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.