Open Source Collection Management

Over the last couple of months, we’ve started two projects in the area of open source collection management systems, for the State Records Office and the Western Australian Museum.  Both of these agencies are part of the Western Australian Department of Culture and the Arts.  These projects have the aim of replacing the out-dated Collection Management Information Systems that are currently running within the organisations.  As a bonus, we hope to also find ways that the two agencies can integrate their data, so we can make the combined data available for a wide range of different uses.

The team that are involved are pretty wide and varied, and includes staff from the Museum and the State Records Office as integral parts of the projects:

  • Meg Travers – Meg is the Digital Archive Support Manager at the State Records Office,
  • Morgan Strong  – Morgan is the Manager, Online Services and Web Development,
  • Stephanie Zeliadt – looking at the technical development for the State Records Office,
  • Kehan Harman – looking at the technical development for the Western Australian Museum,
  • Anthony Jones – project managing the two projects,
  • Piers Higgs – acting as the Gaia Resources internal subject matter expert, with my background in these areas, and mentoring the team, and
  • A whole raft of curators, archivists, managers, technical officers, volunteers and other staff from both agencies who are contributing requirements and advice to us during the project.

It’s a great team to be part of, and we cover a lot of ground technically and in terms of the subject matter as well.

The use of open source software was seen as an important part of replacing the existing systems.  In this case, the tender specified building on top of existing open source platforms, rather than commercial systems.  By choosing open source systems, the organisations could approach the issue of replacement knowing that a mature system could be procured, and the available funding can then be used to tailor the systems and migrate data to the new system rather than on licence fees.  The use of open source also allows the SRO and WAM to obtain support easily through any developer that has skills in that technology.

The State Records Office project kicked off first; and in the first instance we undertook a review of several open source collection management systems, namely:

We undertook a good solid review of all four of these open source systems, including getting all four of them installed on a server, and tested not only by our team, but by archivists at the State Records Office.  We’ll publish some of the evaluations in the near future, when we finish a second round of evaluations for the Western Australian Museum project and can give a more comprehensive analysis.


ICA-AtoM, one of the systems we’re evaluating

The Western Australian Museum project is underway with a high level requirements list arriving just last week.  This list is currently being used to further evaluate the systems above, with Morgan (our Western Australian Museum representative) already undertaking a high level review and investigation of these plus a few other systems, including ArtSystems, PastPerfect, TMS, Vernon, KE Emu, Proficio, Museum Sites and NeoLynq.  As well as this review, we’ve previously migrated one of the collections at the Museum across to the Specify software package, in a rapid prototyping project.  At the end of that, we had the Worms collection database migrated into Specify, but this system doesn’t look to be one that suits the Museum into the future.

Our work with the Museum recently, such as the Waminals project (see Kehan’s blog article here) takes data from the internal collection systems, and makes it more widely available through their web site.  This is becoming more and more important for collection organisations, to be able to not only just publish their collections, but to add value and embed new workflows into the systems.  The whole space around doing this sort of project has certainly moved along a long way since the Marine Life of the Dampier Archipelago website I worked on way back in the late 90’s!

So, with an increasing need to add value to the collections – both for scientists (as Waminals does) or for the public – the idea of having an open source system means that there is a lot more that the Museum and Archives staff can do, especially when they have web developers amongst their staff, and can access the wider ICT industry to find external suppliers to help them – especially important as most of the commercial vendors have no local support in Western Australia.

Open source software is something that we work a lot with at Gaia Resources, be it from a perspective of providing services to our clients, or making some of our solutions open source (like the Biological Data Recording System).  Additionally we have committed to using open source software where appropriate tools exist, for example, all of our developers run Ubuntu workstations and are most comfortable using Eclipse as their Integrated Development Environment.  I will be speaking on open source in general in Canberra in a month or so at the Spatial@gov conference, with my talk titled “Open for business”.  I’m aiming to discuss and document many of the things we’ve learned from working with, and participating in, open source projects.

We’re really looking forward to bringing new open source collection management systems to the State Records Office and the Western Australian Museum.  To have the opportunity to help these two important organisations move forward in this space is something that is very rewarding for all of us that are involved in the projects.

We’ll keep this blog updated with progress of these projects as they unfold, and you can expect to see articles appear on the agency websites as well.  We’ll post links on our blog and Twitter feeds as they are published.


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