May 1, 2014

U of L art collection data – gathered and accessible

When the University Art Gallery decided it needed a way to better manage its art collection data, it took advantage of a Canadian Heritage grant and consulted IT Services to assist with the implementation of The Museum System (TMS).

“TMS is a robust software product that is used by museums and galleries around the world to manage their cultural and scientific collections,” says Wim Chalmet, ITS Applications Support Analyst. “The grant covered the cost of the software, but the Gallery sought an in-kind donation of resources from us to implement the system.”data collection

IT Services looked at different available software packages, vetted the business requirements against the specifications, and validated that TMS would be a good choice.

Once the decision was made, IT assisted with how it would be implemented by setting up the infrastructure, network and services to ensure the environment would be appropriate. Then came the conversion.

“The implementation process involved converting data from the entire collection of approximately 17,000 pieces, which proved to be challenging,” says Chalmet. The data was in a variety of locations and programs, and it all needed to be amalgamated and put into one source. Much of the process to convert all the data was automated with the direction of the TMS vendor, and Gallery staff were heavily involved in fine tuning it.

“TMS staff have tons of experience helping clients convert data from a cat’s breakfast of sources, but at the U of L Gallery we were doing this for the first time,” says Gallery Manager Jon Oxley. “Data came from Banner, from our in-house Filemaker files from years back, and from a variety of image folders. TMS created the data-mapping template for us to review prior to the conversion. U of L Collection Registrar Juliet Graham had to carefully review over 100 source columns and target fields. Getting any one of them wrong would create considerable grief in the near future.”

The success of the project can be attributed to keeping Gallery staff fully involved with issues and concerns as they arose, says Chalmet. “It was really a collaborative effort between ITS, the vendor and the Gallery.”

Oxley agrees: “Before the pixels were drying on the contract last fall, Wim brought the Gallery staff together to explain how the project would proceed technically. Up until then we were completely absorbed with design and financial issues. There was a fair bit of educating Gallery staff, on Wim’s part, on the architecture of secure data in a public access world,” says Oxley. “The TMS technical staff were great, and extremely patient with the Gallery, but Wim always followed up conference call meetings to clear up the many things we were fuzzy on.”

The Gallery’s main impetus in using TMS was the quality of its eMuseum web portal into the Collection.emuseum

“While TMS is the application, eMuseum is the web front, or online presence of our art collection,” says Chalmet. “Anyone can go to the site and search the collection for pieces they may want to borrow for their own exhibitions, or cite in research. The public can view most pieces in the collection, subject to the artist’s copyrights, and any information the Gallery has about the pieces.”

Oxley says Gallery staff have been using the TMS database in-house for two months already, and are adding research data and images that have been accumulating in files over the years. “We use the database on a daily basis,” said Oxley. “It has already helped develop several coming exhibitions – it allows for incredibly quick theme searches, assists with planning for the resource power to move art, creates text copy and allows quick communication about artworks between Gallery staff.”

Over the summer, staff will be formatting the public collection database to gear it for the many students, faculty and curators – both on campus and around the globe – who will be using it for art and exhibition research.

Although the graphic design work has not yet been completed, the nuts and bolts of the U of L Art Gallery’s collection can be viewed at: http://artcollection.uleth.ca/emuseum/