Oral History of Museum Computing: Megan Forbes
This oral history of museum computing is provided by Megan Forbes, and was recorded on the 8th of March, 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/QA_qIvLlLz4.
So, I started working in museums in 2005. I had just graduated from library school, so I came… I abandoned the corporate world. I worked for Martha Stewart, fled that life in New York, went to graduate school for library and information studies. I assumed I wanted to be a librarian. And then, while in library school, I was working at the — I went to the University of Wisconsin, Madison — and I was working at the Wisconsin Center for Film and Theater Research in their film archives, was my practicum in library school, and really enjoyed sort of non-traditional librarianship, so ended up sort of focusing on that, then in library school, special libraries and knowledge management, and film, and so then when I left library school, I ended up actually never working in a library, I’ve still never worked in a library, and getting a job at the Museum of the Moving Image in New York City. So that’s, it’s a museum in Astoria, Queens, and contrary to its name, they don’t actually collect film, which I probably thought when I applied there, given my film experience, so it’s a material culture collection, so they collect the material culture of film, television, and digital media, so movie cameras and action figures and costumes and scripts, and you know, all that kind of thing.
So, when I started there, they were hiring just for a cataloger, and so I’d been a cataloger at the Wisconsin Center for Film and Theater Research, and figured yes, you know, this is, this is a thing I know how to do: be a film cataloger. That’s not really what they were hiring for, right? So I started there, and on my first day, I sat down at my desk in my little cube, and they put a copy of a grant application on my desk and it had a sticky note on top with a phone number on it. And they said, “This is a grant application. This is a funded grant that we wrote to the IMLS to develop a collections management system, and here is the phone number of the developer that we are working with.” Here you go!
So, I thought I was applying for this cataloging job, where I was going to be cataloging films, and then on my first day, they said, “Oh, and also, you know, you’re not cataloging films, by the way. And also, we need you to develop a collections management system. Here’s the developer’s phone number.” So, I had never used a museum collections management system, I had never worked in a museum before, you know, so that was a surprise. So, you know, the first thing I had to do was honestly just read the grant application and see like, “Okay, like what really did they tell the IMLS that they were going to do?”
And so, they had been working with this software developer, who had been working on a number of open source tools for museum collections management, and the goal of this grant was basically to take all of this work that he’d been doing and kind of put it all together into one cohesive system, and then also catalog and digitize some of the museum’s collection as a way to sort of put this, put this new system through its paces. So really quickly, I had to figure out what a museum collections management system was, and why people would want one. I also really quickly had to learn about software development. You know, he was a developer, he was probably more in tune with museums than any other developer I’ve ever worked with, but he still, you know, he wasn’t working in a museum. And so really quickly, just needing to get up to speed with you know how do you develop software? And how do you do functional requirements and what are the standards, you know, that we want this this thing to you know, to follow? You know, at that time, Moving Image just had an Access database that they were using, so it was really kind of loosey-goosey honestly, sort of how they were, you know, describing the collection. So, it was this really sort of fun and interesting challenge, obviously.
You know, a big part of it for, for Moving Image was that they had tried to find a proprietary system to manage their collection. So another one of the things that was put on my desk was you know, here’s the Banker’s Box, with all of the proposals from all the proprietary systems. They had hired a consultant to help them with this search, and basically, the consultant came back and said, you know, “I have to be honest. None of the proprietary systems really work for your collection.” You know, a lot of them presume that you have an art collection, or that you have an anthropology collection, or that you have you know your botanical garden, whatever it is, but because Moving Image was kind of this kooky collection where everything in the collection they had because of its relationship with something that wasn’t in the collection, so like you have the Luke Skywalker action figure because it’s related to “Star Wars” the movie, which is a thing they didn’t actually have, um and so, then, how do you catalog Luke, right? Who’s the artist for this action figure? And how do we capture all of those other relationships around things like licensing and distribution and manufacturing? So, because of the nature of the collection, it just sort of really turned into this, you know, the proprietaries are… they don’t really fit and, and also, you can’t afford them.
So, that was a huge part of it. That you know, I think Moving Image is in that, really interesting, they’re a midsize museum. So, you sort of look at the numbers on paper and you think like, “We should be able to afford a system,” but you know, at the end of the day, you know, a couple million dollar annual budget doesn’t really go very far, all of a sudden, when you have to pay salaries and security guards and have exhibitions and educators and all that good stuff. So, they were really in kind of this rock and a hard place, both from a like an information standpoint, and from a financial standpoint. So, you know, foolishly probably, they decided, alright, “We’re going to go for it, right. We’re gonna, like, do our own.”
And so that was the first couple of years, that I was at Moving Image, was sort of this interesting trying to do both thing. So working on cataloging and digitization and figuring out what are those standards look like for a museum. But then also working, so Seth Kaufman was the developer, so working with Seth on developing this application, so you know, working on designs and workflows, learning what QA testing was. We had interns come in who were testing the system out, and so you know, it would be, they’d catalog for a week and then they would try to enter everything into this kind of beta system and then I’d go back to Seth and say, “Okay, you know, we need to add this, and we need to change that. Gee, I wish that could be a drop down…” and so it was this really sort of interesting, you know, a little bit of a fly by the seat of our pants iterative process to try and sort of come up with this application that would be useful for Moving Image, but then also you know, it was really always intended to be an open source application, so hoping that whatever it was that we were coming up with would also that’d be helpful for, for lots of other museums, you know, at some point, as we, as we moved along.
So that went on for a couple of years. And then in 2007, we were invited by the Mellon Foundation to apply for a competitive grant, which the Mellon doesn’t have very many competitive grants, right. Usually like, they call you. So, but they did, they did they had a small program that doesn’t exist anymore called Research in Information Technology, and they decided they were going to do a competitive grant to try and see if they could identify some, you know, interesting projects outside sort of like the normal folks that Mellon funded. And so, we submitted to this grant, and we won this competitive grant. And then that sort of got the attention of Mellon in general, and they came back to us and said, you know, “This is great. We like what you’re doing.” At that point, you know the application had been released formally, it was called Open Collection. It was you know, in use by you know some number of museums. And then, they said, you know, “What if we, what if we gave you more money, basically, like a lot more money, and you really turn this into something bigger than just this sort of shoestring thing that you’ve been working on?”
So we turned that around into a big grant application. And we partnered with the University of California at Berkeley and the University of Toronto, who was working on a different Mellon funded thing. And then, what came out of that grant, was what is now CollectionSpace. So that was also a really interesting turning point, I think, because you know, we, we really wanted the project to be housed at Moving Image, rather than at a university. The universities had museums, of course, but we you know we felt like if it was at a university, it would sort of only ever be a university project. So we were, you know, we really wanted it to stay at Moving Image. But that was also really hard, because then again, it sort of turned us into people who were worried about software and software development and release cycles and quality assurance and all this stuff.
And so, trying to do both of those jobs for a long time was of course sort of interesting and difficult. Again, a lot of on the job learning, in terms of like how to manage a giant software development project while also being a Collections Manager and Registrar, you know and all those things.
[Marty]: Can I interrupt with a really quick question? When you started at the Museum of the Moving Image, you said they had an Access Database when you started there?
[Marty]: And how did that transfer process go? because I assume you must have moved everything from Access into what became Open Collection, right?
Yeah. So we, so the good thing there was that Seth, who was the developer of Open Collection had actually set up the Access database, so he knew pretty well the data model that was sort of underlying it. The Access database had been set up to manage a wall-to-wall inventory. And so it was a pretty limited field set. Obviously we have all seen Access databases at other museums that are massive. I remember visiting the Morgan Library, which was at one-time run entirely on an Access database and just being gobsmacked, they were doing a lot in that Access database. Ours was very small, so it was really just you know, I found this thing on the shelf, on this day. Here’s what I think it is. So that was good. So, so, right. So first we migrated into Open Collection and then, once the first production version of CollectionSpace was released, then we migrated to CollectionSpace. So, two migrations in the ten years that I was there.
[Marty]: One other question too. I just don’t know. One theme that we’ve heard a lot is sort of pushback from curators about changing systems, being told to use a particular system, right. How was the curatorial environment there? You’re doing a lot of innovative work, right. What was the response?
So, I think that Moving Image is probably organized differently than a, than an art museum. So we did not get curatorial pushback. So they were, it’s a really small staff. Again, for it’s in that sort of funny middle zone, so when I was there, the full time professional staff was fewer than 50 people. So, I literally sat back to back with the curator, so it’s not like collections management is in one place and curatorial had their offices, you know, in some, some complete other zone. So curatorial… so they were actually, you know, and there were, you know, different people in the position over the years, were actually involved in the, in the sort of design and development process. So I think that, you know, they were also coming from non-traditional backgrounds, so these were not people with art history Ph.D.s, right, these were film scholars. So they didn’t have that sort of built up, “Oh, I’ve only ever used TMS. That’s how museums are supposed to work,” sort of thing. Like, they hadn’t worked in museums, either, so we were all sort of coming into this, you know, a little blind, naïve, whatever you want to say in terms of you know what is the art world supposed to do? And instead, we thought you know, “Here are these objects.” I mean it’s this very sort of object-led development process, you know, “Here’s this collection that we have. We have this film camera, and it was owned by Carl Akeley. You know, he’s the guy that did all the dioramas at the Museum of Natural History in New York. And here’s the camera he took with him on safari.” And so you know that is sort of what we led with when we thought about the system. Is, you know, “Here is this object that has all of these fascinating relationships and stories to tell, and so, how do we develop a system, since, you know, here we are, like that’s ours, that we can do what we want… How do we develop a system that sort of leads from that?” Rather than coming at it from a different direction in terms of like provenance research, or you know, sort of formal art history provenance research, or loans or you know anything like that was really the beginning. Really, really object- centric and really, really relationship centric, again, because of this the sort of funny situation of Moving Image and their, their collection of their collection of relationships, honestly.
[Marty]: It sounds like you had the opportunity to follow sort of a spirit of innovation unchained by how it worked elsewhere, right?
Because none of us knew! [Laughing.] None of us had ever worked at other museums, and we had no idea how it worked elsewhere, so I mean, even the Director of Moving Image, I mean the Director, it was his, he was college roommates with the existing Director’s son, and she like hired him out of college. And then you know, now he’s the Director of the museum. Same thing, that chief curator started as an educator there in 1985, you know, and grew into be the Chief Curator so honestly, it was a museum full of people who had never either, never worked a museum or had never worked in any other museum. So, so you know, liberating. Thinking about it now, though, I mean, I also see the awful mistakes that we made in the early days, and I think like, “Oh, my gosh, we spent so much time on the dumbest stuff.” [Laughing.] With CollectionSpace, you know, I think about some of the features that we sort of agonized over, like, “Oh, you know, if we could just get this in there,” and we, you know, spent weeks and months on certain things, and I think about it now, and I’m like, “Wow, that was… that should not have been a priority.” But, you know, maybe somebody with more experience would have walked in and said, like “Yeah, you might want to turn your direction, turn your eye this way instead.”
[Marty]: Well, that’s fantastic. And I just want to apologize for jumping in and derailing your story… Because I, was of course dying of curiosity to hear about, you know, museums using open source software and your perspectives on that.
Yeah, and you know, and I think that that has, you know, over the years, certainly when we started, it wasn’t… open source made people like a little nervous when we started this but, honestly, when we first started the biggest nonstarter was that CollectionSpace was web-based. And people were really, really not ready to put their collections management system like on the internet. Which is when they heard “web-based,” they heard, “Our collections management system is going to be on the Internet for anybody. Anybody’s going to be able to come in and see our valuations and our anonymous donors, and you know…” So honestly, that was a much bigger sort of sticking point, so when we, when we really started, you know, looking around for, you know, when we got to a place first with Open Collection and then later, with CollectionSpace, you know, looking for people to jump in and work on it with us. I think Open Collection, which is now called CollectiveAccess, you know, was successful in finding basically smaller organizations, right. So they have a really big user base of smaller organizations where there, I think is sort of less of that entrenched fear of things being web-based. You know it’s, “Oh, I have this cool costume collection, you know, a small university research collection of costumes.” Or you know it’s a small local historical society where they just don’t have that same you know feeling of, “Wow, if we put this on the Internet, it’s not going to end well for us.” And so they were really successful with that. We also diverged you know, with things like programming languages that we chose, and we were pretty heavily influenced, I think, by our university partners in that. And that has honestly been sort of a limiting factor for us in terms of CollectionSpace being open source, but having a hard time finding development resources in our community, right. Museums are not full of Java developers. Universities aren’t really full of Java developers either, so even that, but you know, that was one thing, where, you know, open source, I think you know we did a research study three years ago now, just trying to gauge people’s, you know, interest in different elements of community-based software and open source software. And even as recently as three years ago, open source was definitely a “nice to have” for people, but not a “must have” at all, so it was something that, you know, if something happened to be open source, then people would be sort of happy for that, but it wasn’t, something that would be like sort of making or breaking somebody’s decision about whether to go with a collections management system.
Lots of folks, you know, don’t have the resources to stand up applications on their own. And so, I think there’s there is still, so there’s still sort of that nervousness about web-based applications, but then also just sort of lack of I.T. support within an institution to stand up and sort of manage a web-based application of the size of CollectionSpace, you know, not, not something small. Yeah.
[Marty]: So where do you want to go next? Do you want to talk about the move to LYRASIS or…?
Um, sure. Sure, um. So I’m trying to remember when it was, it would have been in 2011, so really right when we were starting to have like production releases of CollectionSpace, so I’d been, you know, serving as both the Collections Manager for Moving Image and then also the Program Manager for the, for the software development part of it. And then it really just got to the point where, you know, again, because of this sort of you know, people in museums don’t really have the ability to you know, install and run CollectionSpace on their own, we started looking around for an organizational home that could help people. Because Moving Image was not going to be that, right. It’s like we were never going to be the help desk for CollectionSpace, and so, it just got to that point where, “Okay, now we’re in production. Now people are using it. Now, people are asking questions. Now people are asking, who can help them.” And so, you know, we needed to have a better answer than like, “Here’s the wiki documentation on it. Feel free to follow along.” So, we were funded at about the same time as ArchivesSpace. We have no connection with them other than the fact that we were funded by the same Mellon program at the same time. And we have similar sounding names, but they had just, they had also just decided to make the leap from their home, so they were a collaboration among and I’m going to forget the third one… it was NYU and UCSD, and a third one. And they had just made the decision to move from there to, also to, you know, like a nonprofit organizational home, and they had gone with LYRASIS.
And so honestly, that was sort of the first place, we looked at me like, “Oh well, ArchivesSpace went there, and LYRASIS is interested in, you know, in taking on these kinds of projects.”
We did have interesting meetings among ArchivesSpace and CollectionSpace, and then what at the time was called Project OLE which was an open source ILS [integrated library system] and so we’d had interesting conversations among the three of us. Sort of you know, again, we were all funded at the same time by the same Mellon program, and so there was this you know, six to 12 month period, like, “Could we be doing this all together? Like could this somehow not be the same system, but could, could we share the same something… the same services, the same database layer, the same authority, you know, was there, something that we could do?”
And honestly, in the end, it just turned into, you know, each community was so different and they were we were all moving on sort of such different paths at such different speeds, and our communities had such different needs that it was like, “Well, we’ll keep in touch, but we’ll remain friends, all of us.” But we did have a couple of meetings all together, you know, where we had very long and interesting conversations, but it was really just sort of determined, like, “I think we all kind of need to go, go our own way.” But then, that being said, you know we saw that ArchivesSpace had gone over to LYRASIS, and thought that that would be, you know, good for us as well, so again, you know this whole long series of meetings, you know, really just trying to understand, you know, how do we set up this community so that it continues to be museum-led, so that it continues to be community-supported software, but then it has that stability of like an organization behind it, you know, who’s sort of there, like, providing you know, everything from like HR to development resources to, you know, and then obviously the ability to, to host and provide support to people who want to use CollectionSpace? That was, was really critical for us.
In the end, you know, ArchiveSpace went with a membership model in terms of long-term financial sustainability. So, people pay money, and they become members of ArchivesSpace, and then that pays, you know, like the salaries of ArchivesSpace program staff. And then you know that’s how they sort of fund ongoing development. ArchivesSpace was really successful with that, and so, then when we went over to LYRASIS, LYRASIS was like, “You guys should also do a membership model. Like, look how successful ArchivesSpace was, and so we said, “Okay.”
And we tried that for a couple of years, and it really failed. [Laughing.] It really did not work in the museum community to tell people, “Hey, what if you pay me a couple of thousand dollars and I give you nothing for it?” Like, you don’t get the software. I don’t provide support and services for you. It’s just, you’re just doing this out of the kindness of your heart, so that we can then continue to support this, you know, software that you may or may not use. And so, it really didn’t work, you know, it was a, you know, I can say this because none of the people who worked at LYRASIS when that decision was made are there anymore. They are all gone. And so, it’s fine, you know. But just, it sort of was this kind of fundamental misunderstanding of the difference between the archives community and the museum community, and then, also the market, like for archival management software versus collections management software. Like ArchivesSpace doesn’t have a lot of competitors. So, in terms of you know people being ready to like sign on to ASpace, they also had a really big install base that was formed from two existing applications, Archivists’ Toolkit and Archon that had an install base of like thousand. So, it’s this really, really different, but they sort of didn’t see it, right. They saw, “Okay, well how different are archives and museums?” Right, we, they understand it, so we’re just going to sort of cut and paste this model onto, onto museums. And it just it really didn’t work.
And so, we’ve spent the last few years really kind of retooling the long-term sustainability plan for CollectionSpace in order to, you know, adapt to the reality of what museums are: That it takes three years, for example, really to choose to move to a new CMS, right. This is not a decision that somebody just wakes up on Monday morning and it’s like, “You know we need now, it’s brand new CMS.” Right? It’s this really long, involved process with every new… talk about curatorial pushback, right? I mean, everybody’s nervous. Everybody’s workflows are so tied up with their collections management system that the idea of changing it is you know, it’s like buying a new house. It’s not, you don’t just, you know, kind of decide it quickly.
And then also again, you know, understanding the things that people in our field value and will pay money for, which is much more tangible, right. People want to pay money for services and software. They don’t want to pay money for this sort of notion of open source happiness. And, or they didn’t for CollectionSpace. I mean you know I probably shouldn’t tar every project with our same brush. You know, it could also just, be they were like, “Well we don’t, we don’t want to support CSpace.” But so that’s been really interesting, and then, and so, since we have sort of pivoted away from that membership model, we’ve been much more successful, of course, you know in explaining to people what we do, you know, in terms of our long-term financial sustainability. So that’s nice.
[Marty]: Megan, I was just thinking that there’s some interesting parallels there to the early history of the Museum Computer Network. Right, because so much of their model in the 1970s, which ended up not working, was trying to do a membership subscription type model. Right, Kathy? And then they found out that that just wasn’t going to work.
[Jones]: It was a subscription to use the software and so it was an annual subscription, yeah. But because of developments in or evolution of that particular database software, whatever, it wasn’t viable for MCN to continue being a provider, so it changed its model to being a professional organization with an annual membership fee.
With an annual membership fee! And which I know, and you know, it’s, it’s been really interesting, I think, because you know, because CollectionSpace, our early roots are with some academic museums, you know, I mean, that’s definitely been, you know, where we’ve seen a lot of strength in terms of you know, who’s implementing CSpace.
And in that world, membership fatigue is very real, and so I think we were seeing that you know, quite a bit where everybody’s like, “Well, I’m already paying you know X amount for all of these e-resources and I’m paying for all of these other you know, open source communities that have membership fees, and so you know, again, the idea that at the end of the day, what people need is software that works, and, so you know, it’s not, it’s not something that you can just, it’s not a feel good thing that you’re implementing, right it’s like, this is your daily life, if you are museum registrar or a collections manager, it can’t just half work. You can’t implement vaporware, you can’t implement a roadmap. And so, I think that, that again, thinking back to sort of those early conversations with LYRASIS were because the archival community knew that Archon and Archivists’ Toolkit were going away and then ArchivesSpace would be the only option, they were like, “Yes, we will put money down on the roadmap because we know that this is going to be our only option.”
And so, I think that they were imagining that we were in sort of a similar position. And then, we showed up and said, “no, no.” We have massive proprietary competition, we have really long implementation cycle so, it took a little while, but you know, that’s, that’s definitely come around, and I think that you know now we’re in this really great position where, you know, we have the security of LYRASIS, but I think, you know, because we are open source, I mean, I guess, I say that I’ve never worked for a proprietary vendor, so maybe they act like this, too. But I do think that our community is really close-knit, and I think in terms of you know how we put together the roadmap and how we fund the application and what gets developed, you know, that’s 100% community based. You know, again, I’m never waking up on a Monday morning and thinking like, “You know what I think we really need to add to CSpace…”
So it’s really coming from, you know, conversations with implementers and conversations with, with people who are in museums. And you really see the areas I think that the proprietary systems have neglected over the years for whatever reason because there wasn’t enough demand for it, or because it just wasn’t their niche or you know, whatever it was. But I think that that provides us a place all of a sudden to come in, you know, where, where people are more interested now in sharing data from you know, and integrating with other platforms and things like that, where, where an open source, all of a sudden you’re saying like, “Oh. Okay, you know, we sort of get what the advantage of open source is now.”
[Marty]: There’s a philosophical shift happening there are too as well, right? This willingness to share data which, right, 20 years ago, we didn’t have quite so much.
No, I mean, I know! I think about my first MCN… oh, you know, I think my…. need to change my speakers here…
[Marty]: While you’re changing your speakers, I’ll clarify my comment, not that people weren’t willing to share data 20 years ago, but that the ways of doing it weren’t so easy as they are now. And there’s a, there’s a philosophical shift that goes along with that.
No, absolutely. I remember my first MCN, and the Boston MFA, somebody from the Boston MFA did a presentation about how they were putting like everything online, and how everybody, you know, people are looking horrified, you know, with this, “But everything though? Like really everything?”
They said, “No, really everything! You know we’re putting 300,000 records up online and if they’re not great, they’re not great, but you know, here we are we’re going to do it!” So this would have been, what, you know, 2005 or something? And it was still sort of this….
[Jones]: And we just heard that story from Sam Quigley, so… [laughing]
I was very, I was very, I was very struck by that then. You know. And so, and so that’s exactly it. That you know, the idea, right, of the collections management system as a black box. You know, hopefully, the time has sort of passed, and I think that people are are much more willing to you know, think about how to get, how to get things in and out, and how to share, and you know you look at all this stuff I know. I saw Jane Alexander on your list and all the sort of amazing stuff they’ve done in Cleveland. Yeah, it’s definitely a change.
[Marty]: We also chatted briefly last week with Seb Chan, and talked about his collections API work, right at Cooper Hewitt. You know, when you make everything available and let people do whatever they want to the data.
Yeah, which is you know, I mean, especially for a Smithsonian Museum, right, I mean at the end of the day, I’d like to imagine that’s where my tax money is going. Not to any of the other stuff out there, but you know, right. It should be free, we pay for it! It should be free out there.
So yeah, so it’s you know, so it’d be really so we… You know it’s interesting to think about what’s next, you know, to see sort of where, you know, where people are sort of putting their time and attention, I think that we’re seeing more people wanting to share things with groups, whatever those groups may be. So museums like me, or museums in my area, or you know, museums that collect similar things to me. You know, which I know that’s an idea that comes and goes every 10 years, right? We’re going to have one big museum collection where we’re all going to share everything? But we’re seeing it coming around now. And then also, we’re seeing, and I think again, this is a place where hopefully open source has a role to play. I think that you know at MCN certainly in the last couple of years, and just out in the universe, you know, the idea that right now, most systems are asking us to describe our materials from a very Western art historical perspective. And there are of course lots of different ways to describe things. And so I think, where we are seeing a lot of interest is people wanting to incorporate you know, traditional and indigenous knowledge management into a system where it can sort of live side by side with, you know well, I do need to know that it’s 8 by 10, you know I still need to have a place where I can put that part, but I also then, you know, want my collections management system to sort of acknowledge that just because I’ve taken this thing into the museum, doesn’t mean that it’s dead now, you know, that these things have lives. This is one part of their journey is their time here in the museum. And then, you know, thinking about the system as a way to capture really the life of that object from you know from its creator and their story, and how it came to the museum and where it might be after. And so I think we’re seeing that in a lot of different communities, you know this idea of sort of traditional knowledge management, and how do we incorporate more of that and support more of that you know in our systems? So that it’s not just this, “Okay, well, here are the Categories for Descriptions of Works of Art, and those are the fields that are important, and you know, that that’s what we’re going to capture about our materials.”
So, that’s something that we’ve been doing a lot of work and thinking around, and that has been really exciting and, again, I think, you know, that’s something that’s so community-led for us, so you know, we have implementors who have recently suggested within our name authority that we add a new section, where, if you are a creator, you know, what do you say that you are? Here again, I have, whatever your ULAN record is, but like, who do you say you are? Where do you say that you are from, or what is your gender or what is your, you know, how are you expressing information about yourself? Are we allowed to share that? Are we allowed to, so that instead of again, somebody, an artist being sort of pinned to the wall, you know, we’re inviting them into the collections management system to say, “Well, you tell us you know who you are, and how you would like us to express that information about you.” So that’s something that we’ve been working on with some folks at the Oakland Museum of California, so I think that that is where you know, a lot of the really exciting stuff for us is happening now, with this idea that you know: How do we use this platform that we’ve developed and this community that we’ve developed to really kind of turn a lot of what we have done on its head, to a certain extent, and think about how we can kind of change things up and expand, you know sort of these traditional notions of authority?
So, so that’s exciting, you know, that’s some of the exciting stuff that’s happening.
[Marty]: It’s a great example. I love that example a lot. It, it’s I think a lot of people don’t realize how hard work that that is to break away from those traditional authorities. Shoot, we’re doing this here at the university just with respect to giving the students the ability to specify preferred names in like Canvas or our database systems. You’re fighting against years of institutional…. Yeah, sorry go ahead…
No, no, no, I think that that’s exactly it. It’s you know well you know, if the Library of Congress says, you know, that your name is Paul Marty, but then, you tell me it’s something different. You want me to call you something like, Okay, well, like, which one wins? Like when I make a label, you know, like, and how do I, you know, and then, of course, on our, our side, you know we’ve got our data people being like, “Wait so we’re gonna… they’re gonna have two names? Like a synonym? Or more like a…?” You know, and so, how so it’s so interesting from like a philosophical standpoint, why are we capturing this? And what do we need to capture? And then from a technical standpoint, how do I make sure that the way that you want to be represented is the, is the way, but then also we maintain the older style because, you know, again we just kind of have — you know, we feel like we have to? I can’t, we can’t really imagine a kind of collections management system without like a classification scheme or you know, dimensions and you know all these sort of useful things. So it is this really fascinating and interesting how do we make those two sort of work together? How do we ensure that neither feels lesser? Right that, like, oh, we’re going to put this indigenous knowledge over in a little corner, but it’s not like the “real stuff,” right, it’s the… so, you know, how do we make sure that it doesn’t become this, you know, that it really is sort of fully integrated in and part of. And again so for us, you know, that all just completely comes from what we hear from what people are doing, and sort of the need. So like with Oakland, you know, this came directly out of you know, we’re working with these artists and they want to tell us this stuff, and so help us. Help us figure out how to put it in in such a way that you know, it’s useful.
[Marty]: That’s a great example, great story. We’re coming up on the hour here, so we’ll be careful of your time. What else is there, are there some other stories that you want to share with us?
Trying to think. I feel like the first one was always my best. The sticky note and the grant application. I don’t know I mean was there anything else, like any other…?
[Jones]: I was sort of taken with trying to catalog the action figure, but you know…
Yeah. That was, you know, again, for someone who’d never right never worked in a museum, and had never… It was definitely a sort of trial by fire in terms of trying to figure out how to model like, how all the names change over time and how, you know, even for one figure. We’ll pick on “Star Wars” action figures, right? They released it when the first movie came out, and then they changed the name of the first movie when the second movie came out, and so you know you have to look at the package, because even though Luke looks the same, it’s not the same one, right? And so it’s really fascinating and you get tangled up, right, in fandom and you know, we had a very… he’s actually a professor now, I won’t call him out, but he is a professor now, he was a big fan of a lot of the materials that we had in the collection, and so that was… Oh, it wasn’t Paul.
[Jones]: I was thinking of all “The Avengers” series too you know, and what that might mean to a cataloguing system.
And it’s like, it’s so are, you know, right, so you know, you need to know so it’s like I need to know that this is the Luke from “A New Hope.” Because the licensing was different then, right? Warner Brothers owned the licensing, and then Lucas took over the second film, and then that’s when they started calling it “Episode IV” and you know it’s like really trying to develop an application that was able to tell just, right, that one example, and Luke is always the example that I use of like, “Well, why couldn’t you just use Past Perfect, or why couldn’t you just use TMS?” and, like, “let me tell you why.” You know here’s this one little guy, but times, you know, they have 100,000 objects in the collection, so here’s this one little guy and his one little story, but then you multiply it times all of the things that they had in the collection, and it really just became… you know we can see why they felt like you know this is going to be the easier path. Of course, it was not easier.