Library collections, archives and other information that aren't accessible online, and how to find them. Use the links at top right to ask a question or submit a post. Contact: jacquelinekbarlow [at] gmail [dot] com or tweet @thatsnotonline

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Read the Printed Word!

The Museum of Jurassic Technology, Culver City, California

Image of the Idol of ‘Fombum’ courtesy The Museum of Jurassic Technology.

The dissonance created by the juxtaposition of “Jurassic” and “Technology” seems to be representative of the experience of visiting this museum. Firsthand accounts include a questioning of sanity and the assertion that “[t]he museum was larger inside than out”.

As noted in the Introduction to the Museum’s website, “[i]n its original sense, the term “museum” meant a spot dedicated to the muses - ‘a place where man’s mind could attain a mood of aloofness above everyday affairs.’” The Museum claims to trace its roots to the nineteenth century and to stand today “in a unique position among the institutions in the country,” a statement which is certainly true - one would have difficulty finding any other exhibit devoted to, for instance, the Deprong Mori, a bat native to “the Tripiscum Plateau of the Circum-Caribbean region of Northern South America” which is reputed to have the ability to fly through walls, or a collection of the works of violinist and microminiaturist Hagop Sandaldjian, including a Little Red Riding Hood tableau carved into the eye of a needle and the figure of a woman carved on a strand of the artist’s white hair, or a series of letters to the Mount Wilson observatory from individuals claiming to be in posession of “the key to all existance” [sic].*

According to Roadside America, the Museum of Jurassic Technology was founded in 1989 by artists David and Diana Wilson as an “educational institution dedicated to the advancement of knowledge and public appreciation of the Lower Jurassic.” This 1996 story from National Public Radio on the Museum comments on the authoritative tone of the displays: “that voice of unassailable institutional authority — you know: the voice from every museum acoustic guide and nature special”. In an interview with David Wilson called “The Museum museum,” Frieze magazine notes that while touring the MJT “one may begin to doubt the veracity of this particular museum, and this doubt may spill over to museums in general.” It is still unclear to us, however, whether this is a museum of fictions, or a collection of authentic artifacts presented in an unfamiliar way. What is clear is that the Museum of Jurassic Technology provides not just an assembly of arcane “facts” but a multisensory user experience - that its physical location may be just as important as any information contained therein.

Click here for a list of the Museum’s Collections and Exhibitions, and here for visitor information including location and visiting hours. We reblogged another review of the Museum of Jurassic Technology last week.

*I am really not sure how many, if any, of these are hoaxes.

#Macclesfield Silk Museum

Silk museum exhibit

Image courtesy of Red Oaks Farm.

The Macclesfield Silk Museum is dedicated to the silk industry in Macclesfield, Cheshire, which was at one time the world’s biggest producer of finished silk.

While the far East is traditionally thought of as the home of the silk industry, silk weaving made its way to England via France and China in the late 17th century. It maintained a strong presence in the textile industry for centuries and continues to contribute to the industry today. Macclesfield in particular has long been a hub for the trade (This is why the football team are called The Silkmen.)

The museum celebrates the history of the town’s silk industry and silk production in general. It is comprised of the Heritage Centre, the Silk Industry Museum and Paradise Mill Silk Museum, which are integrated to make a cohesive collection.  The Heritage Centre describes how the silk industry arrived in Macclesfield and includes some samples of work, ranging from fabric swatches to full Victorian dresses, produced in the city. The Silk Industry Museum takes a narrower focus, describing what a Macclesfield weaver’s life might have been like, while Paradise Mill contains the traditional machinery and includes a demonstration of silk weaving. A full description of the museums is available here. The museum also includes a library and archives service, which are also used as a library for the Silk Association and Macclesfield School of Art.

While the Silk Museum has a website which provides some information about upcoming exhibitions, it appears there is no online photo gallery or interactive tour.

Computerspielemuseum, Berlin

Image courtesy The Next Web.

The Computerspielemuseum (computer game museum) in Berlin has in its collections more than 22,000 computer games and applications, more than 300 computer game consoles, and more than 10,000 journal issues (on the topic of computer games, one would assume). This same collection has been deteriorating ever since it began in 1997. Most historic computer games are stored on magnetic drives, and as The Next Web notes,

Magnetic drives fail quickly, and the data carriers that hold the information we’d like to preserve begin to demagnetize about ten years into their existence. Once they’re demagnetized, the data is gone and lost… In the digital world, only a few bits lost through demagnetization could render the source wholly uninterpretable.

It is possible to preserve games that are stored on magnetic drives, by using an emulator: “hardware or software or both that duplicates (or emulates) the functions of a first computer system (the guest) in a different second computer system (the host).” Unfortunately for the Computerspielemuseum, emulating a computer game involves copying code, and doing so is prohibited by US and European copyright law. There is no exemption for preservation.

Two associations that aim to change that are KEEP (Keeping Emulation Environments Portable), which aims to “to facilitate universal access to our cultural heritage by developing flexible tools for accessing and storing a wide range of digital objects” and “will also consider legal issues” relating to this, and EFGAMP, the European Federation of Games Archives, Museums, and Preservation Projects, founded on 18th April of this year. EFGAMP is a federation of 13 organisations across Europe. Computerspielemuseum is a partner in both organisations.

The museum’s permanent exhibition consists of a life-size Lara Croft to greet you on the main staircase, “top-performing” arcade games like Pong Machine, Nimrod and PainStation, a “wall of hardware” with over 50 consoles, the first 3D simulator, and more. Special exhibitions include an artistic approach to Streetfighter II, playable original consoles, and an homage to the “Computing Revolution” of the 1970s and 80s.

The Computerspielemuseum can be found at Karl-Marx-Allee 93a, 10243 Berlin, a five-minute tube ride from Alexanderplatz. They may also be contacted on +49 30 6098 8577 or emailed here.

Tattooed Human Skin at the Wellcome Collection

Image courtesy Wellcome Library/Wellcome Images.

At the first-ever Museums Showoff on 25th April 2012, Gemma Angel made a brief (9-minute maximum!) presentation on the subject of her doctoral research - a collection of tattooed human skin found at the Wellcome Collection in London. This particular collection consists of about 300 pieces of human skin, probably French in origin, created between 1850-1920 (as little is known about the collection, we must assume all dates are approximate). This collection is Angel’s research subject as a PhD student at University College London.

The exact origin of the specimens in the collection remains something of a mystery; all 300 pieces were obtained from a “Dr. La Valette” in Paris in 1929. The purchasing agent wrote of the transaction:

These skins date from the first quarter of last century down to the present time; many of them are very curious and extremely interesting, consisting of skins of sailors, soldiers, murderers and criminals of all nationalities … Lavalette told me that the skins are unique, that no more could now be got under any circumstances and that each skin had taken him a long time and cost him a certain amount to cure and prepare for his permanent collection.

Quoted in “Current Research”, Life & 6 Months.

Little is known about La Valette, but why would anyone feel the need to assemble such a seemingly macabre collection? The reason was likely scientific: as Angel pointed out at Museums Showoff (and in this 2010 blog post), tattoos were of interest to some nineteenth-century criminologists as examples of “signs of atavism, criminal proclivity, or dangerous ‘degeneration’” within European society. The collection of actual skin, however, as opposed to sketches or photographs, certainly gives one pause.

Two pieces are on permanent display as part of Wellcome’s Medicine Man exhibit, and seven more were available for public viewing in Wellcome’s 2010 exhibition, Skin. A number of photos of the pieces can be found on Gemma’s blog and elsewhere - so why claim that these aren’t online? First, because the digital images represent only a fraction of the collection, and second, as with most museum artifacts, surely nothing can replace the handling of the actual thing. Especially when the artifact is made of a substance, which, according to some, is unmistakable.

Museums Showoff, 25th April 2012

On 25th April 2012, That’s Not Online! embarked on its first-ever act of reportage by attending the (also!) first-ever Museums Showoff at the Camden Head Pub in London. Modelled on the successful Science Showoff, Museums Showoff invited ten volunteers to speak for nine minutes each about anything at all to do with museums. The result? A lineup of entertaining, engaging, informative and downright entertaining folks. To wit:

Subhadra Das of University College London spoke about UCL’s Pathology Collection, a collection so well-hidden that it doesn’t appear have a website (UCL Museums are here) and that Russell Brand, though he was there once, was never able to find it again. By Das’s description, the collection consists of “things [such as tongues, eyeballs, fetuses and penises] in jars.” Further online research has revealed that the collection also contains some artificial items or, at least, one lead-painted toy car.

Terence Eden presented on QRpedia, a project that makes use of one of our favourite things: QR codes. QRpedia can create a QR code that is more than just a code: it will lead you (and your mobile device) to a Wikipedia article on any topic; but first, it will determine the language settings of your device’s operating system and retrieve the Wikipedia article in that language (if available) and in its mobile version (if available). If your language isn’t available, QRpedia will offer you a translation. How much more functionality can be packed into one, small code? QRpedia was developed for museums, but has also been implemented in a church, a zoo, and a whole entire town. QRpedia was conceived by Roger Bamkin, head of Wikimedia UK and coded by Eden himself.

Brian Macken gave an amusing and informative talk about the Dublin Natural History Museum, locally known as the Dead Zoo. For reasons relating mostly to the social and political history of Ireland, the Dead Zoo remains largely unchanged since its founding in 1856 and is a classic example of a Victorian “cabinet-style” museum. It contains mostly zoological specimens including birds killed by Irish lighthouses, a menacing beaver, and a giraffe that tweets.

Rosie Clarke of Museums at Night updated us on the progress of a project that asks museums across the UK to put on special programs after hours, raising the profile of British Museums. Museums at Night is currently running a competition; the prize, a visit to the exclusive Faber archive, of the renowned publishing house Faber and Faber.

Ayla Lepine of the Courtauld Institute of Art filled us in on Create! Architectural Design, part of the Create! series of young people’s events at the Victoria and Albert Museum. Ayla and two colleagues sat down with a group of 16-19 year olds and talked about how architects communicate their ideas, and produced some drawings of their own, because “good education takes guts.”

Gemma Angel and Catherine Walker both work at the Wellcome Collection, doing very different things. Gemma, a doctoral student at the UCL History of Art department, is researching a collection of preserved, tattooed human skin at Wellcome — a collection that surely deserves a post of its own. Gemma showed us a picture of her favourite specimen, two large and remarkably detailed tattoos from the front of a man’s torso, and then displayed an archival photograph of said man (his head, unfortunately, cropped from the photo). She is now on a mission to find out more about this tattooed man, and give him an identity beyond two sizeable scraps of inked-up skin.

Catherine displayed a number of object from the Wellcome Collection’s handling collection, like a strand of DNA (okay, a model of one), a shrunken head (complete with instructions on making your own!), and a model of a human brain. (Any links for Catherine are welcome! Please leave in the comments.)

Gordon Cummings of the North West Essex Collection gave a brief and informative history about how a whole lot of really influential artists ended up living and working in Essex together in the late nineteenth and early twentieth centuries. Their gallery has been successfully resurrected and now holds pieces by Edward Bawden, Eric Ravilious, John Bellany and Keith Vaughan, and 900 members of the Fry Art Gallery Society. Few reproductions of these works are available to view online, so you’d better click here if you want to find out when you can see them next.

Steve Lloyd of ico design described the way that he and his design firm help places like the Science Museum and the Houses of Parliament “bring digital content into physical spaces”, a mission that seems to be the complete opposite of what we do here, but interesting and worthy nonetheless!

And finally, there was a nine-minute performance of music from Dinosaur Planet, a rock opera, by MJ Hibbett (and Steve)! It was so entertaining, Dinosaur Planet has the official That’s Not Online! seal of approval (and this librarian’s heart was warmed by their ode to the literature search).

If you wish you were there, experience Museums Showoff vicariously through Terence Eden’s Youtube channel.

It would be remiss of us not to mention Steve Cross as the evening’s entertaining host. An interesting bit on a video game museum in Berlin will likely result in another blog post, sooner or later.

Smell, part five: Musée international de la parfumerie, Grasse, France

Image courtesy Vanity Fair.

The Musée international de la parfumerie, in Grasse, birthplace of the luxury perfume trade, boasts 50,000 items related to the history of perfume. Since its 2009 renovation the museum offers olfactory tours, allowing participants to sample various scents in the perfumery’s collection. Also available are interactive exhibits for children, a contemporary art collection, and a garden of sweet-smelling plants such as centifolia rose, jasmine, and orange blossom.

The collections of the Musée may be searched here, along with those of the Musée d’Art et d’Histoire de Provence and the Villa-Musée Jean-Honoré Fragonard (search facility in French only).

The Musee received much attention when it reopened in 2009, after a four-year renovation. You can watch a report from France 24 on the Museum’s 2009 reopening, listen to this NPR story, or read an article from Vanity Fair.

Click here to download a guide and schedule of exhibitions at the Musée, and for contact information.

Click here to see previous posts in That’s Not Online’s series on smell.

Collections of the Rugby Museum of New Zealand

The Rugby Museum of New Zealand is located in Palmerston North, on the North Island of New Zealand, about 500 kilometres from Auckland. Auckland, of course, has been hosting the 2011 Rugby World Cup and today was the site of the New Zealand All Blacks’ defeat of France in the World Cup final. According to the Independent, the museum underwent a NZ$2 million overhaul in anticipation of the event.

No digital collections are listed on their website. Exhibitions include “The Origins of New Zealand Rugby, 1870”, “The 1904-1908 British Showcase”, “Provincial Jersey Display”, “Whistle & Coin Display”, “Schools Rugby Display”, “1924/5 ‘Invincibles’ Display”, “Boots ‘n’ Balls Cabinet”, and “Die Springbokke”, this last dedicated to the South African national team.

The museum’s website contains facts and figures concerning the history of rugby in New Zealand, including a list of all players to have played for the All Blacks, as well as team members of the Black Ferns, the national women’s rugby team. A Help Identify page asks for visitors’ help in identifying mystery artifacts held by the museum. The museum was closed to researchers during the renovation, but should now be open to them by appointment: “A spacious library, with IT capability for visitors and a generous work area allow for comfortable investigation.”

The UK government’s department of Museums, Libraries, and Archives statistics show that cultural websites are well used, especially by young audiences, and a 2011-2012 report from the Department of Culture, Media and Sport shows that cultural website use is on the rise. It’s difficult to put entire collections online, though, so many objects remain offline.

Wikipedia would like to see this change. To strengthen its coverage of topics about culture, it’s spearheading a project called GLAM: Galleries, Libraries, Archives & Museums. The goal is get volunteers from cultural institutions around the world to add Wikipedia entries about or photographs of objects from their own collection. project would add even more information to Wikipedia’s knowledge base, but it also gives the entries about cultural topics more credibility. They are also invited to edit and strengthen existing entries. A list of existing projects is already online. Reflecting the variety of ways that people write, each institution’s page is structured slightly differently. Significantly, all include a list of things people would like added about the institution and a list of things already added by volunteers.

If you’re interested, a volunteer co-ordination site is found here.

Photo courtesy Flickr.

Science Museum

Image courtesy Science Museum website.

Most libraries have uncatalogued materials, and the library of the Science Museum is no exception. With the largest collections based in Wroughton rather than London, the library & archives of the museum own over half a million items. Most of the modern books are available through the online catalogue. But there are many items in the library’s collection that are still offline: The museum’s nineteenth century book collection, for example, is still card catalogued! Smaller collections of pamphlets and ephemera sometimes lack even card records.

One of the most significant collections not online is the Trade Literature Collection, devoted to materials like patents, business advertisements and related information. There are a couple of reasons this collection may have remained offline so far. It is a very large collection, and its uses are not as immediately obvious as some more recent materials. However, trade literature provides a lot of insight into the ways business culture has changed and how society’s expectations have evolved. The collection has also recently been helping people find out more about their ancestors; it has even contributed to popular TV series Who Do You Think You Are? Luckily, the value of the trade literature collection is starting to be recognized, and the Science Museum is working on making the collection more easily accessible to users.

About 76% of museums in Africa

AFRICOM is a Nairobi, Kenya-based NGO tasked with supporting African museums.  They also maintain “an extensive computerised database of museums and museum professionals on the continent.”

AFRICOM lists African museums by country with links to museum websites where extant.  This list may be at least partly reliant on self-reporting.  From the site:

AFRICOM encourages each and every museum on the continent to send in one page of text and a photo to be included in this on-line directory. We will also place a link to your museum’s web site if you already have one.

Therefore it is not clear that the list is comprehensive.  24% percent of museums listed have provided web links, a few of which are broken.  Of those who do have an online presence, a minority provide online collections.  Six countries — Cape Verde, Djibouti, Equatorial Guinea, Libya, Sao Tome & Principe and Somalia — do not report any museums at all.

AFRICOM also produces the AFRICOM News and maintains the Directory of Museum Professionals in Africa.  A major concern is the illegal trade in African cultural artifacts, and AFRICOM urges governments to ratify UNESCO and UNIDROIT conventions on the trafficking of cultural property.

EDIT: perhaps they should read this post about Vimuseo, software developed to put Finnish museums online.

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