Monday, April 7, 2014

How Do We Do This?

OK, historian and digerati friends--how should I proceed with this project? We have an Excel spreadsheet inventory of 7000 items from a defunct museum, along with 7000 individual JPEG pictures of those items. How do we put these together, attaching an image to each spreadsheet item, in a useable format?

 Some background. From 1980 until some time in the late 1990s, there was a museum on the Fairchild Air Force base in eastern Washington. The museum was one of those labors of love, mostly powered by volunteers from the local military community. The focus was not only the base, but the military history of the Inland Northwest--so the collection  ranges from minnie balls picked up from 19th-century battlefields to a B-52 flight simulator. In the late 1990s the Air Force closed most base museums, including Fairchild. As the  artifacts were boxed  for storage, a quick inventory was created for the roughly 7000 items and a digital photograph was taken of each. The boxes went into storage at the Northwest Museum of Arts & Culture. Where they remain to this day:

MAC Director Forrest Rogers unveils some
of the ~300 boxes of the collection.
 My public history class has been tasked with surveying the collection and deciding what are some of the particularly interesting and noteworthy items. Obviously whatever we do will be only a start, and a professional conservator will have to come in at some point, but whatever we can do will help the owners of the collection as they work towards their plan of establishing a new aerospace museum in Spokane. After a conversation with board president Tobby Hatley, we decided creating a database of the spreadsheet and images would be the first order of business for my students and I.

My initial thought was to simply upload the spreadsheet to Google Docs, share with the class, add a column titled "images" and start dragging and dropping. I strongly suspect, however, that this is too large a data set to work with that way. So what do we do? We are experienced with Omeka from our work with Spokane Historical--can we simply convert a spreadsheet to an Omeka database in some fashion, or are are hand-creating each item? Is there another solution we should be examining--Drupal? Wordpress?

We are looking to create a working database and not (at this time) a digital project. We want to keep it quick and reasonably simple, so my students can move to the next phase--opening some of those boxes and locating the treasures of this collection.

How do we do this?


E.Bell said...

I'd recommend using Omeka for this. Basically, you'll need to place all the files somewhere that is accessible by a web server (e.g. a public directory on Dropbox or on another server) and add/edit a spreadsheet column to include the URL/path to the file. From there you can use Omeka's CSV Import plugin to finish the job (though you might want to do it in smaller batches rather than all 7000 at once).

HomerTheBrave said...

It seems to me that the thing students could learn from this is how to design a solution around this.

So for instance, get them to spec out what the new museum might need. They wouldn't necessarily need a web site of the collection, but they'd certainly find use for a database where the image paths are connected to the individual entries.

I'm not familiar with Omeka, but in Drupal-land you'd use the Feeds module to generate nodes from CSV. You'd add an image field to the content type you just generated and then upload individual images, or if someone in your class is clever, find a way to script the process by making a Feeds plugin, or some other way. Then you could use the Fivestar module to let students rate items of interest. They could also add annotations in the form of comments, or in other fields you add.

The new owners might take over your Drupal site and then use Services to provide a RESTful API. Whatever database they end up using could query this API and extract the record->image correlation your class was so kind to provide.