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.

Monday, June 20, 2011

Museum Travels - Digby County

As I've mentioned before, I like statistics.  And the stats say that we have a lot of people reading the blog who aren't from Canada so may have no idea what Nova Scotia is like.  So I thought I'd have a sort of photo review of my museum site visits around our fair province for all the Australians and Ukrainians and Russians who have been regularly checking in.  Enjoy, and stay tuned for many more.  Summer's just beginning.

My first stop was the Kings County Museum in Kentville.  Yes I know this isn't in Digby County but I stopped on my way.  While this wasn't their official seasonal site visit, since I was passing through it seemed like a good opportunity to pick up their database file for cleaning & migration.  It also gave the curator and I a chance to talk about the new database and our big plans for future work.  With almost 12,000 entries this is one of the largest databases being migrated to the new CollectiveAccess system, so sitting down with the curator to show her what to expect and how easily she'll be able to work with the collection was a nice way to break up what would have been a 3 hour drive.  By the time I got to Digby the weather was starting to clear and I got to enjoy some great scenery.

my favorite view in the province
Admiral Digby Museum

I spent Thursday at the Admiral Digby Museum with the curator and summer student.  We had a very full day of reviewing the CollectiveAccess database and dreaming up all sorts of potential projects.  I'm especially interested in seeing all the old photographs in the Digby collection, because I know that what's currently in the database is only the tip of the iceberg. 
There was some sort of antique car event taking place in town, or at least a tour group who decided to stop in Digby.  The downtown was lined with some beautiful old cars, and the locals were definitely enjoying the treat.  It's not every day you get to see a century-old automobile, let alone 10 of them.

downtown Digby
Friday was spent in Freeport with the Islands Historical Society volunteers and summer students.  Maritime hospitality at its finest, they had homemade seafood chowder for our lunch and cookies for dessert.  I somehow managed not to take a picture of the Archives, so I'll have to remedy that the next time around.  As in Digby, we reviewed the new system, set up some extra logins for volunteers and students, and came up with a good work plan for the season.  There was a lot of interest in the georeferencing feature of the new database, as so many items in the collection can be traced to an exact location.  Those students and volunteers are going to be very, very busy. 
on the way to the Islands Museum
wharf & rockweed at low tide

It was a hectic few days, but great to be back on the road. Until next time...
heading home

Thursday, June 9, 2011

Provincial Museum Association Meetings - Day 4

CCI is so cool!  Our final day in Ottawa was spent at the Canadian Conservation Institute, talking about preservation issues.  This is great.  Having studied Collections Conservation & Management, I obviously have a soft spot for these guys.  Not only are they our national experts, but they are highly respected on the international level as well.  And this is a very small field, so we are extremely fortunate to have such an organization.

Over the past few years many federal programs and services have been undergoing review, and CCI's was recently completed. In discussing preliminary results, it sounds like we're all on the same page about what issues are most prevalent in Canadian museums (regardless of size, operating structure, budget, etc.).  We have insufficient room and inadequate conditions to house collections, we have difficulty caring for collections in the long-term, difficulty  financing core functions that don't generate revenue (and insufficient revenue in general), and insufficient funds for the necessary professional development.  In comparing these issues to the services provided by CCI, it is very easy to recognize its importance.  Access to expert advice, reference materials on their website, workshops delivered through the provincial museum associations (we've got one coming up in the fall...stay tuned for more details), an extensive lending library, research & publications, the list goes on and on.  We heard today that since 2006, CCI has trained 1707 people in 113 workshops. 

We also talked a lot about relative humidity and temperature, and the ASHRAE guidelines that are now being used.  In a nutshell, you want to avoid extremes - fluctuations are bad and end up costing you a lot of money to try and control.  So if you will realistically never be able to achieve 50% RH, you should instead focus your efforts on minimizing the fluctuations that take place.  As this is an active area of discussion in the conservation field, it was recognized that more work needs to be done on implementation strategies - simple things that any museum can do to help improve their storage and display environments.  I think this is a topic to dig a bit deeper into, so I'll put it in my list of future posts. 

Thanks to Charlie Costain for the quote of the day, "don't let things go mouldy".  Mr. Costain is an expert, so I'd listen to his advice if I were you.

After 3 days of beautiful summer weather, this afternoon was a completely different picture.  At 445pm the skies opened, the wind picked up, and we had a crazy thunder and lightning storm.  Maybe Ottawa was just sad to see us all go back home, but throwing a tantrum that involved picking up and tossing patio umbrellas around seemed a little extreme.  Thanks to CHIN & CCI for pulling all of this together, and to the other PMAs for some great discussions and "networking".  And now it's time to catch up on sleep.
Thank you Ottawa and Good Night!

Wednesday, June 8, 2011

Provincial Museum Association Meetings - Day 3

The first topic of today's discussions hit very close to home - documentation standards.  As most of you know, I tend to get a little preachy sometimes with this topic, so hearing what's new with standards was great.  I've got a long list of resources to share which I'll be doing through our Facebook page over the coming weeks.  Thank you Heather!

We also heard from CHIN staff about the latest and greatest in digital technologies, ie emerging trends.  I'm very happy to say that QR codes were at the top of the list, and have actually created a lot of buzz at these meetings.  Almost all the other provinces want to follow our lead in doing their own qr code project, or at least encourage their members to incorporate qr codes at their sites.  Yup, ANSM - trendsetters.  Sheila also talked a lot about augmented reality and rfid tags.  Very inspiring stuff, and I took a lot of notes and thought up even more stuff to add to the ever-growing project wish list.  Oh the possibilities!

Ken from Newfoundland talked about all the work they're doing with intangible cultural heritage.  This is the province to watch.  Since the provincial government decided there should be a provincial initiative to deal with ICH, they've developed guidelines and are now actively capturing information.  We got to watch a video of "running the goat" from 1981, which was pretty amazing.  I'll definitely be delving more deeply into this work.  Huge potential for Nova Scotia's museums, and something that people have been asking about fairly frequently.

David and Jim from BC talked about their new website,  This is definitely an inspirational site.  David gave a great presentation on the process they went through in developing it, and Anita and I were definitely paying very close attention.  Lots to learn, and lots to apply to our website plans.  The BCMA is very closely aligned with BC Tourism, and has been gradually shifting their focus in this direction over the past few years.  Once again, this is a phenomenal project that we can learn a lot from.  It has been a banner year for ideas. 

Anita with Maman
We ended the day with a guided tour of the National Gallery of Canada.  Unfortunately, when you put that many museum geeks into a space they tend to wander around a lot, so as Anita put it, we were very amoeba-like in our tour.  Unfortunately we didn't get to see the new Caravaggio exhibit because it's still being installed, but it sounds like that's a show worth coming back to see.  I think my favourite pieces were the ones from home, like the painted room that used to live in Nova Scotia, which had mill-work that was practically identical to my house.  I also liked the old harbour views of Halifax; there's just something about the age of sail...
The Group of Seven works were pretty great as well.  Thanks so much to CHIN for organizing the tour, and to our lovely tour guide whose name I did not catch.
that's all for today

Monday, June 6, 2011

Provincial Museum Association Meetings - Day 2

view from our meeting room
So the first "real" day is over. 
We started off by talking about digital preservation issues.  Museums have been creating lots of digital content over the past few years but have often missed planning for the preservation of this content.  It was pointed out that digital preservation requires active intervention beginning at the time the digital asset was created.  While it is imperative for someone at the museum to be responsible for this, based on the goals of the organization, this question of "how do we do it?" is being asked at the national level and there is much debate about the potential for preservation services and how these should be provided.
National Arts Centre
The issue of digital preservation is much more pronounced with "born" digital data - content that can't be re-scanned or digitized if the files go corrupt or are lost.  While much of our digitized materials have some physical representation, digital images, audio, and video files are just that, files.  For this reason, we should be checking these every few months to make sure the files are still readable.  We also talked about physical security, such as keeping copies off-site and making sure doors are locked and files are secure on-site.

Rideau Canal
I presented on our recent qr code project, and realized that the OMA's video production how-to guide will work beautifully in conjunction with our how-to guide.  Both should be posted on the CHIN Professional Exchange website by the end of the month.

memorial to First Nations veterans
CHIN gave us a membership update, which included announcements about the VMC Investment Programs.  The Art Gallery of Nova Scotia will be creating a virtual exhibit, and Community Memories Projects were awarded to the Charles Macdonald Concrete House and  Wedgeport Sport Tuna Fishing Museum.

Highlights of the day include:
1. Passing notes in "class" in order to figure out dinner plans
2. Lunch time walk with Julie & Pierre in the beautiful summer weather
3. Bilingualism...there's just something so Canadian about meetings where people use English and French interchangeably
4. Quote of the day: "for it to be a conspiracy someone has to be in charge"
5. The LOCKSS Principle - lots of copies keeps stuff safe!

Sunday, June 5, 2011

Provincial Museum Association Meetings - Day 1

Ok, so technically tomorrow is day 1, but I'm going to cheat a bit in order to remind people about the PMAs.  For the past few years I've been making an annual pilgrimage to Ottawa in order to meet with CHIN, CCI, CMA, and other provincial & territorial museums association staff members.  Having all these museum people and key stakeholders in the same place at the same time means lots of talking, listening, brainstorming, the end of the three days our brains are fried and sleep is at the top of our "to do" list. 

waterfall wall...ooooh!
Having said that, I think I speak for all attendees when I say that these meetings are crucial.  We're all so busy in our own work that we sometimes forget to look up and compare notes with the other provinces and territories.  Sitting around a table and learning from eachother always sparks new or borrowed ideas that can be brought back to Nova Scotia for the benefit of our museums.  This is also a chance for ANSM to bring Nova Scotia's issues to the national table.  The stakeholders we meet with are funding and service agencies, and advocacy associations.  And what we find more often than not, is that when an issue is raised by one province, it is echoed by others.  For instance, over the past two years we have been raising the issue of Young Canada Works not allowing you to hire the same student twice.  For museums in rural areas the candidate pool is often too small to accommodate this restriction, and from the perspective of the employer, it means losing valuable time retraining instead of being able to hit the ground running with an interested individual whose expertise can be built up over several years.  This year, those restrictions were finally lifted.  Many voices carry much power.

Anita getting cozy with Macdonald & Cartier
Anita and my adventures began at the Halifax airport where we learned that the flight had been overbooked and so there was a small chance that one of us wouldn't get on board.  I managed to get through security without setting off the metal detector, and even avoided the random laptop swab test.  The guy behind me was not as lucky.  In the waiting area we ran into Janice and Lynn from Association Museums New Brunswick.  Janice trained me in collections management databases back when I lived in New Brunswick, which means we share many acquaintances and always enjoy catching up on the latest news.  The ensuing shop talk helped pass the time as we waited and hoped that the plane had enough seats.  Luckily, we all made it on the overbooked flight, arrived with all our luggage, and got to the hotel safe and sound.

So we're here, we're settled, and we're almost ready to go.  Tomorrow I'll be presenting on our recent QR Code Project, and we're having a roundtable on digital preservation.  So it's time to review my presentation and speaking notes.  And after that it will be time to review the digital preservation questions.  After that I think sleep might be in order.  Stay tuned for daily recaps!
view of parliament from my hotel window