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.

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