Mirabile Dictu: The Bryn Mawr College Library Newsletter

Fall 2009 Issue 13

Management of the Art and Artifact Collections Takes a Bold Step Forward
Cheryl Klimaszewski

Imagine being able to check online to find out how many Mary Cassatt prints Bryn Mawr has, who donated them, and what they look like. Or searching “cuneiform” and finding there are two dozen tablets available for use in classes or for personal study. The creation of a comprehensive collections database for Bryn Mawr College’s Art and Artifact Collections began in February, 2009. Cheryl Klimaszewski was brought on board as the Collections Information Manager to oversee this project thanks to a generous grant from the Graduate Group in Archaeology, Classics, and History of Art. She is working closely with collections staff members Emily Croll, Curator and Academic Liaison, and Marianne Weldon, Collections Manager, in the task of transfering over 22,000 records from 14 different Microsoft Access databases into EmbARK Collections Manager, a database system used by major museums around the country. This project represents a giant leap forward for the Art and Artifact Collections.

The Graduate Group is also funding several internships to develop the database. History of Art graduate students Amy Haavik-MacKinnon and Tienfong Ho created complete catalog records for objects in selected print and drawing collections. In addition, Friends of the Library intern Laura Kelly-Bowditch ’10 improved data quality by working on inventorying and photographing a wide selection of collections objects. During the 2009-10 academic year, Diane Amoroso-O’Connor (Classics) will work as the Collections Information Management Intern, which will allow her to gain experience with all aspects of cataloging and data management and Andrea Guzzetti (Archaeology) will create complete catalog records for ancient terracotta figurines as part of an NEH Curatorial Internship. The efforts of all of these students are essential to the process of building the database into an extensive virtual guide to the collections.

Eventually, each record in the database will act as a surrogate for the actual item in the collection, allowing users to have the collection at their fingertips via the database interface. Thus, digital imaging is also an ongoing part of this project. In addition to scanning existing slides and negatives, students working for the Art and Artifact Collections were trained in the basics of digital conservation of collections objects. Workshops led by Cheryl Klimaszewski and Del Ramers, Image Specialist in Visual Resources, introduced students to photographing objects in a studio setting according to established conservation guidelines. Moving this work in-house is not only substantially cheaper than hiring a professional photographer, but it provides students with valuable skills and the opportunity to work closely with collections objects. To date, digital images have been created of over 5,500 items in the collection, with several hundred taken during the summer of 2009.

While funding for this project is limited to 18 months, work with collections data will continue well beyond the initial implementation period. The current focus is on entering basic data for a limited number of key fields such as title, artist, medium, creation date, and cultural and geographic origin in order to provide better access to objects. Collections staff have met with History of Art, Archaeology, and Anthropology faculty members to introduce them to the new database and to seek their guidance on establishing cataloging priorities. Projects will focus on working with the collections in smaller, more manageable “chunks” that will allow the creation and review of object records in detail with the assistance of faculty, staff, and knowledgeable graduate students. As records are reviewed and finalized, attention will turn to making this database available to the greater BMC community and, in the long term, to the general public so that the collections database can become an accurate and useful research tool for the Tri-College community and beyond.

Images:

Graduate student Joelle Collins was part of the intensive project of cataloging and inventorying the art and artifact collections this summer.

Friends of the Library Undergraduate Intern Laura Kelly-Bowditch ’10 positions a Red Figure Lekythos (an ancient Greek oil bottle) in preparation for photographing it for the Collections Database.