Collections Trust conference 2019: programme

Keywords – finding the right words to find the right records. If your users struggle to find things in your collections database, this event is for you. Aimed at anyone who works with collections, the theme is terminology control and why it matters.

The conference has now sold out, but there may be some returns nearer the day.

Date: Thursday 12 September 2019
Venue: New Walk Museum and Art Gallery, Leicester

09:30 Registration and refreshments
10:00 Conference starts
16:00 Networking
17:00 End


The Collections Trust conference always aims to give both the bigger picture and case studies from a range of museums. This year is no exception, and we are delighted to confirm the following speakers, with more to follow.

A new terminology platform for the cultural heritage sector
Phil Carlisle,  Data Standards Supervisor, Historic England
One of the things that has held back the development and use of controlled terminologies in UK museums is that we lacked a futureproofed way to publish and maintain them. Historic England has been working on a new terminology platform that will do exactly that, and plans to open it up to the rest of the cultural heritage sector. Phil Carlise gives a sneak preview.

Searching for the holy tag(ging): how to get the most out of the Art and Architecture Thesaurus
Marjolein Stege, Senior Collection Registrar, Van Gogh Museum
With more than 5.1 million followers on social media, the Van Gogh Museum is one of the largest online museums. To stay in touch with the online visitor, new tags are needed to tell the whole story of Van Gogh from a more personal, human interest point of view. Marjolein Stege considers the challenge of integrating new ‘soft’ keywords (such as ‘friendship’, ‘brotherly love’ and ‘loneliness’) into a thesaurus that so far contains mainly object, material and technique terms.

Terminology features in collections management systems
Panel of Spectrum Partners, chaired by Sarah Brown, Outreach Officer, Collections Trust
Taking advantage of the fact that many of our Spectrum Partners will be attending the conference, this session compares the terminology features offered by a range of collections management systems, and gives both developers and users the chance to consider potential developments that would help museums get the most out of available term sources.

Revealing hidden histories
Helen Johnson, Museum Development Officer , West Midlands Museum Development (WMMD)
Do we have the keywords to reveal hidden histories from our collections, to tell stories which may be challenging, emotive or potentially contentious? This year WMMD is working with a number of museums to identify and research untold stories from underused areas of their collections. The project will support staff and volunteers to improve collections knowledge, update documentation and terminology, and deliver richer and more engaging interpretation to museum audiences.

Flat file to thesaurus: improving terminologies at the National Gallery
Rupert Shepherd, Collection Information Manager, The National Gallery
What do you do when you’ve inherited a flat list of keywords, but need a structured vocabulary to drive public information retrieval? In this pragmatic case study, Rupert Shepherd looks at the steps involved in moving the National Gallery from a digitised copy of the index to a printed catalogue, to a set of structured, hierarchical vocabularies used to control the terminology in its collections management system. He explains the practical benefits, including improved discoverability on the gallery’s website, and also considers what could have been done better.

Virtually shoes
Jane Seddon, Collections Manager, Northampton Museums and Art Gallery (NMAG)
NMAG, home of a Designated shoe collection, has been developing a terminology resource as part of its Virtually shoes project. This involved consulting target audiences – including shoe designers, historic costume experts, museum professionals, academics and students – on the information and the format they would want from an online catalogue. Jane Seddon explores the issues involved in balancing the terminology for this complex collection so that it met the needs of both specialists and everyday users. She also explains how the many project volunteers were trained to use the required terminology when cataloguing.

FAIR FISH: developing specialist archaeological vocabularies
Dan Miles, Research Resources Adviser, Historic England
Historic England is developing standards and controlled vocabularies to improve the recording and reporting of archaeological specialist finds, in particular those from development-led investigations.  This responds to recent reports highlighting inconsistencies across the sector, as well as the desire to move towards adopting the FAIR principles and to make archaeological data reusable in the future. Dan Miles is also the convener of the Forum on Information Standards in Heritage (FISH) and will explain its role in developing thesauri and other standards.

Keywords for documenting collections management processes
Marta Mroczek, Inventory Manager, British Museum
When Collections Trust drew up a list of published term sources mapped to relevant Spectrum units of information, it was striking how few were readily available to use in more ‘procedural’ terminology-controlled fields. Marta Mroczek has been working on exactly this kind of terminology to document things such as ownership status, object movement and collections audit. She also shows how the British Museum’s collection management system identifies and labels hazardous material, pest management, salvage priority and legal licences to comply with best practice and statutory obligations.

Collections Trust Award 2019

As is traditional, we round off the conference by announcing the winner of the Collections Trust Award, which recognises the often-unsung achievements of those who manage the collections that lie at the heart of all museums. That well-deserved recognition comes with a cash award of £1,000 for the winning museum.

The theme of this year’s award responds to the Museum Association’s recent Empowering collections report, which calls for a culture change in museums and collections practice in favour of ‘use-led’ collections activity.  We agree and invite UK Accredited museums (and those working towards Accreditation) to tell us about their use-led collections project. The closing date is Wednesday 31 July. Follow this link for more information about how to enter.

Pre-conference events

If you’re in Leicester the day before, there is an optional pre-conference visit to the award-winning King Richard III Visitor Centre, and also a suitably-themed pub quiz. Follow the links for further details.

Image: The New Walk, Leicester. George W Moore Henton (1861–1924). Courtesy of Leicester Arts and Museums Service.