Oral History of Museum Computing: Kate Collen

This Oral History of Museum Computing is provided by Kate Collen, and was recorded on the 10th of May, 2021, by Paul Marty and Kathy Jones. It is shared under a Creative Commons Attribution 4.0 International license (CC-BY), which allows for unrestricted reuse provided that appropriate credit is given to the original source. For the recording of this oral history, please see https://youtu.be/Qxn-R5fUHkI.

Yeah, I think I want to talk about my work at the Smithsonian National Postal Museum. I was there from 2007 through 2013. And while I was there, we undertook a number of digitization and collections management system projects. I was the Collections Database Administrator there. So I managed TMS, which stands for The Museum System — it’s a Gallery Systems product. And we undertook a number of projects to configure it, to clean up the data, and sort of pushed the CMS into new directions that could help us enable the workflows that we were creating in the museum.

I have a couple of examples. One example is a large digitization project that we undertook in 2008 to 2010. We had about 35,000 very rare objects. They were called certified plate proofs. And basically it’s the final print of this, the – so it’s a philatelic and postal history museum. So we collect a lot of stamps. But these plate proofs were the final print of the postage stamp that was signed and certified prior to it going and being printed by the Bureau of Engraving and Printing. So we have these original sheets of stamps. And they’re very rare. Researchers would look for fine lines on the engraving to say, “Okay, well this stamp that I own is from position three in column 4.” And they would just get into the nitty gritty. But they had never been digitized because of their rarity. Because of their value. Their fragility – they were paper-based objects. They were about 17 inches by 20 inches large. The inks that they were printed on were very friable.

So I ended up writing a grant to a Smithsonian committee in order to be able to digitize these [project video: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=joU4ORBb4O0]. We got a pot of money and we ended up, for a number of reasons, outsourcing the digitization to National Geographic. And that was because we didn’t have the money or the space to acquire a large scanner in-house. And so we would literally take a ride with the Smithsonian Security Office with US Marshals from the Security Office about every other week with these certified plate proofs. And they were all ex-DC Cops. So they were talking about how they pulled this person out of, you know, a dead body out of this building, when we would pass by. And I’m, you know, I guess I’m in good hands, you know, with these high value objects.

And we’d courier them from the Postal Museum – which is sort of catty corner to the US Capitol on Massachusetts Avenue Northeast in DC – and just down the street to the main National Geographic headquarters. And there they would be digitized using a high resolution scanning back camera. Metadata would be embedded into them. We’d take the images on high – on two terabyte drives and then we’d courier the objects back. But the back end of that project was numbering them, making sure that they were catalogued in TMS, hiring a registrar to do that, hiring volunteers, culling the collection, getting curator buy-in. The curators wanted to see the digitization facility. The head of preservation wanted to visit it to make sure it was a safe environment. We had to negotiate with National Geographic to be able to store our objects in their vaults when we left them for a week of digitization and then came back, got those objects and brought new objects.

So it was like a highly choreographed project, but in the end, I believe, about 2,500 high resolution objects ended up online. Over 20,000 of them were catalogued – fully catalogued in the CMS at the end of the project. So it was – it made a previously unavailable collection available to the public through our online research portal and collections website, which was is called Arago. That was that was one project. I don’t know if you have any questions about it. No?

And then another project, I was just looking through my notes, another large project we worked on – the museum doubled in size in 2013. So they expanded from just, like a basement level in the building to an entire other level at street level on Massachusetts Avenue. And in order for that to – for that exhibition, it was a brand new exhibition – there were 7,000 new objects that needed to be looked at, preserved, mounted, and put on display in the new gallery. And TMS at that time didn’t really enable a workflow process for us to be able to handle that project.

In particular, there was really not a robust conservation module in the database. There was a conservation module, but it was not really being used fully by the staff. So I was able to do a number of things to enable workflows within the conservation module like renaming fields, doing a mass data mapping project to take old data out of the fields we’re going to use and move it to another field or clean it out. We renamed a couple of constituent fields in the database, so that the treatment proposals, which needed to be done prior to any conservation or – there were treatment approvals which needed to be done anytime an object was going to go to preservation to be treated. It needed to be signed off on by the registrar. And previously all of that was handled in a paper manner. You know the – they would type up something in Word, print it off, put it on our registrar’s desk. If he was out for a week then it wouldn’t get signed. And then, finally, after he was able to sign it, give them the paper back, it would be – the treatment would be approved.

But by taking a constituent field in the database and renaming it with – and then shutting down security on it so that only that registrar could enter data into it, we enabled an electronic approval workflow to happen in the database. Whereby they would send him an email. We were working to do alerts when I left, but they would send them an email, “You have a treatment – like five treatment proposals in TMS please pull them up.” He pulled them up in the conservation module. He’d find his name in that field that we configured, click on it, add his name, and then that would then populate into a report with his signature line approved. So that way, the conservation and preservation process could keep on happening for these 7,000 objects that needed to be conserved, cleaned, and mounted and put on display. So that was another project.

We also worked with some of the workflows and checkboxes in TMS so that the people doing – like the preservation staff that was mounting the objects – like hundreds of little stamps on on a piece of Ethafoam. Anytime an object was mounted they can check a flex field in the database and mark it that it was mounted. And then it would reveal another layer of information. But it was like a dependency. So once you mark it mounted, then it goes to the next person who reviews it and then it goes for shipping back to the museum to be able to put on display.

So, I do feel like we were very innovative at the Postal Museum in that we tried to think out of the box in terms of pushing the collections management system to do things that maybe- people thought it couldn’t do. But, you you just have to sort of think out of the box and approach it as a problem of, “How can I make this system work in the way that the people at the museum want me to make it work?” And sort of think about how I can create a report. I can create a workflow. I can rename or hide fields. I can execute a SQL alert or a SQL cleanup script to be able to make parts of the database work better for the curators, for the collection staff, for the preservation and conservation staff. A lot of times, I think that people sort of roll their eyes at collections management systems because they say, “Oh, this is this, you know, clunky database, I have to log in. I don’t know how to search for anything.” But if you make the system more user-friendly and sort of go to the stakeholders in museums – in the museum and say, “What do you want the system to do?” And don’t really discount anything they say. “I want to track the the conservators’ hours – the number of hours that she’s treating an object. I want to be able to pull up a report that shows all of the treatment images for this one object.” And then you just sort of think strategically of how you can work within the confines of the database to make that happen. So I feel like we were successful in doing that at the Postal Museum. And it’s very satisfying to be able to make it work at the end of the day. To have something workable, you know, or to do a big data cleanup project and then have it done. It’s – it’s very satisfying.

[Marty]: I’m just going to jump in and say, it sounds like the collections at the National Postal Museum must be really fascinating. And I was wondering about interacting with the with the public. Because I imagine stamp collectors must access the CMS all the time, right, to look up information about their stamps? Or am I imagining that wrong?

No. They were able to, once we had our collections website up and running. They named it Arago. I think after, like, Thomas Jefferson’s stamp collection or something odd like that [“The system is named for 19th century scientist Dominique François Jean Arago, a close friend of James Smithson, the founding benefactor of the Smithsonian Institution. Arago advocated a philosophy of using the most advanced technology available to educate people; his own passion was using photography as a means of sharing information.” — https://postalmuseum.si.edu/about/press/national-postal-museum-to-launch-research-web-site].

And so when I first started there, I was a contractor and later I got hired as the database administrator. But they were just getting the collections online through this Arago collections website. Now the Smithsonian has one overarching collections website. It’s collections.si.edu. That was another project I worked on where we had to map data from our TMS system. And there were, I think, like ten museums, using different instances of TMS at the Smithsonian when I was there. Each had different types of collections. Each had different ways they were using the system. So this large data mapping project took place. Ching-hsien Wang at the Office of the Chief Information Officer was really integral to that project. And she helped write the codes with her team to be able to map different types of data to this one overarching collections website. So now, the public can go in and they can search the Smithsonian’s website. But previously you had to navigate into 19 different museum’s collections websites in order to find a bicycle. If you just wanted to just search for a bicycle in the Smithsonian’s collections you’d have to go to 19 different websites. That’s no longer the case, fortunately.

[Marty]: No, absolutely and at the same time, of course, the Smithsonian was pushing open access images as well. So, how was the Postal Museum in moving to open access?

Ah, you know I’m not really sure. I know that when I was there, Seb Chan, who was [Director of Digital and Emerging Media at] the Cooper Hewitt, really was responsible for pushing the collections – their digital images and information – live to the public through these open data dumps. And there was, I think a lot of trepidation among the staff. And, you know, “We’re going to lose control of the information. We’re not going to be seen as an authoritative voice in educating the public about these collections.” And I think there was a lot of resistance and a lot of fear. Now, a lot of museums are doing the same thing, but it was it was really groundbreaking at the time and really, really scary to just dump your – because we were talking about watermarking images. And you can only release a very small file size. And what about copyright? And we’ll lose control. But if the museum’s collections are held in trust for the public, isn’t it our mission to make that information accessible to the public? I would argue, it is. It’s their collection, we hold it in trust for them, so we should make high resolution images available when when we can. There’s a labor issue and a money issue and then sometimes copyright issues but, yeah, I think a lot of that work at the Cooper Hewitt was groundbreaking.

I think, right now, with the Arago website at the Postal Museum, you can bring up large size images of those certified plate proof objects that we scanned. And you can zoom in on the individual engraving lines of the objects. I can show you – this is, I know this is an oral history but I’ll just show you, like an example of one of them. [holding up paper printout of example to camera]

[Marty]: I’m, I’m looking at them on the website now.

Oh, cool!

[Marty]: Yes, you can get really nice resolution images. It’s very impressive.

Yeah, they’re kind of neat.

[Marty]: And, and you know it’s fascinating to me to look at – we’ve seen this in a lot of these oral histories – this philosophical change that has happened over the decades. And open access is a really good example of that because if you look at the people who were arguing for open access 20 years ago. And now look at what we’ve accomplished today. I think people two decades ago are looking back at it and saying, “We made some tremendous strides forward here in that.”

Absolutely. I totally agree. Even as long as I’ve been working for the Johns Hopkins Museum Studies Program – you know, some of my syllabi have changed so much from, you know, talking about collections websites and copyright to, you know, the Creative Commons and now open access and API’s and throwing everything out there. And now I sort of even struggle, like in the future – a lot of my students say, “Well what’s the most important thing to know about, like, cataloguing objects?” And in the past I’ve said, and even now, I say: “Standards. Standards. You have to have standardization.” But now I’m sort of wondering with AI and machine learning, are we going to need standards? Is the computer going to be able to figure out, this is a picture of an apple and it’s red and it’s, you know, here it is. And I can link it to all these other apples all across the Web, all across different museum collections. Are we really going to need data standards? So that’s one thing I’m, I’m excited to see happen with the future of museums. Is it going to go in this very radical direction where, you know, these things that we taught before is sort of just going to be thrown out the window.

[Marty]: You know, that’s a really great question. Actually, I talk about that with my students as well. You know, I think one of the things that’s interesting about it is that it brings to light the difference between what you can learn from the physical object or a representation of a, like, an image and what you learn from the research files. The example I always give my students is that if you were to give somebody a Merovingian brooch, right, they can do all kinds of analysis with it. They can tell you what it’s made out of and what part of the world it came from and how old it was but they wouldn’t be able to tell you about Merovingian culture because that’s not actually embedded in the brooch. Brooch. I’m saying these words wrong. [laughing] But that that requires extra research.


[Marty]: And so, I think that that division is very interesting and I’ve always been curious about – we’ve spent so much time in museums on the inventory digitization: what is it, where did it come from, how old is it? And we haven’t put similar works in the making all the research files as easily accessible.

Uh huh. Uh huh. And the interpretation. And then also looking at past interpretations and getting stakeholder buy-in from, you know, new generations or maybe older generations of stakeholders like with indigenous groups. It’s just very, very interesting to me. I teach an article by Jane Sledge who talks about a blouse in the Smithsonian collections that curators had put backwards on a mannequin. And, you know, she came with an indigenous – the indigenous groups came into the museum and said, “Well, that’s backwards. My grandmother never wore that like that. I’ve seen that in use.” And the curator said, “Well, we, you know, we’re not quite sure. We’re going to look in the record. And we’re going to make sure that – that that’s actually really backwards.” And it was. And so I think it is good to get outside groups coming in and, you know, adding to the knowledge base for our collections. Again, it is scary. It’s loss of control of the collections, but I think it’s the right thing to do.

[Marty]: And then it raises really good questions for collections management too. About how do you store and provide access to all of that knowledge that you bring in?

And who pays for that? And, you know, data – it’s expensive to store and manage. You need not only the hardware, but the software platforms. You also need the staff to manage it. That’s an incredible amount of work and money. So that’s that’s a great, a great question.

[Marty]: Not to go too far into an aside, but the – you might like this. The example I always use with my students when this comes up is, when I was at the University of Illinois I was working with the head of the Classics Department there on an exhibit about Roman life. And we needed to put on display a handful of Roman lamps. Maybe four or five of them. The museum had at least 200 to choose from. And, according to the inventory system, they’re all basically identical. They’re all 2,000 year old ceramic lamps from Rome, right. So there’s nothing in the database that tells you why one lamp is, say, more interesting or culturally important than another lamp, right. They’re all identical. And this this guy from the Classics Department had been there since the early 70s. He said he’s he’s 100% sure that in the 1970s, there was a grad student who did her thesis on this collection of lamps. And if we could find that thesis, we would know which of these lamps are the most important that should be on display. He couldn’t remember the name of the student. Didn’t know the name of the thesis. No one had any idea where this thesis was or where we might find it.


[Marty]: And I think that this story happens over and over again in museums.

Absolutely. Not linking the information back to the object so then it can be released to the public.

[Marty]: And speaking of linking information, you were on that Smithsonian-wide Collections Information Management Committee, right? What was that, like working across the different museums?

I actually – before I left, I was actually chair of the committee. It was called the Collections Information Management Committee [CIMC: https://siarchives.si.edu/collections/siris_arc_361825], and it was a group of collections database administrators and database managers across the Smithsonian. We talked – we administered a large grant. So we’d read grant proposals for pots of money that came from Congress that were earmarked for collections digitization. And we would have a call for grants each year. And then award the grants based on the proposals.

We talked about standardization. Talked about how we could use our collections databases in a more efficient way. We also talked about privacy issues, you know, when the government, you know, came out with this mandate about PII we all had to look at our donor lists. And we all had to look at the constituents module and how do we lock that down. And please don’t put social security numbers in the database. And you have to be very careful about how you’re managing information, especially when you work under a government institution.

And then I also sat on a committee called ARTCIS [Art museums using Collections Information Systems]. It was originally named for art museums, using collections information systems at the Smithsonian. It was basically a group of TMS using museums. And we would get together and talk about how to more efficiently use the database TMS. And we’d have guest lecturers from Gallery Systems. We hosted the National Gallery of Art because they also used TMS. And they came over and showed us how they used the exhibitions and shipping module in TMS. And that was a great group. We shared reports – Crystal Reports, a lot of information. I was chair elect of that, but then I I left and moved to San Antonio with my husband, who’s in the Army – before I chaired that committee. But that was a really great knowledge base.

[Marty]: We’ve been talking mostly about the Smithsonian but I – Kate, I would love to hear some of – because I know you’ve been at half a dozen different museums around the country from Vermont to Hawaii, right?


[Marty]: You know, what what’s it like dealing with collections management systems at so many different institutions?

Well, most of my database experience is at the Smithsonian. And since I left the Postal Museum I worked on another project at the National Gallery – or the National Portrait Gallery – digitizing a large group of prints and photographs. There in, I think 2019 [late 2018 to Spring 2019]. But other museums. So I worked at the National Park Service at the USS Arizona Memorial at Pearl Harbor, Hawaii. We used Re:discovery, which was configured by the National Park Service. At the time, it was called ANCS+ or Automated National Catalog System. It’s now been renamed to ICMS, which is Interior Collection Management System, I think. But it’s basically a specialized instance of Re:discovery collections information software that has been configured for National Park Service use. And, like the Smithsonian, each national park uses its own standalone instance of this database. It’s hard for them to do something as simple as reporting on the number of collections items of any type across all of the National Park and Department of Interior sites because there’s no connection between the databases. So I worked with Re:discovery at the USS Arizona Memorial. And I was cataloguing a historic photograph collection of, basically the building of Pearl harbor as a base, pre-World War II and then post, some post-World War II photography.

[Marty]: Well, that must have been a fascinating collection of photographs to work with.

It was great. In fact, we had the photographs in – it was called, like a Bally Box, which is a micro climate of temperature – a humidity controlled environment for the photographs that you can, like, put anywhere. So my office was on the Pearl Harbor base. And I had a volunteer, an older volunteer, by the name of Janice working with me. And we had a great time. I mean she was – would bring me food. It was such a wonderful thing. And so I said, “Well, why don’t you go into the Bally Box and catalog some photos. And then, you know, we’ll get together we’ll have a snack at 11 or something?” So 11 rolled by and then like 11:10 and I said, “Well, where’s Janice?” So I walked back to the Bally Box and a piece of paper had been slipped underneath the door and it said, “Help, I’m stuck in here.” And it was Janice, stuck in there in the Bally Box. [laughing] And I thought, “Oh, my God, I hope she hasn’t, like, suffocated.” So, I quickly opened the door and she said, “I couldn’t get out.” And I said, “Well, you just have to push the plunger.” And she said, “I wasn’t strong enough.” So she was stuck back there. [laughing]

But, yeah some of the museums I’ve worked at are rudimentary. I did use to work at Rokeby Museum [https://rokeby.org/]. We didn’t have – we had PastPerfect there when I was working there. But it was never really up and running. It was mainly a paper-based collections record. But that was the one museum I worked at that made me want to go into the museum profession because I had a wonderful mentor there by the name of Jane Williamson. She was the director. She was great. And I got to work with historic photographs. I got to, you know, handle with gloves, letters from escaped slaves that had stopped at this Quaker House, which was a stop on the Underground Railroad on their way North. And had escaped to Canada and wrote back to the Robinson family who owned the house. It was a historic house museum. And, you know, thanked them for lending them a pair of glasses or helping them on their their escape. It was an amazing, amazing collection.

[Marty]: And what is it that you’ve been doing with the National Portrait Gallery?

Well, for the National Portrait Gallery I worked on a project to digitize 4,000 prints and photographs and make high resolution images of their collection. They received a grant to do this and rather than transport artifacts out of the museum like we did with the Postal Museum, they hired a digitization company to come into the offices in Washington DC, set up shop for a couple of weeks in the conference room, and digitize the objects there. So that involved making a report in TMS of, you know, boilerplate information about the collections that were going to be scanned. So – and then and then determining size of objects because the digitization contractor said it would be best to work with the small things first, then move to the big things. So we had to identify what was small, what what were big. And we actually ended up taking a mat board and cutting out a window to the three different sizes of the objects and then we could just literally hold it over – that’s small, that’s medium, that’s large. And group the objects so that that they could, you know, be digitized in order of size.

So we would – we had a couple of art handlers transport the objects from collections storage to the conference room, digitize, call out the numbers, and then bring them back. And then all the digital images were embedded with metadata, numbered after their object number – although the file names didn’t always match the object number, which we discovered at the end of the project. [laughing] But we won’t go there. [laughing] And also in the middle of all this, a snowstorm and a government furlough – government shutdown. So, you know, right towards the end of the project everybody was furloughed and I was finishing up work from home. And I think I got to go in a couple more times and that was that was another, I think problem of government museums. It’s sort of at the whim of whoever’s in charge of the government at the time. [laughing]

[Marty]: Your comment about file names that don’t match object numbers reminds me of so many horror stories that I’ve heard from talking to people in museums. [laughing] Some of the worst I’ve heard is ones where the same object will get multiple numbers through a variety of mistakes…


[Marty]: And then that leads to endless confusion.

Yes. Or one object – one file gets overwritten a number of times. So you have, you know, five different files and then they all get overwritten with the same file name. It’s like, oh, you just lost, you know, five images. [laughing] Redundancy! That’s that speaks to the importance of redundancy, so you can go back and and fix it. Get the original.

[Marty]: And good backup systems too, right?

Absolutely. Absolutely. That’s one thing that the Smithsonian does do well. They have a really good remote server. And there’s redundancy and tapes. And tapes sent to backup bank facilities on different coasts of the US. So that’s one thing that they do do very well. They take their data security and data redundancy very seriously. And anytime I would go to make a change in the database by doing, like, a mass update on SQL or something, I would practice it on a test instance of the database. And then, when I was going to go live and actually do it on a real database, I would I would call OCIO, which is the Office of the Chief Information Officer and they’d take a backup of the database. And then I’d execute the SQL update and then we’d go and check the data. And if everything looks good then we’d go forward. But if something looked bad, which fortunately, nothing ever really got screwed up, but if it had gone wrong, we could restore our database from the backup copy that we had just made.

[Marty]: Reminds me of the old joke: everybody has a testing environment. It’s just that some people are lucky enough to also have a production environment.

[Laughing] Yeah.

[Marty]: Are there any other examples that you would like to share with us? Again, I’m amazed by the number of different places that you’ve worked and the different things that you’ve seen.

Yes. I’m trying to think of any other projects I’ve worked on. Is there any other focus for your, for your oral histories?

[Marty]: Well, I mean, you’re giving us a lot of really great stories about working with collections management systems behind the behind the scenes. I’m going back through the notes I was taking as you as you were talking. Oh right, yeah. One of the things I was wondering about about the National Postal Museum is what it must be like working with donors there because I am not a stamp collector myself, but I know a few, right? I know they’re very particular about, yeah, their collections. And do you get people donating entire stamp collections and what is that like?

Yes. I – I mean the curators would mainly make these connections and these relationships with stamp collectors. And I will say it was predominantly older white men that were the philatelists. There was a Council of Philately, which was sort of a board of directors at the museum and it was made up of these stamp collectors. So they had some say in what exhibitions we would put on and what objects we would focus our time on. And it was a little bit skewed because you’re- you’re getting their perspective on things. But I did meet some wonderful stamp collectors. We worked on an exhibit called Fire and Ice and I got to meet, like, a Titanic survivor at the, at the opening. That was really cool. Fire and Ice was like the – I think it was like the 40th anniversary of the Hindenburg disaster and the something anniversary of the Titanic. [The Fire and Ice Exhibition in 2012 was the 75th anniversary of the Hindenburg disaster and the 100 year anniversary of the Titanic sinking]. And that was neat. It showed collections objects from both.

Some other neat collections I worked with were the photographic collection at the Smithsonian National Museum of American History. I was an intern there. But it was great. I worked on Richard Avedon prints and helped the curator, Shannon Perich, put together a book on the Kennedys – and using Richard Avedon prints. That was really amazing. You know, they they were great to work with there. They just they really knew – they got really excited about the collection because they had so many neat objects. So I was really lucky to be able to go back and look at these objects and do research about them. And we did have TMS there, so we did do some data entry for TMS there. [The Smithsonian National Museum of American History uses Mimsy XG, not TMS. Kate used Multi-Mimsy, the previous iteration of Mimsy XG while interning there].

So it was – I’ve been lucky to have a lot of great opportunities. And then, when I was in Hawaii I worked at the Mission Houses Museum. But I was an intern, so I mainly did research and participated in living history events, where I’d get to dress up in their costumes and lead people around.

[Marty]: The only other question I see in my notes that I was wondering about – and I think it was when you were talking about the historic home that you were at in Vermont – you were talking about this sort of conflict where they’ve got PastPerfect, but they also have paper files. Now this is a conflict that we know all too well, especially in small museums. And I’m just curious to know, how you how you dealt with that over the years that you’ve been working museums? How you helped them make that that bridge?

Yeah, I don’t know. Well. And I don’t know if this should make it into the oral history or not, but I’ll just tell you. When I was an intern at the American History Museum, they were still using a card catalog. And they would update it with notes. And then sometimes those notes would get entered into TMS, but the first stop was the card catalog. Yeah. So that was interesting. I guess the automation from paper to electronic that I’ve worked on most is at the Postal Museum with what I was describing with exhibitions. Using the exhibitions module to help automate workflows, automate preservation related tasks. Because all of those processes were paper-based previously. You know, they would do an object treatment report in [Microsoft] Word, sign off on it, and then it would go in the paper accession file. So we automated it. We were able to not only just attach the treatment reports in TMS, but actually enter the data into discrete fields in the conservation module in TMS so that all of that information was searchable. And then generate the reports electronically from the database.

So that’s, automating that was a big project. Another big data cleanup project I worked on at the Postal Museum was basically redoing all of their locations in TMS. The locations is a hierarchy in most databases. So that you have your site, you’re building your room, your shelf, your box. And it’s a hierarchically nested field. And it’s really locked down. But if it’s not locked down, then you get duplicate locations or locations that existed at one point, but no longer exist. And you get all this garbage in there and then you can’t account for your collection because you don’t know where anything is. Because the locations are incorrect. So one huge project I undertook – it was like a six month project – was to identify all the locations in TMS. Which locations needed to be kept and which needed to be gotten rid of. And then working with Gallery Systems to create a SQL update that unlinked the object from the previous location and re-linked it to the new location. But because of the way the database is set up, every object record also had a component record of itself. So you have to unlink twice and then re-link once, I think. And then it automatically links the component. So it’s so it’s – so complicated. [laughing] I mean, I got a lot of help from Gallery Systems. I got a lot of help from a contract Crystal Reports writer who I would try to communicate my ideas to and he would help me write formulas and things. And, you know, that took money. So there is a benefit to working at a larger institution. It’s because they have the money to pay for, you know, contractors that can put this – these big jobs together.

[Marty]: Your – in your comment about the location names, right, location information, it reminds me I once had a conversation with someone else at the Smithsonian talking about his museum went through a challenge of standardizing all their location names because, you know, some of these location data changed over time. And I think he said, I’ll be careful here, since I know this is being recorded, but I think he said that 50% of their names got trimmed out once they went through and standardized. It’s like every building had at least two names for it.

Yes. Yeah. And I think that goes back to security and access with the database. Where, you know, you have to set up permissions and you have to set up one person in charge of the database. One or maybe two. So that person, you know, doesn’t make decisions about how the database is being used, but they consult with groups at the museum. You have a couple meetings and get stakeholder buy-in with curators, with collections managers, with a registrar with exhibitions. Then you come up with a consensus of how you’re going to use the fields. Or how are you going to use a part of the database. And then the database administrator has the permission to go in and make it happen. And then it’s vetted back to the larger group. Does this work? Does this not? What do you need to be changed?

But when people are allowed to, you know, just go in and say, “I’m just going to add this name to the drop down” and it’s misspelled. And then that’s legacy data. It’s locked in there. Nobody can get rid of it. [laughing]

[Marty]: Well, that’s a great example of the behind the scenes work there that that’s involved in data cleanup and how hard that is.

Yes, every single project I worked on involved data cleanup. Every single project. That’s probably one of the biggest takeaways of implementing changes to the database. Or working with databases. Is that once you get into the weeds with something, you realize the amount of data cleanup, data mapping that you have to do in order to make something work in it.