Friday, October 8, 2010

Museums Australia Conference 2010

Interesting Times: new roles for collections was the theme of the Museums Australia Conference held in Melbourne from 28 September to 2 October 2010. Generally it was an interesting and sometimes thought provoking experience though by the end of four days I was definitely suffering from information overload. As well as plenary sessions each day along with parallel sessions and workshops more informal discussion sessions were available along with the opportunity to visit a number of collections.

The official opening was held on the Tuesday evening at Melbourne Museum where, after the speeches, we were able to view the Science and Life exhibitions in the ground floor galleries. Interactive features often support the displays and as some of the techniques used in the exhibitions were later discussed  at some conference sessions it was useful to have seen and tried them. This was, of course, the first of many networking opportunities at the conference.

The MAPDA Awards reception was held on the Wednesday evening at the State Library of Victoria. The awards are presented for excellence in design of museum materials including reports, invitations, posters, catalogues, web design etc. There was also opportunity to view the current exhibition, 'til you drop, in the Keith Murdoch Gallery - an exhibition on shopping in Melbourne - as well as a very quick look at the exhibitions in the galleries which I must revisit when there is more time.

The closing reception on the Friday evening was at the soon to be reopened Grainger Museum at the University of Melbourne providing an opportunity to view this collection.

The Conference Dinner, which I didn't attend, was held at the National Gallery of Victoria.

I attended two workshops in the Leigh Scott Room in the Baillieu Library outside of which was a display from another University of Melbourne collection on dentistry as practised in earlier times in Australia.

As well as at the conference sessions a number of other opportunities were provided to listen to speakers. Melbourne Conversations held at BMW Edge at Federation Square on the Thursday evening included speakers from the conference including Stephen Heppell, Michelle Hippolite and David McFadden as well as Adrian Franklin discussing the topic, Museums and collections: Are they telling the stories of a diverse society?

There were also two question and answer sessions - xCHANGE - held in the Student Bar, perhaps not the best location for hearing what was going on. These informal sessions, providing further contact with some of the conference speakers, were each chaired by Amanda Smith or Derek Guille from 774.

The opportunities presented by the use of technology in museums to enhance exhibitions as well as for communication were discussed in a number of the sessions that I attended and as time permits I will add posts about some of the papers and issues discussed.

Thursday, August 5, 2010

RHSV Information Technology and Historical Societies Survey 2010 (part 9)

Comments continued
  • Recently purchased a computer – now need to decide what to do next
  • Our computer is 7 years old – only Word Pad program
  • Old computer & software – we have had help and guidelines, but not enough people
  • Only two volunteers use the computer which is old
  • Old group with no computers – I’ve just joined and am very interested in upgrading the society
  • Group only uses computer for administration
  • Need special equipment – large scanner
  • Our major problems are training, organisation of equipment & fear of the unknown. Unfamiliar equipment is off-putting

  • Society has plans to purchase a computer, but no money for one
  • Not much money, not many volunteers, no interest in computers by many

  • Backlog of 50 years
  • More time would be good
  • Difficult to meet professional standards
  • Computers used mainly for display and cataloguing
  • No access to the internet
  • Handful do large numbers of all the jobs about the place – we are slow oldies and too busy – upheavals and new people change things too much – struggling with images, all in fact

A success story
Our story is probably not unique among the Historical Society Network but a brief history of our computer usage might be appropriate at this time.

With the introduction of the RHSV Local History Database we made an application to the local council for a grant to cover hardware and the DB TextWorks software.

We were successful and purchased 4 second hand computers which were connected on a wireless network and now share a Society purchased photocopier as a network printer. Two of the PCs have local printers attached, two have A4 scanners attached and the Printer/Scanner/Fax is also shared on the wireless network.

Recently we have added another 2 PCs of similar specification and we now have 6 PCs on the network. All the PCs are Pentium 4 and run Windows XP and the Open Office suite of programs.

Over the last few years, using these PCs and software, we have been able to increase the quality and quantity of our publications. These range from a 12pp walk book to the most impressive, a very professional looking, 220pp A5, digitally printed paperback.

[This group now also has 3121 records in the Victorian Local History Database]

RHSV Information Technology and Historical Societies Survey 2010 (part 8)

  • Time – 116
  • Staff– 99
  • Finance – 56
  • Inadequate training – 47
  • Inadequate equipment – 40
  • Inadequate guidelines – 22
  • Other* – 25 
 *Lack of interest, inadequate space and aging volunteers frequently cited

Availability of volunteers
  • Limited number of volunteers
  • Recruiting people to be involved or commit to projects is sometimes difficult
  • Hard to find people interested in historical research – even their own properties
  • Availability of data entry operators – age of membership
  • Finding volunteers with appropriate skills
  • Insufficient number of volunteers computer literate
  • Limited time availability for those with limited skills
  • We always need more suitably skilled volunteers
  • Just commenced cataloguing project and currently training new volunteers
  • Had heritage volunteers – great
Age of volunteers
  • Age of membership mainly seniors – multiple community commitments
  • Most of our twelve members are elderly
  • Membership of 15 members, mostly elderly – secretary does all the computer work – membership numbers declining – four moved recently to aged care
  • Majority of members past retirement age – most do not have computers or computer skills – those with computer skills, skills limited – many will not even turn on the computer to look at the database despite it being set up for easy access
  •  Members in the 75+ age group – they have a go
Computer literacy
  • Lack of interest in members learning how to use a computer
  • People – not enough researchers or computer literate people
  • Computer literate active members (lack thereof)
  • Lack of volunteers – due to age find computers a challenge – don’t retain computer skills learnt
  • Not many confident (computer) users in the older generation
  • Only the secretary is computer literate plus webmaster
  • Inadequate space (3)
  • Inadequate space – our space is storage – desperately need an office space area
  • Room not big enough for more than three
  • Facilities inadequate – cold! No plumbing, telephone, internet – but not enough people to warrant it?
  • Difficulty of heating premises in winter
  • Space / area needs upgrading & fitting out to be used – currently work is done off-site
  • Society meets in neighbourhood house where no storage allowed
  • Access to the building difficult at night

RHSV Information Technology and Historical Societies Survey 2010 (part 7)

Funding sources for IT projects

Purchase computer hardware from:
Society funds - 93
Council grants – 49
Other grants – 52
Fundraising – 38

Purchase computer software from:
Society funds – 89
Council grants – 31
Other grants – 40
Fundraising – 32

General running costs for computer projects from:
Society funds – 112
Council grants – 15
Other grants – 9
Fundraising – 40

Grants from other organisations included:
  • FAHCSIA - Dept Families Housing Community Services and Indigenous Affairs
  • Volunteer Small Equipment Grant
  • Museums Australia (Victoria)- Building Better Museums
  • PROV Local History Grants Program
  • Bendigo Bank
  • Esso
  • Local op shop
A number of groups obtained second hand computers from other organisations.
One group purchased a computer using funds donated by local Councillor.

Wednesday, August 4, 2010

RHSV Information Technology and Historical Societies Survey 2010 (part 6)

Groups with their own email:
Yes – 76
No – 88

Groups tend to use web email services such as Hotmail / Live (11), gmail (10), Yahoo (3), dcsi (1).

Some use email provided by an Internet Service Provider including Optus (7), Bigpond (6), Australis (3), chariot (2), Vicnet (2) or a webhost portal such as Ausvic (1).

Some use email attached to the domain name of the organisation.

66 groups use the email of a member for society business.

20 groups did not indicate using email.

Members of groups with email
14 groups reported not knowing how many members had email addresses, though one reported that they were now collecting the information.
Data provided as numbers of members using email
Some groups however reported a high percentage of members using email.
Other figures provided were one group each with 60, 65, 70 and 90 members using email, 3 with 100 members and one with 220.

Some groups provided information as number of members – other groups provided information as percentage of membership.
Data provided as percentage of membership

RHSV Information Technology and Historical Societies Survey 2010 (part 5)


Groups with their own website
Yes – 92
No – 71

Website hosting:
  • Vicnet sites – 37
  • Sites with own domain name (some of these possibly hosted on Vicnet) – 34
  • Attached to websites of another organisations – 7
  • Part of website of parent body – 4
  • My Connected Community sites – 4
  • Blogs as websites – 3 (Blogger and Wordpress)
  • Community guide websites (2)
  • – 2
  • Google sites (1)
  • 50webs (1)
Groups with webpage on another site
Yes – 27
No – 52

21 groups reported having a page on website of another organisation but did not have their own website

Help for website development
Help requested to develop a website: 18
Help requested to maintain a website: 16

54 of the respondents without websites of their own did not request help to establish or create a website.
33 of these respondents indicated that they did not have a presence on any website.

RHSV Information Technology and Historical Societies Survey 2010 (part 4)

Backing up computers

Frequency of backing up databases (and other computer files)

Backing up recent records:
Each time computer used – 44
Weekly – 27
Monthly –33
Other – 12

Backing up complete database:
Each time computer used – 24
Weekly – 15
Monthly – 49
Other – 26

How many copies of the back-up files are saved?
  • 1 copy – 42
  • 2 copies – 38
  • 3 copies – 10
  • 4 copies – 1
At least 2 (1), up to 4 (1), some, 10 (1)

Are back-up copies stored off site?
  • 107 groups answered Yes
  • 22 groups answered No
Selection of comments about backing up:
  • quarterly / every few months(4)
  • every 6 months (2)
  • regularly
  • irregularly (3)
  • never back up computer (2)
  • occasionally / ad hoc (2)
  • depends how many entries are entered
  • various times
  • not often
  • intermittent
  • rather haphazard
  • back-up plan being implemented (3)
  • not done yet!

RHSV Information Technology and Historical Societies Survey 2010 (part 3)

Cataloguing programs used
  • Inmagic DB/TextWorks – 66
  • Excel – 37 *
  • Filemaker Pro – 18
  • Access – 18
  • Collections Mosaic – 6
  • Heritage V – 5
  • Microsoft Works – 5
Not using computers for cataloguing – 16
Other** – 15

Multiple responses to this question

13 groups reported using only Excel for collections management.

Excel was also used by groups using Inmagic DB/TextWorks (10), Access (10), Filemaker Pro (3), Collections Mosaic (2) and Microsoft Works (2)

  • Specially designed / in-house database – 5
  • Records directly added to library catalogue / database – 2
  • Tellico (Linux), Tabularium, eLibrary, Bookmark, Copernic and Tribute were other programs mentioned
Type of items in computer catalogue
  • Photographs – 125
  • Books – 106
  • Documents – 103
  • Maps – 73
  • Artifacts – 72
  • Ephemera – 70
  • Audio tapes – 53
  • Videotapes – 49
132 groups answered this question

Catalogue records made available to the public
  • Staff searching for researchers at the society – 125
  • Researchers using a read-only database at the society – 47
  • Researchers using a read-only version of the database at a library or another location – 4
  • Local history database available on the Internet – 25

RHSV Information Technology and Historical Societies Survey 2010 (part 2)

Use of computers at societies
  • Cataloguing – 126
  • Administration – 109
  • Indexing projects – 92
  • Newsletters and other publications – 90
  • Internet access – 59

 35% of responding societies have Internet access at the society

24 metropolitan and state-wide groups (14% of total respondents or 50% of metropolitan and state-wide responding groups)
35 regional groups (21% of total respondents or 30% of regional respondents)

Use of computers - members' computers
  • Internet access – 128
  • Administration – 125
  • Newsletters and other publications – 115
  • Indexing projects – 53
  • Cataloguing – 47

 Five groups listed scanning images at home as another activity

Typed of items scanned
  • Photographs – 122
  • Slides / negatives – 57
  • Documents – using OCR – 81

 Not all groups scanning documents use OCR

RHSV Information Technology and Historical Societies Survey 2010

This series of blogs will contain information on how organisations affiliated with the Royal Historical Society of Victoria are using information technology in 2010. The final report will include a comparison with the results from a similar survey undertaken in 2003.
In April 2010 a questionnaire on how societies / groups affiliated with the RHSV use technology was sent to all affiliated societies.
In July reminder emails were sent to groups who had not returned the questionnaire.
By 3 August, 165 completed surveys had been returned.
Break down of surveys
Societies were asked whether or not they owned a computer
144 of the responding societies own at least one computer
6 are planning to purchase computers
15 have no plans to purchase a computer

Reasons for not having a computer include:
  • Use computers of another organisation (7)
  • Do not have a collection or use collection in local library (4)
  • Nowhere to store collection – stored at a member’s house
  • No headquarters for organisation – meet in members’ homes
  • Office bearers / members use own computers
  • Members not interested
  • Insufficient finance
Computer hardware owned by societies
  • Desktop – 134
  • Laptop – 56
  • Both – 46
  • Inkjet – 110
  • Laser – 62
  • Both – 37
  • Printer-scanner – 3
  • No printer – 9
128 respondents said they had a scanner at the society

 CD-ROM / DVD burner
110 respondents reported having a CD-ROM burner and or DVD burner

 Back-up devices
  • External hard-drives – 71
  • CD-ROM / DVD burner – 69
  • USB drives (memory drives, flash drives) – 64
  • Floppy disks – 28
A combination of backing up devices often reported being used

Tuesday, March 9, 2010

VALA 2010 - overview - relevance for local history

The themes in the sessions that I attended included the increased use of federated searching by larger institutions providing the ability to search multiple databases in one search, investigating how users are using online resources including catalogues and e-books - the possibilities provided by the semantic web and linked data, the use of linkages and trails to locate items, copyright issues relating to digitised collections and the increased use of user generated content on websites.

Attending the sessions was a great way to absorb an overview of what the current developments are in provision and use of online resources plus possibilities of the future.

For the local history and family history community it is necessary to keep up to date with the ever increasing resources provided on the websites of major collecting institutions - National Library of Australia, Australian War Memorial, Parliament of Australia and Powerhouse Museum are just some examples.

For those of us interested in military history, the Australian War Memorial has recently released a number of new resources including the war diaries of C E W Bean, the First World War diaries of the unit commanders in addition to C E W Bean's Official history of Australia in the war of 1914-1918. It is proposed that in the future federated searching will be introduced to make it easier to locate names in the many databases online on the Australian War Memorial website.

The new web developments, especially semantic web and linked data, provide exciting possibilities for family history and local history research.

The sessions that looked at how Internet tools are used demonstrated that because the tools are available does not mean that they will necessarily be used by users of our sites. Therefore provide the tools that people may find useful and not just because you can.

The sessions of the VALA conference demonstrated that these are exciting times for the provision of online information - much of which will enhance the provision of history related resources and aid research.

Friday, February 19, 2010

VALA 2010 - user generated content

The final plenary session for Wednesday was a panel discussion entitled Top Trends which primarily dealt with user generated content - comments, tags, search terms. Below are notes of some of the discussion.

Increasingly users have the opportunity to add comments to content on the web. It was suggested that comments could be treated as letters to the editor. In some cases the comments can also result in a dialogue among users - users responding to other users' comments - a forum without having a forum. Often useful, previously unknown information can be provided by users, particularly in regard to images, and can enhance the information provided. The user information can provide opportunities for further research by the institution. An example is the images that Powerhouse Museum has placed on Flickr - often useful information has been provided by the users.

Tagging records is available in many databases but generally this has not been taken up by users - not a culture of using tags on library databases. Institutions tend not to moderate the tags except if unacceptable words are added. In some cases users can delete tags of other users.

At the National Library user data is not moderated - user data is another layer from the original data. It is proposed to encourage annotation of catalogue records by users in the future.

OCLC WorldCat, a site that allows users to search for books in libraries throughout the world, is planning to separate LC headings and sub-headings into facets instead of one long term with subdivisions. For example geographic facets treated as a separate entity. Tags can be used to modernise LC terms and synonym lists will be used. These can be blended in tag clouds. It was suggested for some detailed subjects, user tagging may be the only answer to adequately provide search terms.

It was suggested that new classification schemes may be needed for cloud sourcing however another member of the audience said that as Dewey DC was available in 30 languages and could therefor be considered a universal scheme, the stem numbers without geographical and other additions might be used.

Micro tagging will also be useful for helping people locate information.

The use of search terms used in a search can also be tracked and this can be useful for suggesting additional search terms for an item as the public uses its own language.

The discussion moved on to how to get people to use tags and comments. Although the opportunity to apply tags and comments may not generally be used in library catalogues users are doing this in resources such as Library Thing. People who make comments have an interest in the topic.

It is necessary to provide useful tools that are easy for people to use and then make them available where the users are. An example of well used user content is the ability to correct the OCR for Australian Newspapers.

Linkages, trails and themes were also mentioned. Picture Australia and Music Australia currently utilise trails. It is planned that user created themes will become available in Trove.

The Internet currently has content and tools for people to use. It is now necessary to bring together the range of collections. Generally people do not care where the information comes from - they just want the information.

The final summation reflected on the 'power of communities that want to be involved. We have the tools. Go for it.'

Sunday, February 14, 2010

VALA 2010 - Wednesday afternoon

Many of the collections in the National Library and the Australian War Memorial are now accessible to the public via the Internet .

Developing Trove, the policy and technical challenges
Trove, a discovery service for the public, links metadata from a variety of digital collections enabling items to be discovered in one search. Launched by the National Library as Prototype in 2009 and later rebranded as Trove, the site is constantly evolving.

The National Library already had a number of digital online collections including Libraries Australia, Picture Australia, Australian Newspapers, Music Australia, Pandora and the library catalogue. Trove has been designed to provide access to all these and other digital collections in one search. Most of the stand alone services will be phased out.

After conducting a search eight collection views are provided - Books, Journals, magazines, articles..., Pictures and photos, Australian Newspapers (1803-1854), Music, sound and video, Archived websites (1996-), Diaries, letters, archives..., About people and organisations.

A feature of the site is user interaction. This is especially seen in the digitised newspaper section where users can correct the OCR. Users can also merge or split records, where appropriate, in Libraries Australia. Future developments will include RSS feeds, enhanced sorting, API, journal articles, e-resources from partner vendors and texts of guides to collections.

Digital preservation: the problems and issues involved in publishing private records online: lessons learnt from the web publishing of the notebooks and diaries of C.E.W. Bean

The Australian War Memorial began digitising collections ten years ago. Charles Edwin Woodrow Bean was Australia's official war correspondent during the First World War and later wrote the official history of Australia's involvement in the war based on his diaries and the unit commanders' diaries.

The digitised war diaries of C.E.W. Bean were made available online on the Australian War Memorial website on Remembrance Day 2009. The digitisation of the notebooks and diaries commenced in 2003 and was completed in 2004. There were 286 volumes and the information in them has been made available to the public as pdfs.

Copyright of the material was a major issue as it was confusing. The Commonwealth had copyright of the material created by Bean when employed as an historian by the Commonwealth Government. The diaries however were private papers gifted to the Australian War Memorial in 1942 with the understanding that they could be made available to the public after Bean's death. Bean later changed this condition to 30 years after his death (he died in 1968). The collection was reopened 1981 and Bean's family gave permission for publication. The correspondence and ephemera among the papers created additional copyright issues. Section 200AB of the Copyright Act was used to allow publication of these items. The website provides a detailed copyright statement regarding the publication of the records.

The Australian War Memorial has also published online the Official history of Australia in the War of 1914-1918.

Also available online are the digitised copies of the First World War diaries of the unit commanders. A demonstration of this part of the site was provided during the afternoon tea break. The original index to the diaries will also be made available.

A database relating to indigenous servicemen will shortly be online. The Australian War Memorial site has a growing number of image and biographical databases and federated searching will soon be introduced for searching the material.

Later in the afternoon Stephanie Orlic from The Louvre spoke about a project entered into with a Japanese company to use technology to explore more fully items in a collection including 3D representations of items, enlargement of sections and commentary in a variety of languages. Cycle 1 of The Louvre - DNP Museum Lab ran from 2006 to 2009. Cycle 2 will commence in April.

Saturday, February 13, 2010

VALA 2010 - Tuesday afternoon (b)

The afternoon sessions continued with information about another site using federated search followed by an introduction to the use of the semantec web and linked data.

All aboard ParlInfo:the journey towards integrated access to bibliographic and full text information from the Parliament of Australia
ParlInfo has been developed to provide federal government information to members of parliament, those working in government and also the general public. It was designed to incorporate changes in user expectations and utilise new developments in information technology including social networking. The site uses federated searching and plus Google-like functionality. Search options include Basic Search, Advanced Search and Guided (canned) Search. In The user can also browse collections and then narrow the search using provided options. Collections include Bills, Hansard, Notice papers, House of Representatives votes and procedures, Senate journals, Biographies of current members, Library catalogue and Parliament of Australia website. The site recognises internal and external users and external users need to log on especially if they want to use web 2.0 features including RSS and alerts. The site is still a work in progress. Future developments will be the digitisation of all Hansards and old Bills. The Parliament of Australia website is also being updated.

Next up? the linked content economy
The highlight of the afternoon was the plenary session presented by Thomas Tague from Thomson Reuters, USA. The session provided a preview of the next development in the use of human knowledge systems. Tom Tague described the first stage of the web as collecting and putting online content with the second stage the emphasis on social networking. This has resulted in a mixture of information often making it harder to discover what we are looking for. Semantec metatagging will assist users locate the information required from the mass of information available online.

Wikipedia has an article describing the Semantec Web and another on Linked Data, two of the concepts described in the talk.

Thomson Reuters purchased software for generating semantec metadata and in January 2008 made it available as open source software, OpenCalais. The Calais Viewer is avalilable for potential users of the software to see how it works. A document is submitted and the software automatically generates tags relating to events, people, facts and linking the information in the document to information on other sites on the web.

The use of Open Calais for preparing and presenting auto-generated tags is provided in this example of a search for telescopes on the Powerhouse Museum website. Other projects using Calais include Media Cloud and DocumentCloud. The metadata generated via Calais is kept by Thomson Reuters for further projects.

The use of auto-generated tags and linked data greatly expands online research opportunities and historical and genealogical research were two fields mentioned where this could be used. Discussion also centred around using Open Calais with WorldCat. The talk provided an introduction to the possibilities of future development of the web - Web 3.0.

Friday, February 12, 2010

VALA 2010 - Tuesday afternoon (a)

The VALA 2010 conference with the theme, Connections, Content, Conversations, produced an assortment of papers about IT related developments in libraries and information organisations and advancements in electronic resources. The sessions provided an overview of some of the uses of information technology and resources currently in use plus possibilities for the future. Although this was predominantly a conference for librarians the speakers, especially the keynote speakers, were from a range of organisations and it was stressed at a number of the sessions that information technology crossed institutional boundaries. A summary of sessions I attended on the Tuesday and Wednesday afternoon of the conference is provided in this and subsquent posts. The first to posts investigated the use of e-books and a catalogue using federated searching in academic libraries but the results are also of interest to a wider audience.

Ebook usage at Curtin University Library: patterns, projections and strategy
E-books have been around for a while now and an analysis of the use of e-books at Curtin University provided information on the uptake of online material in an academic environment. Curtin University started purchasing e-books in 2003. Although the e-book collection has expanded, particularly since 2007, the electronic book format is secondary to the print version. E-journals, however, have become a dominant format for providing access to periodical literature.

Two major e-book collections described were electronic copies of textbooks and other items in the reserve collection where there would be high usage and a collection of research material in e-book format for ongoing use. Graphs from statistics of usage of the collections were provided along with a description of selecting e-book materials. Generally titles selected directly by the library staff experienced higher usage than items collected in a subject specific or other form of group purchase. The graphs showed that usage of the student e-books varied from one semester to another though overall usage did increase significantly in 2009. The numbers of students in classes and lecturers recommending the e-book titles were suggested factors affecting these figures. [Another possible factor for the variance in usage patterns could be that different subjects are offered in each semester]. It was concluded that more analysis is required.

Beyond the grave: where to with Gen (wh)Y?
The glossary on the University of Western Sydney Library website describes their Library Search Box as enabling 'a simultaneous search of a selection of Library databases, a number of web resources and the Library catalogue with additional refining and discovery features.' The talk demonstrated and discussed the new catalogue utilising federated searching. Users have been encouraged to provide feedback and this has provided information on the acceptance and usage of the new features. Requests were made to also retain the 'classic' catalogue so a link to that version will be available until Easter.

Using the Library Search Box provides not just a list of possible items relating to the search term but also a tag cloud which students appear to like and the ability to refine the search using options relating to library format, subject, date and geographic region. The ability for users to tag items is also provided but not widely used so far. Images of book jackets are provided for most entries and icons show type of material. Linked tags in the record help in searching and tables of contents provide additional information about the book contents. There is also the ability to export the details of the record to EndNote or RefWorks. The search box for the catalogue is prominent on the library home page but as 80% of students do not use the library home page a library search box is located on all pages of the website. Although the new catalogue has additional features and access to a wider range of resources in one search, statistics show probably only a 5% increase in usage over the 'classic' catalogue. Usage statistics have also shown that some students tried using the library search box for searching for other library information such as hours of opening.