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St Helens History Room

St Helens History Room

Summary

The St Helens History Room (SHHR) is a social history museum with over 1000 artefacts on display, and a wide-ranging collection available for research. SHHR has created an extensive archive through cataloguing and digitisation, with some of their work supporting LINC Tasmania (State Library of Tasmania).

 

Background

The St Helens History Room presents publicly over 1000 artefacts on display.  These are presented thematically to represent the various stages of settlement of St Helens.  The St Helens History Room is part of the Break O’Day Council, and operates with a Curator (14 hours per week) and a volunteer team of 15.  The St Helens History Room recognises and follows the Museums Australia code of museum ethics and the National Standards for Australian Museums and Galleries.

The SHHR receives many research requests for both general and family history from the public.  These are usually generated from random walk ins.  There are also requests from authors and academics, both local and wider across Tasmania and/or mainland Australia.  The image archive is accessed for these purposes.  These images are also accessed for digital presentations (SmartTV) and displays within the museum.

 

Community engagement and participation

The St Helens History Room has a support organisation called the Friends of the St Helens History Room.  They currently have 60 financial members.  They are an independent incorporated body.  They financially support the St Helens History Room by way of membership and fundraising.  Opening hours for the History Room are Monday to Sunday 9 am – 5 pm, with the exception for Good Friday and Christmas Day.

Collection

The St Helens History Room houses an extensive photographic archive with approximately 20,000 images.  There is also a genealogical archive on settler families, and a general archive containing historical notes on people, places and events relating to both St Helens and Tasmania in general.

The History Room has a professional agreement with LINC Tasmania (State Library of Tasmania) as SHHR currently holds the Burns Collection of which LINC Tasmania is the owner.  The SHHR maintains this collection on site and regularly updates LINC Tasmania records regarding the collection.

The Burns Collection includes a series of photographic images taken of the St Helens district, its changing landscape, and other places around Tasmania generally. The earliest photo dates from 1860 – a view of Stanley.  The collection is made up of negatives, sizing from 35 mm to 80 x 140 mm, prints both black and white and colour - sizing mainly from postcard to A4, 35 mm colour slides and 80 x 80 mm lantern slides. There are some glass negatives, mainly in the quarter plate size, and some paper negatives.  The prints are kept in archival folders according to subject matter and the negatives, in the main, in archival albums. The glass negatives are stored in specially made boxes that keep each individual image separate from the others. Glass lantern slides are kept in wooden boxes with separators, though they have come from more than one source. The lantern slides have been scanned and entered into Mosaic. There are about 583 mainly in good condition with a small percentage damaged; cracked, missing cover glasses and some chipped.

The negative collection is made up of several individual collections. There are the Burns' Collection (mainly black and white negatives, with a significant number of colour ones), the Dr Rae Collection, The Burns' Family collection and a series of miscellaneous albums.

The Burns' Collection contains approximately 20,000 35 mm negatives catalogued. The Rae collection is about 25-30% that of the Burns.  There is no catalogue of the Rae Collection as most images are unidentified (hopefully a shooting log or index will eventually surface). The miscellaneous collection is about 1500 in number and is in the process of being digitised, and where the subject matter is known catalogued.

Process

The St Helens History Room has a team of two volunteers, who work on a weekly basis with the photographic archive.  One is a retired professional photographer and the other is a retired Advertising professional, who has also been a photographer/designer.  Initially the focus was on one collection, namely the Burns Collection. This has now moved on to the other collections, including glass lantern slides of the Ransom Family Collection. 

 

Software and Hardware

The main software used by the History Room for cataloguing is the Mosaic collection management system. FileMaker Pro was used to catalogue the Burns Photographic archive.  There were problems with the previous Apple Mac, then Microsoft Access system, with limitations on data holdings, and these were overcome by using FileMaker Pro.

The History Room uses PC storage facilities, with offsite back up. For digitising, SHHR uses a Canon flatbed scanner, a Canon flatbed scanner/printer, and a Nikon negative/slides scanner.

Digital Access

St Helens History Room currently has no facility for providing digital access as yet.  When research requests are received, SHHR do supply digital copies via email.  The History Room is yet to upgrade their Mosaic system so that significant items can be accessed online.

 

Challenges

The History Room finds the largest challenge is ensuring the recording of data is accurate. Having a plethora of volunteers working on the cataloguing system can be problematic as there are varying degrees of skills associated with the inputting of data into the system. 

Easy access of data internally has been a challenge in the past, particularly with the transfer from one platform (Apple) to another. However, this was overcome with the move to FileMaker Pro, on the suggestion of one volunteer working within the photographic archive.

 

Opportunities

The digitisation of the collections at the St Helen History Room have led to expanded research, and broader external interest generated by the collections.  Most recently, there has been a visit by LaTrobe academics for a paper they were working on regarding the distribution of Aboriginal artefacts across Tasmania.

 

Contact details

If you would like more information on the work the St Helens History Room is undertaking, please contact them:

 

St Helens History Room, 61 Cecilia Street, St Helens

Email:  historyroom@bodc.tas.gov.au

Tel:    03-63761479 / 0419731452

Website:  www.sthelenshistoryroom.com