Content Found in Collection Related Documents: Making Full Use of It

Ilene Slavick

Ilene Slavick

January 15, 2015

Originally posted on blogger 3/13/2014

The role of collections management software has changed over the years. Originally, registrars used software to describe objects and collections. As software feature sets became more robust, and as other staff members began to use them, the role of collections management solutions changed, too. The products that are in use today continue to support the museum’s descriptive needs, and they also offer documentation capabilities that save time and resources with regard to the collections and the processes that are vital to maintaining them. All good! But what are museums doing with other critical content: the detailed conservation reports, the correspondence from donors, the documents related to provenance, and other vital documents that relate to the collection and museum operations as a whole?

We all agree that there is important detail in these documents – some are needed for legal purposes, others for decision making and museum operations – and, of course, they are part of the institutional history. So what options do we have for dealing with these vital documents?

Stuff them into paper files

Most of us agree that this isn’t an optimal solution. Access is limited to those who understand your paper filing system; paper documents are often lost, and the document text isn’t searchable.

Maintain copies on directory systems on your network

Better than paper filing systems, but still not a good solution. Many of us find it difficult to create directories and assign files to folders for our own use, never mind for the use of our colleagues. And do we remember where we filed them? All of us can confess that we have spent way too much time looking for documents which were originally filed carefully on our network directories – sometimes losing them completely. Lost time, lost documents.

Maintain them in a separate document management system

With this solution, museums move from “collections management” to “knowledge management,” which is a wonderful goal. This approach allows the museum to create, deliver and store information on an institutional level, and offers full text access to the documents. But does it relate documents to relevant objects and processes, thereby giving museum professionals the context they need?

Incorporate documents into your collections management system

With this approach, documents are linked to the appropriate records in your collections management system and their full text is searchable by authorized staff. You reap the benefit of context. To which objects do the documents refer? What do these objects look like? In which exhibits were they used? Who handled them? All these questions and more can be answered when the museum’s documentation is attached to appropriate records in the collections management system.

At Lucidea, we believe that technology enabled collections management is a form of knowledge management and must be leveraged as such. By attaching documents to records in and allowing full text search and retrieval, we enable authorized users to find all relevant documentation quickly and easily, and then relate it to the context of the museum’s collections and (as relevant) operational activities.

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