Top ten for heritage digitisation projects

Preparing for digitisation: Record photograph from an album in the Elizabeth Treffry Collection, Hypatia Trust.

Preparing for digitisation: Record photograph from an album in the Elizabeth Treffry Collection, Hypatia Trust.

Digitisation usually refers to making collections data, including images and other media, available online. But it may also refer to making any quantitative (e.g. historical datasets) or qualitative information (exhibition and learning resources) available and discoverable via the web.

A digital collection usually comprises an object record describing the object, its composition or makeup and other descriptive elements. It may have an associated image, video, audio or document with it. Sophisticated digital collections will display links to related objects and information. Some are aggregated into larger digital repositories which allow you to search across several collections such as Culture Grid or Europeana.

The digitisation movement in the UK heritage sector started in earnest under the New Opportunities Fund Digitisation (NOF-digi) programme, funded by the National Lottery between 2001-3/4. One of my previous projects, Hantsphere, was part of this. NOF-digi projects taught heritage and cultural technologists a lot about good and bad practice, and most importantly about sustainability. A significant amount of data remains undiscoverable and in some cases has been lost altogether through lack of onward funding and resources within the organisations that ran these projects. Continue reading

A bad curator blames their tools

M-Shed, tells the story of Bristol especially its industrial and social history

M-Shed, tells the story of Bristol especially its industrial and social history

I have been a member of the Social History Curators Group (SHCG) for a few years now. Of all the professional groups and societies dedicated to museum and collections work I have found SHCG to be the most useful. Most degrees and qualifications in museum studies (or indeed heritage management) lack opportunities for sustained subject-specialist training unless it is part of an internship, vocational attachment or similar activity. That’s why SHCG and other curatorial networks are so important.

FirstBASE is SHCG’s recently launched online resources centre, an invaluable library of information for anyone dealing with social (and industrial) collections. SHCG also organises training events and when I saw one advertised for identifying tools I leapt at the opportunity. Here is my review, which will also appear in a forthcoming SHCG newsletter.

Training Review: What is it? Identifying mystery objects: trade tools

Venue: M-Shed, Bristol, 4 March 2013

I didn’t know a twybil from an adze before the training. By the end of the day I could enthusiastically explain the difference between a dado plane and a plough plane.

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Hidden Treasures of the Elizabeth Treffry Collection

Books of the Elizabeth Treffry Collection, Hypatia Trust

Books of the Elizabeth Treffry Collection, Hypatia Trust

This week I am leading tours of the Elizabeth Treffry Collection on Women in Cornwall and the Isles of Scilly at Hypatia Trust HQ at Trevelyan House, Penzance. Hidden Treasures is a national campaign organised by the Collections Trust in association with the Independent newspaper who featured the campaign in the 2 June edition. About 54 organisations are taking part, mainly museums. Hidden Treasures aims to help give special access to collections that are usually not available to the public. The Hypatia Trust is the only Cornish organisation to open up its collections for Hidden Treasures!

Hidden Treasures of the Elizabeth Treffry Collection tours take place throughout the week at 2.30pm on each listed day:

Monday 4 June, Tuesday 5 June, Wednesday 6 June, Thursday 7 June and Saturday 9 June (no tours Friday 8 June).

Tours are free. All welcome. Visitors to Trevelyan House can also view the Redwing Gallery and browse the bookshop. Cornish books available at sale prices! All profits in aid of the Elizabeth Treffry Collection fund.

Find out more on the Hidden Treasures tours in Penzance.

What can you expect?

The Elizabeth Treffry Collection is comprised of books and archives and therefore are not always visually appealing exhibits in the same way as a rare vase or exquisite painting. During the tours I try and get people interested in the subject, explain why collecting on women is important to Cornwall and Scillonian heritage and what’s in store for the collection in the future.

The Hypatia Trust has just started a campaign to fund a new permanent home for the collection in Cornwall and contribute towards creating a free online Index of Women in Cornwall and Scilly that will make a major impact on the way Cornish and Scillonian history, culture, art and literature is perceived, researched and used. We need funds to conserve rare items, especially archives, apply a better standard of curatorial care, furnish a new home and promote the collection to everyone with an interest in women’s and Cornish-Scillonian heritage.

Remember: we are talking about better representation for 51% of the population, past and present!

How’s it going?

The tours were featured in the local press, the Independent, promoted online through our very recent entry into the worlds of Twitter and Facebook and circulated via flyers, emails and word of mouth. Guess what? Word of mouth has won out so far. Today was the first day and we had 14 people turn up, albeit at various times of the day. We are treating the event quite informally and are happy to accomodate and chat to people at any time I or another Hypatia volunteer is available. We want to use this opportunity to get the word out there that the collection exists and what we wish to achieve with it. I’ll look forward to seeing what the rest of the week holds in store.

Curating the Elizabeth Treffry Collection on Women in Cornwall and Scilly

La Demoiselle Sauvage From King Arthur's Wood by Elizabeth Armstrong Forbes

La Demoiselle Sauvage From King Arthur's Wood by Elizabeth Armstrong Forbes (credit: Hypatia Trust)

My first commission since relocating to Penzance, Cornwall was an audit of the little-known Elizabeth Treffry collection held by the Hypatia Trust that serves to document the lives and works of women in Cornwall and the Isles of Scilly.

Meeting Hypatia

Having heard much about the Hypatia Trust and its founder, Dr. Melissa Hardie, publisher, author and collector, I wandered into Trevelyan House on historic Chapel Street on a cold January morning to find out more. A warm welcome and two hours of chat resulted in the start of a working relationship and friendship that I hope will last for many years.

…to collect, and make available, published and personal documentation about the achievements of women in every aspect of their lives.

(Ethos of the Hypatia Trust)

The situation I was greeted with goes something like this. The Hypatia Trust exists to further the knowledge of and about women and her achievements. It has a strong basis in understanding women in their regional or geo-historical contexts and so Hypatia exists in several locales, including Hypatia in the Woods in Shelton, Washington in the USA. Its ethos is strongly based in academic and intellectual pursuits and so collecting, especially books, is central to its activities.

Melissa Hardie, in the name of the Hypatia Trust, has already donated significant collections to libraries across the world from Exeter to Bonn, with the sole motive to improve the knowledge and visibility of women in social and historical studies. Other landmark achievements are the creation of the West Cornwall Art Archive with Newlyn Art Gallery and the innovative Cornish Artists Index, a freely accessible online database of artists in Cornwall and their works, past and present.

Elizabeth Treffry Collection

Elizabeth Treffry Collection at Trevelyan House

Finding a room of one’s own

And so the Elizabeth Treffry Collection is one of Hypatia’s several efforts to turn the tide of male-dominated narratives of Cornwall and the Isles of Scilly by actively gathering knowledge about women’s lives and works in Cornwall and Scilly (not just those of Cornish and Scillonian women but all those who have made their lives and home there) and communicating it to a much wider audience through publication, education and participation. The collection’s strengths are in art and literature of the 19th and 20th centuries but its stretches far beyond Daphne Du Maurier and Dolly Pentreath, embracing the Cornish Land Army, women scientists, religion and more besides. And this was part of the attraction of wanting to get involved, to learn more about the relatively silent women’s stories in these enigmatic regions.

The collection comprises books, journals and archives (and a few artefacts) and mainly resides at Hypatia HQ at Trevelyan House with more stuff kept at the Jamieson Library of Women’s History, based in rural Newmill just outside Penzance. Melissa Hardie and the Hypatia Trust wish to tackle the urgent need to find it a new, permanent home where the collection can be publicly accessed, intoning Virginia Woolf’s essay on ‘A Room of One’s Own‘.

But before this search could begin in earnest, and an associated fundraising campaign could commence, a better idea of what the collection comprised and what its future might look like was required. And so I was invited to help Hypatia establish a professional basis for the curation of the collection by conducting a basic audit to quantify it, describe it and make recommendations for its future care and uses.

You can download and read the report to understand more about the collection and what I think its future could look like but I wanted here to write down some of my thoughts about auditing collections and the value of collections in our cultural lives.

Download Curating Elizabeth Treffry Collection report (PDF, 976KB)

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Digital Britain and Collections

What role has Culture (capital C) in Digital Britain? And within Culture, what do digitised collections and content mean to the nation? Perhaps more importantly for the sectors involved in cultural provision (such as museums), can digital collections take part in the Digital Economy in a meaningful way? In January 2009, the UK Government produced an interim report setting out a kind of manifesto for placing UK Plc at the forefront of the “global digital economy.”

I would like to see the relationship develop more as that between supporter/donor and custodian, rather than just producer and consumer.

In response, Collections Trust made an interim response. And here is a summary my response to the interim response. I attempted to take the long view, looking back at my own experiences with digitised collections and other content. My full reply and Nick Poole’s (CEO Collections Trust) response can be read in the list archives of jiscmail’s Museum Computer Group list.
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