On Monday, October 18, 2010, I was able to attend the Southwestern Ontario Past Perfect User Group Fall Conference 2010. The meeting was held at the Dufferin County Museum and Archives, which is a very beautiful and well-funded institution out in the middle of the Ontario countryside, just between the small towns of Shelburne and Alliston.
I was pleasantly surprised by the number of representatives at the meeting. There were staff members from Huron county, Bruce county, Guelph, the Canadian Air and Space Museum, etc, and it was really great to be able to get out and meet working museum professionals from other parts of Ontario.
Many of these people had been using the Past Perfect database for close to seven years (!) and really knew how to use the software effectively and to its fullest potential. This was especially mind-blowing for me, since both institutions I've been working in have mainly consisted of me and a few other colleagues trying to fumble our way through establishing a basic cataloging system. The prospects of using this software to keep track of donations or to put our exhibits online were so far from my mind that I'd more or less forgotten those options even existed!
With that said, many of the topics that were discussed did not really "apply to me" necessarily. For example, many institutions that had been working with Version 4 were just getting acquainted with Version 5 - though I think it was really good to see all of the upgrades and new features of the most recent version and how these changes were introduced to make the software more efficient I got to see how making "lists" can be used for a variety of different functions. Another neat feature is the option to put a slideshow of your own collections images on the main menu of the program!
Other topics that were discussed included security settings, assigning function keys, backing up data and putting your collections online. On that last topic, I really wished that the collections I'm working with were at the stage where we could put them on the internet for everyone to see. Our cataloguing system is just not quite there yet. But I learned about the different options for putting collections online: hosting your own website, using Past Perfect online for a fee, or exporting data to Artefacts Canada. I had never been exposed to this website before, but lots of institutions have put their collections up there for cyberspace to browse!
Another important topic that we discussed was Past Perfect Training. Bruce County was wondering what the best way would be to train their entire staff. The best methods were the online options. The online training is done live, giving users a chance to interact directly with the instructor. In addition, being connected with this Southwestern Ontario Past Perfect Users Group is an excellent resource in itself. Chances are, any glitch that we come up against, someone else has seen it and fixed it in the past. Who says history professionals aren't team players?!
So, how can I use what I've learned at this conference to help out smaller museums that are just warming up to the software? Well, with Banting House in particular, first and foremost, there needs to be someone else besides ME who is a) helping to catalog the collection and b) is trained on Past Perfect. I think that there really should be one big group training seminar so that all of our volunteers on board can work toward bringing the catalog up to date. It's not the most exciting work and most of the time, our volunteers are busy with public tours, the gift shop, and special events - those things quite rightly take priority. Unfortunately, in places that are understaffed yet always have a lot going on, cataloging is the first thing to be put on the back burner - but in that case, you only fall farther and farther behind with regards to maintaining accurate records.
Hm. This is frustrating. This is a frustrating cycle.
I really do feel that I've gained quite a bit from participating in this User Group and attending the Fall 2010 Conference. Thanks, all - if you're reading. :)