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3 March seminar on tools for cultural heritage organisations

Participants at the 2nd iHeritage seminar

Participants at the 2nd iHeritage seminar

The theme for March’s iHeritage seminar (held on 3 March) was ‘Digitisation and access: Tools for cultural heritage organisations.’ Participants were introduced to various software options that are being used by fellow seminar attendees as part of their work in the heritage sector. All software demonstrated a highly customizable interface for easy publishing of artifacts – from video to photographs to journals, that all integrate with standards such as Dublin Core. In the following paragraphs we’ve highlighted the interesting additional features that the presenters demonstrated.

Locally developed software, Pexicon, has been in development for about 6 years, and the company has digitized a range of collections owned by South African companies – from Pick ‘n Pay to the yet to be released Constitutional Court art collection. The software has been developed with low bandwidth access in mind – so there is an option built-in to the system that allows one to download data in excel files, edit them, and then re-upload them. The other important aspect of this software is that every media item is identified with a digital serial number in order to standardize the data, especially when many people are editing the database at once (this also helps avoid spelling mistakes in media titles that affect the search ability of the system). The third key feature of this software is the ability to publish or share data with external websites while controlling the information about the collection item that is made available to the public. And lastly the location audit feature of the software is one that does a scan of all items in the collection that looks for any missing or moved details. This allows the curator to regularly audit the physical assets and make sure the online information is up-to-date.


Heather Ford showcased the Open Context / Omeka software that is being developed by the Alexandria Archive Institute and is being piloted in South Africa by the African Commons Project in collaboration with Gay and Lesbian Memory in Action (GALA). The new software has a strong social aspect to its functionality, so users can tag items and link themselves to different items, thereby allowing data about collection items to be enriched by the users. The software also makes use of Google maps, using geo-coordinates to place data in a context, which also allows for a range of visualization of the data, as well as for mash-ups and remixes as the system has been integrated using Atom.

Sabinet’s Merle Ruff demonstrated OCLC’s Content DM system, which the organisation is in the process of populating for their use. The interesting discussion that came out of this presentation was how heritage organization chose the right software for their needs. Heather mentioned that new questions need to start being asked about choosing or creating software such as ‘what is our goal?’, ‘how open and accessible is the data stored on the system?’ and ‘how does public domain material fit into this archive?’

Finally, Rebecca and Heather opened a discussion around collectively setting up a guiding principle document for making collections available and open online. This would the first progressive statement, written by and for the South African heritage community, which would be an indication for best practices and standards that could be upheld within the community.


1. iHeritage Seminar, 3rd March 2009 - Tools for Cultural Heritage Organisations « iHeritage - March 10, 2009

[…] on Tools for Cultural Heritage Organisations was a great success.You can read about the seminar here, or download Heather Ford’s presentation here and we’ll be uploading video of the […]

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