Interview Notes

by wsampson

Future use of GCM’s digital archive can be divided into internal and external realms. Internally the archive will serve as a database of holdings. Inventory reports, audits, and storage organization are likely to be the primary purposes for internal reference. Since the museum is seeking accreditation by the American Association of Museums, the archive’s metadata should accomadate this goal. An area of the accreditation that falls into the scope of the database aspect of the archive is specified in AAM’s Commission’s Expectations Regarding Collections Stewardship [.pdf] document, which requires:

a system of documentation, records management, and inventory is in effect to describe each object and its acquisition (permanent or temporary), current condition and location, and movement into, out of, and within the museum

Note that an “object” is here defined as “materials used to communicate and motivate learning and instruments for carrying out the museum’s stated purpose,” so the database should track accessioned and non-accessioned materials. The latter is termed “ephemera” in our present database.

In the external realm, one foresees museum members and researchers availing themselves of an online GCM digital archive. This might be for general interest or for a specific project or research topic. Possible documents of interest would be detailed photos of machines and software, manufacturing information such as the number of machines produced in a certain model line and original price points, design documents (both institutional and individual) for machines and software, and manual texts. Where possible one will want to link to official specifications of software and hardware (filesystem specifications, manufacturer’s notes, etc.).

It’s not foreseen that internal components of hardware will receive extensive metadata as a priority. In this category are motherboards, sounds cards, network cards, hard drive, disk drives, etc. In the case of complete computer systems information on the internal components is readily available elsewhere. This leaves little reason to tear down the system and verify internal components unless doing so yielded particularly valuable information. In the case of incomplete or non-standard computer systems (systems custom-built, upgraded or downgraded) documentation of internal components might occur where those components deviate from the manufacturer’s norm.

Russ discussed some of the difficulty in labeling a manufacturer’s different model lines of hardware. For instance the silicon rails on chips can differ by millimeters or nanometers. When a manufacturer is able to tighten the distance between rails, a new model or version of a chip may go into production. Such a change is recorded by the manufacturer, but it may be quite difficult for the museum to measure this and thus record that piece of manufacturing data. The issue of what manufacturing specifications should be recorded into the the museum’s database is a key issue that will need to be resolved.