By Sue Atkinson
The School of History and Classics, Faculty of Arts, University of Tasmania is in the process of establishing a website named The Atlas Project which will be an unrivalled, twentieth-first century tool for better interpreting Tasmania’s past, understanding our present and shaping our future.
The objective is to secure the future of Tasmania’s collections from early settlement by documenting them digitally, so that they can be accessible to the wider community through the World Wide Web and a range of online applications. The collections need to be conserved, photographed and their provenance recorded before they are lost. Volunteers need new, twenty-first century skills in order to continue the work of recording and caring for their collections. This is an excellent chance to create a State where all volunteers who run cultural places can network by helping each other with information and resources while promoting Tasmania and their local museums.
As a Museum Consultant I have been employed by the University which has been funded by the Tasmanian Community Fund to visit all small museums and history groups in Tasmania over three years until December 2012. I collect at least 30 significant records of their collections that will eventually be placed on the Atlas website. There are over 120 groups in Tasmania and in 2010 five new groups formed.
So what is the benefit for these groups?
This project is to support all volunteers caring for collections in Tasmania. Many history groups are run by older volunteers who are not all computer literate, do not have the funds to advertise through the internet or print media, and/or do not have the knowledge needed for conservation or digital cataloguing. With this project, these volunteers who are passionate about their collections (which mostly date from early days of European settlement), are given the help and information to continue to care for this precious resource for future generations.
This project also provides a better picture of what these history groups and small museums have in their collections. This gives Tasmania’s people, as well as visitors, the fuller story of what pioneer settlers brought to Tasmania from their countries of origin, as well as the struggles of establishing their new towns. Networking the history groups helps ensure their continued future – by establishing a larger, more digitally literate community of interest – and this a way for them to collaborate in a range of ways in the future, by better sharing information and resources.
Each group receive four to six days of my time at no cost to them and this can be in a block or split up over a period of time. A questionnaire is sent to the groups before I visit and boxes are ticked where they feel they need help. This can range from cataloguing, photographing, physically numbering their collection to museum standards, documentation, creating blogs, pod casting, education programs, interpretation, grant writing and strategies to sustain their history rooms and small museums into the future.
I am now into my second year and the forty groups that I worked with last year have taken on board these new skills, creating new friendships within the culture sector and the feed back from them has been overwhelming. These volunteers are enthusiastic, passionate and not only have they learnt new skills but as a Museum Consultant I have be privileged to have work with some amazing collections and met some inspiring, friendly and fabulous people. Over the next two years some of these groups will be featured on this site.
By Sue Atkinson