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RMSC Database Project: Expanding Access to Collections

Since 1912, a succession of RMSC staff members have made descriptive entries of accessioned materials into the primary files and catalogue cards. Over time, these records were entered into a wide array of digital databases in varying formats. The result is a mix of spelling variations, custom terms, and data sources requiring special knowledge of the collections and information systems to properly search for materials owned by the RMSC. Intricate searching has been limited to longtime staff and other experts who are intimately familiar with the collection, related documentation, and their histories.

In 2017, the RMSC completed Expanding Intellectual Access to Collections, a project designed to expand and sustain access to collections records for current and future users. With funding from the Institute of Museum and Library Services, RMSC staff utilized new technologies and the help of volunteers and consultants to preserve data from the most important sources of collections information. We consolidated digital and paper records for more than 150,000 objects into a single collections management database, Mimsy XG, and enhanced the database implementation.

Major outcomes of the project include standardizing the terms used by the RMSC to catalogue its collections and allowing users unfamiliar with the collections to get results normally produced by an “expert searcher.” One way we did this was to implement controlled vocabularies for names of places, people and objects in our database.

RMSC staff and consultants spent a lot of time standardizing the names of places linked to objects and locating those place types into a rigorous hierarchy. This work improved the reliability of one method for searching the collections—by location made or used—by ensuring the completeness and integrity of an important data set. As part of the project, we also digitized all of the records for people related to the collections. Staff and volunteers are still working to reconcile duplications and variations, and complete linkage of people records to related objects.

The project resulted in the use of a controlled vocabulary for natural science object terms as well. In partnership with the Canadian Museum of Science, we standardized our zoology and botany collection terms by linking each specimen to a scientific name in a hierarchical taxonomy. We created a similar standard for mineral collections using a hierarchical classification system, and history and archaeology collections are currently in the process of conversion to a controlled vocabulary.

The RMSC Database Project is part of a long-term effort to digitize collections records and create a searchable, mapped database of terms linked to individual object records accessible through LibCat. Standardizing object nomenclature according to standards in the field will facilitate information-sharing with other institutions and enable RMSC staff to use collections and respond to requests from the public more effectively. These results will become directly accessible to the public as RMSC gradually uploads content from its internal collections management database for use on LibCat. Please check back regularly to see our progress!

This project was made possible in part by the Institute of Museum and Library Services (Grant #MA-30-13-0287-13).


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