Fresh & New(er)

discussion of issues around digital media and museums by Seb Chan

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Museum collection meets library catalogue: Powerhouse collection now integrated into Trove

November 8th, 2011 by Seb Chan

The National Library of Australia’s Trove is one of those projects that it is only after it is built and ‘live in the world’ that you come to understand just how important it is. At its most basic,Trove provides a meta-search of disparate library collections across Australia as well as the cultural collections of the National Library itself. Being an aggregator it brings together a number of different National Library products that used to exist independently under the one Trove banner such as the very popular Picture Australia.

Not only that, Trove,has a lovely (and sizeable) user community of historians, genealogists and enthusiasts that diligently goes about helping transcribe scanned newspapers, connect up catalogue records, and add descriptive tags to them along with extra research.

Last week Trove ingested the entirety of the Powerhouse’s digitised object collection. Trove had the collection of the Museum’s Research Library for a while but now they have the Museum’s objects too.

So this now means that if, in Trove, you are researching Annette Kellerman you also come across all the Powerhouse objects in your search results too – not just books about Kellerman but also her mermaid costume and other objects.

The Powerhouse is the first big museum object collection to have been ingested by Trove. This is important because over the past 12 months Trove has quickly become the first choice of the academic and research communities not to mention those family historians and genealogists. As one of the most popular Australian Government-run websites, Trove has become the default start point for these types of researchers it makes sense that museum collections need to be well represented in it.

The Powerhouse had been talking about integrating with Trove and its predecessor sub-projects for at least the last five years. Back in the early days the talk was mainly about exposing our objects records using OAI, but Trove has used the Powerhouse Collection API to ingest. The benefits of this have been significant – and surprising. Much richer records have been able to be ingested and Trove has been able to merge and adapt fields using the API as well as infer structure to extract additional metadata from the Powerhouse records. Whilst this approach doesn’t scale to other institutions (unless others model their API query structure on that of the Powerhouse), it does give end-users access to much richer records on Trove.

After Trove integration quietly went live last week there was a immediately noticeable flow of new visitors to collection records from Trove. And as Trove has used the API these visitors are able to be accurately attributed to Trove for their origin. The Powerhouse will be keeping an eye on how these numbers grow and what sorts of collection areas Trove is bringing new interest to – and if these interests differ to those arriving at collection records on the Powerhouse site through organic search, onsite search, or from other places that have integrated the Powerhouse collection as well such as Digital NZ.

Stage two of Trove integration – soon – is planned to allow the Powerhouse to ingest any user generated metadata back into the Powerhouse’s own site – much in the way it had ingested Flickr tags for photographs that are also in the Commons on Flickr.

This integration also signals the irreversible blending of museum and library practice in the digital space.

Only time will tell if this delivers more value to end users than expecting researchers to come to institutional websites. But I expect that this sort of merging – much like the expanding operations of Europeana – do suggest that in the near future museum collections will need to start offering far more than a ‘rich catalogue record’ online to pull visitors in from aggregator products (and, ‘communities of practice’) like Trove to individual institutional websites.

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