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Royal Historical Society of Victoria

Royal Historical Society of Victoria

Logo for Royal Historical Society of Victoria

Summary

The Royal Historical Society of Victoria (RHSV) recently moved from an outdated locally based system to an online catalogue. The RHSV has also recently established a digital repository for digital master files.

 

Background

Established in 1909, the RHSV is the historical society for the Melbourne central business district and the peak body for over 300 affiliate historical societies in Victoria. It has 2.8 permanent staff, a handful of casual/contract staff and around 55 volunteers. There are approximately 25 RHSV Council and committee members, with committees working with collection, heritage, publications, events and regional outreach.

 

Community Engagement and Partnerships

The RHSV is accredited by Museums Australia and is a member of the Federation of Australian Historical Societies (FAHS) and GLAM Peak. A number of events are presented each year in collaboration with other organisations, including the La Trobe Society, the Ephemera Society of Australia, the Professional Historians Association and the Royal Society. The RHSV has over 300 affiliated historical societies to which it provide services such as insurance, information and guidance, and outreach activities such as our History Victoria Support Group seminars.

 

Collection

The main collections consist of a reference library, images and manuscripts. Within those broad categories there are many smaller collections of articles, ephemera, pamphlets, maps, artworks, objects and a pioneer register. Most of the acquisitions come from donations of personal and institutional collections, the many works submitted for the annual Victorian Community History Awards and books submitted for review in our journal.

 

Hardware

There are a dozen networked workstations throughout the RHSV premises, including six laptops that can be taken to various work areas as required. There are two flatbed scanners, and the office photocopier can scan and save to our internal network. The Images section digitises in-house using an Epson V700 scanner with several film/slide holders. The digitisation of manuscripts is outsourced to Grace Document Management (formerly AMS Imaging).

 

Software

The RHSV uses eHive by Vernon Systems for its public catalogue. There were several reasons for this:

  • RHSV wanted to model for its affiliate societies an easy and inexpensive way to digitise catalogue records and make them available online. An online system ‘in the cloud’ requires no local installation and upgrades.
  • eHive is compliant with international standards for data harvesting, Dublin Core metadata, wc3 access, and display on various devices. Exporting data from eHive is a simple process, enabling local backup or the transfer of data to another compliant system.
  • eHive has an existing relationship with Trove, so harvesting is very easy to arrange and the RHSV catalogue is harvested to Trove three times per week.
  • There are input screens for seven different types of records, including photography and multimedia, archives and library – which is very useful for historical societies with multiple different collections.
  • Within each record input there are tabs ranging from very detailed fields to public information fields, so the system functionality is very suitable for a range of organisations with different cataloguing needs.

For the digital repository RHSV uses Archivematica and Access to Memory (AtoM) archival description software. Archivematica is a digital preservation system suitable for small to medium archives, that combines a number of processes under one application.  This includes the conversion of files to preservation file types, an automatic checksum checker to identify file deterioration and an increased level of security over the storage in files and folders, which are prone to damage and accidental deletion. Currently the digital repository is only accessible in-house, but it is already increasing RHSV’s organisational efficiency by making digital copies readily available for staff to provide digital copies of manuscripts to researchers.

 

Process

RHSV has many people involved with cataloguing and so it uses a series of labelled plastic tubs for each stage of the process. The master procedures have been centralised on a wiki that can be easily referenced on site and updated when necessary. A printed copy of a Trove record and the item itself are used as the basis of the catalogue record, and the cataloguing procedures guide the cataloguer to the fields we use and how to set out information within the various fields. On the wiki there are also procedures for dealing with digital records – how to save them in Archivematica, how to record the metadata and how to access items.

 

Challenges

RHSV is still slowly but progressively consolidating records from its old databases to the new system. Moving the records from the old images catalogue to the new system is a big challenge, but it will be completed it in stages to make it manageable. Converting old index databases to object based records has presented challenges in terms of the significant data manipulation required before it can be added to the catalogue.

 

Opportunities

RHSV is incorporating the information and records from the old databases in one database, with the aim of making the process of finding information a great deal simpler for users.

Already RHSV are receiving additional information enquiries from people who have found its records on Trove, and it is expected that this number will grow. The enquiries are becoming more specific, but they are easier to deal with – as people already know the items they are interested in looking at when they enquire. This presents an opportunity to generate more revenue for the collection as enquiries are fee-based, and this is already starting to happen.

RHSV has a new website under development and are using this as an opportunity to design a new front end for the catalogue, customising the search screen, results lists and reports. The intention is to incorporate easy ordering and payment for images and documents as part of this redevelopment.

The digital projects undertaken by RHSV have provided the opportunity to attract the attention of student and jobseeker volunteers, who have contributed a great deal to our digital projects and online presence. We assist them in return by providing real world experience and projects they can add to or link to in their resumes.

 

Conclusions

RHSV is encouraging its affiliate societies to explore digital opportunities for their own circumstances. The new generation systems are far less onerous to setup, are easier to use, comparatively inexpensive and can accommodate unlimited simultaneous cataloguers.

Staff at RHSV feel they still have a long way to go, but that they are well on the way to greater control over the collections, improvement of the materials description quality and preservation of their digital collection assets.

 

Contact details

If you would like more information on the work that the Royal Historical Society of Victoria is doing, please contact the Collections Manager and Volunteers Coordinator. Christine Worthington, who presented at the Geelong workshop, now resides in the UK but staff at the Royal Historical Society of Victoria are happy to answer queries.