Last week I was at the National Digital Forum conference (more about which tomorrow) and the presentation that really interested me was by Paul Rowe from Vernon Systems, the company that provides cataloguing software to many of New Zealand's larger arts and collecting institutions.
Vernon Systems have been selected by National Services Te Paerangi to redevelop the (admittedly, currently horrendous) NZ Museums website. Currently a very basic directory, the site is going to be redeveloped into a web presence for members institutions' events, exhibitions and collection information.
The thing that really got me excited about this is that Vernon are producing a web-based version of their cataloguing system. Currently, smaller institutions without access to IT support can't afford the staff or techcosts of getting their collection information into a database that can be made publicly accessible.
The web application that Vernon is building - eHive - will allow organisations to catalogue online - the same that email services like Hotmail and Gmail allow you to email online. Organisations can sign up, then start creating records and loading up images (I think the figure of $250 a year for 5GB of files was given).
eHive will have a public and a private side. On the public side, web visitors will be able to browse the collection - like on the Auckland Art Gallery site. On the private side, organisations will be able to load up information like insurance values and condition reports.
Putting eHive behind the NZMuseums site means that people will be able to search across multiple collections at the same time (see for comparison Matapihi or CollectionsAustralia). If the big organisations that are using Vernon currently choose to import their data into eHive, it could potentially turn into an incredibly useful resource.
I think the success of the eHive system and the NZMuseums site will come down to training and standards. It's one thing to provide the technology - it's another to ensure that the Kauri Museum or Southland Art Gallery are making good digital images of their collection items, and cataloguing them in a useful (publicly and internally) way. I think the site will also need some kind of editorial control - as I understood it, there'll be the functionality to feature certain c0llections adn items on the homepage, form themed groupings, stuff like that.
I'm assuming that National Services has some sort of arrangement with Vernon whereby if the business ceases to be interested in providing the service (and hosting the files), it can all be brought in-house. But it was just really exciting to see an initative that's both about opening up access to collections for the public, and about collaborating to obtain essential services that small institutions can't otherwise access.