Cross Functional Workflows for museum, archive and library collections

In 2013 Parramatta City Council’s Museum, Archives and Local Studies Library were restructured into one unit, ‘Research and Collection Services’ (ARC).

Bringing together collections and staff from across three separate disciplines encouraged new work patterns and in some ways provides a glimpse into what could be the future for many working in the GLAM sector.

We are now two years down the track and this overview of our Parramatta and World War One project will hopefully provide some insights into how we are managing the challenges and benefits of new workflows in our cross-disciplinary team.

The primary focus of the World War One project was to research and develop stories relating to Parramatta and Districts and deliver these in tandem with 100 Year Commemoration events from 2014 to 2018. This project started in late 2013 but with few physical objects and records in the Council collections we had to think of another approach. We finally built the whole project around a rare copy of the 1920 publication ‘Parramatta District Soldiers in the Great War, 1914-1919’ which we purchased for the Museum collection in early 2014.

This book contained the names, locality and photographs of over 1500 soldiers and nurses who enlisted from here or were related by family to the Parramatta Local Government Area. We knew this book provided us with a kind of Rosetta stone to access content held in Trove, National Archives and at the Australian War Memorial but our first step was to digitise the book and its images, which were all out of copyright.

This was managed by our archival staff who also created the spreadsheet from indexes which broke down all the names, and locations into rows with a unique identifier. We then added the columns for information we would add later. These included, unit served, embarkation dates, links to external databases and pages, service numbers, and a central column containing a edited biographical entry.

Museum skills were useful for the collection of all the images and the retouching and cataloguing of these. After a month or so we had all 1500 of the soldiers images  cropped from the pages, resized to a uniform standard, and renumbered with the corresponding unique ID in our spreadsheet.

We then loaded the sheets and research information into our shared Google Drive (all of the ARC team shares the same login and editing, access and loading privileges) which enabled us to work collaboratively to x-check our work. We also opened up subsets of the data to volunteers so they could work remotely updating extra content on entries for soldiers, in fact one of our volunteers worked from Italy, while on a prolonged stay there with her family. Their content was then edited and updated by ARC team.

Library staff collated lists of books relating to a our research we we then ordered for the library collections as we worked on the project. We also began researching some of the broader Parramatta stories relating to Gallipoli, HMS Parramatta, and battles involving units with soldiers from the area. All this content we turned into blog posts which we then scheduled into our on-lineWorld War One blog-site to occur 100 years to the day of a major event in the post. We made the conscious decision to only select out of copyright material or content we had created to make sure the site and the posts were released under a Creative Commons licence. This ensured all our content could be accessed by schools, communities and other parts of Council for reuse and re-purposing.

The next idea we came up with relied heavily on museum exhibition development skill-sets. We decided to use the spreadsheet as the basis for kick-starting content for a touch-table which also incorporated browse and search options, location maps, images and a system users to put information back into the table and our spreadsheet.To help with this we ensured the table was designed with its own cloud based content management system, and WiFi connection.

ttble image

This ensured the table would not be locked down to a specific location and could be moved around the LGA between 2014-2018. It also provided another way of justifying the costs of the table whose usefulness for just this project could be spread over 4 years rather than being a one off semi-permanent display in the Heritage Centre.

The table was completed in late 2014 and after a spell of six months at the centre was re-installed at the Parramatta Returned and Services League Club in time for the 100 Year celebrations of ANZAC Day on 25 April, 2015. It is now scheduled to tour local libraries and heritage sites up until the end of 2016, … we still need to finalise the scheduled moves till its return to the centre for Armistice Day in November 2018.

The activities of the Research Services Team were loaded into ‘World War One Link’ a research project database established by the team at Inside History and also with the Imperial War Museum in England’s online register of research projects taking place around the world during the centenary of WWI.

By May 2015 we had had loaded about half of our 430 detailed biographies of the soldiers and nurses into our blog Parramatta and World War One and scheduled them for publication 100 years to the day the researched story occurred. The first of these was published in August 2014 and the last will be published November 2018. This means we will continue to post of WW1 for the next few years using material completed in 2014.

For the 100 years ANZAC Day Commemorations we created a blog of standalone web stories and biographies about local soldiers who served at Gallipoli in 1915. We also created a series of specialised blogs relating to current interest groups and demographics in Parramatta.  As we use a word-press back-end all of our online content scales automatically to use on tablets and phones. This was great because in enabled Council hosts and guides to use the information on their I-Pads to tell their stories at the Parramatta’s Centennial Square as a part of the school holiday activities.

For ANZAC Day we also created a playlist of 20 short animations of soldier’s stories using this content and after loading this onto our You-Tube channel shared these with the Main Library and Riverside Theatre who put them on continuous rotation on screens over the ANZAC period. Re-purposing this content we provided a set of specially edited photographs, biographies, and movie files to the ‘Communications and Marketing’ and ‘Events’ teams in Council for them to also use for promoting activities over this period.

We also used the spreadsheet to create info-graphics from our data. For these we went to an on-line company who were able to convert the data we provided into the info-graphic you can see at the top of this post. The turnaround time was around a week and cost minimal, admittedly we didn’t have as much control over the process as some of the more expensive offerings but we felt the ability to change and update the content more regularly offset this.  The PDF file was made to a specific size to enable it to become an element of out exhibition space at the centre, but it was also reused for pull up banners, marketing, and for on-line graphics once the touch-table started travelling.

Finally it is important to note that the creation and editing of these all the above has been shared across the entire ARC Team. Our volunteers have continued to add more content to our on-line spread sheet and these have been updated by our team into the on-line CMS for the table. All of which has provided training and increased the competency of the entire team in dealing with some of the new cloud based Google tools, social media and the Word Press software used to deliver our content.


While the major portion of the project has finished we are continuing to develop content in relation with upcoming 100 Year Commemoration events and continue to work with volunteers to upgrade content. We have also begun looking at a new e-pub project which utilises our World War One content and as we get closer to the hundred year centenary of the publication of the ‘Parramatta Soldiers’ book we are hoping this expertise may be utilised to republish the 1920 book with all of the contributions by community, volunteers and ARC staff.


ISO15489 New Archival Standard, NSW Record Managers Forum, notes

Geoff Hinchcliffe, Sate Records New South Wales, Intro
Outlined there are currently around 400 archival sites across NSW and the vastness of area is also complicated by the diversity of temperatures. Forum will look at new standards for the sector and also to let everyone know about the New State Records website launched 21 June, 2016 with over 2000 pages. It also has a useful section for all organisation looking for help managing govt records.

David Roberts. 20 year anniversary (just about) of the AS4390 standard about to be replaced
Twenty five years ago there was no standard and archivists just produced disposal authorities. The 4930 standard changed this and was the first national standard produced anywhere in the world.

Types of Record keeping
1 Interoperability
2 Mandatory regulatory standard a) outcomes standards when there has been a failure and b} checklist standards objective auditing requirements
3 Codification

AS4930 really developed as a part of 3 as it was thought best practice should it reflect innovation or current working standards. 4390 was created to deal with innovations. In part implemented because in the 1980s there was a crisis of accountability but the lack of standards meant it was hard to measure anything against. Needed code of best practice.

AS4390 was cutting edge in its time

Part 1 Definitions  created an opportunity to clarify new thinking about new approaches to records and concepts and emphasised a transactional distinction between data documents, records and the record keeping.

Part 3 strategies set out requirements for full and accurate records. Designing a record keeping systems (Dirks, which everyone seems to acknowledge had its problems) but business analysis was really what dirks about. Traditionally the question was how do we manage all this stuff but dirks turned this upside down and asked how do we satisfy the requirements for recorded evidence. What records need to be generated in the first place.

Part 5  Appraisal … turned idea of disposal on its head instead AS4390 was based on business systems what do we need to capture and how long should they be kept.

Barbara Reed Chair Standards Australia IT21 local committee part of international network of record keeping standards.Australian and NZ standards have an AS/NZ prefix. This committee chooses which international standards will be brought into Australian environment.

Core ISO15489
Iso 30300
Iso 23081
Iso 16175

Risk assessment for records is a good useful international standard,  work process analysis, digitisation (from NZ) digitising before business rather than after the business is completed.

Hierarchy of standards
Top jurisdictional NSW
then Australian standards
then ISO standards

Different cultures have different approaches no set way of implementing across the globe. Feels they should be inspirational just above the bar of what can be done but this is not a consistent view across different countries.

ISO15489 new standard released 2016 

Foundation standard for use by records management practitioners and is also a statement of principles and operational control and processes .. new one has a new focus on digital material.

What’s different … emphasis on metadata and digital environment with out being format specific change in the definition of records and new emphasis on assets. More balance on process to say what can be done in range of environments and here are the controls you need … emphasis on access security and disposal … appraisal brought back in this standard (this is the analytic framework on which all these tools are based.)

ISO30300 management standards … higher level strategic organisational standards for good record keeping of entire organisation ie work and safety requirements
ISO23081 metadata standards …no digital record can exist without metadata … controversial as some what to take back to Dublin core … others want to include process some want to extend past just a profile of the record.

ISO16175 standards for functional requirements in electronic office environment. Still being reviewed to look particularly at better definitions for strategy

Annalisa Yeo,  Policy and Innovation ICT and Digital Government,

Focus on services to public and open data policy, improved performance management and provision of services. Final update Digital + 2016.

NSW Government ICT strategy’s final update outlines standards critical to the success of these. ROLE OF INFO FRAMEWORK CENTRAL TO REUSE OF DATA 3.9 define architectural layer and 3.10 standards for open data as (top of the list will be a data dictionary)

ICT Management FRAMEWORK ... most important to clarify it is aligned with ICT  strategy and provides guidelines and standards for government data across the NSW sector.

Built around 7 principles of data management
1 Govern
2 Collect
3 Organisation
4 Secure
5 Use
6 Share
7 Maintain

IM framework artefacts are linked to these principles. Standards are applied to these principles.

FIVE criteria for adoption of IM Framework standards
1 Aligned
2 Relevant to specific business need
3 Proven endorsed in principle
4 Aspirational incorporate working base line and continual improvement
5 Enterprise wide as well

NSW Metadata standards policy will be updated soon and requires agencies to publish metadata standards and baseline metadata standards applied and standard vocabularies applies.

Catherine Robinson Acting Manager NSW Government Record Keeping this talk was key in bringing together the other speakers outlines and makes it clear that the State records Act is the one that has to be adhered to when managing records.

1 Part 2 State Records Act sets out broad range of obligations .. to assist organisations understand how to implement codes of standards and obligations.

2 Very important design criteria means any organisation can implement to act and improve outcomes. THEY ARE MANDATORY and can be audited. 12 standards for practice from 2014 Act reviewed and reduced standards to just two and were all wrapped up into the standard on record management which was issued last year.

3 Also needs to adopt code of best practise to manage their practice.

These two standards and the adoption of best practice criteria are the minimum you need to apply to manage records in NSW.

They are designed to manage physical and digital records so new standards do have a focus on digital records. Standards build on previous foundation of standards.

How do these standards fit with the other standards outlined above. This group of 3 have been brought into this standard and harmonise with digital + strategy and hooking into other standards nationally and internationally. Always draws on these sources and referred to in standards issued under the state records act.

Ref: futureproof blog 

Geoff Barker, 2016

Staffing the Museums of the Future: Seb Chan interview

A transcript of the interview I did with Seb Chan, who was then Director of digital and emerging media at the Cooper Hewitt ,in the run-up to the 2015 Museums Australia Conference. Seb as usual was full of interesting insights into the business of musuems …

Hi Seb

Hi Geoff

Geoff: So can you give us a quick introduction.

Seb: Hi I’m Seb Chan, Director of digital and emerging media at the Cooper Hewitt which is the Smithsonian’s Design Museum in New York. I was previously at the Powerhouse Museum and headed up all the digital stuff there and some other units as well which was fun in the last couple couple years of a New York Hewett rethink what it is to say to be a museum in the digital age and help it reopen. It had been closed the last three three years and reopened end of December 2014.

So pretty exciting times and now we’re just into that time five six months later figuring out what’s working, what isn’t working, and getting ready to roll the next set of these set of exhibits we’ve got some cool ones coming up and then bedding down some of those systems and you know bedding down some of the change that’s gone on as well. It’s been a pretty exciting time. New York’s always full of good things and with summer coming around it’s good.

Geoff: Lots of good coffee shops and gelato shops

Seb: Yeah it’s starting to pick it up you know I think one of the more significant changes at the Museum that people don’t talk often enough about is that we now have a fabulous European grade coffee which is very nice to have on the Upper East Side it’s been a little bit rare over the last few years but they have also learned how to do a proper Australian cup too which has been a good thing.

Geoff: The question I’m going to ask you is one one of those from the Museums Australia Conference 2015 and this is … What will the staff of the Museum of the future look like?I’m just wondering what your thoughts are, whether it’s more about the structure that’s going to change, or the people that are in the structure that are going to change.

Seb: Yeah look I don’t know really know. I mean I think it’s an interesting period I’ve seen moving into the States that the States has a very different financial model for museums and that really affects the staffing structure of this sort of staff you have. So in the States you have development or fund raising teams that are often quite sizable and in fact you know often a bigger than say digital team or as big as the education team because fund raising is such a key part of keeping the doors open and I guess the other thing that’s different views is because of that you have a lot of staff who are project based and that’s both good and bad. Good in that I think what’s interesting here is that it’s perhaps in New York at least a bit easier to get significant capital to do interesting stuff but also because of the project nature of the staff and the lack of a solid recurrent funding base it often means that the goals are relatively short term and the biggest sort of strategic visions are very hard to pull off. Not only because it’s hard to see far but it is also that actual resources you have are on hand are only for a certain period of time and you can’t redirect what they do to perhaps to the strategically appropriate goals because you signed onto a particular grant three years ago which no longer is necessarily the right things to be doing.

4:54 So that’s kind of tough and I guess the other thing is we’re also seeing a lot of turnover with staff retiring which is similar in Australia, there is this curatorial generation leaving museum world to retire And so I think for the first time perhaps in twenty years there’s a whole rush of new people into those sort of positions which is really exciting but I think it’s also pretty tough because I think you know for twenty years graduates of museum studies and curatorial programs have really struggled to find employment sector and it’ll be interesting to see how that plays out in time. And of course it’s coming at a time when there’s a whole lot of new skills required to run a museum and to think about how curatorial practice, conservation practice and education practices are delivered. So perhaps even the recent graduates are not appropriately skilled for the museums that we need.

I certainly see that when I’m hiring people with digital skill sets now. You know there is a real shortage of people with the necessary experience I guess but it’s also very hard to get experience because it just haven’t been any of the jobs so you know it’s tough right, it tough.

6:30 Geoff: I know I’m going to be talking to Catherine Howard in a couple of days time and she’s been doing her Phd thesis on convergence across the heritage sector and looking at staff across the heritage centre. And to me that seems to be one of the themes for the future that seems really positive. I think that Archives, libraries and museums kinda merging their staff skill sets could be really great. Have you come across much of that happening in the museum sector?

6:59 Seb: Yeah. I mean there is, but it’s often couched also in terms of downsizing So where there were two or three departments they get collapsed into one and thus lose two to two-thirds of the bodies. In fact what we need is a convergence with minimal loss because I think particularly in that area we need staff who have digital preservation training and skills and interest as well as new forms of registration staff as well cataloguing staff to do and design the new catalogues we need.

7:52 So I also think often what I’ve seen of late is yes all of these departments and themes merge but it’s just about shrinking the full time positions rather than actually coming up with the necessary reallocating of staff and retraining staff for the skill sets that are necessary in the present.

But you know I think we’re in a period of change I think there’s a lot of exciting work going on in individual preservation space and other related spaces too which face some similar challenges people trying to preserve or at least document ephemeral cultures. And you know I think that’s in a period of flux but you know while those areas are emerging we are yet to see a merger that’s not just about saving money.

8:53 Geoff:I know that the digital humanities conference is coming out to Sydney in May this year. I think digital humanities is one aspect of education and the role of particularly tertiary institutions in terms of ongoing preservation of culture and the role of those institutions in things like museums should be closer aligned. And it would be interesting to get your thoughts on whether you think there’s more scope for partnership with tertiary institutions. So rather than appoint curators or registrars per se there may be skill sets that are more applicable across all of the cultural and digital humanities.

9:43 Seb: Yeah sure I mean I think the digital humanities is fascinating at the moment. I think there’s a lot of the issues in digital humanities particularly in the U.S. around tenure positions and the challenges of Academic publishing and all these other things that have meant that digital humanities maybe faces other challenges in the academy still that haven’t been resolved. I would say there’s a lot of really exciting work going on in the field and to date it’s been libraries on the whole that have been able to benefit the most because I guess they have had the most text based materials and humanities has been primarily text oriented, although that’s beginning to change. But we do see a lack of enough collections from the museums sector that are ready for programmatic analysis and study. And I think this is one of the big things museums need to get on top of, and that doesn’t happen without some of the more traditional roles being filled. I mean you know you need collection management registrars and cataloguers to get these museum collections into a place where digital humanists can actually apply programmatic methods of analysis to find things, let alone do scholarship with them.

So you know I think that that’s something that museums you know are going to have to work on pretty hard on. I think here in the states the New York museums and some of the conferences that we have coming up there is some very exciting stuff coming up but within museum world there’s so much work to be done still. I mean there always is that sort of work and that’s what’s interesting about it but

I think that we haven’t yet come up with killer digital humanities uses of museums stuff yet. And maybe that’s just not going to happen, and that’s OK too. But I guess you know programs like the ‘beautiful data’ series that the Getty’s supporting through Hub The meta-lab is interesting, that happens each summer. Last Summer’s ‘beautiful data’ series was really interesting, really amazing in in fact, and this summers one happening in July looks really good as well. And the meta Lab is doing really interesting work with people who go to ‘beautiful data’ to really probe museum collections and what is actually possible with them, art museum collections particularly. But this year’s focus is on ephemeral collections which will be fascinating to see what people do with it over the two week period.

But who knows I think its early days but from what I see now museums are behind in the digitisation game and they need to catch up pretty fast, get all their stuff digitised and make it accessible and then perhaps we can talk about stuff. That’s always been the case but I thinks its more pressing now.

13:45 Geoff

But One of the things I’ve noticed since I moved to the Parramatta Council is that the role of the museums, the archives and the libraries are being presented as being responsible for external relationships with the community. It’s all about family history, it’s about putting on exhibitions but since I’ve been there what I’ve noticed is that we play a very integral role to developments across Council so whether its DA applications or its archaeological digs there’s a whole raft of things where we’re trying very hard to integrate our selves much more with Council activities so for example we are collecting books in the local studies libraries about urban change and urban living, books about the future of living in cities and we are trying to pull our collections together and integrate these together with Council kind of gives us a greater sense of what a museum is for. What are your thoughts bout museums and actually making inroads into the general population to justify why they exist in the first place.

Seb Sure I mean I guess, local museums have that luxury, that National and State museums often don’t have, I think some of the work of the New York Public Library is doing in that regard with a very specific geographic focus is fascinating, I was out at the Minnesota Institute and History centre just last week in fact and a lot of work they are doing there, amazing story telling work, from the local Minnesota community, it’s incredible stuff there, and you know I think its those, sort of institutions that are very focussed on a geographic region that allows them I guess, to enact what the New York Public Library calls a space time explorer view where you can explore particular geographies through time and space and its a defined thing.

That’s very different to a museum of painting from the 1800s or a design museum like my place or a museum of Australia. Those are very different types of institutions but often its those larger ones that have those really diverse collections that would benefit a lot from integration with those other smaller ones that have those specific focuses. But yeah I guess there is no ‘one size fits all’ for the humanities researcher or any of that. Some museums will always be better off serving the public as exhibition spaces where people go as an outing and others will be more primarily focussed on one speciality, and that speciality may attract very particular niche audiences, I’m thinking here particularly in Brooklyn, the morbid anatomy museum, which is one of my favourite museums in New York. Super discrete focus, super tight connection with he community which isn’t geographically bound but is subject bound. So there is those sorts of things, it’s hard to say what kinds of things come out of that but it would be good to have ways we could explore all of those collecting specialities in some way.

Geoff: Yeah I agree, I think given the breadth of collections it would be nice see them opened up. But what I’m finding very interesting is the actual sharing of more collection spaces for storage and not thinking so much about the bricks and mortar of where things are but more about what you can do with stuff and I think for the museums of the future it does have to think outside of the physical structure. And I know this is something you’ve been talking about or awhile now and that these are not just digital solutions but physical ‘on the ground’ solutions where people can access the stuff and take it away and loan it or re-purpose it and do things with it.

Seb: Yeah Sure. I mean digital is the easy way to do it but often it is actually the physical repatriation, or the loans of pieces that bring collections to life. I think what’s interesting about what we’ve been doing at Cooper Hewitt is not just part of the work we’ve been doing in the digital space it is also about affirming and asserting the role of the physical museum and bringing a sense that the physical museum has to reassert why visiting it on site actually matters and making that a primary concern which forces an exhibition designers, curatorial staff, education officers, and the museum as a whole to say why this is different when you see it physically. And that’s really interesting and think that’s the same if I’m … you know Aaron Pope in my team jokes about relocating all of the museum collections to the airports around America because those have so much through-put and wouldn’t it be great if you were waiting for your plane and you could browse through all these collections which just happens to be on loan to each of the airports.

That sort of thing of putting collections where people are and asserting that the physical collections actually matter, not just putting them in a store house to be forgotten and have digital surrogates as their sort of access copy, but having the ability to actually see things and asserting that the actual thing matters. Whether its actually physical or even digital born itself is interesting to. I think there is a need even with digital born collections to see them in their context and a place to bring a focus to that context. And often that is simply a matter of the viewer being forced to dedicate time and attention to it in a space that hasn’t got other tabs open at the moment and twitter buzzing and you’re not …

Geoff: … Getting a call to get on your air plane…

Seb: … yeah, yeah, right. You know what’s interesting about museum spaces or cultural heritage spaces is even when they are just exhibition halls, as a lot of museums frankly are, is at least they offer a place where people commit to a certain period of time with whatever it is. So if I’m going to say, the Powerhouse, right, or I’m going to say the Cooper Hewitt with my family, I’m setting aside a block of time and I’m saying I’m going to spend this amount of time at that place so then its just the museums responsibility to use that commitment of time audiences, that visitors have made to make most use of that time. You know Xerces Mazda up at ROM in Toronto said something to me a couple of months ago that really stuck with me which was … we have the ROM collections with all these amazing things and it’s our responsibility as museum people to tell people why these are so amazing and why they should care about them, and that if we don’t, because our signage is bad, our labels are bad, or we don’t explain them well then we haven’t done our job.

You know we need to assert that these things are 3000 years old and they really matter, because … because … because … and museum professional can’t just expect folks to know. I think there’s a responsibility for the museum professional to assert why we should care about this stuff and sometimes its much easier to assert when its physically present, it really hard to assert that the thing on your screen really matters because it could just be anything and could be anywhere, right!

… end of part 1

Progrockracy: scaling the pinnacles of prog rock

Last week a couple of friends and I met up with the hope that a liberal ingestion of alcohol would bring us a step closer to resolving a challenge we set earlier in the week. Each of us had been allocated 1Gb of data to load with ‘PROG-ROCK’ tunes Continue reading

Weekly Roundup – hololens, worst albums by actors, 100s free games, Bluemix

HoloLens augmented reality headset … this really is incredible!! … demonstration of how you could pin videos and calendars wherever you want in your house or play with a 3D-animated puppy

The <em>Millionaire</em> machine of Steiger/Egli
The Millionaire machine of Steiger/Egli (Courtesy of Mr. John Wolf)

The Millionaire Calculating Machine by Otto Steiger … in 1892 the swiss engineer Otto Steiger (1858-1923) received his patent for the ‘Millionaire’ calculating machine (German patent DE 72870). This was really the first commercially-successful direct multiplication calculating machine, and was so successful it remained in production until 1935. Continue reading


Weekly Roundup – led printing, airborne vandalism, ANzac stories, geospatial e-books

A new technological break-though could see light emitted on flat, razor-thin surfaces like paper, instead of through round, circular bulbs. This is the promise of the Rohinni team who are developing a new technology which will allow the printing of tiny light emitting LEDS onto flat surfaces … more

Airborne Vandalism – An interesting article on a graffiti artist using a drone carrying a spray-can to deface advertising hoardings.

Nature Magazine posts a news article explaing how “… from open access to giant web-based data repositories, Continue reading