Jhu Week 2
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  • Hello and welcome to week 2 of Cataloguing Museum Collections: History, Trends, and Issues. My name is Michael Jenkins and I am your co-instructor along with my good friend Susan Chun whom you met last week. I am really looking forward to working with you over the next few months to investigate the importance and role of collections cataloguing in museums. It almost goes without saying that this role has become much more significant in the age of cheap and quick electronic publishing and the attendant user expectations that have grown with the volume of information available online. It is my goal that by the end of this course you will be quite comfortable discussing not just the nuts and bolts of cataloguing collections, but also the bigger picture issues like the role of cataloguing in fulfilling the stated missions of museums and the policy and process implications of dedicating scarce resources to the task of cataloguing. Again, welcome.
  • This week we will work to define a shared vocabulary that will be the basis of our discussion over the course of the semester. As we work to define the terms that we will be using in our class, we should remember that these terms can carry varied meanings depending on the context and speaker. As you are out in the broader field of real world cataloguers and cataloguing systems, you will probably find that our definitions are occasionally different from others. This is fine. We intend for this process of defining terms to serve as a foundation for becoming comfortable with the language of cataloguing, and as you develop that comfort you will begin to understand the difficulty of absolutely fixing the meaning of these terms. This is a bit of a paradox within cataloguing, that while consistency in definitions and practice (at least internally to a system or organization) is absolutely important for precision and accuracy in discovery and management of collections, the definition of the words that we use to describe objects are in a constant state of flux dependent on many external factors. For that reason, as cataloguers we look to develop tools and resources like data dictionaries, glossaries, controlled vocabularies and the like to help us fix the definition of terms. This week, our class will begin that process as we investigate the definitions of terms common in collections cataloguing.  A good place to start with definitions is to define collections cataloguing itself. I define collections cataloguing as “the systematic process of recording information about an object including its physical characteristics, its history, and its care and management.” Let’s quickly parse this definition… First “the systematic process”… most cataloguers would agree that the process must be systematic in order for it to be useful. The whole notion of a catalogue is to represent an object as this and not that, as similar to other objects while different from others. We must be systematic in order to make these ideas known. Within a cataloguing scheme, we must use consistent terms and information structures to consistently convey meaning. Next, “of recording information”… well that is pretty straightforward. We record information in order to not forget it. We record it to share it with others. We record it because we understand that it will be useful for a number of tasks, and with the advent of digital technology we record it so we simply don’t have to describe the thing over and over. “about an object” Pretty simple. For most museums the object is the basis of our activity. We collect objects, even if they are not physical, that share something about our history, our identity, our world. This is why the object is most often the basis of a collections catalogue. “its physical characteristics” this is the descriptive record of an object that we will talk about in just a few minutes. “its history” objects have a story. We tend to want to record that story so we can use it in sharing about our objects. Finally “its care and management”… much of what we are doing as we catalogue is to provide for the long-term stewardship of the objects in our collection. We do this with administrative cataloguing. We will talk more about this later in the presentation.
  • When we think of cataloguing, one of the first things to come to mind are the labels that accompany objects in galleries or images online. In the museum business, these labels are made up of some structured data that we refer to as tombstone (literally the information that would appear on a tombstone for the object, kind of our name, rank and serial number.) and some prose that generally appears below the tombstone and seeks to contextualize the object. We call that the “chat”. Together this information is that that museums feel is most important in describing an object. The larger set of cataloguing fields that help us to define a work by describing its physical attributes, its creation history, and its place in the world are known as Descriptive Cataloguing.Descriptive cataloguing helps answer the questions posed by the interrogative pronouns, the five Ws and H? What, Who, Where, When, Why, and How. Let’s take a closer look at each of these.
  • What? The cataloguing information that answers the question, “What is it?” is commonly known as the object naming field cluster. For cultural heritage collections, the title field names the object. These titles can be assigned by object creators or by museum staff. Titles are relatively short in length and may be simple descriptions such as “armchair” or “flight suit.”In addition to object titles, many cataloguing systems employ an object naming classification system. These classification systems are usually hierarchical with a limited number of top-level classifications and one or more levels of sub-classifications. In many instances, organizations will look to external authorities to populate or inform the population of the classification system. Examples of external authorities include the Getty Vocabulary Program’s Art and Architecture Thesaurus and The Revised Nomenclature for Museum Cataloguing.Most cataloguing schemes and systems include a field for a physical description of an artifact or object. These fields allow cataloguers, curators, and scientists to describe the work that is being catalogued.
  • Who? Who made it? Who owned it? Who is depicted in the portrait or image? Answers to all of these questions are recorded in our collections catalogues. Often we record information about the makers of objects in a creator authority. Using an authority file for creators helps us do a couple of important things. First, it eliminates the need to re-record information about the person or entity being described. A cataloguer enters an artist name, life dates, biography etc. only once into the authority record and that record is then linked to multiple records in the system. Because of this linking, a researcher can be confident that when she searches for Henri Matisse, she will return all results related to Matisse. She doesn’t need to worry about whether a cataloguer misspelled Matisse or otherwise was inconsistent in data entry. Only one record exists for each maker, so if you find that maker, you are assured that you will see all related records.I should note that when we talk about makers and subjects and others involved in the history of objects, we are not only referring to people. Corporate bodies or entities can be linked within the maker or entity authority of a system. Often records may be linked to more than one entry in the entity authority. Take for example a racecar in the collection of an automobile museum. The designer of a car can be Carol Shelby while the manufacturer is the Ford Motor Company.
  • Where? Where was the object created? Where was it found? When cataloguers record information about the place of creation of an object they may do so in many different ways. The method that they choose to use is based on what they want to be able to do with the record. In recording place names, cataloguers may reference an external authority like the Thesaurus of Geographic Names. They may also add GIS coordinates in order to track the precise location of creation and to be able to map it on commonly used tools like google maps. Many of the fields used to record information about where an object was created have some overlap with fields used to describe when it was created. These include culture, period, and style.
  • When? When was an object created? When was it found? When was it modified?Answers to all of these questions and others are recorded in the cluster of fields that contain information about the events that form the temporal history of an object.
  • Why? For art collections, we tend not to have constrained enough answers to the question of why to record anything of substance in a catalogue. But other collections have a much easier time of answering the question of why an object was created. For many objects of daily life the why is pretty simple, to flip an egg, to propel an automobile, to perform military aviation without an on-board pilot.
  • How? How was the object created? What technique was used? What were the materials used in the creation of the object? The answers to these questions are recorded in fields like medium, technique, and process. Often the values that populate these fields are drawn from controlled vocabularies, either local or external.
  • Administrative CataloguingMuseums record a good deal of information to support the care and stewardship of the objects in their collections. As part of their legal responsibility for collections, museums routinely accession objects into their collection. There is a good deal of documentation that supports this legal process that often involves donors, curators, registration staff, vendors, conservators, administration, and boards. Cataloguing systems not only record the record of this activity, but in many instances are central to their workflow.In caring for objects, museum must track object locations and movement. Cataloguing systems provide for this activity. Museums generally carry insurance to safeguard against damage or loss of collections objects. As objects move inside organizations and off-site for special exhibitions, conservation, or storage museums must track their value. This is done by recording appraisals and valuations in cataloguing systems. There are many other administrative fields that can help guide a museum’s activity and workflow. Examples include status fields to note the use of object information in other resources such as websites and gallery labels, approval fields that track the level of vetting of specific fields by groups like curators or archivists. Administrative fields are often controlled locally and only visible to appropriate museum staff.
  • On to Rights Cataloguing… As technology has lowered the barriers for sharing information about museum collections, it has become more important to track information related to the intellectual property rights associated with an object. The most common right associated with collections object is the copyright of the creator of a work. Although a museum may own an object in the collection, say a painting or photograph, depending on the date of the creation of the object along with several other factors someone else, often an artist or his estate, owns the right to reproduce the work. Museum record the ownership of the underlying right to a work in their cataloguing systems in order to know that information should they or someone else want to reproduce a work on a website, in a book, or in some other form. Museums also track the copyright of surrogates of collections objects. Most often these surrogates are digital images that represent a work. Many museums assert intellectual property rights to images that their staffs have created even if they represent underlying works that exists in the public domain. While I won’t go into great detail about the arguments on each side for museums asserting these rights, suffice it to say that if museums are asserting these rights, they need to record attendant metadata about these rights including the date of creation of surrogates and other accompanying metadata like a rights statement and photo credit. In addition to being a producer of intellectual property, museums are active consumers of IP as they go about their business publishing collections information. As museums secure rights to use others’ IP, they need to record the licenses that give them this right. These agreements are usually called non-exclusive licenses for use. Finally, museums may choose to make their content available to other under the terms of licenses. If they do so, they often choose to record this in their cataloguing systems. With the expansion of collections online, rights issues are front and center in many organizations. For the experiences of one museum check out the recent work done by the Brooklyn Museum at http://www.brooklynmuseum.org/community/blogosphere/bloggers/2010/01/14/working-guidelines-for-the-copyright-project/.
  • This week’s readings are intended to give you a sense of both the state of cataloguing in US museums as well as a basic understanding of the challenges and process of making catalogue information available online. All of the readings are intended to better familiarize you with the language and process of cataloguing.
  • For this week’s assignment you will need to add three terms and their definitions to the course glossary. The glossary can be found in the Wiki section of Sakai. You will see that the glossary has been seeded with some terms that we will be using. You can either define one of these terms or add terms of your own. Definitions should be in your own words. Feel free to illustrate the definitions with examples. Sign your entries with your initials. You will be refining these terms over the course of the semester as your understanding of cataloguing evolves.
  • Our discussion this week will take place in two cycles. First half of the week: Consider and describe ways or areas in which cataloguing and/or structured information management are important in museums. Are there ways in which technology has made cataloguing less important or necessary? In the second half of the week: Respond to something you found interesting in this week’s assigned readings. If you have worked or volunteered in a museum, you might want to reflect on your experiences with cataloguing in those organizations and how that practice conforms or differs from the practices described in our readings this week.

Jhu Week 2 Jhu Week 2 Presentation Transcript

  • Cataloguing Museum Collections
    History, Trends, and Issues
    JHU Museum Studies Spring 2010
  • Week 2: Definitions
    Collection Cataloguing-the systematic process of recording information about an object including its physical characteristics, its history, and its care and management
  • Descriptive Cataloguing
    Answers the questions posed by the interrogative pronouns (5 Ws and H)
    A subset of this information is found on collections labels that accompany objects in gallery space.
  • What?
    Often referred to as Object Naming
    Titles
    Classification hierarchies
    Object names
    Descriptions
  • Who?
    Makers
    People or entities involved in the history of the object
    Subjects
  • Where?
    Geographic place names
    Geolocations
    Some overlap with When? cluster
    Culture
    Period
    Style
  • When?
    Records information about important events in the history of an object
    Creation date
    Historical dates
  • Why?
    Most often used to describe functional objects and objects of everyday life
    Can be linked to a nominclature
  • How?
    Method of creation (medium, technique)
    Materials may be drawn from a controlled vocabulary
  • Administrative Cataloguing
    Museums record a good deal of information to support the care and stewardship of the objects in its collection.
    Collecting history
    Object location and movement
    Appraisals and valuations
    Use of object information
  • Rights Cataloguing
    As technology has lowered the barriers for sharing information about museum collections, it has become more important to track information related to the intellectual property rights associated with an object
    Copyright of work
    Copyright of surrogates
    Museum license to use work, often non-exclusive
    Licenses with end users
  • Readings
    Buck, R. and Gilmore, J., eds. (1998). The New Museum Registration Methods (chapter on Docmentation, pp. 17-40). Washington, DC: American Association of Museums. [eReserves]
    Heritage Health Index (2005). A Public Trust at Risk: The Heritage Health Index Report on the State of America's Collections  (pp. 79-83). Washington, DC: Heritage Preservation. [eReserves]
    Baca, M. (2008). Introduction to Metadata, version 3.0. Los Angeles, CA: Getty Research Institute,http://www.getty.edu/research/conducting_research/standards/intrometadata/
  • Assignment
    Add three terms and their definitions to the course glossary. The glossary can be found in the Wiki section of Sakai. You will see that the glossary has been seeded with some terms that we will be using. You can either define one of these terms or add terms of your own. Definitions should be in your own words. Feel free to illustrate the definitions with examples. Sign your entries with your initials. You will be refining these terms over the course of the semester as your understanding of cataloguing evolves.
  • Discussion
    First half of the week: Consider and describe ways or areas in which cataloguing and/or structured information management are important in museums. Are there ways in which technology has made cataloguing less important or necessary?
    Second half of the week: Respond to something you found interesting in this week’s assigned readings.