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Collections Access Initiative

While we love old things in the Adler’s Webster Institute for the History of Astronomy, we are not particularly fond of old databases.

We first began discussing acquiring a new database six years ago when, all at once, the history department was facing the expansion of our museum collection to include 20th-century artifacts, undergoing renewed commitment to professional librarianship for the rare and modern book collections, and acquiring archival collections for the first time. In the Webster Institute, we are fortunate to have professionals in the three fields of library, archives, and museum collections management. While there are many ways in which libraries, archives, and museums intersect and intertwine, each field has its own standards for cataloging, its own methods for intellectually organizing information, and its own descriptive tools.

Back in 2008, we thought – “surely there will be a database that satisfies all three professional standards!” Finding a database solution for our needs was not as easy as we had hoped. We researched products, attended conferences, negotiated, discussed non-negotiables, participated in demos, and solicited feedback from other Adler staff. We finally selected Minisis MINT as our database solution and began raising funds.

In early February 2014, we will complete Minisis MINT implementation. Getting to this point involved a lot of planning about how various collections will be connected through the database, which standards to follow, countless database exports, and many, many hours of data cleaning. Minisis MINT allows the museum collections management staff, the librarian, and the archivist to follow best practices in their own respective professions. At the same time, it allows us to use the same authorized terminologies in all three areas of the collections. The result will be more effective database searches. In addition, Minisis MINT will help the Webster Institute streamline our collections management processes—from donations and purchases, to fulfilling research requests, to planning exhibitions, to caring for the physical objects. As a result, Webster Institute staff will be able to use our internal database to improve our work and to better serve others. 

But we are far from finished with the Collections Access Initiative. What will be next? Our next major goal will be the completion of a simple online version of the database. Later, the implementation of a digital asset management system and an innovative online catalog will open up countless possibilities for the collections to be incorporated into exhibitions, sky shows, our website, and mobile apps. The Minisis MINT database, now nearly complete, is the foundation for opening the collection up in these new ways.

Written by Jodi Lacy, archivist and digital projects manager at the Adler Planetarium.

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