The Getty Provenance Institute’s database (The Getty’s research institute, 2012) contains 1.1 million records. All of these records can be used for a wide variety of research. According to the institute the database can be used for assistance in finding information for Projects, and for the Study of Collecting. According to the Database, “The J. Paul Getty Museum acquired The Entombment (ca. 1612) by Peter Paul Rubens in a Christie's sale in 1992. At that time, the provenance of the painting could only be traced as far back as the mid-19th century.
The number 146, located on the face of the painting, appeared to be an inventory number (the Getty Research Institute, 2012). A search in the Provenance Index's Archival Inventories database retrieved a single record in which the artist name (Rubens) and item number (146) matched. The search lead to a 1651 inventory preserved in the Archivo de la Casa de Alba, Palacio de Liria in Madrid, which lists this Rubens painting. Possibly its first owner was Gaspar de Haro y Guzmán Carpio (1629–1687)”. Other Institutions are not as lucky some. Some Museums are not so fortunate to find the item number associated with the picture.
When it is time to introduce the collections into a database, curators of small museums find themselves in a little bit of trouble. The features and capabilities offered by the newer commercial and professional collection systems are more than they will ever need, more than they can support and more than they can afford all together. Their own database management skills may not be up to par to address their problems effectively.
Discussions of databases for small collections barely focus on building data systems. Database management tools that are successful in business may not be successful for a museum. Structures, internal controls, and strategies that are useful for building small systems and entering data, are often ignored at conferences. For a museum to possess an “excellent” Management System they would have to possess a very intricate database.
According to The Archaeological Institute of America (The Archaeological Institute of America, 2012) “Until 2005, the Museum of Anthropology had no registrar or collections manager, and creation of paper and computer database records fell to staff and students when they could spare time from their regular duties. Distractions and inadequate training led to errors and inconsistencies in both physical and digital records. Few objects were photographed.
Due to a history of trying several data-management programs, all developed primarily for business applications and designed in-house, digital records did not have consistent lexicon categorization and some data from physical records were not in the computer catalogue. The museum eventually settled on ACCESS for its digital records, but the database was designed and installed by a person who was not knowledgeable about the program or the museum’s needs. The database was in spreadsheet format, with fields not logically ordered for efficiency of data entry or retrieval. Search, select, sort, and copy manipulations were inefficient and frequently did not function as intended.
The staff attempted to complete and clean up the ACCESS catalogue, but progress was slow and the collections and related research had grown to the extent that the system did not meet data management needs. Finally, we decided that a data-management program designed for museums would bring order and consistency to the management of collections and allow for complete data recording. A consistent and up-to-date catalogue would permit the staff to focus on current registration and cataloguing duties, facilitate access to and use of collections, and reduce staff time, effort, and wear on collections.
Three successive grants from the Institute of Museum and Library Services’ Museums for America program funded the three phases of this digital database project. The purpose of Phase 1 was to create a new computerized database of the Museum of Anthropology’s collections of archaeological and ethnographic objects so that the staff and public could access useful and accurate records of all objects quickly and effectively.
Visual Rediscovery is a relational database that presents basic data in a catalogue card format visible on one screen, facilitating rapid access and retrieval. In addition to Collections Management and Photograph Management modules, a Lexicon module assists with maintaining consistency of field terms so that indexing and retrieval are complete with no items omitted due to improper terminology. We installed the new database and migrated data onto a server at Wake Forest University. A newly hired registrar inputted new records into the database and corrected migrated records. Working with Rediscovery
database records proceeded much more rapidly than anticipated. We were generally pleased with Rediscovery as a database management tool for museum staff use.
We installed a public-access computer terminal with connection to the database in a museum gallery and guided members of the public and Wake Forest University students in the use of the database for research and course support. This aspect of Phase 1 was not a complete success. The public-access version of Rediscovery was inflexible and search results were not visually or intellectually stimulating. In addition, we installed the database on a server
that handled large amounts of data, so searches were extremely slow, severely limiting the appeal for researchers.
In Phase 2 we updated the computerized database and integrated photos of objects so that staff and members of the public were able to access accurate records and images of all objects quickly and effectively though the web, using Visual Rediscovery for Internet software. Included in the public version of the database on the website are a research guide, an online catalogue, K–12 lesson plans, and answers to frequently asked questions?
The overall goal of Phase 3 was to provide broad public access through the web to cataloguing information and digital images for the archival collection. Access to the archival collection through Rediscovery Proficio\ software is meant to enhance classroom teaching and research for faculty and students; support curriculum- based learning by students in primary and secondary schools; facilitate research into the context of traditional material culture by scholars; and permit the general public to learn about traditions and
modernization of peoples throughout the world. Public access is through the museum’s website. Web-use manuals are being written for the museum staff, educators, and the public, and four workshops will instruct primary and secondary school educators in how to use the web archives with their students”. The New database they have for the museum took many hours, but in the long run will make their jobs 100% easier and it’s more rewarding to know where everything was made and the owners of each piece in detail.