Dr John Stanton and Dr Toby Burrows decided which pieces were to be
featured on the 1997 prototype of this Web site and how they would be
indexed and accessed, based on 10 years records of public enquiries
assembled by Dr Stanton [P24510]
(Uniview Vol. 16, No.13, August 1997).
‘The Indigenous art treasures of the Berndt Museum will be on show world-wide by this time next year.
Our Museum of Anthropology, which houses one of the most comprehensive collections of Aboriginal art and artefacts in Australia, has been awarded a grant of $109,200 from the National Priority (Reserve) Fund to put its collection on the Internet.
The project, co-ordinated by joint project directors Dr Toby Burrows and Dr John Stanton, will concentrate on the Indigenous cultures of the Kimberley region.
Dr Burrows, Principal Librarian at the Scholars’ Centre in the Reid Library, is in charge of indexing the collection and working out, with the help of what he describes as ‘our more technical colleagues’, how the collections can best be arranged and accessed on computer.
Dr Stanton, the Director of the Museum, will oversee the content: deciding which pieces will go into the project and working closely with the Aboriginal communities from which they originate.
The project is still in the planning stages.
‘We will spend a lot of time on this stage, to ensure that when we start putting it all together, it will be a smooth process’, said Dr Burrows.
‘The idea is basically to disseminate information about the culture of the Kimberley people and to do that correctly, time must be spent with those people to make sure we get it right,’ he said.
Dr Burrows said the project, a virtual guided tour of the Museum’s Kimberley collection, would be a wonderful opportunity to take the treasures of the Museum to people anywhere in the world.
‘It will also, hopefully, bring more people here to the Museum, in person,’ he said.’
The National Priority (Reserve) Fund Program 2(a)
Improved Information Infrastructure - Network Information Support
Tier III - New and Innovative Projects
Title: THE INDIGENOUS CULTURE OF THE KIMBERLEY REGION: A MULTIMEDIA INTERNET SERVICE
Institutions: The University of Western Australia Library and the Berndt Museum of Anthropology
Contact Officer: Dr Toby Burrows, Principal Librarian, Scholars' Centre, The University of Western Australia Library.
Telephone 08 6488 2358, fax 08 6488 1128
1. Background and context
The Berndt Museum of Anthropology (formerly the Anthropology Research Museum) was established in 1976 by the University Senate "to sustain, preserve and develop within the University for its members and for the community at large the comprehensive ethnological collections then housed in the Department of Anthropology." The core collections were obtained by Ronald M. and Catherine H. Berndt during almost 50 years of fieldwork in many areas of Australia, as well as New Guinea; these have been augmented by materials assembled by staff, graduate students and other associates, as well as through purchases.
The ethnological collection now comprises some 10,000 items, primarily Aboriginal Australian but including the recent bequest of the Berndts' personal Asian collection of some 1,000 pieces. The Museum is internationally known for its Australian collections, chiefly from Arnhem Land (N.T.), the Kimberley, Western Desert and South-West of Western Australia, and the very high level of associated documentation. The photographic collection of over 25,000 images is extensively used by Aboriginal families and community groups.
The Museum's collection policy focuses on contemporary Aboriginal art from the western half of the continent. It has an active acquisition programme. The Museum's permanent installation, "Images of Aboriginal Australia" is located in its gallery in the Social Sciences Building. If resources permit, the Museum assembles a major exhibition from its collections every second year for touring nationally.
2. Need addressed
Apart from the touring exhibitions, there was previously no access to the contents of the Museum except by personal visits to it. Given the significance and size of the Museum's collections, it was of great importance that they be made more widely available to the world-wide scholarly community and to the Australian community generally, particularly the Aboriginal people. The project aimed to address this need. The particular focus was on promoting and making available the Museum's resources relating to the Kimberley Region of the north-west of Western Australia.
The project also aimed to address the need for Australian museums to develop expertise in using the World Wide Web to promote access to their collections. This is not just a matter of the technical standards and skills required to design and implement such a service. There are also important issues relating to the understanding and acceptance of such methods by the Aboriginal communities associated with the objects contained in the Museum.
The objectives set out for this project were as follows:
a. to make the Aboriginal heritage of North Western Australia better known to the scholarly community;
b. to make the collections of the Berndt Museum of Anthropology more widely accessible;
c. to demonstrate the value of Internet service provision and standards for this type of material;
d. to preserve the collections by providing their documentation in electronic format.
4. What was done
The Berndt Museum’s two existing databases were combined to form the project database, and substantial editorial work on standardizing the contents was carried out. The database contains records for almost all of the 10,000 objects held by the Museum, not just those relating to the Kimberley Region. Additional entries, mainly for photographs held in the Museum, are being added to the database.
A search engine for the database was developed, together with a range of strategies and options for searching and browsing the database. Images of most of the objects were digitized and have been linked to the appropriate database records where copyright clearance has been obtained. Procedures and technical standards for image digitization were developed and monitored.
An on-line guide to the Berndt Museum was also developed, including a multimedia introduction to the Kimberley collections as well as general information about the Museum and its collections and services.
Standards for the user platforms which are supported by the service were agreed and implemented. The service is designed for visual Web browsers like Netscape and Internet Explorer, though its textual content can be accessed by text-based browsers like Lynx.
Much consideration has been given to the copyright issues arising from the project’s aim to provide images of artworks and objects originating from the Kimberley Region. Some items were created by a known artist, but most exhibit a generic style associated with a particular Aboriginal community. Aboriginal communities and organizations in the Kimberley Region have been approached for permission to reproduce images of these generic objects. This consultation process has proved extremely difficult and time-consuming, and is still in progress.
5. Resources used
The project appointed a project officer to carry out editorial work connected with the Berndt Museum’s database. This position was also used to carry out field work in the Kimberley Region, contacting Aboriginal communities and organizations in relation to copyright and permissions for the usage of images. An Aboriginal woman from the Kimberley Region was employed for these tasks.
The grant was also used for staff time connected with the more technical side of the project, particularly developing the Web pages and the database search engine, and creating multimedia resources. The digitization of images was carried out partly by a commercial bureau and partly by a technical staff member attached to the project.
Equipment purchased for the project included a Macintosh Web server and associated software, a Nikon slide scanner, and an Apple flatbed scanner. The Nikon scanner was required for the digitization of large-format slides and negatives.
A separate Web server was found to be the most efficient way of making the service available. The project made substantial use of the existing Faculty of Arts computer network arrangements, including security and backup.
FileMaker Pro and Lasso were the software packages used for the database and the generation of Web pages. The StoryTime software developed in the Multimedia Centre of the Faculty of Arts was used to structure the multimedia presentations. The use of other multimedia software was provided by the Multimedia Centre.
The management of the project was carried out by a Steering Committee consisting of John Arfield (University Librarian), Professor John Jory (Executive Dean, Faculty of Arts), Dr John Stanton (Curator, Berndt Museum of Anthropology), Dr Toby Burrows (Principal Librarian, Scholars’ Centre), Alan Dodds (Computing Manager, Faculty of Arts), and Stephen Trefry (Manager, Information Technology, University Library). The committee met once a month. The latter four people also met more frequently as an informal implementation group. The time required for project management was contributed by the University Library, the Faculty of Arts, and the Berndt Museum.
The following outcomes have resulted from the project:
a. An integrated database of all the objects held in the Berndt Museum of Anthropology, which can be searched or browsed in a variety of ways.
b. An on-line guide to the Berndt Museum.
c. Multimedia accompanying material (images, audio and video) linked to relevant resources.
d. A service which is freely accessible over the World Wide Web (http://berndt.uwa.edu.au).
e. Development of expertise and standards in the digitization of images and other media.
f. Experience of liaison with Aboriginal communities over the reproduction of artworks and objects in digital form over the World Wide Web.
7. Use of the service
The service was made available to a small group of researchers during July 1998 for testing and evaluation. Useful comments and suggestions were received and incorporated into the design of the service. General access for scholars, Aboriginal communities, and other users of the World Wide Web was made available during August 1998. In the period up to the end of March 1999, a total of 4,331 visits to the home page on the Web were made.
The service was officially launched in September 1998 by Ms Irene Stainton, Assistant Director of Aboriginal Heritage and Culture of the Western Australian Department of Aboriginal Affairs and Registrar of Aboriginal Sites in Western Australia. As well as being covered in the University of Western Australia’s magazine, UWA Leader, the launch was the subject of an article in the Higher Education section of The Australian newspaper. Copies of these articles are attached.
8. Savings from co-operative action
The service is expected to produce savings in travel time and expenses for researchers and for the wider community, including Aboriginal communities. They are now able to examine and study the Museum's collection over the World Wide Web, instead of being obliged to travel to Perth for this purpose.
9. Evaluation of the project
The project has met all the specific objectives which it originally set itself, as outlined in section 3 above. In one sense it has exceeded the original objectives, in that the records for all the objects in the Berndt Museum - not just those pertaining to the Kimberley Region - are now available for searching and browsing on the World Wide Web.
Obtaining the approval of the Aboriginal communities of the Kimberley Region for the use of their objects and artworks in this service has proved much more difficult and time-consuming than expected. This can be attributed to political events, particularly at the national level, which have demanded the communities' attention ahead of issues connected with this project.
The amount of work required to prepare the previous in-house databases for national and international access also proved greater than expected. A substantial amount of time was spent on reviewing, revising, and reformatting records for the Museum's 10,000 objects. This affected the progress of work on the multimedia side of the project.
The participants in the project have learnt a great deal about standards and techniques for digitization, especially of film negatives. These are in a variety of different formats, requiring specialized equipment and careful quality control to ensure their accurate digitization.
Overall, the project has demonstrated the applicability of a range of standard software, equipment and techniques to the development of a museum Internet service. It has also revealed the need to allow sufficient time to consult and inform Aboriginal communities about the nature of this kind of new service and its use of heritage materials.
A programme to inform Aboriginal communities about the digitization of images for the World Wide Web would be highly desirable, given the crucial role of these communities in advising on the acceptability of such uses of Aboriginal materials.
11. Actions resulting from the project
The Berndt Museum intends to continue to develop this Web service in the future. Among the actions planned are digitizing the Museum's extensive photograph collection, adding database records for these photographs to the Web site, and extending the multimedia sections of the Web site to cover areas other than the Kimberley Region.
12. Project summary
The Berndt Museum of Anthropology at The University of Western Australia has a rich collection of artefacts, images and other materials which document the indigenous culture of the Kimberley region of north-west of Western Australia. This project has provided electronic access to this collection over the World Wide Web and has made a significant contribution to the preservation, dissemination and study of Australia's Aboriginal heritage.