Tuesday, March 31, 2015

March 2015 Update

NovaMuse Milestone
I am very, very excited to report that we have just passed the 200,000 record mark on NovaMuse. Isn't that great? Over 200,000 artifacts from NS museums are being shared with the public online. We are open, we are accessible, and we're making friends all over the world. Literally, we've had visitors from 116 countries. Since this time last year, we've added 21,570 new artifact records, 9,448 new images, georeferenced another 7,789 objects and connected another 811 locally made objects to their creators' profiles. We are doing good work and I hope that all of our contributing museums take a moment to give themselves a huge pat on the back today. We're promoting this work on Facebook, Twitter, and Pinterest, so if you haven't yet connected with us on those platforms, feel free to do so.

Odds and Ends
Ok, so I know I said February was awful, but can I just say how relieved I am that this is the end of March. Blizzards, snow days, cancelled and rescheduled meetings, roof shovelling...craziness!

I mentioned last month that we've been rather busy at ANSM, and that our first two workshops of the year are already full. Here's a tip little insider tip. Being on the waiting list actually gives you a decent chance of getting into a workshop as we almost always see a bit of movement. So if you want to be added to the wait list for either Museums 101 or Interpretation I We have also just opened registration for our Stone Soup Symposium, a two day adventure into the world of theatrical interpretation.

In money news, we've now raised 66% of our fundraising goal for the new Museum Fund. We are excited to see so many museum professionals and institutions step up as the first donors. This sends a really strong message that we not only work in the field but truly believe in its importance. If you haven't yet contributed, please consider doing so.

Our illustrious intern Kevin made some serious headway in First World War photography this month. He's now done 290 objects, which is a great boost to NovaMuse's image count. He's also done some work for us with Pinterest, but we're keeping those new boards secret for now.

This month has been rather quiet with CMAP. I've been reading some more books about museum standards and making more adjustments to the site evaluation and self-assessment documents. We've got most of the pilot sites lined up and are hoping to finalize these arrangements in the next few weeks. I've had a number of calls and emails from people wondering about evaluations this year. That's a government thing, so if you are wondering where you stand in the evaluation schedule, you should get in touch with them directly. We've also been in contact with the American Alliance of Museums and I will be meeting with them in April to chat about their Museum Accreditation Program and learn more about how they run on-site evaluations.
Air Engineer's Certificate
Atlantic Canada Aviation Museum

Fleming Project
Our friends in Ontario have been rather quiet this month as well as they have entered phase 2 of their assignment - picking out 2 artifacts and conducting some additional research. I've already heard from one student that they have uncovered all sorts of info about a print's artist, and can't wait to see all the other fun stuff that gets uncovered and discovered. Once this work is complete the students will be sending me their site reports, which I will forward along to the participating museums. Remember that if you still haven't participated in this project, there is always next year.

2015 NovaMuse Challenge - Year of the Scan
Given our database review work of the past two years, we haven't really issued a distinct challenge, but have instead encouraged our member museums to keep plugging away at those backlogs and database improvements. And we've seen some excellent progress in this respect. But enough about that, let's get down to the challenge shall we? This year, we are asking for a focus on 2-dimensional items that fit into a scanner. Postcards, photographs, letters, certificates, books, etc. For photographs alone we are missing over 18,000 images, so there should be no shortage of items in the collection that need to be scanned. If you encounter a 2-d object that was photographed rather than scanned, now is the time to remedy that mistake.
Need scanning tips? Check out my blog post on 2-dimensional digitization. Even though scanning is a rather quick process, it is very important to take your time and get the best possible image. If that means redoing it a couple times because it was a little crooked or you accidentally cut off a bit of the object, or taking a few minutes to crop out the dead space, then you really need to take that time. Remember that NovaMuse is the a public face of your institution. You want to look your best.
So let's see roll up our sleeves and see if we can crack the 100,000 images mark this year.

Collections Database Info
In addition to the super exciting NovaMuse milestone, I'm glad & relieved that I can finally report that we have finished reviewing all of the collections databases. It was tough, and we were down to the wire, but the last two are all done.We've now mapped 45,563 artifacts and connected 3,185 artifacts to our Made in NS database. This month another 297 artifacts and 884 images were added to the system, giving us new grand totals of 218,961 artifacts and 92,427 images.
Southwest - 119,131 artifacts, 40,551 images
Central - 41,296 artifacts, 21,728 images
Northeast - 30,706 artifacts, 20,226 images
Cape Breton - 27,828 artifacts, 9,922 images

Congrats to Cape Breton for adding the most records and to the Central region for adding the most images this month!

I think that's enough for March. Let's check back in next month to see if April was just as crazy, shall we?

Wednesday, March 25, 2015

Book Review - Running a Museum: A Practical Handbook

from idmarch.org
Back to the reference library we go. I'm almost exclusively reading museum books right now as part of my approach to the CMAP project, so you can expect more frequent book reviews for a little while.

ICOM & UNESCO published this doozy in 2004. Edited by Patrick Boylan, it is basically an anthology consisting of 12 articles written by museum professionals from around the world. The nice thing about the anthology format is that you can read up on whatever aspect of museum work you want. The table of contents has a little blurb under each article title so you know exactly what you're in for. The articles cover the history of collecting, museum ethics, collections management, inventories & documentation, care & preservation of collections, exhibits, visitor relations, museum education, management, marketing, security, disaster preparedness, and illicit traffic.

In the introduction, Boylan outlines 3 goals for the book, all of which tie back to it being a source of "best practice" information. The first goal is for it to be of assistance to new museum professionals, to assist existing professionals in understanding their colleagues' work, and to help steer internal discussions and strategic planning of museum operations. The book is meant to bridge the gap between theoretical textbooks and technical how-to guides. Hopefully, no matter what your role in the museum, you will be able to get something out of the handbook.

Some quick highlights of recommendations:
1. You should only collect items related to your mandate.
2. Incoming loans are accepted for brief, specified periods of times and must be tracked.
3. Regular inventories are crucial.
4. Anyone can put some basic preservation strategies in place.
5. You need to know more about your visitors than just how many came through the door.
6. Museum programming is only limited by your imagination.
7. The traditional solo leader is very inferior to the modern team leader.
8. Self-evaluation is critical to the health of the organization.
9. Everyone needs a job description.
10. Marketing doesn't have to be scary or expensive, and is imperative.
11. If you haven't done a risk assessment of your site/facilities, you need to. And in response you need to develop a disaster plan.
12. If something gets stolen, your collections documentation better be impeccable.

One thing that I was not a huge fan of (Sorry ICOM & UNESCO!) was that some of the articles were very conservative and/or traditional in their advice and approach to museum work. I'm not sure if this was an intentional positioning; that in order to make the handbook as accessible as possible on an international level, they didn't want to focus on cutting edge museum work and just wanted to establish a solid foundation. I can understand that. It's tough (if not impossible) to do the fun stuff without having first done some of the tedious meat & potatoes work. Every museum should have these basics down pat. But I think the danger in ignoring certain standard practices is that some museum workers would interpret those practices as being good things to do, but not requirements of the field. For new museum workers, if they don't see things such as collections databases, internet marketing, and other activities positioned as standards, they may end up wasting valuable time and resources as they try to move their museum forward.

As I've previously mentioned, I quite enjoy books and resources that are easily accessible - that you can quickly grab the info you need and put it into practice. I like resources that really guide you through a process, ask you questions, and get you to apply information to your unique situation. This handbook definitely delivers on this, with lots of little case studies and scenarios that end by asking what you would do in that situation. There are also some samples and templates, and an insanely long list of additional reading for the bookworms in the audience. For the really new museum people, an extensive glossary is provided to explain some of our funny jargon.

I think it is safe to say that most museums could learn or be reminded of ways to improve their work. So even though some of the guidelines in this resources are rather tame, I think it would be a good exercise for museum workers to go through and see how their institution aligns with these best practices. If you feel up to the challenge and want to check this one out for yourself, you can download it for free. Enjoy!

Wednesday, March 18, 2015

Book Review - Country Colours

I can't believe it's been 6 months since my last book review. Back to the reference library we go. Truth be told, I read this one a while ago and wasn't sure I would write a review, but I figure it will help to show the diversity in our little library collection.

This time I'm branching out into yet another area, a seemingly random review of Country Colours: A Guide to Natural Dyeing in Nova Scotia by Carolyn Lock. This is one of our vintage Nova Scotia Museum publications, and it's actually older than me. I know, hard to believe, but true.

The book is broken down into the following sections: introduction, historic perspective, directions for natural dyeing of wool, collecting dye plants, special dyestuffs, materials, equipment & safety, problems, and an annotated bibliography for more reading.

I can't say that this was the most riveting book I've ever read, or that I am planning on running out and tracking down plants to test out my dyeing skills. But as I was reading, I kept thinking about what wonderful programming opportunities exist for museums. I could picture foragers young and old traipsing around the museum grounds and getting dirty as they try their hands at natural dyeing.

I really enjoyed the historic perspective as a way to start things off. I think this is partially because of our Made in Nova Scotia database work, and partially because I like that sort of thing. It was neat to read about dyers in Nova Scotia; where they came from, what kind of work they did, and where they were located. I'll definitely be adding them to our database, although I doubt we will ever be able to tie them to artifacts in museum collections. It seems like a rather invisible sort of job.

The drawings in the book are pretty great. It's unfortunate that they aren't in colour, but the detail is still so good that you shouldn't have any trouble recognizing plants. Lock outlines which parts of the plant are useful and how to do the work in a safe way. Depending on what you're doing and how much you are making, you'll be dealing with a very hot and heavy mix.

One of the other fun things in the book is a troubleshooting section. They use the term "problems", but still, same difference. If I were to embark on a dyeing adventure I'm sure I would use this a lot. Did the colour come out unevenly? Did it bleed? Does it look dull? This is a great help if you're new to dyeing and want to test things out before rolling out a program. You'll easily be able to see how to improve the process based on what the book says about your results. And there are some blank pages at the back for your notes, making it easy to document any recipe or other adjustments you make.

It's true that this is an older book, and that a lot of changes have taken place since its publication, both in terms of environment (dare I say climate?) change and industrial development. So some of the author's recommendations on where to find plants may not be as accurate now as they were 30 years ago. But most of us Bluenosers will be able to find at least some of the plants from this list, or know a forager or two who could help us out.

So there you go. You too can try your hand at dyeing. Be sure to let me know if you try this at your museum. I'd love to see pictures of the process and hear what your visitors and community thinks of it all.