The photo above is for all my collections manager friends who like to check out other people’s work. In March I was lucky enough to get a tour of Helsinki City Museum’s main collections storage facilities from curator Elina Kallio. I couldn’t resist snapping a photo of their old cataloging system. Don’t you just love the hand-drawn pictures? They have card after card like this. Here are some more on the outside of storage boxes:
Digital photography sure has changed the day to day work of museums. So have computerized collections databases. Helsinki City Museum is in the process of photographing and computer cataloging their entire collection, but with 300,000 artifacts the work proceeds slowly. Elina estimates that they now have 65,000 records in the database; 40,000 with photographs. Everything else is still accessed the old way, by card catalog. As for the photograph collection, about 40,000 of 1 million prints/negatives have been digitally scanned.
Having a key-word searchable catalog record and digital image of every piece in the collection will make it exponentially easier for the staff at Helsinki City Museum to research and use their artifacts. But projects like this one will have an effect on other city museums as well. Eventually, along with museum collections across the globe, the Helsinki artifacts will go online. Then it will be much easier for other city museums to compare their material culture to Helsinki’s, identifying both commonalities and areas of distinction.
City museums are pretty good at analyzing and understanding how their city fits into the history and culture of its region or country. They are less good at comparing themselves to cities in other places. Globalization may call for more and more of such cross-cultural investigation in the coming years. It will be helpful to be able to use the artifacts as a jumping-off point, especially since Google Translate is making it easier for us to understand catalog records in other languages. So Elina, you don’t mind finishing the other 235,000 records this summer, do you? Look at it this way: at least you don’t have to draw each object by hand…