Monday, February 28, 2011

February 2011 Update

Database Renewal
Three museum databases have been moved over to the new CollectiveAccess system.  We have server space with iWeb, the Montreal-based company which also hosts the National Film Board archives,so we are confident that this arrangement will work out well.
The image migration deadline has now passed and that means we're gearing up for migration of more database files.  The migration order is pretty set so if you haven't sent in your survey results on database functionality, it's now or never. 

Alexandra has been conducting beta-testing and helping Seth with the final customization work.  She has also been working on a user manual and instructional videos. 

QR Codes
Codes have been launched at the Museum of Natural History and we have gotten a small amount of press over the initiative.  French CBC news interviewed Jeff Gray and I about the project and we've seen two online articles about it as well.  In less than 4 weeks we've had 350 hits (views).  The Admiral Digby Museum will be launching their codes for March Break.  
Josh is working on all the final details of this project to wrap everything up by March 18th.  The last promotional posters and packages are being mailed out today, which means QR Codes are gradually being installed around the province. 
The how-to guide is still in draft form but is shaping up nicely.  A copy has been sent to CHIN for feedback, and Alexandra and Josh have also been seeking input from experts on specific areas of the guide, such as working with audio or video files.  I am hoping to have this all wrapped up and approved by CHIN by the end of the week.

We will be having a session on QR Codes at our spring conference in Tatamagouche, so if you didn't participate in the pilot project or just want to hear more about this work, this is your opportunity.

Upcoming Workshop & Conference
As you've heard through the ANSM Beacon newsletter and our recent mailout, we'll be having a workshop in Yarmouth on March 24th from 10am-4pm.  Stephanie Smith will be leading the discussion on how everyone, not just Nova Scotia Museum sites, can use the interpretive master plan to improve their museum practices.  More information can be found on our website and/or Facebook fanpage.  Click here to download the registration form.

Our annual conference is also approaching, April 28-30th.  Registration will be open soon, so for now mark your calendars.  Creamery Square in Tatamagouche will be hosting, and as the final details get hammered out we're getting more and more excited about it.  This is an event you won't want to miss.

Speaking of Facebook, we now have 89 fans.  Our goal with social media is to share resources, news, events, and other professional development opportunities with our members and online community.  Feel free to check it out.  We'd love for you to become a fan, but you can access all of the information without a Facebook account.

Annual Renewals
To date we've received 22 renewal contracts and cheques.  Please keep in mind that in order to migrate your data we require a contract and payment, so these need to be sent in right away.

Blog Archive
I've been trying to blog more often, and have somehow been managing a new post every week.  So just in case you missed them, feel free to check out the following posts from the past month:

Central Regional Group Meeting - covers the meeting at MNH & QR codes launch
Photographing Artifacts - tips on capturing good artifact photos

New Agent of Deterioration - an introduction to dissociation and how your museum can minimize the risks

Monday, February 21, 2011

New Agent of Deterioration - Dissociation

For anyone unfamiliar with the basics of conservation, there are 9 agents of deterioration which cause damage to museum collections.  These are direct physical forces, thieves & vandals, fire, water, pests, pollutants, light (sometimes referred to as radiation), incorrect temperature, and incorrect humidity.  How many of you have heard about the "new" agent though?  CCI has recently revised their preservation framework to include a 10th agent - dissociation.  In my opinion it is great to see official recognition that the loss of artifact data can be just as harmful to the collection as physical deterioration.

"Dissociation results in loss of objects, object-related data, or the ability to retrieve or associate objects and data. The principal means of control against the risk of dissociation is establishing and complying with policies and procedures meant to document and control the acquisition and movements of objects. The ability to exercise professional discipline to abide with these policies and procedures through periods of great productivity pressures is often the risk-limiting factor for dissociation. Where appropriate and adequate policies and procedures are not instituted and respected, dissociation will likely be the greatest risk to a collection." ~from CCI's website

I think I speak for many museum professionals when I say that the announcement of the addition of this 10th agent resulted in cheering. Yes, some of us are just that geeky.  Over the past few years I have had many discussions involving the 9 agents of deterioration and how they are affecting museums in Nova Scotia.  Working with the Passage collections database, discussions around standards include the importance of capturing information - essentially the who, what, when, where, why and how questions relating to the artifact.  Without this information, the object loses much of its value.  It's like working on a jigsaw puzzle and realizing that one or more pieces are missing.  Do you end up with a clear picture at the end?  No.  And aren't those blank spots distracting? 

Dissociation covers:
  • rare and catastrophic single events resulting in extensive loss of data, objects, or object values;
  • sporadic and severe events occurring every few years or decades resulting in loss of data, objects, or object values; and
  • continual events or processes resulting in loss of data, objects, or object values.
Every museum has mystery objects; artifacts left on the doorstep, unknown donors, or the infamous "found in collection".  Sometimes this information was never captured, and other times it was lost when a staff person or volunteer left the organization.  Maybe an artifact label was misplaced during a move or the accession number wore off or was/became illegible. Maybe the computer crashed and the collections database was lost.  Maybe a fire or flood destroyed all of the paper collection records.  Perhaps an object with several pieces was stored in multiple locations without being documented, or one of said pieces disappeared.
As I regularly tell museum workers, we will encounter some dead ends when hunting down old information about artifacts.  There is nothing we can do to change that.  However, if our current practices are increasing the risk of dissociation in the collection, they need to change.

Here are my top 10 tips on minimizing the risk of dissociation for your museum:
  1. Practice due diligence to make sure you can legally acquire potential donations, purchases, etc.
  2. Make sure that you have fully documented the legal transfer of objects to the museum - including intellectual property rights.
  3. Review all policies and procedures on a regular basis to ensure that they are still meeting recognized standards and the individual needs of the museum.
  4. Always get the donor/source to complete a donor questionnaire.
  5. Make sure each artifact has an archival-quality, legible accession number label attached to it.
  6. Maintain dedicated artifact storage space - there's no excuse for accidentally throwing out an artifact.
  7. Maintain an accurate inventory.
  8. Double-check database entries to ensure that everything is accurate and spelled correctly.
  9. Regularly backup files and store copies off-site.
  10. Provide in-depth training to all new staff and volunteers.

To read more about dissociation, check out CCI's website.

Monday, February 14, 2011

Photographing Artifacts - the good, the bad, and the ugly

I'd like to dedicate this blog post to Miriam Harris, a conservator who is also an instructor in Fleming College's Collections Conservation and Management Program.  Miriam trained me in artifact photography, and while our entire class always complained about how strict she was with her marking of our before & after treatment photos, it all makes sense now.  I get it.  Thanks Miriam :)

To date, 45,199 artifact and archival photos have been gathered for the great data migration to CollectiveAccess.  Being a curious person, I've been conducting quick checks of these images - partially to see what's hiding in Nova Scotia's community museum collections, and partially to conduct a little quality assurance.  It's been a couple of years since I've done on-site training in photography, so looking at these photos has been a great way to see how much training has "stuck".  There are some really great images, as well as some not-so-great images.  So I thought I'd share a few samples of artifact photos, and explain what makes them good, or note how they could be improved.  I will not say where these photos are from because this isn't about praising or embarrassing anyone; this is about learning and improving ourselves.

The Good:  brown silk, cotton and buckram hat with flowers

As Mary Poppins would say, this image is "practically perfect in every way". 
What's right:  the natural positioning on the head form allows you to see both the top and side of the hat, and gives an understanding of the front and back details; the background fabric provides a good contrast to the dark brown, the scale is tucked close without interfering with the symmetry of the photograph, and the image has been neatly cropped to give the photo a framed effect.

What could be improved:  if you want to get really picky, there are some slight shadows and a couple of wrinkles in the background fabric.

The Bad: white cotton blouse
Textiles should be photographed on a mannequin or dress form.  If you don't have one, find a local seamstress or tailor who can lend you theirs.

What's right: the entire blouse is in the picture, the colour is pretty good, and the scale lets us know the size.

What's wrong: the photo is a bit blurry and shadowed, the scale is up to the right instead of in the lower left, the blouse isn't buttoned and isn't even on the hanger straight.  The background fabric should be darker to provide better contrast and wrinkles should have been ironed out (only in the background fabric, not in the blouse). 

The Ugly: a chair
Furniture should be photographed similarly to the hat above, angled so you can see all 3 dimensions and lots of construction details - hardware, moulding, inlays, upholstery, carved detailing etc.

What's wrong:  I'm not sure which chair I'm supposed to be looking at and neither of them are entirely in the shot, the image is overexposed due to all the sunlight from the window so the colour is off, there's no background fabric or scale, the chair doesn't fill the frame, and the image becomes very grainy in the lower right.

The Unbelievable: knitting needles
This is quite possibly one of my favorite artifact photos ever, so here's what I have to say about it:
Yes this is only a summer job, but you still need to be professional.  A good reference can go a long way, and a bad one can lose you your dream job.  So if you are going to document your 2008 wardrobe choices in an artifact photo, at least pretend to be interested instead of sitting slouched back in a chair with the camera barely capturing the needles.
Also, I can see the accession number on one of the needles and the image is overexposed at the top.

What's important to remember here is that our new database system is going to be wide open; your artifacts will be available for all the world to see.  So if you're photographing your collection you have to take the time to get a high quality image because these will be a direct reflection of your museum's level of professionalism.  If you are assigning this task to summer students, make sure you train them instead of assuming that they know how to take good artifact photos.  Trust me, they don't know how (unless Miriam or someone like her trained them before they started, in which case you should be able to ask for their portfolio of work).  You have to be checking on their work regularly to make sure it's of high quality.  We want to be as professional as possible, especially since these images will be seen by the general public.  So take the extra five minutes; it will be worth it.

Monday, February 7, 2011

Central Regional Heritage Group Meeting

On Friday the Central Regional Heritage Group met at the NS Museum of Natural History.  There were around 15 people in attendance from across the Halifax Regional Municipality, representing 11 organizations.  Not a bad turnout for a mid-winter meeting.

Anita and Karin reported on the various ANSM activities, from the upcoming conference to the new database system.
The Council of NS Archives reported that it has some new emergency supply kits that can be accessed by members in the event of a disaster.  They are located at the NSARM in Halifax, the Beaton Institute in Sydney, and the Yarmouth County Museum & Archives in Yarmouth.
Moose River Gold Mines Museum reported that this year marks the 75th anniversary of the mine disaster, and commemoration activities will take place on April 30th.  Mainland South Heritage Society is celebrating 20 years, and will be having a tea on Feb.19th at the community centre.  Cole Harbour Heritage Farm has just completed a Community Memories project; the funding allowed them to digitize all of their audio-visual holdings.

Destination Halifax was also in attendance and gave us all an overview of what they can offer to heritage organizations. While their target market is the meeting/convention world, they are always looking for activities and products (including museums) to promote to visitors.  Their website gets over 35,000 hits per month, and even if you aren't a member you can submit events and promote your organization.  With over 22,000 fans on Facebook, this provides a great venue for advertising upcoming events at the museum, whether it's an exhibit opening or tea social.

After the meeting Jeff Gray took us on a tour to visit Sue the T-Rex.  It was great to see all the young families coming into the gallery and hear the kids' reactions - Wow!  It's so big!  Look at the teeth!  This is so cool!
What a great way to introduce kids to the world of museums.  The interest is there, and in April we'll be looking at ways to move Beyond the Labels in our interpretation so that we can keep the kids interested in coming back again and again.

tree under construction
  We also got a behind-the-scenes tour of the upcoming exhibit Netukulimk which is scheduled to open later this year.  The premise is to bring the outside inside, so the exhibit development team is working hard at creating a Nova Scotian forest with trees and caves with lots of interactive pieces for kids to learn and play.  As one of ANSM's partners in the QR Code project, the museum is taking full advantage of this new technology and using it to share what's taking place behind the barriers.  Two QR codes are providing visitors with the opportunity to hear about the exhibit development process from MNH staff who are busy building and painting.  As Jeff put it, this is a great way for visitors to engage with museum staff who aren't interpreters or on the front lines, giving the visitors a better understanding of how the museum operates.

looking underground and a new home for the bees
exhibit design behind-the-scenes

The other great thing about meeting at the MNH is that Jeff and Karin got to hang out with a CBC reporter and talk about QR Codes after all the meeting attendees had left.  The MNH officially launched their QR Codes on Friday, so this gave an opportunity to garner a bit of press and monitor people's reaction to these funny little square things (according to our stats, so far the code next to Gus the Tortoise is the most popular, surprise surprise).  Jeff opted to not post any notices about the QR codes and is taking a "if you know what these are, check them out" approach.  So if you go to the Museum of Natural History, be sure to take your smartphone and go hunting for those elusive little black and white squares.  

The next meeting has been scheduled for May 13th at Alderney Gate, hosted by the HRM Cultural & Heritage Development team.  Stay tuned to the listserv for more info.

Tuesday, February 1, 2011

January 2011 Update

The year has just begun but we've definitely hit the ground running.

Renewal Contracts
Passage renewal contracts have been sent out and should be in your mailbox any day.  Please return these with your renewal cheque as soon as possible as we need a valid contract before we can migrate your database to the new system.  We truly appreciate all of the hard work you have put into this over the years, and look forward to another year of partnership. 

ANSM Online
If you’re looking for some professional development tips and resources, or wondering what museums in Nova Scotia are up to, we’d love to have you join our Facebook fan page.  If you don’t have a Facebook account you can still access the page by clicking on the Facebook button to your right.

Also remember to check out our website.  The resources section is being added to monthly.  New resources include a Museums Guide to Internet Marketing and Incident Report for Injury or Illness.

QR Code Project
This project was originally supposed to finish on January 21st, but CHIN has graciously granted us a project extension until mid-March.  So Josh is continuing to work on project branding, getting all the instructional posters printed up, and finalizing content with sites.  This week will mark the official launch of the QR Codes at the NS Museum of Natural History in Halifax, which we are all very excited about.  Alexandra is dividing her time between the How-To Guide for QR Codes and database migration work (more on that later).  There will be a session on QR Codes at our Spring conference in Tatamagouche in April, and we can’t wait to share the process with you.

Database Renewal Project
As you’ve all heard, migration is imminent.  You’ve also heard that in order to do the migration we need to get all your artefact photos.  If I don’t receive these files by Feb.18th, you will have to reattach your images in the new system.  We hate to do this, but we just can’t wait any longer or we won’t meet our funding deliverables.  Alexandra has been phoning around to make sure this is done, so if you haven’t yet spoken with her please call the office right away.

Alexandra has also started working on the new database user manual, and we are hoping to have some how-to videos posted on our YouTube channel by mid-March to supplement the manual.
Pinpointing the location of an archival photograph
I know this probably seems like a big waiting game, but we’re working very hard to get this right.  We’ll give you a call the minute we’re ready to migrate your museum’s data.

Artefacts Canada Tally
I haven’t reported on this since November, so I thought I’d remind everyone just how many records we have that have been released to the general public through Artefacts Canada.  Once again the central region was the only region to upload records, adding another 844 to the tally.  This gives us a grand total of 158,165 collection records on Artefacts Canada. 

Here are the new regional stats:
Southwest: 69,923
Central: 41,273
Northeast: 25,731
Cape Breton: 21,238

Blog Poll
There is a new blog poll posted that asks what feature you are most excited about in the new database system.  It may be a little less serious than some previous polls, but we’re just as interested in hearing from you.