Tanya Szrajber, The British Museum Collection Database


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'The British Museum Collection Database: How to Create and Manage over 2,000,000 Records': seminar by Tanya Szrajber, Head of Documentation, The British Museum, to Department of Digital Humanities, King's College London, 20 November 2012

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Tanya Szrajber, The British Museum Collection Database

  1. 1. The British Museum collection database: how tocreate and manage over 2,000,000 records Tanya Szrajber Head of Documentation The British Museum Seminar at Department of Digital Humanities King’s College London 20th November 2012
  2. 2. Presentation Overview• Introduction• The collection database online• History of the digitisation project• Role of the Documentation Section and the collection database• The challenge of digitising the British Museum collection• Data fields and data entry screens• Terminologies• Issues (curatorial priorities; collaboration; how historic academic data is incorporated; keeping information up-to-date)
  3. 3. The collection database online: current figures2,039,756 objects are available 2,039,756 objects are available707,711 of these ha2,039,756 one or more images 707,711 of these have one or more images 707,711 of these have one or more images 2,039,756 objects are available 707,711 of these have one or more images
  4. 4. The Collection On Line (COL): current developments• Forthcoming changes to the user interface: improving the search resultspages; increasing image sizes; and changing the format of the AdvancedSearches.• Semantic web version of the database: The British Museum collection is nowavailable in a linked data format at the endpoint.• This data has been mapped to the international standard CIDOC-CRM.Forthcoming changes to the user interface: improving the search results pages;increasing image sizes; and changing the format of the Advanced S
  5. 5. The collection database online: public commentsFirst, thank you for this great project.Second, I think that this coin is BMC (Palestine), No. 12 and not No. 13.Ive been looking at your database, and have to say its pretty amazing- you guys have put in so much work toget that up and running, its a wonderful resource for us college students!Im so glad to see the icons online, as theyre something Im researching for my college dissertation while Imover here in England, and so few of those you have are on display in the museum just now.First of all I would like to express my admiration for your Web site. I am interested in the cuneiform tablet inyour collection numbered BM 58580. I was delighted to be able to access some information about the tablet soeffortlessly by using the search feature of your site, and also to see how easy it is to use the related links oneach page.I am writing also to inquire whether or not you have any arrangement for providing a photograph or electronicimage of this tablet.What a fantastic resource this is, Ive just discovered it, congratulations.The actual title of this engraving is The Birks of Aberfeldy. Birks means trees in old Scots. Keep up theexcellent work.I think you would like to include in the bibliography a reference that mentions the Apis bull image of this coffin.Here it goes:Susanne Bickel In ägyptischer Gesellschaft, Aegyptiaca der Sammlungen BIBEL + ORIENT der UniversitätFreiburg Schweiz. Freiburg, Acadmic Press Freiburg Schweiz, 2004: pp. 116-118.I hope this information could be as valuable to the British Museum site as the museum database is to me!I’ve found your collection database very useful for my work in the Capitoline Museum. Sometimes I noticesome mis-reading. In this case the date of contorniates is 4th or 5 th century AD. Thank you.
  6. 6. The history of the British Museum digitisation project1976: trial scheme in the Department of Egyptian Antiquities on bespoke system (BMUSE)1978: pilot project for objects in the Department of Ethnography1979: BMUSE records transferred to MDA (now Collections Trust) multi-user GOS system, on Hewlett Packard computers1979: Documentation Section was created with specialised staff inputting data1980s:due to interest from National Audit Office and Public Accounts Committee, purpose of the database became the creation of an inventory; project extends to other departmental collections1988: online system with terminals introduced (MAGUS) and data transferred to it fromGOS1993: online registration by curatorial departments of new acquisitions1998: tendering for a replacement2000: Merlin, created by System Simulation Ltd (SSL), selected and in operation2007: start of Collection online project with data available on the BM website2012: just over 2,000,000 records online; data available in semantic form at an endpoint
  7. 7. Role of the Documentation SectionOverall responsibility for the British Museum database contentCreating and developing British Museum collection data standards and terminologiesTraining and advising users on the Merlin database and checking recordsInternational training (documentation)Data entryTechnical role (database functionality, role in semantic data, listing bugs, testing,suggesting improvements, etc.)Participation in national and international data and documentation initiatives(SPECTRUM, CIDOC, etc.)Public access role: dealing with public comments from the online database
  8. 8. The collection database: what is it used for? Created primarily for internal use, now available to the public. Collections management, research and public access, marketing the collection- inventory and audit- cataloguing and researching the collection- British Museum publications- collection care and conservation- object location and movement- exhibitions and loans- acquisitions- marketing- education and research- answering public enquiries- public access access to the collection- collaborative digital research projects- setting standards
  9. 9. Flow of academic knowledge and data CURATORS Documentation Section DATABASE Photography and ScanningConservation and Science WEBSITE
  10. 10. Digitising The British Museum collection: the challengeThe British Museum was founded by an Act of Parliament in 1753, and,unlike continental museums, was largely derived from the collections of a privateindividual, ,Sir Hans Sloane (1660-1753). rIt opened to the public on 15 January 1759 ; admissionwas free and granted to all studious and curious persons.The Collection today is estimated at between 6 and 7 million objects, spanning a vast historical,geographical and cultural range. It includes a huge variety of types of objects, materials,subjects, makers, etc. and reflects many academic disciplines, such as fine and applied art,archaeology, horology, numismatics and ethnography.
  11. 11. From 19thC handwritten ledgers to the Web
  12. 12. The collection database: one system fits allAll the objects in the British Museum collection share certain basicattributes, some relating to the objects themselves, othersadministrative, due to their inclusion in a museum collection.So the database has generic as well as specialist metadata..
  13. 13. Full Cataloguing DataIdentification Numbers Production and Authority- Accession Number (Registration Number) - Producer or Authority (person or organisation)- Other Numbers (e.g. excavation number) - Ethnic Name - School or StyleBibliography - State - Period or CultureObject Descriptive fields - Date- Title- Overall Physical Description Acquisition provenance- Object Name - Person or organisation- Materials - Price and Valuation- Techniques- Pottery Ware Associations- Subject - People, Places, Events and Titles- Serial Number and Denomination (Currency)- Escapement (clocks and watches) Location, Exhibitions and Loans- Dimensions CommentInscriptions or marks - Curatorial - Object ConditionGeographical provenance- Findspot Conservation and Science- Place of Production Administrative data
  14. 14. Sources of informationRegistersRecord cardsCatalogues and other publicationsDirect Curatorial inputScholarly input from visiting curators and other academicsScientific and Conservation dataPublic commentThe objects themselves!
  15. 15. Merlin screen: Object information: 2D example
  16. 16. Merlin screen: Object information 3D example
  17. 17. Merlin screen: Production information
  18. 18. Merlin screen: Curator’s Comment
  19. 19. Controlled Terminologies or Vocabularies• Why do we control terminology?- To achieve consistency in entering terms- To facilitate retrieval and obtain and the best search results- To facilitate collaborative data projects• Which forms are used in the British Museum collection database?- Drop-down lists: for codes or lists of terms which tend not to change (e.g. units of measurement)- Thesauri: terms in hierarchies with Use for (or Non-Preferred or search terms), Broad Terms, Related Terms, and Scope Notes (explanatory notes, e.g. for types of objects, materials, techniques, etc.)- Authorities: terms with other forms of data associated with them (e.g. Biographical or Bibliographical)
  20. 20. Example of a drop-down list : Production Association codes
  21. 21. Example of a thesaurus entry: Object Names
  22. 22. Example of a drop-down list : Production Association codes
  23. 23. The Place Thesaurus
  24. 24. The Biographical Authority
  25. 25. Collection online: The Advanced Search - old and new
  26. 26. Documenting a collection: issues• Where to begin digitisation?• Who does the data entry?• How to convince busy curators to create and improve records?• How much detail?• Quantity and Quality?• Write for scholars or the general public?• Publish all the data on the website? (security, ethical issues, controversy)
  27. 27. Motivation for curatorial input in the face of other tasks• Recognition by Management of the value of the work (less prominent than an exhibition or a catalogue, etc.)• A ‘champion’ for the project who is an academic and sets an example: in the British Museum project: Antony Griffiths, Keeper of Prints and Drawings• Having records available to public scrutiny!• Online publications (ORCs)• Improved research facilities internally and externally• Training which is flexible and appropriate to the task (My job!)• Belief in the value of making the information publicly available
  28. 28. Recording historic and current scholarly research• Bibliographic fields: refer to recent and earlier publications• Curator’s Comment field: Discuss and sometimes quote alternative scholarly opinion as appropriate; quote original Register (Accession ledger) entries; etc.• Producer Name fields: use code for ‘formerly attributed to’• Online Research catalogues incorporate Merlin (COL) entries as catalogue entries so these are updated for publication• Responding to public comments through COL• More generally: the use of repeat fields mean that several possibilities can be entered, qualified by a ? or comment.
  29. 29. The British Museum collection database: providing data for Digital Research projects• The British Museum collection database is constantly evolving: increasing in size and improving in terms of the quality of object records and terminology.• This development requires constant curatorial and documentation input, and an increased provision of digital images.• Funding applications for digital humanities projects should therefore include considerations of the following:- Curatorial resources for the scholarly enhancement of the database records.- Documentation resources to ensure data and terminology standards within and across collaborating institutions.- The provision of quality digital images.
  30. 30. ContactsHead of Documentation: Tanya Szrajber (TSZRAJBER@thebritishmuseum.ac.uk )Web Liaison Officer: Julia Stribblehill (JStribblehill@thebritishmuseum.ac.uk )Technical Support Officer: Jonathan Whitson Cloud (JWhitsonCloud@thebritishmuseum.ac.uk)