International best practices for heritagecollections managementNick Poole, CEO, Collections Trust
Introductions!I’m Nick PooleCEO of Collections Trust, Chair of ICOM UKWorking in cultural heritage management for 15 yearsI believe that museums, archives and libraries play a unique role in building a healthy, prosperous and tolerant society. My work is inspired by Article 27. of the declaration of Human Rights, that ‘everyone has the right freely to participate in the cultural life of their community’.
About the Collections TrustWorking internationally in the field of museum, gallery, library and archive management since 1977Our mission is to work with cultural organisations to promote excellence in collections management.Not-for-profit organisation based at the Natural History Museum in London, but working worldwide
Our roleHelping individual practitioners and volunteers to develop skills and leadership in collections managementWorking with galleries, libraries, archives and museums to define and achieve excellence in collections managementHelping cultural heritage organisations share their collections online safely and sustainablyWorking with commercial partners to share expertise and best practice
A note about SPECTRUMSPECTRUM is not a standard – it is the accumulated practice of 450 libraries, archives and museumsSPECTRUM is a community of 7,500 people working together in 40 countries to share best practiceYou don’t start at ‘A’ and work through to ‘Z’ – you choose the elements that are useful/relevant and adapt them to your workSPECTRUM is a perpetual beta – we hope the SA community will join the international community to bring your knowledge and experience to the development of SPECTRUM
Objectives for the day:To learn from the SA museum, library and archive community and to share best practices in Collections Management worldwideAgenda• What are the challenges facing cultural heritage institutions?• What can collections management do for you & your users?• How is collections management developing around the world?• Where does the SA community want to go next?
Some questions to consider:What do you want to get out of today?What does ‘collections management’ mean to you?What are you going to take from today and apply to your work?What would you find most useful to support this process?
Session 1:Managing the modern museum, archive or library
What are the key challenges and opportunitiesconfronting your organisation?What do they mean for your work?
Key challengesCultural heritage organisations all over the world are confronting some common challenges:• Achieving relevance• Increasing efficiency• Supporting multiple narratives• Enabling new types of collecting• Meeting changing user expectations• Embracing digital, social and mobile technology
Achieving relevanceHow can we ensure that the services we are delivering are relevantand meaningful to audiences, and reflect the way they live? “Down the Back of the Sofa” Derby City Museums & Leisure Service were looking for ways to make collections accessible and interesting to younger people. Using objects from the collections, they created a ‘pop-up’ display and exhibition space in central London. They used the space for events, DJ nights, informal meetings and conferences. The experience engaged 9,000 people in 2 days with collections in new ways, and brought new audiences to the museums & library service.
Increasing efficiencyHow can we maximise the resources and capacity available to us tomanage collections as efficiently as possible?Saving time at the V&AThe Victoria & Albert Museum in London has an‘Accessions File’. To accept a new item into thecollections required 15 signatures. The process tookmany months.The Collections Management Team analysed theAccessions process, and found that they wereduplicating many steps in the process.They reduced the number of signatories to 2, and inthe process saved themselves 100’s of hours of effortper object.
Multiple NarrativesHow can we collect, curate and share multiple narrative viewpointsand the contexts associated with them?Yorkshire’s ‘Precious Cargo’2,000 young curators (18-24) from a range ofsocial and ethnic background worked with 60collections to reinterpret them from differentperspectives.Using a methodology called RevisitingCollections, they recorded their perspectivesalongside the collections information of themuseums, making it accessible to future curatorswhen planning exhibitions and loans.
New types of CollectingHow can our collecting practice adapt to reflect the changing needsof users and the proliferation of culture? BFI Collecting Policy The British Film Institute combines an audiovisual archive, library and museum on London’s South Bank. Working with a cross-departmental team, the BFI has reviewed and rewritten its Collections Policy to provide a clear strategic mission statement, and then to incorporate new types of collecting activity including paper, born-digital material, DVD and computer games. Defining the scope of collecting activity has also allowed them to say ‘no’ with confidence!
Changing expectationsHow are consumer expectations of the range, quality andaccessibility of our services changing?User-focussed Library Services in ChicagoChicago Metropolitan Library Services used best practicesfrom retail and customer service to redevelop their offerto the public.Based on observational research, they updated theirservice to diversify their book stock, provide informalmeeting spaces, provide ‘plain English’ browsingterminology and enable patrons to approach any servicedesk for help and guidance.Ultimately, the process enabled Chicago libraries toredefine their services around new forms of use andinteraction.
Digital, social, mobileWhat opportunities are presented by the rise of digital, social andmobile technologies? A History of the World in 100 Objects In June 2010, the British Museum collaborated with the BBC to create 100, 15-minute films each of which used a single object to tell the story of a significant social, economic or industrial development. The films were supported by radio advertising, online content, social media and mobile content. It enabled users to participate, comment and share content. The campaign achieved a significant new audience demographic for the collections.
Changing inputsThe range and scope of material which we need to be able to collect has increased dramatically in the past 10 years:• Physical collections• Digital surrogates• Audiovisual material• Born-digital material• Learning content• Narratives• Administrative information• Ephemera• Social media
Changing outputsThe range of platforms and interactions which we need to be able to support has also increased dramatically:• Collections management• In-gallery interactives• Online interaction• Learning experiences• Federated use in 3rd party platforms• Printed content• Audit and administration
The importance of integrationFor all type and scales of museum, archive and library, the critical challenge is in getting the different people, systems and departments of the organisation working together effectively to achieve a common aim.We can’t afford practices which reinforce silos…
The ‘traditional’ organisationMost cultural organisations operate in ‘vertical’ silos Education Management Collections Retail IT
The ‘integrated’ organisationMaking the most of collections depends on integration of all of the functions into a common strategic aim Visitor experience Strategic People Collections Objectives Facilities
‘Strategic Collections Management’ Users Funders Politicians Organisational Mission Collecting Policy Care Learn Develop Use
‘Strategic Collections Management’ Users Funders Politicians Organisational Mission Collecting Policy Care Learn Develop Use People Systems Procedures Information
‘Strategic Collections Management’ Users Funders Politicians Organisational Mission Collecting Policy Care Learn Develop Use People Systems Procedures Information Evaluation & improvement
‘Strategic Collections Management’ Users Funders Politicians Organisational Mission Collecting Policy Care Learn Develop Use People Systems Procedures Information Evaluation & improvement Rich online and offline experiences for users
ConclusionsOur common aim is to create rich, meaningful and relevant experiences for our real and virtual usersEvery decision about collections has to be based on a strategy that is built around the needs of users, the type of material and the capacity of the organisation.Strategic collections management is not about perfection, it’s about making sensible, pragmatic and proportionate decisions.We need to be able to support an increasing range of types of material and an increasing range of forms of use.
What is a ‘Collection’?What does ‘Collections Management’ mean to you?How does your organisation manage collections at themoment?
What is a Collection?A ‘collection’ is not just a group of physical objects, books orrecords. It is the total body of material, knowledge, narrative,digital assets and other information resources which yourorganisation collects, manages and shares with the public.A ‘collection’ may be 1 item. It may 1m items. What makes it acollection is the cultural, social and intellectual capital it represents.
What is ‘Collections Management’?Defined as:“Strategies, policies, processes and procedures related to collectionsdevelopment, information, access and care”Collections Management is about balance:•Between access and preservation•Between the needs of current and future generations•Between economic, social and environmental impact
Case Study: National Museums WalesNational Museums Wales is a consortium of 7 different museums3.They began by setting a shared Strategic Vision5.They then created Collections Management policies that were sharedacross all sites7.Policies were approved by Trustees, then integrated into staff feedback& development9.Policies are reviewed on a 5-yearly cycle, and procedures are subject toa periodic audit. Findings are fed back into future planning
Why manage Collections?Collections Management delivers a number of key benefits for yourmuseum, archive or library:•Governance and accountability•Supporting your mission•Facilitating meaningful engagement•Reducing costs•Reducing effort•Reducing duplication•Supporting more active use•Providing a shared professional practice•Protect against theft
Anatomy of Collections Management Users Funders Politicians Organisational Mission Collecting Policy Care Learn Develop Use People Systems Procedures Information Evaluation & improvement Rich online and offline experiences for users
Anatomy of Collections Management Users Funders Politicians Organisational Mission Collecting Policy Care Learn Develop Use People Systems Procedures Information Evaluation & improvement Rich online and offline experiences for users
Anatomy of Collections Management Collecting Policy People Systems Procedures Information
Anatomy of SPECTRUM People Procedures Information Systems Collections & collections-related knowledge
What are workflows…?Workflows are flow-diagrams which help map out a sequence ofsteps in a logical wayEvery organisation has workflows, whether they are expressed ornot, which define how you workWorkflows connect different people along the process so thateverybody understands their role & responsibilitiesA workflow is often expressed as a Procedural Manual or StaffHandbook – a written document of how your organisation does itswork.
Introducing SPECTRUMSPECTRUM is essentially a collection of best practices from 450 peoplewho work in museums, archives and librariesThe SPECTRUM user community includes 7,500 organisations in 40countries worldwideSPECTRUM is an open framework – nobody owns it, everybody cancontribute to it or adapt it to suit their needsIf you are working with a collection, the chancesare that the best practices in SPECTRUM will befamiliar to you
SPECTRUM ProceduresSPECTRUM describes 21 procedures which commonly occur incultural organisationsEach procedure is essentially a workflow for how to do somethingThe procedures are connected, so that there is a logical interactionbetween them!
SPECTRUM ProceduresPre-entry ValuationObject entry AuditLoans in Rights ManagementAcquisition Use of collectionsInventory control Object exitLocation/movement control Loans outTransport Loss and damageCataloguing Deaccession & disposalCondition checking Retrospective documentationConservationRisk ManagementInsurance
‘Primary’ ProceduresPre-entry ValuationObject entry AuditLoans in Rights ManagementAcquisition Use of collectionsInventory control Object exitLocation/movement control Loans outTransport Loss and damageCataloguing Deaccession & disposalCondition checking Retrospective documentationConservationRisk ManagementInsurance
‘Primary’ ProceduresObject entryAcquisitionLocation/movement controlCataloguingObject exitLoans inLoans outRetrospective documentation‘Primary’ procedures are defined as the minimum set of processesrequired in order for an organisation to manage its collections.
Example: Pre-entryDefinitionThe management and documentation of the assessment of potentialacquisitions before their arrival at the organisation•Clarify the organisations acquisition policy and conditions for deposition of objects and documentary records tothe potential depositor;•Ensure that the organisation is fully aware of the quantity and type of material that is on offer;•Assess the impact on the organisation of acquiring the items, in terms of space, manpower, financial, legal andconservation issues;•Ensure that a global organisation accession number has been assigned to the site (for fieldwork) or collection(s)(for bequests or purchases) if necessary;•Ensure that an expected date of deposition and responsibility for the items in transit is agreed with the depositor
Using SPECTRUMSPECTRUM works best when used as a reference toolIt helps define the ‘roles’ involved (even if they’re all done by the sameperson)It helps review and simplify your existing practiceIt helps ensure you are making the most of your collections and theinformation associated with themIt helps establish shared practices, for example for loans or disposalsIt isn’t perfect! If it doesn’t fit your practice, help us develop it!
Case StudiesRetrospective Documentation in WakefieldDeveloping the Women’s Library Mission StatementLED lighting at the National Portrait GalleryDocumenting photographs at the National Railway Museum & ArchiveUser-generated Content at the London Transport Museum
Case Study: Wakefield Cultural ServicesSituation:In 1995, Wakefield Cultural Services carried out a review of collections,which highlighted a significant backlog in collections documentation. Thisbacklog was preventing them from undertaking rationalisation to easethe pressure on their stores.Task:Wakefield needed to establish a methodology to resolve the backlog,provide an inventory of their collections and use this to rationalise whatthey held.
Case Study: Wakefield Cultural ServicesAction:Wakefield began with a physical inspection of the collections, checkingfor inventory numbers. Where no number was available, a temporarynumber was assigned.Temporary numbers used a different format from accession numbers tofacilitate identification.For each object assigned a temporary number, a basic inventory-levelrecord was created on the computer database.Wakefield then cross-referenced the temporary numbers with theaccession records for which the object couldn’t be located
Case Study: Wakefield Cultural ServicesResult:Over a period of 8 years, Wakefield was able to document 110,000objects in its databaseIn the process, it reconciled 2,000 of it’s 10,000 ‘temporary’ accessionsThe museum was then able to undertake strategic rationalisation of8,000 of its largely unprovenanced ‘orphan’ objectsThe result was a significant improvement in documentation over an 8-year period, a reduction in unprovenanced items and a framework forstrategic rationalisation, alleviating pressure on its stores.
Case Study: Wakefield Cultural ServicesLessons learned:Accurate descriptions of format and material were vital in helping re-connect ‘orphan’ objects with their catalogue recordsRetrospective documentation must be a long-term managed process, nota short-term projectBasic documentation is essential for effective, responsible rationalisation.
Case Study: Wakefield Cultural ServicesQuestions:What is the status of your organisation’s backlog?Do you have a plan in place to address it?Do you have a system for reconciling ‘orphaned’ objects?Do you have an idea about how long it should take?
Case Study: Women’s LibrarySituation:The Women’s Library is an archive, special library and museum collectionfounded in 1926. Despite its distinct identity and independent tradition ithas been housed successfully within the London Metropolitan Universitysince 1977Task:The Women’s Library needed to establish a strategic framework for itscollecting activity which reflected its own specific needs and prioritieswhile responding to the strategic framework of the University
Case Study: Women’s LibraryAction:The team at the Women’s Library first reviewed the strategic mission ofthe University to identify shared principles and values.The University has a strong commitment to social justice, access toeducation and a clear research agenda.The Women’s Library adopted these values, but extended them todemonstrate how they had a duty of care to the collections they hold.The Women’s Library then established a Collections Policy which set outa clear scope for its collecting activity in the broader university context
Case Study: Women’s LibraryResult:The work of the Women’s Library team was acknowledged when thelibrary was integrated as a supported service into the University’s overalllibrary provision.Because of the alignment of strategic priorities, this helped the Universityto understand how the Women’s Library fit within their priorities.The approach has now been adopted across the University’s other speciallibrary collections, and the Women’s Library team have been invited toshare their expertise and best practice.
Case Study: Women’s LibraryLessons learned:Collections management is most effective when based on a clearstrategic missionThe strategic mission can demonstrate how your collecting activity canadd value for a funder or governing body
Case Study: Women’s LibraryQuestions:Does your organisation have a Mission Statement?Does your Mission Statement reflect your collecting activity?Does your Mission reflect the aims of your governing/funding body?
LED at the National Portrait GallerySituation:In 2010, the National Portrait Gallery decided to review its use oftraditional tungsten halogen bulbs for lighting, and to investigate the useof LED as a lighting solution throughout their galleriesTask:The Gallery had to demonstrate that LED lighting would reduce energyuse and save money as well as delivering a comparable or better qualityof light for the display and enjoyment of their collections.
LED at the National Portrait GalleryAction:A team at the National Portrait Gallery undertook a project to review theimpact of LED light on the user experience of the gallery.The team reviewed the available literature and examined similar projectsin other locations before trialling Erco Optic 14 watt spotlights in a smallpublic gallery.The team worked with scientists and curators to assess the ‘spectralrange’ of the lights and their impact on the accuracy of the colours.As a result, the team replaced the existing lights with LED in most publicareas of the gallery
LED at the National Portrait GalleryResult:The replacement of the bulbs with LED required a large capital outlay.However, it is estimated to have saved 11,802 kWh and 6.7 tonnes ofCO2 per annum, resulting in better environmental performance andreduced costs across the gallery.LED were not appropriate for all areas – works of art predominantlyfeaturing red-spectrum colours could not be lit, and some visitors havereported a ‘washed out’ look to some gold frames.
LED at the National Portrait GalleryLessons learned:Collections management encompasses not just documentation, but alsosecurity, environmental management and displayCollections management strategies based on informed research candeliver significant cost benefitsDecisions about collections management need to be accountable
LED at the National Portrait GalleryQuestions:How could collections management help you save money?Does your organisation have an environmental policy?
Photos at the National Railway MuseumSituation:In the mid-1990’s, after 20 years of acquisitions, the National RailwayMuseum in York found itself with a collection of more than 1.5mphotographs in various formats and at various degrees of stability. Therewas a pressing need to improve cataloguing and storage.Task:The museum had to establish a strategy for recording information aboutthe photographs, digitising them and making them available for publicaccess.
Photos at the National Railway MuseumAction:The museum began the process with an audit of the collections and thecreation of basic inventory records at ‘group’ level (a group referring to acollection of photographs).This resulted in unsatisfactory information – one group of 400,000photographs was described with a single record.Reviewing catalogues and card indexes provided by photographersallowed the museum to begin cataloguing at item-level. As theretrospective documentation continued, museum & archive practiceconverged – the museum adopted the archival ISAD(G) standard for itsphotographic collections, mapped to SPECTRUM
Photos at the National Railway MuseumResult:This retrospective process has now enabled the National RailwayMuseum to provide catalogue-level access to all of its photographiccollections.At the same time, the inventory-level information has allowed them toprioritise collections for digitisation. They have been able to extend thiswork through partnership with local ‘expert amateur’ groups.The result is a significant improvement in public access to and use of therich photographic collections.
Photos at the National Railway MuseumLessons learned:The accessibility of large collections can be improved significantlythrough group or collection-level inventoryOverall documentation can be improved through successive processesmoving from group to catalogue to individual item levelAlthough not perfect, collaboration with external expert amateurs can bea pragmatic solution to issues of capacity and resources.SPECTRUM can be applied effectively in conjunction with otherframeworks
UGC at the London Transport MuseumSituation:The London Transport Museum holds significant collections of archival,photographic and other documentary material alongside its objectcollections. Although it had good documentation of most items, it lackedricher narrative descriptions of the collections.Task:The museum had to find a way of enabling users to add descriptiveinformation and narrative connections to the catalogue information ithad made available via its website.
UGC at the London Transport MuseumAction:The London Transport Museum created a User Generated Content server,which was integrated alongside their main Collections ManagementSystem.Visitors to the website were invited to ‘Share a story with us – commenton this image’ – which led, via a registration process, to a form whichallowed the user to upload comments, views and observations about thecollections.User-generated comments were reviewed by collections staff and postedto the museum’s website.
UGC at the London Transport MuseumResult:The results of the project were mixed. While a significant number ofwebsite visitors contributed comments, this led to an increased workloadfor the existing collections staff.Further, it was found that many of the comments were either of relativelylittle cultural value (being either frivolous, or subjective reactions to theimage) or inaccurate.Ultimately, the decision was made not to integrate the user responsesinto the core Collections Management System. It is still possible tocomment, but comments are heavily contextualised & moderated.
UGC at the London Transport MuseumLessons learned:Crowdsourcing and user-generated content present a significantopportunity to enrich our knowledge about collectionsOrganisations have to plan for the capacity, and have clear policies inplace for moderation and quality-controlIt is possible for inaccurate user-generated material to undermine thecredibility of the organisation.
What are the challenges your organisation currentlyfaces?What one part of your collections management couldyou improve to help overcome this challenge?
Workshop session:Creating a Digitisation Strategy
Creating a Digitisation StrategyTime: 40 minutesWorking in groups, we’d like to ask you to create a Digitisation Strategyfor an integrated museum, archive and library service.Please nominate one person from your group to act as reporter and topresent your Strategy to the room.It can be a real place, or feel free to make one up!
Creating a Digitisation StrategyThings to think about:•Strategic mission•Scope•Audience•Access•Preservation•Copyright•Sustainability•Ethical responsibility
Creating a Digitisation StrategyFeedback from exercise
Further readingCollections Link – www.collectionslink.org.ukCultural Property Advice – www.culturalpropertyadvice.gov.ukCHIN - http://www.rcip-chin.gc.ca/index-eng.jspCollections Management LinkedIn - www.linkedin.com
10 things you can do tomorrow for no Rand• Start something• Look at your space• Look at your policy and mission statement• Tell your colleagues about today• Throw some stuff away• Go into the gallery and talk to a user• Tidy up• Phone a colleague in another museum• Go surfing• Be positive!
Keep in touch!Fill in your forms!Nick PooleCollections Trustwww.firstname.lastname@example.org
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