Monday, November 30, 2015

November 2015 Update

serious crowd in Truro
Evaluation Preparation
The final four orientation sessions took place this month, in Port Hawkesbury, Sydney, Cole Harbour, and Truro. When all was said and done we entered all the names & new contact info on our handy-dandy evaluation spreadsheet, and we're feeling pretty pleased with the turnout. We're also feeling a lot more confident in our ability to get in touch with people. So thanks to all who came out, for asking such great questions, and for being so positive about the new evaluation process.

Questions and requests for assistance are trickling in, and I'm keeping track of these in the aforementioned handy-dandy spreadsheet for a couple reasons. One - it shows where we might need to clarify questions, and two - we're curious to see if there will be a correlation between scoring and who reached out for help.
If you're looking for inspiration or wondering where to begin, here are some simple things that your colleagues are working on:
1. Reviewing the floor plan and updating locations in the collections database. Most people are saving the inventory portion of this work for summer students or volunteers since this is a super fast & easy job. 
Anita being dwarfed by Port
Hawkesbury's projection screen

2. Updating policies, manuals etc. As you heard at the orientation sessions, we want to make sure you're reviewing these documents regularly, confirming that they still meet your organizational needs. This includes seeing a "last reviewed" date, so some museums are sitting down and reviewing and adding this little date detail, and checking the boxes in the pre-evaluation review to make sure they aren't missing any sections or details. Don't forget that we have a lot of templates on our website that you can refer to, covering the subjects of collections & access to info, management, and marketing & revenue generation. For governance info, we recommend you check out the resources on Dalhousie University's website.

My biggest and best advice for you here is to reach out. Don't wait until you have a big list of questions you want answered, and don't debate them internally for weeks on end. Just fire off an email and I will help you out. From a support perspective, it is a whole lot easier (& faster) for me to handle these sporadic questions than to address a big list.

Collections Database Info
Our big news here is that we're expanding the server. The final set-up work is being done today, and then we'll have quadruple the space we had before. We'll also have nice new machines which will help keep things running smoothly. This upgrade was one of our big jobs to accomplish before the holiday break, and it's huge relief to have it settled. 

Quiet puttering is a good way to refer to database progress. As expected, a lot of museums are shifting their focus to evaluation preparation. So what we're seeing the most in database work is editing of existing records - reconciling duplicates, updating storage locations, adding missing information & images. Remember, every bit of work you do here will increase your chances of a good evaluation result. So even though it can feel like you're getting nowhere fast, believe me when I tell you that you are making noticeable improvements. This month's improvements mean we now have 221,948 artifacts and 104,885 images online. I wonder if we'll crack 222k and 105k before the end of the year...

And now here's that regional tally you're all waiting for:
Southwest - 121,115 artifacts, 48,770 images
Central - 42,250 artifacts, 24,136 images
Northeast - 30,933 artifacts, 21,464 images
Cape Breton - 27,650 artifacts, 10,515 images

For the second month in a row, congrats to Cape Breton for adding the most records this month, and to the Southwest region for adding the most images.

Your image lesson of the month is about detail shots; a very particular kind of detail shot. Every museum I visit has dishes or other ceramics that include lovely maker's marks on the bottom. And yet, these regularly get missed during photodocumentation. I know that sometimes the ceramic will just be a blank void of nothingness and make you cry "ARGH!" when your hopes of a research shortcut have been dashed. And I suppose some people think that the bottom of a plate is pretty boring so there's no need to photograph it, but trust me, these marks are absolutely crucial to include.
These marks are gold mines of information - where the ceramic was made, when, by whom, what kind of ceramic it is, etc etc. I like to go old school when researching ceramic marks. I have three special reference books that my aunt gave me and they are my go-to sources. They let me search by symbol, by country, or by company. There are also a lot of great websites that can help you with ceramic marks, such as Kovels, The Marks Project, and The So the next time you pull out a ceramic for digitization, flip it over and check the bottom. If there's a mark, say GOLD MINE! and snap a few detail shots using your macro (flower icon) setting. Trust me, it will be worth your while.

Odds and Ends
In random news, with 14 office days this month I was finally able to get through the bulk of my remaining site visit homework. It feels great to look at my to do list and not see August as a heading. It was also great to get to two regional meetings this month. The Black Cultural Centre hosted the Central Regional Heritage Group (affectionately referred to as crug), and the Colchester Historeum got to show off its interpretive renewal project as host of the Northeast regional meeting. In Truro we were honoured to have MP Bill Casey join us, and gave him our best crash course in Nova Scotian museum news. I wouldn't be surprised if his hand cramped from all the note-taking.

In general ANSM news, we are so very close to wrapping up the $100 from 100 campaign and would love to see this completed before the end of the year. Since tomorrow is Giving Tuesday, please consider helping us reach our goal. You can read more about the Museum Fund on our website.

Also, a friendly reminder that our office will be closed for the holidays from December 19th through January 3rd. I will sporadically check messages, but you should expect a delay in response time.

Wednesday, November 11, 2015

Museums and Remembrance Day - 2015 Edition

As my long-time readers know, I tend to get a little introspective when Remembrance Day rolls around. I've shared stories from my family's past, my personal experiences, and try to tie these in with the work we do as museums. This time I'm stepping away from my family's story, because this past week was Holocaust Education Week. Here in Halifax, this has meant special speakers and events, one of which I attended at the Canadian Museum of Immigration at Pier 21. It commemorated the 77th anniversary of Kristallnacht through song, video, and a first-hand account by author Sidney Zoltak.

When he was a teenager Sidney and his family escaped from the Warsaw ghetto just prior to the ghetto's "liquidation", ie when the people were all transported to concentration camps. While his father was careful to shield Sidney from the truth of what was happening, Sidney remembers being aware of rumours circulating that "something bad, something significant was going to happen soon." In the middle of the night, his father cut through the barbed wire fence and people ran for their lives while being shot at by Nazi guards. After hiding out in the forest, his family made their way to a rural area and ended up being hidden in a barn for 14 months by another family. After the war and his father's death, Sidney and his family came to Canada to join his mother's sister in Montreal. They maintained contact and sent care packages to the family that hid them, and eventually had the family added to the Righteous Among the Nations list.

That is obviously a very brief synopsis of what Sidney shared with us on Sunday afternoon. And it is impossible to convey the emotion with which he spoke, and the response and reaction of the audience. But what I want to do is really focus on his musings as he wrapped up his talk. He shared that when he meets with other survivors they ask each other what the memories will look like when they are gone. They are worried about the distortion of historical accounts, Holocaust deniers, Nazi sympathizers, and that no one will be present to provide a first-hand account when questions arise.

There's no way around it, we all know it to be true; there are fewer and fewer survivors and veterans every day. As Sidney put it, "we leave future generations an important legacy". I could not help but feel that he was issuing a call to action to heritage institutions. I talk a lot about the need to personalize our collections - that each item has a story to share and we need to be more proactive in capturing those stories. But here was a man with far more clout than I have, tearfully pleading with his audience to never forget, and to seek out these memories and important stories and ensure that they are documented for future generations.

As the saying goes, truth is stranger than fiction. Whether it is a Holocaust survivor's story or the life story of a local farmer who never left Nova Scotia, people's lives and experiences matter. We can learn a lot from those that came before us. They deserve our respect, especially as museums. Our mandate includes preserving our heritage right? This is literally our job. Again Sidney put it very poignantly that if we "don't do it now, tomorrow might be too late. Our stories are important historical facts." Truer words were never spoken.

We, the museum community must acknowledge this call to action and step up to the plate. We know that each story captured is another piece added to the puzzle that is our past. We know that we are ethically bound to be socially conscious institutions and that we have an active role to play in sharing life lessons with next generations. We know that sometimes our history is none too pretty, and that this can quickly and easily result in disbelief by our visitors and audiences. But we also know that sometimes we fail. Sometimes we shy away from telling the difficult stories in our history, we disregard teachable moments, and we don't take advantage of opportunities to capture personal, first-hand accounts. And frankly, if I had to explain to this wonderful gentleman why my museum had failed to capture and share these personal, difficult, and oh-so-important stories, I would be left feeling embarrassed and speechless.

The words honour, respect, responsibility and duty all immediately spring to mind. However you think of it, or whichever reasoning makes the most sense to you, let's all agree. As museum workers and as institutions that preserve societal memory, the least we can do is help those that are left to share their stories in the way they want, and in their own words.

Wednesday, November 4, 2015

October 2015 Update

Odds and Ends
This is going to be a big update, so I'm going to keep this section brief. Since I took two weeks off in October, it meant cramming a whole lot of work into 12 days. The good news is that I survived. The bad news is that I've got tons of messages to respond to and my site visit homework is still incomplete. According to that to do list, it is still August 22nd. But now that I am almost entirely back in the office, I hope to make some serious progress over the coming weeks.

Evaluation Program
evaluation orientation
Anita and I have been on the road again, this time conducting orientation sessions on the new evaluation process. As one person said to us yesterday, this is the first time there has been this kind of communication about evaluations, and it is immensely helpful. We've had great turn outs at each session, and people have almost always said after the session that they felt better about next summer's evaluation. Yes it is still going to be a lot of work over the coming months, but I'm here to help you and I'm confident that together we'll be able to accomplish a whole lot before July rolls around. If you haven't already done so, be sure to download the new evaluation documents on our website. Look through and treat these as a self-assessment - answer what you are confident in, and then figure out what you'd like to work on next. If you have any questions at all, please be in touch.
If you are not a CMAP museum, you can still use this evaluation tool as a way to assess your operations. As we mention during the orientation session, museum workers are always busy, and it can be hard to get feedback or take a step back and assess yourself. This process is meant to help.

I taught two workshops this month as part of our Museum Studies program. Both workshops were our two-day session on Collections Management, but this doesn't mean we'll be offering multiple sessions for our other workshops in the future. We took advantage of a unique opportunity, and as a result 39 people were trained in collections management. We had great groups at both workshops. Middleton was uneventful, but we ended up having an adventure in Sherbrooke. Maritimers had a pretty interesting time on Thursday because of the wind and rain, and for those of us in Sherbrooke, that included a 7-hour power outage. Thankfully we were a pretty stalwart group, so we used our laptop batteries to the last drop, enjoyed a turkey dinner à la propane stove, and spent the rest of the evening in candlelight. It was actually quite lovely and relaxing.
Thursday night in Sherbrooke
cloudy Sherbrooke Village

Collections Database Info

We had a rather quiet month in the world of databases. I'm still seeing a lot of editing work being done, but additions are lower than they have been. We now have 221,947 artifacts and 103,253 images in the system which represents 237 new artifacts and 552 new images. As I've mentioned in the evaluation orientation sessions and collections management workshops, the best way to get through data entry backlogs and improve existing records is to just keep plugging away at it. So kudos to everyone as they do this. Every improvement increases the likelihood of a positive result in your evaluation.

Southwest - 121,069 artifacts, 47,047 images
Central - 42,172 artifacts, 23,970 images
Northeast - 31,205 artifacts, 21,721 images
Cape Breton - 27,501 artifacts, 10,515 images

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

For your image lesson of the month, we are talking about scanning. We are also talking about staff/volunteer training. The lovely ladies in this photo are going to help us out with this lesson. Very fun picture right? Unfortunately, it breaks a bunch of our digitization rules, and as a result has left this museum with more headaches than progress. Firstly, When the photo was scanned the student didn't define the scanning area, resulting in a lot of dead space that needs to be cropped out. But when you crop out dead space, you lower the image resolution. This limits re-purposing of the content. Secondly, this photo was plunked down in the middle of the scanning plate instead of along an edge, which means when you crop it, your image will be off kilter. Thirdly, the image file name is a mess with extra details and dots instead of underscores or dashes. That means we can't easily batch import the images to the database, that the image files won't be stored in order by accession number (ie the way we look things up).
My biggest problem with this scan is probably the one you've identified as well. Someone did a whole lot of work, and now the museum will have to spend just as much time fixing or redoing the work. We are swamped. We need to ensure that our limited resources are being used efficiently and effectively.

So, let's review our rules:
1. If your scanner doesn't automatically read the edges of your item, use the scanning preview option to define the scanning area.
2. Check your scanner settings. Make sure your image is going to be high resolution so you can use it in numerous ways. An easy guideline to follow is 600dpi.
3. Line up the item with whichever corner edge the scanner suggests. There is always a little arrow to show you where to position your item. If you don't use it, the scan won't be square.
4. When naming your images, do not include dots. The only dot should be prior to the file extension (ie jpg or tiff). Also, remember that your image name is supposed to align with the accession number. In this instance an additional number was added which means the file names have to be edited in multiple ways before the image can be attached to the database. This image file should read 2007_9_43.jpg or 2007_9_43.tiff.
5. Supervise your staff/volunteers! Don't assume that someone understands digitization just because they know how to use a computer. You've got to show people how to do a job, and then check in with them regularly to make sure that it is going well and you're happy with the results.

So there you go. Long lesson, but I really hope I never see this problem in a museum again.

And now by request, something completely different. I mentioned last month that I was going on hiatus for a personal adventure. Well, the cat is out of the bag. I got married. Thank you for the cards and gifts and messages. My new hubby has been thoroughly impressed by the kindness and support of the museum community. Thanks for celebrating with us as we embark on this great adventure.