modes collections management

Documenting collections since 1987

Collections Trust Conference 2020 - a view from the Modes room

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The Collections Trust conference: Dynamic information for dynamic collections took place online on 1-2 October, and Modes was represented in our own Zoom breakout room. You can view all the video presentations and panel discussions until 16 October 2020. Find out more on the the Collections Trust 2020 Conference catch-up page.

Modes Board member Kirsty Bell shares her thoughts on the  proceedings:

The Collections Trust conference always has interesting content but with limited budgets, I have never been able to justify the cost of attending. COVID changed that this year with a carefully considered free virtual programme spread over two afternoons and available to anyone who registered. 

It is hard to know what to highlight, but from a Modes user and Board member point of view, the things that stood out for me was the need to move away from traditional cataloguing to a more inclusive and outward looking approach. The benefits of taking a more rounded view came through in a number of ways. The obvious one was the tension between the formal curatorial processes of cataloguing and through this creating a level of objective documentation and the more subjective exploration of any object’s meaning to a wider community. This is not new, one of the questions asked in the Q&A was how to make the process of documentation easier; there is always a balance between writing long term consistent records vs more discursive and perhaps interesting ones. More straight forward workflows are something many would like but capturing meaningful, useful and engaging information is a challenge. Recent events have highlighted this even more as Dr Errol Francis, Chief Executive of Culture&, explored in his paper on Decolonising the database. I had already begun considering how we would capture the interpretation and response of the non-curator / non-specialist to collections and this will only make me keener to see this captured on our records. Dynamic collections development and Empowering Collections added another view, but again it is making collections information accessible that matters as part of the journey to making actual collections accessible. The quality and reliability of data continued to be a topic, whether it focussed on sharing information related to loans as part of The Exhibition Object Data Exchange Mechanism (EODEM) or getting information onto the Art UK website. Even more exciting to me was the possibility of improved data being generated by the users and then coming back to institutions. So many of us do not have experts in every area of our collections.

Artificial Intelligence (AI) was the theme of one session and while I am still to get to grips with the potential of this, the main points I took away was that our well-structured data is of value to AI companies and we shouldn’t just give it away and that it is possible to enhance our records with machine learning. Perhaps finding ways to share and contribute to the bigger picture is the way to look at this.

Clearly being one of the few European countries that hasn’t had a high level plan and support to create a platform to make more of the amazing and varied collections held across the country is disappointing, as is not being part of the CollectionCare project, but it was great to be reminded we are all part of a bigger museum community who cares about sharing collections. I look forward to the results of the Collections Trust work exploring how all museums in the UK might share their collections data!

Here at the MUA we are keen to make sure that our Modes offer is helping not hindering this process of democratising data and improving workflows. We look forward to being part of the conversation.


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