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