Monday, December 31, 2012

December 2012 Update

Renewal Contracts
One of the biggest pre-holiday tasks was the renewal mail-out. By now you should have all received a little package with your contract, letter, and service cost-analysis. Contracts and payments are due by January 31st, so please take care of this asap. If you have questions feel free to email or phone the office. Remember that we cannot deliver support services without a valid contract.

Young Canada WorksThe deadline for YCW applications is quickly approaching, and this year they've made a couple little changes. Be sure to read all of the fine print for the program outline. Remember that successful applications include references to "big picture" work, such as tying in with community anniversaries, special events, and large-scale initiatives (such as NovaMuse). The federal government is currently gearing up for "the road to 2017", so if you can connect your work to confederation and any upcoming commemorations this will give you a big boost in the adjudication process. Remember to be specific. Feel free to refer to my post on writing funding applications for more tips.

Database Info
In less than a week I will be embroiled in the world of data review. Nomenclature 3.0 and batch editing will be my new best friends, and by the end of January I'll have reviewed & updated over 6000 records. This is going to be very quick work, so please continue to work on updating your georeferences and manufacture dates. This will help be a huge help to me!
Now on to the fun stuff:
We have finally passed the 190,000 record mark! December was a much slower month for everyone (and rightly so), but 385 records and 178 images were added. Our new official tally is 190,278 records and 71,239 images.
By region:
Port Hastings Museum & Archives
Railway Catechism Booklet
Southwest: 98,299 artifacts, 31,867 images
Central: 35,901 artifacts, 13,554 images
Northeast: 30,648 artifacts, 17,569 images
Cape Breton: 25,430 artifacts, 8,249 images

Congrats to the Central region for adding the most records again, and to the Southwest region for adding the most images!

Your image of the month takes us back into the realm of scanning 2-dimensional items. In this case we're looking at the catechism for general train and interlocking rules, ie an instruction booklet for railway workers.  Of course by now we all know that this can just be popped into the scanner and a lovely image will result. But it is also important to take secondary and sometimes tertiary images of these items as well. For postcards, you'd want to scan the back to capture the written message. For this book, when it is opened up you see that someone wrote their name and the date inside. We can also see a very clear outline of the tear in the front cover which is important for conservation purposes. So when you are scanning, be sure to look for these kinds of details and get them done while the item is out.

Winding up the Old Year

We only had 3 weeks in the office this month, which gave us a surprising amount of time to come up with some new hair-brained schemes and shenanigans. We had two meetings with the Nova Scotia Museum and Department of Communities, Culture & Heritage to talk about NovaMuse and next steps. We're going to touch base again in early January, but we're already pretty excited about what this might mean.

The Cultural Federations of Nova Scotia, of which ANSM is a part, joined together to host an open house on December 14th. The courtyard was packed with writers, actors, dancers, artists, was pretty impressive. It even brought Paul Collins out of retirement for the evening.

I also managed to write another book review this month. Click here to check it out.

Ringing in the New Year
I mentioned in November's update that we would be talking with Fleming College again about the possibility of their museum management & curatorship students doing a bit of database work for us. I am very, very pleased to say that this is a go! Next week we will begin ironing out the final details, but I have already identified and approached the 10 sites that we are hoping to partner with the 29 students for a little database cleaning & research work.
Important - if you got an email about this and have not responded, please let me know asap if you want to participate. I have to have the records picked out and accounts ready for the students by the end of January and this takes a bit of time to prepare. If I don't hear back by January 14th you will miss your chance for some extra help.

All for now. Have a safe and happy New Year's Eve, and I look forward to working with you all in 2013.

Tuesday, December 18, 2012

Book Review - Thinking About Starting a Museum?

Almost two years ago I reviewed Starting Right, a book that helps people figure out if they are really ready to start a museum. Getting back into our reference library, a similarly useful book is Thinking about Starting a Museum? published by the Alberta Museums Association. This workbook takes a much more hands-on approach at an even earlier step in the process.

While Starting Right provides many questions for organizations to ask themselves, this discussion guide doubles as a workbook, providing plenty of tables and space to document your answers as you go through the process. "The booklet is a tool to help identify the most effective way to meet a community's heritage needs. It is not intended to outline how to establish a museum but instead, to guide a group through the very important process of deciding how heritage activities can bring the greatest benefit to a community."

I appreciate the fact that the authors didn't hold back, didn't sugar coat anything. They warn that a "museum that is merely existing is not likely to remain open for long; the public will quickly lose interest if it is perceived that nothing changes or happens at the museum". Consulting with the community about any kind of heritage project is not suggested as a good idea but presented as a mandatory requirement.

The workbook is broken up into the following sections:

1. What is a museum?
The flow of the book impresses the seriousness of museum work on the reader - that museums are part of a publicly accountable, professional, international community with a strong code of ethics. From there it moves on to the financial responsibilities associated with museums, reminding the reader that generous one-time donations from community members, businesses or governments should never be interpreted as "first-time" donations. You can't expect these donors to step in year after year, and you can't expect people to always be knocking on your door to volunteer in other ways. Community engagement is always ongoing.

2. Identifying goals, needs and resources
There will always be differing opinions and lots of ideas shared during such a discussion, but the important thing to remember is that we can't be all things to all people. It's important to stay focused and organized in our activities. So before you do anything else, you get to work through a series of questions that address your purpose, community support, and resources. The list of questions may seem long, but this just makes sure you aren't wearing any rose-coloured glasses when you reach your final decision about how to proceed.  You've acknowledged what level of resources are available in the short- and long-term, the sustainability of your ideas, what kinds of skills, infrastructure, and/or facilities are required, and potential partners.

3. Finding the right fit
I especially like section 3. It presents options for groups based on their main objective: education, tourism, community centre, or preservation. Your answers from section 2 will make your objective(s) clear, allowing you to move forward. So if you are really interested in preserving the identity of a community that is dwindling as people move to urban centres, it talks about things you can do to save the town's identity and ensure that its story is not lost in the mists of time.

One thing that I have noticed about this and similar resources is that they always limit their market to groups that are considering opening a new museum. What about a museum that has gotten itself "stuck"? I think it's time to use these resources as reality checks, as part of the strategic renewal process. If institutions aren't constantly re-examining themselves, if they aren't constantly working with their communities, it is only a matter of time before they lose relevancy and end up debating closure. So the next time you find yourself sitting in a staff meeting or chatting with your board of directors and the question of relevancy or community engagement comes up, maybe your first step shouldn't be to dream up the next big scheme. Maybe, just maybe, it's time to go back to the basics. Maybe it's time to step out of reality and pretend that you don't have that museum and see what kind of answers you get by working through this process. And once you have those answers, I'm willing to bet that the road to renewal will become much clearer.

Oh, and did I mention that not only is this book in our reference library but it's also available online for free?

Friday, November 30, 2012

November 2012 Update

Interpretation Workshop
Eager Students
We kicked off November with a workshop about public programming, hosted by the Wallace and Area Museum. Sally Warren shared her insights on creating school and general public programs, and everyone seemed pretty excited by the end of the two days. The workshop was very interactive and participants were coming up with all sorts of creative ideas about bringing history to life and tying programs into curriculum outcomes.
Next year our Museum Studies workshops will include Facilities Management, Interpretation II: Exhibitions, and Marketing & Revenue Generation. We will also be offering a special advanced workshop on telling difficult stories. So be sure to stay tuned for more info and sign up early since we have very limited spots available.

IMAC Meeting
The Information Management & Access Committee met on November 9th at the Citadel and had a very full meeting. We of course talked about "what's next" for NovaMuse and the Advisory Service, and came up with a couple of changes to things. For anyone who wants to join the Advisory Service at the full level (database, site visits, participation in special initiatives), they will first need to spend at least one year at the supporting (non-database) level. This will let us do some proper analysis of any data that may need to be migrated, and figure out if there is any other work that should be done before the museum joins - updating policies and procedures comes to mind. We don't want anyone to feel overwhelmed by the shift to a new database, and we need to make sure we have the time and resources to accommodate a smooth transition for all involved.
We will also be approaching Fleming College about internship possibilities and database projects for their museum management & curatorship students. Last year's project was a big success and we look forward to further developing this partnership.

Database Info
As we get ready to start a new project year, we're scheming and working on all sorts of plans. Thanks to everyone for plugging away at improving collections records and adding new images. Please keep working on those georeferences and manufacture dates. In the new year I will be conducting targeted reviews of databases in Cape Breton, the Northeast, and Central regions. The following year I will tackle the Southwest databases. This will prepare us for the launching of the georeferencing and timeline views of search results, and drastically increase the search capacity of NovaMuse. I have determined the order of sites and will let you know before I start working in your system.

We now have 189,893 records and 71,061 images in the databases, an increase of 629 records and 1,421 images from last month. This means that 37% of the collections have images. Regionally, that means:
Southwest: 98,205 artifacts, 31,754 images
Central: 35,615 artifacts, 13,488 images
Northeast: 30,643 artifacts, 17,569 images
Cape Breton: 25,430 artifacts, 8,250 images

Congratulations to the Central Region for adding the most records this month, and to Cape Breton for adding the most images!

Kings County Museum
Last month we looked at a commemorative plate for your image of the month so I thought we'd continue with that theme. This time we're looking at a souvenir creamer depicting the Point Prim Lighthouse in Digby. Remember that for 3-dimensional artifacts you want to see the depth to them, so while this image focuses predominantly on the side of the pitcher, it also shows us the top and some of the pitcher's interior. The only thing that I would change is to make sure the pitcher is positioned evenly with the scale - bring it a bit closer to the bottom and twist it a bit so you can see more of a side angle. The colours are true, it is neatly cropped, and the contrasting background lets the object pop. Well done.

NovaMuse is chugging along and we are gradually building up our audience. One of the things that we've heard from visitors is that with over 140,000 records they aren't sure where to start looking. So, we've just launched a NovaMuse Facebook page. We'll be showcasing one or two artifacts every day, picking items that commemorate a historical event, connect with current events, or are otherwise relevant. Within the first few hours of the page being established we garnered 50 fans, and it doubled the daily website traffic. So, we encourage you to connect here as well and share the page with your facebook friends and fans. This is the modern word-of-mouth marketing platform. Special thanks to IMAC for stepping up to the plate in helping manage the page. The committee has agreed to take turns monitoring the posts and comments so that ANSM staff can continue with other work-plan items.
It has also been suggested that this is an opportunity for some contests and giveaways. We've already had an offer by the McCulloch Heritage Centre (formerly Hector Exhibit Centre) to donate free membership for a year as a Facebook prize. If you'd like to do something similar please let me know.

Again, if you haven't already added a link to NovaMuse on your website I strongly encourage you to do so. This is a great way for you to remind the public that you are still "around" in the off-season.

Random Stuff
As I mentioned last month, I've been working through my to do list and running around with other tasks now that NovaMuse is up and running. The whole reason I started this blog was to increase communication and transparency - to let people really see how their $250 subscription fee is put to use. A lot of people still wonder how I fill my days and what it is that I actually do since I'm not working right in a museum. So here's what else I got up to in November:

1. I went back to school and took the Dalhousie University "train the trainer" 3-day workshop. It was essentially a crash course in adult education, so we'll be incorporating this info into our workshop offerings and on-site training sessions.

2. In case you missed it, I shared a Remembrance Day blog post. In thinking about next year's "telling difficult stories" workshop, I got to pondering how museums can help people mourn and heal from their war-related experiences. Far too often museums shy away from the personal side of difficult stories.

3. I am very slowly working my way through our reference library as we are planning to get it online some time in the future (we're still not ready to commit ourselves to a date). We have about 500 books in our collection that talk about everything from conducting oral history interviews to fundraising to managing staff to collections management get the idea. So this means I'm doing some reading to make sure any books we lend out are still relevant, and I'm updating our CollectiveAccess database (yes, we use it for our collection too).

4. I also took a bit of a break this month. As many of you know, I've pushed myself pretty hard over the past couple of years as we were migrating databases and building NovaMuse (I've even heard that some people were taking bets on when I would crack). So I used up some of that overtime to just get away and decompress. I'm not gonna lie, it was much-needed and I'm feeling far more relaxed than I have in a long time.

5. I ended November by attending the Central Regional Heritage Group meeting this morning. There were 15 representatives from 11 organizations present, and we spent most of the morning hearing presentations by two speakers. The first was about Culture Days (check out the website for tips and resources on organizing community activities), and the second was about hosting a Doors Open event in Halifax in 2013. We also heard about some funding programs from the department of Communities, Culture & Heritage. So if you aren't sure what kind of funding options are out there, check out this link.

Saturday, November 10, 2012

Museums and Remembrance Day - 2012 Edition

Years ago, people actively and visibly mourned. They wore mourning clothes - dressed all in black with weeping veils, no jewelry, and black armbands or ribbons - for extended periods of time. They would weave intricate hair wreaths and craft other memorial objects to always have a keepsake of the person they lost. But today outward signs of grief and/or struggles are few and far between, and let's be honest, society basically has a 3-6 month window where they think someone can legitimately dwell on any particular difficulty. Then society gets bored with it and moves on, while the affected person is still in a whole lot of pain and confusion.

Canadian War Museum
When I go through the Canadian War Museum, I am extremely stressed out by the end of it. The chronological journey through the exhibits, through Canada's history of conflicts, is very difficult. Sure it's easy to stay detached when all you see are paintings and weapons and uniforms from bygone centuries, but the further along you travel, the more personal items and stories are integrated. Suddenly you're reading letters sent home that were received after the 18 year old boy was killed in action, or you're watching news footage about our recent participation in peacekeeping efforts. At this point you can't escape the reality of it. Even if it's an official military statement being read at a press conference, it is very clear that there is a lot more going on than meets the eye - the invisible effects of service.
In thinking about these invisible effects, I've thought of a number of stories from family members and friends who have served or are currently serving in the military. Since this list includes contemporary events, I've decided to refrain from the use of names.

1. The woman at home, waiting for her man to return. But instead he disappears, never to be heard from again. How did having someone unexpectedly ripped from her life affect her? She never got the chance to say goodbye, let alone tell him she loved him one last time.

2. The tank driver who survived the war but wasn't quite the same when he came home. He was the only survivor of a trap that saw several of his friends stabbed to death. While he was recuperating in the hospital his tank was sent on a mission and hit a mine, killing everyone inside. He had survivor's guilt for the rest of his life because he wasn't there to drive and keep his buddies safe. These days we'd probably call that post-traumatic stress disorder. Back then, "the war changed him".

3. The aircraft mechanic who had to pull the dead pilot from the cockpit and take over flying the plane so they didn't crash. What kind of impact does staring through a bloodied and broken windshield have on a person?

4. The parents who received the official notice that their youngest son was "missing in action". What is it like to be stuck in that sort of limbo? Was he dead? If so, would his body ever be found? Was he alive? Was he captured as a POW or hiding out somewhere?

5. The peacekeeper who just couldn't reconcile the financial compensation given to a family whose child was accidentally killed when he ran in front of a UN jeep. Their son was gone; no amount of money would ever change that.

As museums, we are the keepers of both the tangible and intangible evidence of difficult times. We conduct oral history interviews with people to learn more about the personal side of military service (and many other things). We collect the uniforms, mementos, badges, medals, log books, ration cards, magazines, newspapers, journals and diaries, letters, many things that shed light on the invisible realities of war and military service.
It's not about any particular campaign or mission or battle, or how many people from our community have served. It's about acknowledging the personal sacrifices made by those who serve, and also how this service is supported on the home front and how it affects life on the home front. Canada has been greatly affected by the personal experiences of our military personnel both past and present. We will never understand what these people have gone through. But by doing this work we become the tangible vessel for our intangible heritage - the outward sign of grief and the visible effects of service. Museums are a place for people to come and mourn, to get a bit of closure and healing from these awful experiences, regardless of how long it has been or how much society tells them they need to "move on". It's ok if our exhibits or programs make people uncomfortable or elicit an emotional response. That means we've succeeded in truly honouring these brave men and women.

Wednesday, October 31, 2012

October 2012 Update

Free Grant-Writing Workshops
I mentioned last month that the CNSA has received funding to deliver a number of workshops around the province on grant-writing. If you have questions about how to set up a successful funding application, this is your chance to get answers! Here's the schedule for the remaining sessions:
November 2 - Antigonish
November 9 - Yarmouth
November 23 - Dartmouth
November 30 - Baddeck
Click here for more details and to rsvp.

Database Info
Things have definitely calmed down for the winter. I know that database work will be sporadic at best during the coming months, but as we make plans for next year's work I have a small request. When you are looking at a record, double check to make sure there is a date of manufacture in the date field, and if you can map the object (for example if you know where a photograph was taken), plug in the location on the georeference page. We have told the province and the feds that we will focus on these areas over the next two years as a way of enhancing the search capacity of NovaMuse. These may seem like funny things to work on, but having this information will open up a world of possibilities for us through gps and chronological displays of search results. If you want some tips on dating artifacts, check out this blog post.

Even with the seasonal slowdown, another 706 records and 1,039 images were added to the databases this month. Regionally, that means:
Southwest: 98,182 artifacts, 31,561 images
Central: 35,295 artifacts, 13,289 images
Northeast: 30,553 artifacts, 17,368 images
Cape Breton: 25,234 artifacts, 7,422 images

Congratulations to Cape Breton for adding the most records this month, and to the Southwest region for adding the most images!
Commemorative Plate
Anne Murray Centre

Your image of the month was chosen because I feel like I've been seeing a lot of commemorative plates lately. And they've all been photographed differently. I've seen little plates and big plates, monochrome and polychrome, old and new; some are of churches and others are of Anne Murray's face. While plates aren't exactly two-dimensional, they're pretty close. So we want to photograph them straight on, and with our scale in the lower left. Don't forget to use a contrasting backdrop. The image should be neatly cropped to look centred. Doesn't she look lovely?

I apparently spoke too soon when I said that the equipment issues we were having with our server were all settled. As many of you noticed, the site was down for 4 days this month. We have replaced every piece of equipment and (knock on wood) things are running much more smoothly, no random short circuits or malfunctions have occurred since everything was moved to the new drive. I've also updated everyone's profile page so that people can see the street address of the museum as well as the Google map pin.
We've started to see a few comments on the site; some from people who want to share information, and others from people who just want to congratulate a particular museum on their good work. I have also received a couple questions from people asking when the remaining images will be added. I am of course explaining that this is an ongoing process, but this is a good reminder to include digitization work in your plans and funding applications for next year.
I've also had a few questions from museums about when records will disappear from the site after they've been deleted from your CollectiveAccess database. Seth is working on this as we speak, and hopes to have it settled by the end of the week.

If you haven't already added a link to NovaMuse on your website I strongly encourage you to do so. This is a great way for you to remind the public that you are still "around" in the off-season.

Random Stuff
I've been trying to catch up on some age old tasks from my to do list, so here's a random list of other stuff that's been going on in October:
1. We now have a catalogue worksheet that aligns with the archival view in CollectiveAccess. Download it here.

2. CHIN is planning some upgrades to Artefacts Canada, so I have been talking to their staff and giving feedback on their plans based on our experiences over the past two years in preparing for NovaMuse. Rest assured that I shared feedback I have received from contributing institutions over the past 6 years (wow, I can't believe I've been doing this for 6 years!).

3. I attended the CCI workshop on Modern Information Carriers at the Nova Scotia Archives, and will be sharing highlights in a blog post in the near future. We have also added one of the handouts (more like book) to our reference lending library.

4. I attended the Southwest Curator's Group meeting in Yarmouth on October 19th. There were 14 people present and lots of tasty treats provided by the Yarmouth County Museum. On the agenda was a big long talk about CMAP,travelling exhibitions, heritage skills, and lots of other good points to ponder.

5. This isn't really new, but I've never mentioned that ANSM members are eligible to participate in the Cultural Federations of Nova Scotia Benefits Program. So if you are without a health or pension plan, you might want to check out the program. Read more here.

6. And finally, in case you haven't already read them, I'd encourage you to check out the guest posts by the Nova Scotia Sport Hall of Fame and Randall House Museum. Both of these organizations have come a long way in a relatively short time with their collections management practices. They've set clear goals and worked very hard, and the results speak for themselves. Since we always hear about the importance of networking and the fun of sharing success stories, I thought this would make a nice addition to the blog. If you've got a success story to share from your museum I'd love to hear about it, and I'm sure your colleagues would as well, so drop me a line.

Thursday, October 4, 2012

Book Review - A Museums & Community Toolkit

It has been far too long since I've written a book review. But in my defence, we've been a tad busy with some other minor projects, like this little website called NovaMuse. So now that the dust is settling a bit, it's time to get back to our reference library (among other things).

A Museums & Community Toolkit was published in 2002 by the American Association of Museums (now called the American Alliance of Museums) as a companion piece to Mastering Civic Engagement: A Challenge to Museums. The initiative came from the acknowledgement that museums have often focused on one-way dialogues, of spreading the word that they determine to be important, rather than real conversations and activities that speak to the community's needs and desires.

The introduction makes a very valid point: "the museum-community relationship is one that must be nurtured if our institutions are to succeed at their mission to serve the public good." Opening a dialogue with the community can be eye-opening, and not always in a positive way; how we view ourselves is almost always different from how the public views us. Once you begin this dialogue and process, the internal enquiry must be a sincere exploration of the entire organization that involves everyone - staff, board members, and volunteers. Without buy-in and honest input from all levels and roles, it will be much more difficult (if not impossible) to make a change. The external enquiry must be handled with grace and open minds. If the public has a certain perception of the museum or society, disagreeing or trying to convince them otherwise may end up further distancing the museum from its goals of community partnership.

The toolkit walks you through the entire facilitation process, beginning with the museum's role in civic dialogue - what can it offer its community in terms of collections, activities, exhibits, space, expertise, etc. From there it talks about how to design a community dialogue event, identification of goals, participants, the role of a steering committee, logistics, and then the actual event itself. Knowing what to expect from the discussions, how many people should attend, what kind of homework needs to be done before and after...there are a lot of questions to ask and things to prepare. In looking at potential participants, the toolkit provides very general terms such as "youth organizations" and "transportation providers" so that the reader will be able to identify who from their community fits a particular category.

Perhaps the hardest part of this work is figuring out what questions to ask once the stakeholders are in the same room. Again the toolkit provides exercises and questions that have been tried and tested through the AAM's sessions. What may be surprising to some is that the questions are not focused entirely on the museum itself, but ask questions about all of the organizations and services in your community to help identify what makes it tick. The discussion time is an examination of current realities and issues as well as a time for dreams and vision work, and by the end of the day you will see clear, recurring themes and ideas that might make you a little excited. At this point, the key is to ensure that the dialogue continues, that people know this was not just a one-time event to pick their brains.

The toolkit also includes an in-depth case study from the George Eastman House International Museum of Photography and Film in Rochester NY. In this case, a specific event that rocked the community became an opportunity to build bridges and facilitate partnerships where none had previously existed. Everyone in the community wanted to be involved and agreed that the museum was the best location to hold services and events; the museum's response was a simple "use us". Museum staff referred to the experience as inspiring, and said that "it was a chance to look at how our values have been strengthened or changed by these terrible events. It also was a wonderful opportunity to make new friends."

The nice thing about this toolkit is that it is just that - a toolkit. It asks as many questions as it gives tips. It forces the reader to stop and think about their own situation and figure out who to approach and how to set up a dialogue in their community. The examples and suggestions spark the imagination, and the case studies and exercises and helpful hints set you up for a much better chance at succeeding.

As I read this book, I thought about a number of museums who have been struggling with community engagement in one way or another. While I don't live in those communities, I could envision how such conversations would play out. In some cases I think the museum/society boards are not ready to tackle this sort of work or hear what their community has to say, which is sad. But in other cases, I think going through such an exercise could be just what the doctor ordered. The thing to remember is that the reason the toolkit formula works is because participating institutions believed in and were open to the process - whatever the outcome.

Friday, September 28, 2012

September 2012 Update

Free Workshops
The Council of Nova Scotia Archives, one of our sister organizations that we share many members with, has received funding to deliver 6 grant-writing workshops across the province. And they're free to attend! They will be using the Provincial Archival Development Program as their case study, but the basic principles you'll learn will apply to any funding program. There are only 20 spots available at each workshop, and organizations are encouraged to send more than one person so these could fill up very quickly. Below is a list of dates & locations: 

October 12 - Wolfville
October 17 - Amherst

November 2 - Antigonish
November 9 - Yarmouth
November 23 - Dartmouth
November 30 - Baddeck

Click here for more details and to rsvp.

bus tour fun!
ANSM ReGeneration Conference
I usually, okay always, do a conference blog post. Unfortunately this year I was running around so much that I didn't get to hear most of the sessions. I thought about trying to share a very selected snapshot of things I did see/hear, but I don't think that would be a very accurate depiction of the event. What I can share is that we had 90 delegates in attendance, and that the reviews were very positive. There were a number of people who had never attended our conference before, and so it was great to see some new faces. It was also great to reconnect with people we don't often get to see. There was a bus tour of local heritage sites and I've heard good things about the sessions. The NovaMuse launch went well. We laughed, we cried, we hugged...we had people on the edges of their seats and very impressed.

Database & NovaMuse Info

Speaking of NovaMuse, now that it is live and sites are closing down for the winter it looks like people are taking a well-deserved break from the frantic data entry, photography, scanning, and general updating of information that went on over the summer. But there are of course those stalwart institutions who are plugging away no matter what the day or time. So over the course of the month, another 335 records and 1,488 images were added, giving us new grand totals of 188,558 records and 68,601 images. Of these, 141,744 records and 56,631 images are available on NovaMuse. Not bad. We're seeing referrals come in from contributing museums' websites, which is a great new service for you to offer your audience. And now that the daily update is running, changes you make will appear on NovaMuse within 24 hours. 

And now for your regional standings:
Southwest: 97,941 artifacts, 30,925 images
Central: 35,262 artifacts, 13,000 images
Northeast: 30,534 artifacts, 17,322 images
Cape Breton: 24,821 artifacts, 7,354 images

Congrats to the Southwest region for entering the most records and images this month!
Captain's Uniform
Atlantic Canada Aviation Museum

Guess what? The image of the month is not 2-dimensional! This time we're looking at clothing. After spending the summer exploring 13 museums' textile collections for Hope's internship work, we have lots of great photos to share. This one is an Air Atlantic Captain's jacket, circa 1985. There are a few important things to note about it. 1 - this is the primary image, the overall view. Additional photos were taken of the back and various details such as the buttons, insignia and cuffs. 2 - A mannequin was used to ensure the uniform was "sitting" in its natural position, ie we're pretending someone is wearing it. 3 - the uniform is slightly angled so we can see a bit of more depth and detail than you would get in a straight-on view. And 4 - the jacket was photographed on a light backdrop and neatly cropped so it is the sole focus.
Click here to download Hope's photography guide from the ANSM website.

For anyone who missed the website launch, it was a pretty fun time. Rather than risk an internet malfunction I did up a little video presentation on the site. Sure it's lacking in the official speeches made by Derek (ANSM President), Marcel McKeough (Executive Director of the Culture Division of the Department of Communities, Culture and Heritage), and Anita (ANSM Managing Director), and also my ramblings as the video showed off our lovely website, but I'm sure you get the idea. Some day when I get my act together I'll add in some captions so you can really get a sense of the launch.
There's a ton of cool stuff on NovaMuse, and it's well worth visiting again and again. 

What's Next?
A number of people have asked us "what's next?", now that we've finished the Database Renewal Project. In thinking about the past two years, I'm not sure how everything didn't completely fall apart. It's been an insane work pace, first with migrating 51 databases and retraining users, and then with website development. Throw in a couple of internships, workshop development & delivery, conferences, and all the normal site visits & support work...I don't think anyone really understands how crazy it's been. We do have plans for the next couple of years, but first it's time to take things a little bit slower. So I'm returning to my old to do list and catching up on things that were set aside as "low priority". There are a few resources to add to the website, NovaMuse marketing to do, database analysis and updates to figure out, and a whole lot of desk/office cleaning and organizing to do.
 The Information Management & Access Committee will be meeting in November to figure some stuff out, after which things should become much more clear. So stay tuned for updates!

Thursday, September 27, 2012

Museum Profile - Randall House

A little while ago I asked Tinisha at the NS Sport Hall of Fame to share her approach to cleaning up their records. In keeping with this idea of sharing success stories, I've asked Christine from Randall House in Wolfville to share one of their recent successes.

"I’ve been asked to share our experience in training and supervising our Digitization Assistant at Randall House this summer in case it would be helpful to others.
In January it was suggested that I (as Co-ordinator on the Passage Project at The Wolfville Historical Society) apply for a grant from Young Canada Works for an assistant to help with our digitization work. The application process was challenging but it included thinking through the job. What would the students work be? What training would he need? How would he be supervised? Was it possible to monitor his work? How would results be measured? It also asked for a timeline – what was planned for the first week, second and so on. These questions which I had to think about early on gave me a framework for the work period as it played out later.
These are the tasks I had in mind and each of these had a training component:
1. Scanning photographs from our archives.
2. Photographing artifacts and uploading/attaching these to the CA entries.
3. Doing basic entries from old cataloguing records (yes, we still had a backlog of these to do)
4. Doing new entries for items not catalogued previously (new accessions or undocumented items)
5. Doing research to fill in gaps and enrich the entries with more information.
6. Using social media (Facebook) posts to promote our activities at the museum.
7. Helping with other museum functions as might be required.

The first two weeks I knew would require considerable training time on my part and on the part of our curator  (our one paid employee apart from summer students) who would be there daily and supervising when I  wasn’t able to be on site. 
Our student was shown around the museum, introduced to his work space, equipment, research resources and our various storage locations. He was given an introduction to Chenhall and the concept of controlled language and introduced to the Collective Access (CA) Program with an explanation of the various fields. Scanning was the easiest task to start with so we began with that. He was shown how to use the scanner, what settings to use and why. He was shown how to file the scans (and later the digital photographs) and how to upload them to an entry. He was made an administrator of our Facebook page so he could make posts. I had arranged a separate id and password for him so that his entries and edits in CA could be identified and all his work was kept in a separate folder on the Passage laptop. This organizational part was useful for monitoring and measuring his work. Also the Collective Access Program logs were helpful in seeing what work he did each day or month.

The curator and I met early on and discussed our respective roles. The assistant had to know who was in charge of what. My concern was that work was done accurately and that the student always had work to do; what was done at any particular time wasn’t as much a concern for me. The curator’s priorities had more to do with what items she felt were important at the time and how he could help with her schedule of work. So our instructions to the student were that if the curator had tasks she wanted him to complete on any day that should have priority but if there was nothing on her list he would work on work I had waiting for him. He always had a box of photographs to scan and attach and a list of research questions to tackle. We agreed also that any corrections to be made which I spotted also had priority so these would not be forgotten.
Our curator instructed the student on how to handle artifacts appropriately and showed him how we photograph them. He also saw how and where items were stored so he could add these locations to entries. He was introduced to our files of paper records and shown how to make a new CA entry from these and also how to enter a new acquisition from information given by the curator.

Sam at work
I went carefully over the work he had done to catch errors early so they wouldn’t be repeated for the whole summer. Thanks to the web-based CA program I could do most of this tracking from home. There was a lot of information for him to digest and I found that he had forgotten some of what I had told him in our first sessions so there was need for a review at this point. This level of attention might be more difficult if our site depended only on volunteers but it was time consuming mostly in the first few weeks and it did pay off in the quality of results.
The schedule of work after this initial phase was not fixed. It varied from day to day. He had some latitude to choose what he did unless the curator or I had particular tasks for him. If it was not a good day for photography he could scan photos or do research. He was also asked on occasion to fill in doing tours of the house when our other student helpers weren’t available (he was taught to do this by the student who gave the tours), or help with other activities such as helping with our Canada Day fundraiser or selling a WHS publication and tickets to a fund raiser event at the farm market. For him these other tasks which came up from time to time were welcome breaks from what could be tedious computer work.
By mid-way in July he was able to work independently but nevertheless through the summer I held short sessions regularly to go over issues that I had found and he kept a Word file of problems to ask me about when I came in.

Our assistant accomplished an amazing amount of work over the 14 weeks he spent with us. He made 588 scans (this number includes some back views), he took at least 565 digital photographs of artefacts, he entered (or enriched with added information) 197 records and 35 entities doing research to fill in gaps -for example information on photographers and genealogies of subjects or related entities.
At the end of the summer our student assistant expressed satisfaction with his work experience and we were able to tell him how pleased we were with what he accomplished. I believe that the training he had from us at the beginning and the monitoring we did through the work period made a big difference to this mutual satisfaction."      

Given the number of questions I've gotten about summer staff and the issues I noticed at some sites this season, I hope that everyone will look at this as their example of how to do things right.

Friday, August 31, 2012

August 2012 Update

Summer Wrap-Up
Conference time!
I am officially off the road, earlier than usual. It's strange to be in the office again, but I'm really glad to be able to focus my attention on NovaMuse. It was a crazy summer. I was very impressed with a lot of museums. They have come such a long way since last year! Renovations, new exhibits, tons of progress with database records and images...very impressive! But there were also a few disappointments, particularly in the summer staffing area. Not because of the students who were hired, but because there was clearly a lack of training and supervisory support at a number of museums. This is exactly why ANSM's conference is on Engaging Youth, and includes a pre-conference workshop on human resources. This is absolutely crucial information. So if you haven't already registered, please do so. We'll also be launching NovaMuse and would love to have at least one representative from each of the contributing sites there to help us celebrate.

Hope finished up her internship with us in mid-August, and wrote a final blog post that includes her thoughts on and statistics for the textile project. She was our first summer intern and second Fleming College intern, and I have to say that we're very pleased with how things played out. We have lots of ideas for future internship projects, so hopefully this will become a regular part of ANSM life.

Database & Website Info
I know that I've really pushed everyone to do a lot of work to prepare for NovaMuse. I hope that I didn't seem too harsh; I am so proud of the way everyone has responded to my challenge.  This month we saw another 2,487 records and 7,413 images added, giving us a grand total of 188,222 records and 67,113 images. So much progress has been made, I thought it would be fun to look at our tally from August 2011 to put it all into perspective. Last August we had 172,238 artifacts and 36,751 images. It's almost unbelievable. In one year 16,000 records and 31,000 images were added. I'm speechless.

Regionally, this is how things stand:
Southwest: 97,744 artifacts, 29,994 images
Central: 35,242 artifacts, 12,752 images
Northeast: 30,465 artifacts, 17,235 images
Cape Breton: 24,771 artifacts, 7,132 images

Congrats to Cape Breton for entering the most records this month, and to the Southwest region for adding the most images!

As I monitor the import of data into the website, I am adjusting records that are being blocked by our quality control filter. So if I see a sentence in the object name field, I login and fix it. Or if someone put the object name in quotation marks, I login and remove them. Or if I see that the wrong category has been assigned to an item, I login and adjust it. So if you see CollectiveAccess Administrator pop up in your feed as having edited records, don't worry. It's just me. I won't be able to fix everything before the website goes live, but if I see a problem, I will do my best fix it. We are still working on your new dashboard feature that will let you see which objects have been blocked, and I will be sure to let you know as soon as it is ready.
I've had a few people ask me how to get a list of what is set to be publicly accessible. Go to Find - Objects. Click on the Browse tab on your left, and then select Access Statuses. Then you can choose which list you want - records accessible to the public, records not accessible to the public, or restricted access records. So if you want to scroll through inaccessible records and change their setting, click on the "not accessible" option and then you can work your way through the search results.

NovaMuse search results
Two of these things are not like the others...
Your image of the month actually comes from a few different museums. It also comes from NovaMuse. These are some search results, and as you can see there is a bit of inconsistency here. I know I've said it many times before, but 2-dimensional items like postcards and photographs should be scanned & cropped rather than photographed with the scale. I can hear you all saying "yes Karin, we know!" Aside from the quality issue, take a look at how these results appear. You don't have to be an expert (or notice that I've outlined the offending images) to see that two of the results don't look like the others. The first has a funny looking scale and is shot from so far away that much of the detail is lost. The second is better, but someone didn't crop the image after it was scanned. They missed the final, simple step. With so many records from so many museums, I know there will be inconsistency in the data, but let's keep this in mind and do our best to adhere to professional standards and practices. We're all in this together and want to make eachother (and NovaMuse) look good.

Well, I guess this is it. Next month you'll be able to check out stats on your own, and see each other's collections, and hopefully hear a bit of feedback about all those artifacts. I'll have to find something else to blog about.

Wednesday, August 22, 2012

Introducing NovaMuse

We've been talking about it for a long time as the "collections website", and with the release of our conference program the cat is officially out of the bag. In three weeks time we will be launching 51 community museums from across Nova Scotia will be sharing their collections online for all the world to see.

What's behind the name? 
Well, Nova because we're in Nova Scotia, and also because it means new - and this is certainly new territory for us!  Muse acknowledges that this is a heritage website; the contributors are museums (in the broad sense of the word - including archives, galleries and interpretive centres). It also acknowledges the inspiration of the muses and that we hope people will find the site inspiring. It contains tens of thousands of artworks, handmade crafts and tools, clothing fashions from years gone by...plenty of stuff to inspire the creative mind.

How did we get here?
CMA Award
Since 2006 community museums in Nova Scotia have been contributing collections information to Artefacts Canada and the Virtual Museum of Canada. But long before that there was talk of a heritage portal for Nova Scotia. In 2002 a group of 18 community museums got together and said it was time to standardize their practices, beginning with a collections database system. So they started with a basic Microsoft Access system that was custom-built. Over the years this group of 18 grew to 50+ heritage organizations from one tip of the province to the other (literally). This crazy experiment was called the Passage Project, and in 2006 received a Canadian Museums Association Award for Outstanding Achievement in Museum Management. Now known as the ANSM Advisory Service, participating museums have recognized the value of cooperative work and responded to the many challenges we have put to them. Whether it was creating a Wikipedia page for the museum or scanning old photographs or selecting showcase items to be researched in-depth, these museums continued to step up to the plate.
So in 2010 when we realized it was time to move to a different database system, and that CollectiveAccess was the logical choice, the museums were again ready to brave the unknown. The opportunities of this new system made the decision to launch a Nova Scotia collections website a no-brainer.

How will it work?
The website is fairly simple right now. You can find specific objects, browse through different themes, look at a certain museum's collection, or for the museum nerds check out categories from Nomenclature 3.0. You can then refine your search results by using a number of filters.
We also want this to be a dialogue with the public. We don't know everything about every single item in our collections. And we definitely don't have personal stories to share with each and every object. But we know there are a lot of knowledgeable people out there who have stories and information to share. So you will be able to login and leave comments on individual artifact records. Do you recognize a photograph? Tell us who the people are! Tell us where it was taken! Did you work at that factory and can explain how something was made? We would love to hear from you! Are you conducting research or just want to save some of your favourite records for future reference? Well you can do that through the lightbox feature. Once you've created an account, you can login and go back to those favourites time and again. You don't have to have an account to use the website; only if you want to save your favorite items or submit comments and tags. The associated museum will be alerted to these comments and answer questions or add your information to their collection records.
Behind the scenes, each museum's copy of CollectiveAccess feeds the website. At the end of every day a refresh will run, updating the website with any additions/corrections/changes made during the day. We have installed a quality control filter (read about it here) that will help maintain the professionalism of the website and also give the museums some suggestions on how to fix their data. We also have placeholder images for any items without an associated image. This is a work in progress. Over 187,000 records are in the databases right now...that's a lot of photographing and scanning to do. Each museum chooses which records get shown online, item by item. Some are opening up their entire collection, while others are being selective. So it will be very interesting to see how many of the 187,000+ objects are ready by the launch date (we're still running the data and museums are actively updating information).

When exactly is it launching?
NovaMuse will be online and available to the public as of September 13th. The official launch will take place at Acadia University during our annual conference, and will include a wine & cheese reception. We hope to see all of the contributing museums represented and have invited special guests as well. Keep in mind the early bird registration deadline (ie. the cheap rate) is August 31st.

This has been and continues to be an incredible journey through the world of museums. We know that the launch of a basic collections website is just the beginning. It opens an entire world of possibilities, and I for one am very excited to see where this journey takes us.

Tuesday, August 21, 2012

Quality Control

We are currently re-importing the records into NovaMuse. I'm not just sitting around watching this take place, but I do check in from time to time, trying out searches and checking the quality and consistency of data.

As we've been wrestling with the many tasks associated with the NovaMuse launch, we've had a lot of conversations about quality control. We want this site to be highly respected by the public and by our professional peers. We want it to make our museums look good! A lot of hard work goes into running a museum, and the website should be something that makes people sit up and take notice of this great work. So if someone hasn't been following professional standards, it will be very noticeable when mixed in with records that are nice and clean. This will make the museum look bad, and take away from the credibility of the website.
So we've built in a quality control filter. When you set a record to be accessible to the public, it has to go through our filter before it will display on NovaMuse. Anything that gets blocked will be added to a new "to do list" widget so you can see what needs fixing. Here are some lessons on how our quality control filter will work:

1. Object Names - these should follow the Nomenclature book. The basic formula is Generic Name, Qualifier. For example: Chair, Rocking. That's it. Nothing else. No numbers or symbols or descriptive details go in this field. But of course with over 187,000 records and many different people entering data, we have some inconsistency here. Below is a screen shot from NovaMuse. Highlighted in red are things that I should not see as options in the object name browse feature. No numbers, no symbols. In the list itself - no sentences. So these records will all be blocked until they are fixed by the contributing museum. I have highlighted in blue some of the object names that I see within these records. Book. Booklet. Hat, Top. Grinder, Meat. Notecard.  
Messy Object Names - these will all be blocked

2. Ownership - if you have tagged loaned or deaccessioned items as "accessible to the public", these will be blocked from view. If you don't own it, you don't have the right to show it off online. And we won't be expending public resources on private collections (and neither should you!). Loaned items should not be given accession numbers or entered in the database, but I know that a lot of people have numbered & entered their loans. So your "to do list" will alert you to any loans that you tried to showcase online.
No loans allowed!

it's a medicine bottle...I think
3. Image Resolution - Images uploaded to NovaMuse cannot be downloaded or saved from the site. If people want a copy, they can request one from the museum. So we want the best possible resolution, allowing people to zoom in and see the details of the item. Low resolution images won't just hide details, but will display as blurry blobs online. So anything below 800 pixels will be blocked and added to your "to do list". Blurry images make us all look bad.

4. The five field rule - if you have fewer than 5 fields containing data in a record, the record will remain invisible until you add more information. Listing a basic inventory of object name & accession number is going to be more frustrating than useful to the public. So as you continue to add & update information, skeletal records will gradually be unblocked and added to the website. 

As I've travelled the province I have had a very positive response to this filter. People seem to like the idea of getting a list of things to fix. And since the website will run a daily refresh, the list of blocked items can be gradually worked through and the clean records will seamlessly appear online.

Monday, August 20, 2012

Hope says goodbye

Annapolis Valley Macdonald Museum
Sable Stole
Admiral Digby Museum
As my final week with the Association of Nova Scotia Museums is coming to a close I felt it was time to reflect on the past 15 weeks.

I have learned a lot. I have skills to take into my future career from every project that I worked on this summer. I have travelled all across the province and worked with some great people. I have seen some amazing collections and photographed some stunning textile pieces. 

Stewardess Uniform
Atlantic Canada Aviation Museum
Royal Engineers Uniform
Army Museum

I have been privileged enough to work in the database and help get things ready for the upcoming NovaMuse collections website launch. There was a lot of cake and cheese to be had (separately of course). I have done and learned so much it is hard to express it in a few sentences. What I can express are the number totals from the textile project that was my focus for the summer.


Flapper Dress
Colchester Historeum
Wedding Dress
Fultz House Museum

Sites Visited: 13 (we were aiming for ten, so happy that we made it to more)

Artifacts Photographed: 332 (the goal was 250, we almost surpassed it by 100!)

Images Uploaded: 1091

James House Museum
Air Force Uniform
Kings County Museum

You may not know/remember but I am a huge costume history nerd so working on this project was heaven for me. Here is a selection of one of my favourite items from each visit.

Parkdale-Maplewood Community Museum
Queens County Museum

Everyone had such a wide variety of items it was hard to pick favourites, but the ones that I have selected stood out to me for one reason or another.

Randall House Museum
Shelburne County Museum
Thank you to everyone that I have worked with this summer, you made my job a whole lot easier! Sites were hard at work entering new records and hunting information down so that I could upload the images from our visits. At some point in the future my research project, a manual for the photography kit, will be available as a resource on the ANSM website. I hope that my work here has been useful to the ANSM and their members and I wish you all the best of luck in the future!

~ Hope   

Wallace and Area Museum

Tuesday, July 31, 2012

July 2012 Update

Site Visits & Summer Textile Project
July was a very busy month for site visits. I've been to almost every corner of the province, seen some familiar faces and met some new people. We've talked about funding, CMAP review, the upcoming website launch, ANSM's conference, visitor many conversations. I'm also very pleased to report that my goal of photographing another 5 objects per site has been going well. With only a few exceptions, this goal has been met and surpassed. It's good to give museum staff & volunteers a refresher course in photography, and to give a boost to the museums and our website. 
photographing a CWAC uniform
Army Museum

Hope's journey through the world of textiles has been full of amazing discoveries. It's had us climbing up ladders into storage lofts and pulling out 1960s stewardess uniforms, marvelling over the tiny waists of 19th century women, peeking into the world of fraternities with masonic vests of various ranks, and saying awwwww to a whole lot of cute kid's clothing. We've seen bonnets and shoes and top hats and bustles and corsets. Every time we said "ok, I think we've seen so much variety that we've covered everything", our next visit reveals something we hadn't thought about. We've photographed almost 300 objects (our goal was 250) and still have one more site to visit next week. Hope's photography guide will be available online in the near future and should give people some great tips.

Database & Website Info
So, apparently people are feeling competitive or productive or maybe just eager to prepare for the upcoming website launch. As I've been travelling around I've told everyone that I just want them to look good on the website. Some museums have adopted a strategic approach in focusing on images or updating old records, while other sites have just continued working according to the game plan. Whatever the approach, I think it's working. With a month and a half to go, everyone should be proud of what they've accomplished.
And now for our record-breaking month of new records & images. 3,852 new records and 6,116 images were added in July. I don't even know what to say to this, other than WOW! My goal was to get 60,000 images uploaded before the website launches, but it looks like we might actually hit 65,000 at this rate. Way to go everyone! This means we have a new grand total of 185,735 records and 59,700 images. 
By region:
Southwest: 97,015 artifacts, 25,887 images
Central: 34,755 artifacts, 12,201 images
Northeast: 30,072 artifacts, 15,456 images
Cape Breton: 23,893 artifacts, 6,156 images
Congrats to the Southwest region for adding the most records & images this month!
As we get closer to publishing these records to the world, remember that the goal is to tell a personal story with each object. The record should justify why the artifact is in your collection. So when new items are offered for donation, make sure your discussions with the donor capture associated memories and the life history of the object. If you aren't sure what to ask, think of the who, what, when, where, why and how questions. What is it? Who used it? When did they use it? When was it made? When did it come into your possession? Where is it from? Where was it used? Where did you get it? Why was it used? Why was it important? How was it used? How did you get it? How was it modified over the years? And also make sure you complete a pre-acquisition review form, a tool that will give you an unbiased answer as to whether the object should be accepted into the collection. This will give you the justification for saying no to the 20th sadiron or 10th sewing machine, and you can show the potential donor this form and clearly show them why you can't take the object. Suggest other museums they could approach and everyone should walk away happy.

Artist's signature
Sydney & Louisburg Railway Museum 
I thought I'd do something a little different for your image of the month. Instead of talking about the overall photograph, let's look at detail shots. If the item you're photographing has clothing labels, maker's marks on the bottom of ceramics, hallmarks on silver, signatures on paintings, etc etc etc., it is a good idea to get a close-up photo. To get a good quality image, set your camera to macro (the little flower setting), and use the tripod to keep the camera from shaking. These are important pieces of information, especially when it comes to research. So be sure to take your time and ensure the image is of good quality. If there are multiple labels or markings, take close-up shots of each. Assume this is the last time you'll be able to photograph the object.