrast, the scale is pretty straight, the image is cropped, and the colour is decent (a bit dark). But where the object is so small, the scale is a little overpowering. So again using Picasa, I cropped out the edge of the scale so that the measurements are still visible, but the scale becomes less of a focal point. The only thing that would have made the shot even better would have been putting the comb closer to the scale so that it would be truly centred in the shot.
Remember, the scale is not what you are photographing. It is a reference point that should be included, but it's perfectly acceptable to crop out one side, or in the case of this, the outer edges of both sides.

Here's a tiny object with even more cropping. Since the ends of the scale would have left a lot of dead space in the shot that would take away from the artifact, they were cropped out. But we can still tell that this object is about 4cm in length and 2cm in diameter. As with the hair comb above, the object should be a bit closer to the scale, and a few little fine touches would have improved the shot, but you get the idea.
What if you don't have a scale? I know that some sites have made their own, or have tried to use a normal ruler instead. If for some reason you cannot have a scale in the picture, follow the same steps above and focus on centring the artifact (and don't forget to crop once you transfer the image to the computer). Here we have a biface from the south shore. Since this object is very light in colour, it was photographed on a dark background. The macro setting was used, which is why so much detail in the stone can be seen.  The photographer took the time to play with the camera settings to ensure that the aperture, ISO, and white balance produced a high-quality image. The tripod and timer were used to ensure that a clear image was captured (I'm not just making all this up, I was there when the image was taken).  The measurements are noted in the object record, which means that even without the scale, the audience will still know the size of the object.

2-Dimensional Digitization

As we prepare for our website launch, I have been getting more and more questions about photographing and scanning museum collections. Digitization can be a difficult task when you're staring at thousands of objects and overstretched staff and volunteers. And what if you're a seasonal museum and you can't even access the building over the winter months? So many obstacles.  So let's focus on making this task easier.  How can you get the most bang for your buck?

General rules for photographing artefacts can be found on the ANSM website: Artefact Photography Tips. I've also blogged about the good, the bad, and the ugly of artefact photography. Many of those basic rules still apply, but here we're also going to talk about scanning small 2d items such as photographs, postcards and documents. I know I talk a lot about the importance of using a scale during photography, but the exception to this rule is when you're working in 2d.

How to scan:
1. The length and width of the scan should each be at least 1200 pixels.
2. If you aren't sure how to adjust the pixel settings, set your scanner to 600dpi, which should produce a good quality image in all cases.
3. Preview the scan first to make sure that the scanner hasn't automatically cropped out white space and that the item didn't shift when the lid was closed. You want the image to be as straight as possible, so take full advantage of that corner orientation.
4. If you have postcards or other two-sided documents, be sure to scan both sides.
5. Crop the image tight to the item. The original scan will likely have a bit of black around the edges that can be cleaned up.
6. Save the file as a tiff.
This image was obviously taken with a camera, following 3d artifact photography rules. Wow, is that scale ever distracting! And look at how much smaller the left image is compared to the right image. To make the improvement I just straightened and cropped the existing image in Picasa. This isn't ideal, but as you can see it's a big improvement.  Here's what a properly scanned photograph looks like:

Scanning is a great way to get a lot of bang for your buck. Start with a folder or box, wherever you have these items stored, and just work your way through it.  You'll be surprised at how quickly the work goes, and how great your images look when added to the database.

Feeling more adventurous? Maybe you have paintings, tapestries, or other large 2-dimensional pieces that are difficult to move.  These objects can be photographed in situ, ie where they are. This makes the cropping process very important, as exhibit labels and other artifacts that can't be moved can get in the shot and distract you from the artifact.
1. Always use your tripod to set up a shot that is looking straight at the object.
2. Always use the camera timer so the camera will be still when the image is captured. Two seconds is adequate time to push the button and step back.
3. Make sure that the longest side of the object corresponds with the longest view in the camera.  For this image, the camera was turned sideways to ensure that the tapestry filled the frame as much as possible.
4. Crop the image close to the frame or edges of the object. We don't want any distractions in the shot. 


Notice the difference between these two shots.  The second is much cleaner and the colour and detail looks crisper because there is nothing distracting the eye. And the cropping was done in a matter of seconds - well worth the time.

At the end of the day, these images are a direct reflection on your level of professionalism. So if you aren't satisfied with the image, or you think you can do better, redo it. Don't just attach something to the database for the sake of attaching something. In our fancy new website, that will make us all look bad.

Monday, November 7, 2011

Museums and Remembrance Day - 2011 Edition

Last year I wrote a Remembrance Day post in honour of my grandfather and his contribution to the RAF in WWII. While my grandfather and his brothers all returned home safely, my grandmother's family was not as lucky. The biggest blow to the family was when her youngest brother was shot down over Belgium during a bombing run. The stories and objects associated with Grenville have now become part of the Stanley family lore.
All too often this kind of information is excluded from museum collection records.

the musician
Grenville was elevated to a sort of immortal status in the family, having two nephews named after him, and a few semi-shrines established in his parents' and siblings' homes. He was the promising youngest son who never got to live out his potential or truly experience life. The stories that have been passed down about him reveal him as a very kind, caring individual, full of life and love for his fellow man. He played the clarinet in the Salvation Army band, volunteered with youth, and planned on becoming an Anglican minister after the war. His nickname was Bumps. His cheerful personality made him very popular in his squadron, Bomber Command No.76, and when that terrible letter arrived at my great-grandparents' door, his courage, skill, and popularity were all referenced.

young love
We also know that he had a special lady friend who he was planning on marrying. Her name didn't make it on any of the photographs, but there are enough images of these two to know that they had something special; that they looked forward to building a life together when the fighting finally stopped. The story goes that he was on his last bombing mission before heading home for his wedding. I don't know what happened to this poor girl whose heart was broken - the family didn't maintain that tie and she has now faded from memory.

the wireless operator
His military record sheds a lot of light on his war-time activities, but also has a lot of blacked-out sections that leave the reader guessing.  We know that P/O Stanley served as a wireless operator on Halifax bombers, making night-time runs into Germany. We know that when his plane went down, only one man survived and became a POW. Grenville was buried in Schoonselhof Cemetery, Antwerp Belgium, alongside many other promising young men whose lives were cut short. He was only 23 years old.

Having suffered the sudden and unexpected loss of a very significant person in my life, I understand how difficult it is to talk about it. You want to focus on those good memories and silly quirks that make you smile. Those things that used to drive you crazy seem far less important, and so you let them slip from your memory. It's just natural that certain aspects of the story are maintained, others are lost, and some are altered slightly through retelling. So when museums interview donors to find out the stories behind the objects, we always end up with a slightly altered truth - the lore of that object.

Artifact records will always have loose ends and unanswered questions. Some purists will refuse to include family lore in their records because they want only the proven facts, but in my mind these stories are a valid and important part of the object's history. The museum exists to provide answers about the past. Sometimes we will have wonderful proven facts to include in our records, but other times we will have fascinating stories that have been passed down for generations. Maybe the story isn't always 100% accurate, but there is something very special about reading a record that tells me how the family talked about and treated the item.

I don't know what Uncle Gren was really like, if he truly was on his last bombing mission, or what all of his plans were for after the war. But I do know that we cherish the family memory of him; that we will never forget the sacrifice that he made. And one way that we can pay tribute to him is through the sharing of the family lore. 
lest we forget

Saturday, October 29, 2011

October 2011 Update

Museums & Community
Fisheries Museum of the Atlantic
ANSM's Museums and Community workshop (part of the new core curriculum) was held Oct.6-7th in Lunenburg at the Fisheries Museum of the Atlantic. Chris and I sat in on this one and what's interesting to me is the generational divide that appears in this topic. We agreed that the methodology prescribed during the workshop was very similar to what we were taught about community engagement in school, but for some of the older crowd the information was a major shift from how their museum has operated in the past. So for anyone wondering if these new workshops are really any different than the old Federation of Nova Scotian Heritage workshops, I can assure you that they are. A lot has changed in the past 15 years, and these workshops are a great way to stay up-to-date with the field.

Meetings, etc.

The first meeting of the month was with an old acquaintance from the library community who heard about our database & website project. Next up is a meeting with the archival community, and then on to the Heritage Division.  From what we've heard so far, our sister communities have all been heading down the same road (or maybe a parallel road), so now is the time to be talking to make sure we don't inadvertently reinvent the wheel or further divide our heritage resources.  Interesting times...

We also had a very pleasant surprise this month when the director general of CHIN came to town.  Gabrielle and Claudette were in town to meet with the Nova Scotia Museum and so Chris and I got to have lunch and talk shop with Gabrielle before she went back to Ottawa.  We also got to sit in on part of her talk at the NSM, which was great because part of her talk was about what people expect from museums that share information online. Here are her top 6 expectations: immediate access, content, rich media, participation, personalization, and findability.

The Southwest Curator's Group met in Kentville on October 21st. There was a very good turnout, a tasty lunch at a local restaurant, and a spell book that opened up to reveal many mini chocolate bars. Chris and I got to present on the website development in the afternoon, and I think it's safe to say that the crowd liked what they saw.

The Information Management and Access Committee met at Fultz House on Friday October 28th.  It was a very full agenda, covering qr codes, wifi security, and of course our database renewal & website project.  This was Gail Magee's last meeting with us, so we want to extend our heartfelt thanks for all of her work over the past few years. She's done an excellent job as our secretary, and shared some very yummy food with us along the way...big shoes to fill.

Database Renewal Project - Website Development

The website survey results are in, and we had a good discussion at the IMAC meeting about website development.  We received 18 surveys in total and a number of themes came out in the feedback:
  1. The more information in the records, the better (especially for provenance). People are looking for unique, personal content. Grammar, spelling, and consistent formatting count - and speak to the trustworthiness of the site and contributing institution.
  2. The overall design should be clean & minimalist, but interesting and hint at the vast quantity and variety of information within.
  3. Users need to have the ability to sort, refine, and change the viewing method of search results, and should be given suggestions for related objects.
  4. The ability to comment, tag, share, and link to the contributing museum's website is a must.
Next on our to-do list is the drafting of supporting documentation, such as disclaimers & guidelines for use.  We've also been working on updating the Passage Game Plan to align with our new database and public expectations for the website launch.

Queens County Museum
As I was tallying up records today, I was thinking how obvious it is that sites have shut down for the season. And I'm not going to lie, the lack of progress was a little disappointing.  Adding 5 or 10 records to a museum's tally just didn't seem like a big deal.  But then I got to the overall number of records and images. I forgot my own basic rule...that each individual site is feeding into something much larger.  So even with all the seasonal museums closing up shop for another year, we added 428 new records and an amazing 2,010 images!!  We now have 170,692 records and 39,695 images in the database.  Yay team!

And now for that regional breakdown that I know people are watching:
Southwest - 83,600 artifacts, 16,640 images
Central - 34,397 artifacts, 7,276 images
Northeast - 30,451 artifacts, 12,579 images
Cape Breton - 21,944 artifacts, 3,200 images

Congrats to the Central region for adding the most artifact records, and to the Northeast region for adding the most images.  It was a tight race this will be interesting to see where things stand at the end of November.

Funding Opportunities

As you think about funding applications for next years' students and projects, keep in mind that funders like to see very tangible outcomes related to technology, and want to see partnerships.  So the fact that you'll be part of this fantastic new website is great leverage - you have a lot of artifacts to photograph, photographs to scan, and updating of object records to do; now is the time to start thinking about positioning those applications to incorporate at least some of this work.  Set yourself some goals, and feel free to call the office to discuss your application.

The call for Community Memories projects will take place after Christmas, and I've heard from a little birdie that they're looking for African Canadian stories this time around. So this is another thing to be thinking about.  Africville, Black Loyalists, the Clarion, Mathieu de Costa, Buddy Daye, George DixonWilliam Hall, Sam Langford, the No.2 Construction Battalion, Rev. Richard Preston, Marie Marguerite RosePortia White...the list goes on and on.  We have some amazing stories to share.

Stay tuned for more details via the Beacon and our Facebook page.

Monday, October 3, 2011

September 2011 Update

Database Renewal Project - Website Development
The shift in focus has taken place, and we are now all about websites.  Very few similar websites exist - most collections websites have records from only one organization.  This month we identified our top 4 comparable websites (eHive, Europeana, Gathering the Jewels, Virtual Museum of Canada) and Chris developed a website review questionnaire to determine what we like about these sites.  The Information Management & Access Committee is putting in a lot of work in this respect, and we've recruited a few friends and former ANSM staff members to help out as well.  Thanks to all!

By the Numbers
Wallace & Area Museum
Apparently I lied last month when I said we had almost 180,000 records.  That number should have been 170,000 records (sorry for the typo).  In any event, it is still a very impressive number and after this month's work we have crossed the threshold and are sitting pretty at 170,264 objects.  And the number of images?  37,685!  That means we have 22% of our collections photographed or scanned.  To put this into perspective, the British Museum shares its collection online and 30% of these items have images attached.  Anyone feel like chasing the British Museum?  I know I do!

Now for the regional breakdown:
Southwest - 83,465 artifacts, 16,275 images
Central - 34,165 artifacts, 6,754 images
Northeast - 30,445 artifacts, 12,008 images
Cape Breton - 21,889 artifacts, 2,648 images

Congrats to the Southwest region for adding the most artifact records, and to the Northeast region for adding the most images.  It's great to see progress!

Meetings and Site Visits and Events...Oh My!
Chris and I made 8 more site visits in September.  From Moose River to Springhill, Middleton to Pugwash, we definitely made the rounds.  Later this fall we will be attending the various regional meetings, so while our road trips are becoming fewer and further between, we haven't yet stopped for the winter.

ANSM's Education & Training Taskforce, aka ETT, met to talk about upcoming workshops.  We have 3 scheduled for the fall: Museums & Community, Management & Governance, and CCI's Artifacts in Aboriginal Cultural Centres.  If you've been procrastinating about sending in your workshop registration, keep in mind that the first workshop filled up well before the registration deadline, so be sure to register early.
Africville Church Museum

I also attended a very special event in Halifax - the opening of the Africville Church Museum.  After such a wet summer, the building may not have been entirely finished, but what a powerful event. All levels of government were present, and members of the Africville community shared their memories and the significance of the renaming of Seaview Park and the establishment of the museum.  I won't even try to convey the emotion and meaning of the event because I could never do it justice.

QR Code Usage Stats
Well folks, I think it's time to declare the QR Codes a bit of a rural dud.  I've spoken with a number of participating museums and they say while visitor stats are steady, September has brought an older crowd that isn't inclined to cell phone use, let alone smartphone use.  Numbers have also dropped in the city, but the codes are still being used.  One thing we're hearing from tourists is they are worried about roaming charges.  We knew this would be the case, and are partnering with CHIN to develop a wifi security guide for museums to deal with the issue.

Sunday, September 18, 2011

Writing Funding Applications

Last week I was part of the Strategic Development Initiative Fund adjudication team, which basically means I was locked in a room with a bunch of people and we had to review and discuss funding applications for special heritage-related projects.  We then individually scored each application, the scores were averaged, and the highest scoring proposals will be recommended to the Heritage Minister for approval.
This was my first time adjudicating funding proposals - until now I've always been on the author end of them.  I thought it might be helpful for people to hear a first-time adjudicator's perspective, so here are some thoughts that popped into my head as I was reading & reviewing all of these applications.
  1. Always read through the application guide with a fine-toothed comb.  Highlight whatever it says is required.  Give your proofreaders this list of requirements.

  2. Ask at least two people to proofread your application.

  3. Talk to the funding program coordinator before you submit your application.  Ask questions, share your thoughts & plans, and listen to their feedback.  If they offer to read your proposal and provide feedback, don't say no.

  4. Be succinct and structure the application in a very straightforward way: project overview, brief background info, project goals, methodology, and deliverables, evaluation process, budget, and appendices.

  5. Think about the big picture and don't assume the adjudicators know what's going on with your organization.  How will this work set you up for bigger and better things?  If it's Phase 2 or 3 of a project, give a very brief outline of previous work that has led you to this point.  If the work is part of a long-term plan, attach the plan as an appendix so the adjudicators can get the whole story and where you're at in the process.  This shows how organized and professional you are.

  6. Name any employees/consultants you want to hire, and attach résumés, quotes, and/or letters of agreement.  This lets the adjudicator know that you've done your homework and you can hit the ground running if your application is approved.

  7. Check your math and then check it again.  If you mention any numbers in the application text, make sure they match what's in your budget sheet.

  8. For funding programs that require a certain percentage of cash contribution from the applicant, it always looks better if you exceed the minimum requirement.  The higher the contribution, and the more partner organizations putting in cash, the better you look.

  9. Try to get letters of support from your community - the mayor, chamber of commerce, school principals...whoever makes sense for your proposed work.  These can be attached as appendices.

  10. Spelling and grammar counts!

Thursday, September 8, 2011

August 2011 Update

Database Renewal Project
Guess what?!  We're done!!  Everyone has been migrated into CollectiveAccess and the first celebratory cake has been eaten.  It's very surreal after actively working on the migration portion of the project for the past 9 months.  We (ANSM & Whirl-i-gig staff) are rather proud of ourselves and a little in awe of how smoothly it all went, and would like to thank everyone for their support, patience and understanding.
As our former intern Alexandra put it, "time for another monster project, I guess!"  Yup, sounds about right.  So soon we'll be turning our focus toward the public website, aka Database Renewal Phase II.  Yes we are gluttons for punishment, or perhaps just overachievers, but by next fall we'll be ready to launch a great new website featuring the collections of Nova Scotia museums. 
For anyone who has not yet renewed their ANSM membership, keep in mind that you need to do this in order to continue in the database program as it is a service offered to ANSM members only.  Membership packages were mailed out over the summer so if you did not receive one or have questions, please call the office.

By the Numbers
We have almost 180,000 object records in the database system, and over 35,000 images.  This means that since last year an additional 13,000 object records have been entered.  So every time that you log in and see your nice counts widget, remember that you're feeding into something much larger than your individual museum.
In  previous posts I have tallied our collective contributions to Artefacts Canada by region.  So in keeping with that tradition, here is a tally from our new CollectiveAccess system:
Southwest - 83,347 artifacts, 15,901 images
Central - 36,609 artifacts, 6,563 images
Northeast - 30,427 artifacts, 11,645 images
Cape Breton - 21,855 artifacts, 2,642 images

Congrats to the Southwest region for holding the top spots for number of records and images! Special mention to the Northeast region for having over 1/3 of their images attached!!  Way to go!

Remember that if all goes according to plan we'll be launching the public website in September 2012, so that gives you one year to work on your records & images before they go live.  As you work on the fancy and fun new system, think about the public perception of your records, and what people will expect to be complete and accurate.  Please review your entries and use the spell check feature like it's going out of style.  If your visitors are always asking you "how old is that?" then try to narrow down the begin & end dates.  If they always ask "what does the makers mark look like on the bottom of that plate?" then make sure you get some nice detail shots of the various marks & labels on your artifacts.  If you have questions about artifact photography or scanning (or anything at all), please call the office.  We want to make sure we present your collection to the world in the best possible light (pun intended).

Site Visits
August was an insane month of driving from one end of the province to the other, but it was great to see everyone.  I visited 22 museums and trained over 30 people on CollectiveAccess.  This means that site visits are almost done for the season, and that summer is unfortunately nearing its end.  Thanks to everyone for all your hospitality and good conversation.  Let's do it again next year!
I know I quickly fell behind in my travelogs, but don't worry, I have lots of photos and tidbits to share over the fall.

QR Code Usage Stats
After an exciting increase in July usage, August went back down to only 230 hits.  The Halifax area museums are still maintaining steady use, but rural usage is very hit or miss.  While I'm not ready to declare a final verdict yet, I've been casually analyzing all the data for trends.  We'll watch for another couple of months and then formulate some conclusions.

New Faces
As many of you have already heard, we have a new face in the ANSM office.  Chris has joined us for his final term of Fleming College's Collections, Conservation and Management Program - the dreaded internship.  He'll be around until Christmas, and will be helping out with all sorts of tasks, one of which is creating more online resources for the ANSM website.  If you need a particular sample form, policy, or tip sheet, feel free to place your request with Chris.  He can be reached by phone at the office and by email at project[at]  I'll be dragging the poor boy around the province as I finish up site visits, and he'll also be putting in random appearances at meetings and workshops, so feel free to introduce yourself and show him how friendly we are on the East Coast.

Tuesday, September 6, 2011

Introducing Mr. Selman

Hi everybody!  My name is Chris, and I’m very excited to be in Nova Scotia to work as part of the Association of Nova Scotia Museums team for the next four months.  This internship is the final requirement for completing the CollectionsConservation and Management (CCM) Program at Fleming College in Peterborough, Ontario.

I grew up in rural Ontario in a place called Prince Edward County (about 2 hours east of Toronto), and minus some time served in Peterborough during school months (four years at Trent University and one year at Fleming College) have lived there my entire life- until now.  Not a whole lot to do in rural Ontario…played hockey a fair bit, exhibited chickens/ducks/pigeons at shows, and spent a lot of time reading or wandering around the farm (being an only child and having friends that live a ½ hour car ride away will do that).

It was all that reading that got me hooked on history.  It was my favourite subject all through school, so it was natural that I decided to major in it at university- which I really enjoyed.  The only downfall of a history degree is the whole “using it to find a job” problem that emerges afterwards. 

That led me to CCM at Fleming.  The program was very “hands-on,” and practical learning assignments (and this internship) will, hopefully, lend themselves to addressing the “using it to find a job” problem (I’ll let future Chris deal with that for now though).  Right now, again, I’m just really excited to be here.  I’ve never been to the East Coast of Canada before, so everything is new- which is pretty exciting (and a little intimidating).  I’ve toured around a little bit on my way down here from Ontario, I have weekends off, and Karin is going to let me tag along on some site visits, so hopefully I can see as much of the province as I can before my internship is over and future Chris has to start worrying about new things.  I look forward to meeting as many of you as possible and visiting your sites!      

Friday, August 5, 2011

July 2011 Update

Database Renewal Project
Now that I'm spending 80% of my time traveling around the province, the migration has slowed down a bit.  In July we switched over another 6 museums, bringing our grand total to 40.  We may not be ahead of schedule anymore, but we're still working away and seeing some very nice progress.
I know that people are actively working in the new system and adding lots of photos and information to their records.  It's great to see such progress and to hear that everyone is pleased with their new museum toy.  As a reminder, please try to narrow down your begin & end dates for when the artifact was made.  This will be very important to the public website, aka phase II of the renewal project.

Site Visits
, aka Karin on the road
I spent a lot of time on the road in July, visiting 12 sites across the province.  August is going to be even busier now that the majority of migrations are done.  Aside from this past week, the weather has cooperated and I've been enjoying some lovely drives in our very scenic province.  While I have fallen behind in my travelogs, I do have a great stockpile of images and stories to share.  So once things settle, you'll be able to read all about my adventures with fog and fossils and 35-pound lobsters.

QR Code Usage Stats
We're finally seeing an increase in qr code use at our pilot sites.  Whereas last month we only had 140 hits, this month we had 413.  That's more like it!  The top 3 sites were the Army Museum, Museum of Natural History, and les Trois Pignons Centre Culturel. Natural History's bullfrog was the most popular code of the month.

Shelburne County Museum has a qr code scavenger hunt that they are inviting visitors to do.  When completed, visitors return their sheet to staff to be entered into a prize draw - a great way to encourage visitors to check out all the codes and spend more time in the museum.

Tuesday, July 19, 2011

Museum Travels - Shelburne County

Time to play catch up with the site visit posts.  If you allow me to backtrack a few weeks, in this edition we'll be traveling down the south shore of Nova Scotia.  Our first stop is Barrington, home of the Cape Sable Historical Society, Seal Island Lighthouse Museum, the Old Meeting House, Western Counties Military Museum, and Barrington Woolen Mill Museum...Barrington really likes museums.  And the variety means that no matter what you're interested in, they should have something to accommodate you.   
It was a busy place when I visited, with visitors coming and going, and summer staff working on sprucing up the Society building in preparation for their CMAP evaluation. 

From Barrington I took the Lighthouse Route back to Shelburne, one of the "official" scenic routes in the province.  Having traveled the same highways and main roads so often, it's nice to take a back route sometimes for variety.  Taking the back roads also drastically increases your chances for wildlife sightings.  This trip's count (other than all the birds, squirrels & chipmunks) came to 1 coyote, 2 deer, and a porcupine that decided to show off for the camera.

My visit to Shelburne was a special one, because of a surprise retirement party being held that afternoon for the Shelburne County Museum's Curator. Finn has been with the Museum for 31 years, and so has become synonymous with the organization.  The concept of one existing without the other seems very strange.  I wish I'd gotten a photo of her as she walked into the room because she had no idea that around 40 people were quietly waiting for her.  The look on her face was one of total shock.  She told me afterwards that she had a lovely lunch with her coworkers the day before, and so she figured that would be the end of it.  She had no idea that something much bigger was planned.

Having worked with Finn for the past 5 years on various special projects and the usual database support stuff, I have always been impressed by her high standards of professionalism, her enthusiasm for learning, and her seemingly infinite knowledge of the collection and Shelburne's history.

Finn attended as many workshops and conferences as possible, and made sure to apply what she learned to her work at the museum.  Her reputation and many connections in the field saw that her retirement party was jam-packed with museum workers, historical society members, friends, and family.  Those who couldn't attend in person made sure to send cards or greetings.  This is truly an end of an era. 
From all of us at ANSM, we wish Finn the absolute best in her retirement, and that there are many sunny gardening days ahead.  The new bench will make a great rest and reading spot.

Wednesday, July 13, 2011

June 2011 Update

PMA Meetings
We kicked off the month with a trip to Ottawa to meet with other provincial museums association staff and federal agencies.  Being a glutton for punishment, I rashly promised to blog daily updates and somehow managed to actually do so.  In case you missed them, here are the links for you to read about day 1, day 2, day 3, and/or day 4.

Database Renewal Project
This month we doubled the number of CollectiveAccess users, from 17 to 34.  This has put us slightly ahead of schedule, which will come in handy as my summer travels will take over data cleaning time.  Our projected timeline has us finishing the first week of August.  Right now our theme song is "this is the project that never ends, it just goes on and on my friend. Some people started doing it not knowing what it was, and now they keep on doing it forever just because this is the project that never ends..."
Please bear with us as we continue this massive undertaking.  We are increasingly convinced this was the best decision for Nova Scotia's museum community, and aside from a few minor growing pains, everything is working well.  People are actively adding and editing information, and summer students are picking it all up remarkably fast.
If you are still working in the old database, I promise that your turn is coming soon.

Anna Swan - After the Fire
QR Code Usage Stats
We haven't yet seen the big jump in numbers that I've been hoping for, but people are still using the codes at a steady rate.  We had another 140 hits over June, which puts us at a total of 1161.  The Army Museum continues to be the most popular, and even surpassed the Museum of Natural History, which has held the top spot for monthly views ever since we began the project.  The Army Museum has a bit of catching up to do, but if they continue at this rate I wouldn't be surprised if they overtake MNH in total views before the end of the summer.  The Lewis Gun also kept its top spot of most popular qr code.  Apparently our museum visitors have a violent side.  Who knew?!

Site Visits
Scheduling has proven tricky this year, as I'm not visiting sites until they have been migrated to the new database system.  And since we aren't migrating in any sort of geographical order, this means I have to wait until I've got a few museums that are near enough to allow for some coordination.  As I said, tricky.  But I'm slowly making the rounds, clocking many hours in rental cars with audio books.  Thank goodness for the Halifax Public Library.  I'm trying to blog more casually about my travels, so you can read about my visits in Digby County and Halifax & Annapolis County and stay tuned for more travelogs.
I encourage everyone to bring in volunteers, board members, and students for my visit as I'll be training you on the new database system.  To keep things simple we'll just be covering the basics, and will address more advanced features once we get over the initial learning curve.  Oh the things this new toy can do!!

Monday, June 27, 2011

Museum Travels - Halifax and Annapolis Valley

This week's travels began in Halifax at the Army Museum on Citadel Hill.  Most people know that Parks Canada operates the citadel, but not everyone knows there is also a community museum on the site.  A visit to the army boys (as I affectionately call them) is always educational.  They have so many stories to share that I always leave with some new gem.  This time I heard about a certain War of 1812 raid on Washington and the adventures of two Nova Scotian brothers who took part in the burning of Washington and more specifically the White House (apologies to my American readers, but you guys did make a mess in York that required retaliation).  I won't say exactly what they did, but I'm sure the army boys would love to share the tale with you.

Don't forget to take your smartphone with you either, as there are qr codes throughout the exhibits.  Some of them explain more about a particular artifact, like the very popular Lewis Gun, while others have stories from veterans.  My personal favourite is the one about the haystacks.

West Hants Historical Museum
After Halifax I went on to Windsor and the West Hants Historical Museum.  What I love about West Hants is the focus of their collection.  It's all local, very reflective of the various industries from the town's history, and they have some really great stories behind artifacts and photos.  They also have a fantastic archives with oodles (yes, I said oodles) of genealogical information for those with Hants County roots.  It's hard to pick out favourites in such a great collections, but a few items do stand out.  One is a love letter quilt, which at first glance looks like any other quilt.  What makes it special is that a young lady sewed in her sweetheart's love letters between the fabric layers.
love letter quilt
For my New Brunswick readers, the museum has a connection to Henry More Smith, aka Frederick Moon, aka the Lunar Rogue, aka the Mysterious Stranger.  An 18th century hooligan, my hometown of Kingston was plagued by this thief and con artist who made marionettes from his straw mattress and even faked death in order to escape from the humble Kingston jail (or gaol for the more historically-minded).  Our local sheriff chased him all the way to Ontario before losing the trail, and later wrote a book about it all.  Well, it turns out that Henry (if that was his real name) married a Hants County girl and even had some kids before crossing the bay and butting heads with Sheriff Bates.

Annapolis Valley Macdonald Museum
From Windsor I went on to Middleton for a 2-day workshop by the Council of Nova Scotia Archives.  Another New Brunswick connection, the workshop was held in the Annapolis Valley Macdonald Museum, which used to be called Macdonald Consolidated School.  Sir William Macdonald built 5 of these schools in Eastern Canada - New Brunswick, Nova Scotia, Prince Edward Island, Ontario and Quebec.  The premise behind the schools was that rural children required a different kind of education than city children, which meant that the schools had extensive gardens and students were taught agricultural and other practical skills.  Macdonald even paid for horse-drawn vans to pick up the kids each day.  Only one of these schools is still a school (good ol' Kingston), another is a museum, and the one in Guelph is now an arts centre.  I think Sir William would be pleased with this. 

And to bring it back to our dear friend Henry More Smith, the Kingston school was built on  top of the old jail's foundation, and in its basement you can visit the John Fisher Memorial Museum and check out the outline of the old cells.