Eleven weeks ago at Owaka Museum, we began the challenge to pioneer the eHive online collection management system with our own in-house personalised adaptations. Two collection cataloguers were employed on a nine-month Lotteries Environment and Heritage funded project.
It’s been exciting to build a collection database for a small museum with a ’grandma’s attic’ character to its collection in a remote, mainly rural community with a passion for its own history.
Without the strategic partnership between National Services Te Paerangi and Vernon Systems Ltd, this would not have been possible. The development of the digital platform for communal sharing of museum and collection information using NZMuseums and eHive, has been a major breakthrough for small museums. Owaka Museum can now function more effectively in the computer-orientated age of the world wide web. We can reach new audiences, increase accessibility and can also be confident that our data is secure and backed-up.
Before we began, we researched cataloguing thesauri available internationally. This opened our eyes to the diverse cataloguing conventions available to organise collection data into fields and layers of information for accurate search results. The thesauri create aids for searching, control of vocabularies, and consistent use of terms. They allow objects to be arranged by hierarchical, associative, or equivalence relationships. This results in the accurate retrieval of information. By linking terms hierarchically we can carry out searches that can be widened to give better recall, or narrowed to give greater precision. All in all, the thesauri are very useful tools to have in our cataloguing tool kit.
Underlying all this is the axiom that an object is only as valuable as the information that accompanies it. Computers help to take the effort out of maintaining, compiling and using thesauri; but we carry out the intellectual decisions which make the thesauri function effectively. So keeping in mind the key components of searchability, findability and discoverability, our approach is to think like a researcher and a public user while also thinking like a collection manager.
By keeping in mind the diverse needs of potential users of the collection database, we aim to achieve the goal of a user-friendly, information-rich system. Our cataloguing progress so far has made a significant difference to accessing the collection both intellectually and physically. We have gone from containment within four walls, to access anywhere, anytime, in a secure online environment.
We have established an accurate location system, ratings for measuring, condition and significance. We have selected thesauri for places, materials, object name and classification. A Catlins-specific subject thesaurus has been developed, to enable Catlins’ character searches. The significant collection of moa-hunter taonga will be catalogued using a developed bilingual Taonga Māori thesaurus.
The cataloguing project outcomes are exceeding our expectations and bringing the collection to life for the community and web-based browsers. More than a collection cataloguing project, we are building an evocative, revelatory web of community knowledge that reflects the museum’s role as a treasure house of both artefacts and information combined. We have developed a new term for what we are doing: information weaving.
Back to the joys of opening cardboard boxes full of treasures to be unwrapped and the sense of everyday being Christmas! Wish us luck for the remaining seven months of the project, and do have a look at the Owaka Museum collection NZMuseums. Our stuff is out there, thanks to National Services Te Paerangi and Vernon Systems Ltd.