July 28, 2008

Grant helps museum improve collections database

by Andrea Hahn

CARBONDALE, Ill. -- Every item in the permanent collection of the University Museum at Southern Illinois University Carbondale has a story -- not only about what it is, but also about how it came to the collection.

Now, with the help of a $149,962 federal grant from the Institute of Museum and Library Services (IMLS), University Museum comes closer to the ultimate goal of bringing the collection into the digital world and making those stories accessible to the public.

The grant, written by Curator Lori Huffman, is to continue the standardization of museum collection records. Museum staff will improve the records database, making entries as complete as possible. Information in the records could be as basic as the birth and death dates for a given artist, or might be full research annotations. For example, records for the museum’s notable Melanesian collection will include annotations from the late Philip J.C. Dark, formerly an anthropologist at SIUC and a leading authority on tribal arts, who donated the artifacts.

“Collection stewardship is one of the most important responsibilities of a museum,” Dona Bachman, University Museum director, said. “Without it, we cannot hope to share our collection with the public. The purpose of these annotations is to make certain that knowledge about a donation is not dependent on any individual’s recollections. All information about an object will be housed in an accessible place -- the database -- for generations to come.”

The description of the grant makes clear that this collection management initiative is an ongoing project. Ultimately, the museum will proceed with digital imaging in order to share the collection online.

Anne-Imelda M. Radice, director of the IMLS, said museums are “repositories of our nation’s treasures and our nation’s history” and have in important place in community education.

“Museums for America grants support projects and ongoing activities that build museums’ capacities and help these institutions serve their diverse constituencies to the best of their abilities,” she said.

The IMLS is the primary source of the federal support for the nation’s 122,000 libraries and 17,500 museums. The Institute’s mission is to create strong libraries and museums that connect people to information and ideas. The Institute works at the national level and in coordination with state and local organizations to sustain heritage, culture and knowledge; enhance learning and innovation; and support professional development. To learn more about IMLS, visit www.imls.gov.