ARCHIBUS Success Story

Cataloguing Culture: Art and Heritage Tracking at the University of Sydney

Extending the life cycle of assets takes on a whole new importance when they're one-of-a-kind pieces of artwork. To this end, the University of Sydney is using ARCHIBUS to catalogue and help preserve more than 2,400 pieces of art and heritage items throughout its facilities. With this database, the curators now have a convenient, accurate inventory of the university's holdings; they are also better equipped with the cataloguing technologies to better maintain their invaluable collections.

Creating a Powerful Database
In the past, the university maintained two separate databases in Microsoft Access® which housed information on its art (including paintings, drawings, sculpture, and tapestries) and heritage items (including intangible items such historic places). These databases were becoming outdated, though, and lacked support within the university. Since the university's Facilities Management Office (FMO) was already using ARCHIBUS to perform other types of asset tracking, the curators chose to follow that lead by moving all the data from Access into a single ARCHIBUS database. The university uses ARCHIBUS to track items in its museum collections, like this painting

Although the data transfer required some manual entry, it ended up being a worthwhile exercise. Since Access doesn't offer error-checking capabilities, the old data included a number of misspelled names and other typographical errors that put valuable items at risk of being lost or neglected. During the data transfer, these errors were noted and corrected, improving the validity of the information.

A Living Inventory
Today, the university can track an artifact's location, value, movement history, whether a piece is on loan and if so, for how long. Plus, since other areas of facilities management are recorded in ARCHIBUS, the curators can coordinate with the FMO to determine where a specific piece might reside, determine who can undertake the job to move it, and visualize its new installation by pulling up university floorplans. "The real benefit of a specialized art database within the structure of ARCHIBUS is the integration of the management of buildings, maintenance, and services with curatorial functions," says Sioux Garside, Curator, University Art Collection at Sydney. "This is essential for the security of the art collection and encourages people to work together across departmental boundaries."

With data in ARCHIBUS, it's also easier for the university to extract details on each piece in its collection, which is crucial for reporting to the Heritage Office. The state government requires the university to supply a record of all its heritage items once a year for its own tracking initiatives. This is now a simple process, since data is just pulled from the database into a report for submission.

Extending the Life Cycle
To ensure the posterity of its valuable assets, the university can attach notes to its pieces within the database. Advisories can be assigned to historic buildings in need of maintenance. Warning attributes, such as sensitivity to certain types of light, can be attached to art assets. The university can also track the time and money spent on maintaining art and heritage items for its own cost and labor records.

A Web interface is in production that will make the artifact records easily accessible, even from off-site locations. Members of the university's FMO will be able to access a Web-based intranet to search the collection by location, value, etc. Through the university's Web site, the general public will be able to view thumbnails of pieces in the collection by category, artist, and title. In the meantime, careful tracking and maintenance of these precious collections will ensure that they will survive for future generations to enjoy.

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