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Warrnambool and District Historical Society Inc.

Summary: 

Warrnambool and District Historical Society Inc. is a volunteer-run institution that is progressively making its collection digitally accessible through its own website, Victorian Collections and Trove.

Background: 

Warrnambool and District Historical Society Inc. (WDHS) is an archive and museum run by an established and dedicated team of 18 volunteers. It is focused on: conservation of collection items, research and education. It has pursued its conservation role by collecting and preserving items of local and broader historical interest. In has also sought to preserve local historical knowledge, which has seen the WDHS having a research and publication role. 

Community engagement and partnerships: 

WDHS provides research services for its members and the public. It supplies information on request to Warrnambool City Council’s planning department and works cooperatively with other historical societies in the region.

WDHS works closely with the Warrnambool Family History Group in shared accommodation. The two organisations aim to eventually integrate their records and databases. The groups have already integrated their libraries and are now using a common catalogue.

WDHS is affiliated with the Royal Historical Society of Victoria and Museums Australia (Victoria). Both organisations have run regional workshops at WDHS related to digital technology in recent years. The Society is working toward Museums Australia Accreditation and sees value in its experience participating in major online partnership projects like The ANZAC Story.

Collection: 

The WDHS has over 13,000 items in a variety of formats, including: art works; badges, coins and medals; original documents; textiles; cards, tickets, letterheads; artefacts; books; maps; photographs and tourist guides. There is a huge research resources collection, which includes the combined files and library of WDHS and the Warrnambool Family History Group.

Three-quarters of the collection is catalogued and this work is ongoing. The catalogue comprises paper records, card files and computer databases (Access and Excel). 

Hardware: 

The Society has an SLR camera with specialist lenses and two A3 scanners. It has an internet connection, access to smartphones and NBN is soon to arrive.

Software: 

The Victorian Collections collection management system (CMS) is used primarily for artefacts and documents.

The reasons the WDHS decided to use Victorian Collections were:

  • access to valuable and fragile items is limited and it helps preservation
  • it is free, well supported and backed up regularly
  • training is offered through regional workshops
  • it gives remote or home access for the team and can also be used to answer enquiries
  • It suits the ability and previous experience of volunteers, who are mainly seniors.

The Society finds the Victorian Collections CMS has most of the features they need and more, and they aim to use it for the majority of their collections. However, it is likely that the photographs database (in Excel) will remain separate, though some images have been catalogued using both systems, and the Society has doubts about the CMS’s suitability for its genealogy records. It hopes a future upgrade would allow the tagging of related records and the handling of family history records.

Images are held in JPEG format but increasingly the Society is moving to TIFF. Images are backed up to cloud storage.

Process: 

WDHS currently has over 1300 items on Victorian Collections, and these records are harvested to Trove. Volunteers enter information manually to ensure high quality, consistent data entry. Each entry takes an estimated three hours (45 minutes actual data entry and over two hours of research and compilation).

Entering items into Victorian Collections is enabling the Society to review and update all its collection documentation, some of which is held in old databases. The group is aware that the old databases could possibly be converted to Excel spreadsheets and imported straight into the CMS but they have chosen not to do so. They are working towards having Collections Victoria as their primary collections management database.

Challenges: 
  • WDHS is making great strides with digitisation but there is never enough time available. There is a significant backlog of documentation and cataloguing for acquisitions.
  • Initially, the cataloguing team found that there were many steps to get from Victorian Collections to providing access to collections via the web. They have worked at streamlining and simplifying the process.
  • Not all collections documentation information and fields can be added to the CMS. The Society retains detailed object files and expressed concern about what happens to the information in the object files in the long-term or the information in the old databases which cannot be easily added to the database.
  • Concerns about the potential for loss and theft of images on the website and on shared digital platforms.
  • It is difficult to decide the priorities for the website with so much material available. 
Opportunities: 
  • A strong web presence increases the Society’s public profile and community interest in its work.
  • The website generates many online inquiries, including image purchase requests, which produce revenue.
  • The Society derives income from hourly research fees and image sales, and hopes that greater digital collections access through Victorian Collections and Trove will encourage grants and donations and generate more sales and research revenue. 
Full case study: 

This is a summary of the full case study. Download the PDF below to read more about Warrnambool and District Historical Society’s approach to making its collection digitally accessible.