Saturday, May 31, 2014

May 2014 Update

Site Visit Season
It's that time of year again. I'm starting to hit the road and live out of a suitcase. This month I visited 5 museums. These guys had some pretty specific reasons for my early visits; reviewing textile storage & recommending some simple upgrades, coming up with a game plan for the summer staff that would help to sort out of a variety of collections & database issues, etc etc. I also have a site visit agenda to cover with everyone. This year we'll be looking at new database features that will help you with on-site staff/volunteer training and let you link to our Made in NS database. We'll chat about the database review work I've been doing and what trends or issues or questions were raised. And of course we'll chat about what's coming up next and how museums can take advantage of a little extra help with their baskets and industrial objects. This ties in with our new Made in NS feature on NovaMuse; we want to spend more time focusing on locally made items. I'm looking for information on local artists or manufacturers, and am hoping to dig up some helpful resources while traveling the province. I'm also taking a nostalgic look back at what was on last year's agenda to make sure those items have been taken care of by each museum. For instance, if you still haven't bought Nomenclature 3.0, now is the time!! After I spent the past year updating records to this new standard, the last thing I want to see is someone not following it.
It's a pretty big juggling act to get to 55 museums across an entire province in only a few months. So please keep an eye on your email inbox as I'm actively scheduling right now.

Windows XP, Old Browsers, and TechSoup
Since CollectiveAccess is a current, web-based database, it's really important that your computer is also up-to-date. Our lovely friends at Whirl-i-gig work very hard to make sure the database works in the latest versions of browsers, whether Internet Explorer, Mozilla Firefox, Google Chrome or Safari. We would have many many more headaches if they didn't make sure things were up-to-date. So if you use CollectiveAccess it's really important to make sure you have the most recent release of whichever browser you like best.
If you have Windows XP on any of the museum computers, you absolutely need to upgrade these to at least Windows 7. If you don't, not only will you have major security holes, but you won't be able to update Internet Explorer. I know this can be frustrating and expensive, but there's a very cheap way for you to handle this. TechSoupCanada is an amazing website that lets registered non-profits purchase software at extremely discounted rates. So rather than paying hundreds of dollars for your computer upgrade, if you do it through TechSoup you'll only be paying in the tens of dollars.
Reviewing these issues is also on my site visit agenda, so if you have questions or want to talk about it before trying to figure it all out, I can help on-site.

Odds and Ends
I mentioned last month that we always have lots on the go and yet keep coming up with even more ideas and things to do. This month was no exception, but it also felt like it went so fast that we didn't have a chance to cross anything major off the to do list. The usual running around to meetings was cut short due to site visit travels, but I still had several meetings with the Council of NS Archives. Since I sit on their Education Committee there was a lot of planning for their annual conference, which wrapped up yesterday. It went well, and the panel I participated in on the subject of social media brought many great questions from attendees. I also created a new Pinterest board in honour of the Annapolis Valley Apple Blossom Festival which was a lot of fun. You can check that out here. The only task that springs to mind is that I did manage to write another book review of something in our reference library; Starting Right: a Basic Guide to Museum Planning.

Collections Database Info

It's official. I'm on the home stretch of database review. This month I got through 4,155 records from two sites, and now there are only 7 databases left to go. This is really exciting since I started the review work last January. It's nice to see the light at the end of the tunnel. Thanks to this process we now have 36,380 artifacts georeferenced and 2,547 Made in NS links, and I suspect we're in for a very productive summer at all the museums. 317 records and 519 images were added this month which means we now have 197,940 artifacts and 84,397 images. It won't be long until another milestone is reached...

Here's the regional tally:
Southwest - 101,848 artifacts, 37,565 images
Central - 40,299 artifacts, 18,180 images
Northeast - 29,573 artifacts, 19,196 images
Cape Breton - 26,220 artifacts, 9,456 images

Congrats to the Central Region for adding the most records and to the Southwest Region for adding the most images again this month!

Since we'll be focusing more this year on locally made artifacts, especially baskets and industrial items, I thought it would be a good idea to take a look at basket photography. When our expert friends are browsing through NovaMuse looking to give us tips on artifacts, they need to be able to see a lot of detail. So this means taking multiple shots of high quality. For baskets, we want to document how they were woven, how handles & rims were attached to the body, and whether or not any extra reinforcements were added to the bottom. So here's a nice example of your overall 3-dimensional view. We can see inside a little bit, we can see the weave and understand the shape of the basket. And a nice contrasting backdrop was used so that the basket really pops. No distractions or confusion about what we're looking at. Your detail shots of this one would be a close-up of the little bar running up the side, the weaving of the rim, a look straight down into the basket, and then one of its bottom.

All for now. I wonder what excitement June will bring...

Thursday, May 29, 2014

Book Review - Starting Right, 3rd edition

Back to the ANSM reference library we go.
You aren't seeing double or experiencing deja vu, I have reviewed this book before. But that was the 2nd edition. This is the 3rd edition. This doesn't mean that I've run out of books to read or review. I'm still on the first shelf of our library. But when we added this one to the collection I was curious to see how different it would be. Would obvious changes have been made? Would it address all the technological aspects that were missing in the previous editions? That sounds like a lot of information to add, and this book isn't any longer than the 2nd edition.

When I read the 2nd edition I was struck by the great questions the authors were telling people to ask themselves. They didn't just want you to figure out if you're ready for a museum, the questions probed deep to determine motivations, feasibility of goals, and whether or not the ideas were sustainable. It asked how you would handle difficult situations and adapt to changing circumstances.

What struck me most with this 3rd edition was the prominence of partnerships and talking to others - that the first step was to reach out. This was definitely part of the earlier edition, but this time it seemed to be on every page. Talk to neighbouring museums. Talk to your provincial, territorial or state museum association. Talk to the national association. Talk to people who work and volunteer in museums. But not only do we need to be talking to each other, we need to be brutally honest about our past struggles and current realities. Smiling and nodding and telling someone that starting a new museum is a great idea doesn't necessarily mean you're being supportive. You might be causing more harm than good.

The other thing that struck me was the vast number of additional resources. The authors went out of their way to point people to more information on a given subject. There are pages and pages of books, organizations and websites that support the work of museums. Part IV of the book is full of sample documents - organizational chart, by-laws, job description, gift agreement, etc. This section wasn't so interesting to me since we have most of these available on our website. But to other readers I'm sure these are very helpful documents that serve to bring some of the other information together.

The book flows very logically; asking the big questions: what makes a good museum, how can you finance it, and where can you get help? If this doesn't scare you away from museum life, the second part gets into the "nuts and bolts" of operations; how to get organized, plan activities, recruit workers and make it all work together. Let's pause for a moment to talk about recruitment. This is one of my pet peeves. According to this book an organization needs to budget decent wages for staff and have a solid understanding of how they need to advertise the position. But all too often we hear about people being hired with no experience or training in museums, and the job was not advertised appropriately. Having been formally trained and knowing how many classmates struggle to find work, this drives me nuts. The people are there and willing. We just have to have realistic expectations and send the job posting far and wide.
Ok, rant finished. The third part of the book is themed "alternatives". If, as you were reading through, you started to realize just how much work, specialized knowledge, and resources go into operating a museum, and decided that maybe a museum wasn't such a great idea after, that's a-okay. This is the part of the book that will help you look at alternative options. Maybe it's joining forces with an existing group, maybe it's writing a book or developing a website that addresses a niche theme. The possibilities are endless. A museum is just one possibility, and it isn't any more special or valid than the others. It's all about finding the right fit.

As I mentioned in my last review of this book, it isn't just something for people to read when you're thinking about starting a museum. This is the kind of book and these are the kinds of questions that we should be asking ourselves on a regular basis. We need to be giving ourselves a reality check every few years or when there is a major change in the organization. If you want to read my review of the 2nd edition, click here.

Tuesday, May 13, 2014

Made in Nova Scotia

I realized I've been mentioning our "manufacturers database" a fair bit lately, but have never really gone into detail about the work. So I thought it might be time to do that.

When this research project started in the early 1990s I was far too busy playing with Barbies to wonder what was going on in museums. Unbeknownst to me and Skipper, people across Nova Scotia were working very hard to gain a better picture of our industrial heritage. Fast forward to 2006 and we started gathering these research materials about people and companies that were creating material goods in Nova Scotia. "Industry binders" for 6 counties were uncovered: Annapolis, Cape Breton, Cumberland, Hants, Kings and Yarmouth. Another one for the city of Dartmouth was found and added to the mix. The largest body of information came from the Nova Scotia Museum of Industry, the instigator of the 1990s research project, and included information on businesses across the province. The earliest entries date back to the 17th century. I can't speak to the decisions around including some businesses and not others. Given the scope of the work, I can only imagine the headaches and tedium of reviewing trade directories, phone books, maps, seems a never-ending task. It is extremely difficult to gather all the necessary resources for a comprehensive body of knowledge, and this difficulty would have been multiplied in the 1990s, before such online resources as the important Canadian Directories: Who Was Where.

So, once we got our hands on all those paper files we started the data entry. It was a long process since most of the records were photocopies of handwritten files. There is a reason your mother always said to write clearly (or was that just my mom?). Anyway, we deciphered and entered these thousands of records into a very basic MS Access database that my predecessor built for the job. When we switched over to CollectiveAccess, our new friend Seth migrated this as well. And there it sat for awhile. I'd get random requests for info since our members have known about the resource, but they still couldn't access it themselves. Then we launched and realized that it was the perfect host for the industrial information. Not only could people learn about these businesses, but we could link them to museum collections across the province. Perfect! I'll skip the details of how we made this happen, but it took about a year to finesse everything.

Just prior to its launch, we realized that we had to address the name issue. Sometimes we'd been calling this the industries database, other times the manufacturers database, but we always had to tag on a disclaimer that this name was a misnomer due to the variety of businesses and companies included, local artisans to large factories etc etc. We needed a quick term to use for the browse button that said this without sounding neurotic. So we settled on "Made in Nova Scotia". This shouldn't have been such a debate, especially since we spent a number of years researching locally made items.
This new browse basically adds another layer to NovaMuse. When you click on it, you get some more options to help you find who or what you're looking for. Interested in your town? Operations from a certain time period? Or maybe you want to check and see if great great grandpa Bob's cooperage is listed. If one of the museums has something related to Bob's cooperage, you can easily navigate from the business profile to the object.

As we've worked through the reconciliation of collections databases with the 7300+ business profiles, we have found that there are a lot of holes. On the one hand we've been finding a lot of physical evidence of people and companies that aren't included in the resource - newspaper advertisements, objects that are stamped with the name of their manufacturer, photographs of factories, etc. As you can imagine, it is very frustrating to not be able to link these items. On the other hand, there are currently 7000 businesses that have no physical evidence in museum collections. Granted we still have a lot of artifact & archival records to review, but it's pretty clear that we won't ever match up 100% of the businesses.

This speaks to the larger issue of collections development. As we continue to develop NovaMuse, we are gaining a better and better picture of Nova Scotia's material culture. We can see what we have preserved well, and what we are missing in museum collections. We all have limited space and limited resources. We have to be more cautious than ever in our collecting habits, and what better way to do that than by thinking local?

So check it out. Share it with your friends. If you see someone you know, if we've missed a detail about a company or if you have information you'd like to add, let us know! And check back regularly because this is an active work in progress.