The Fiona Marshall Special Edition


After years of effort (or does it just feel that way?), LASSI (the Larger Scale System Initiative) has completed its task of specifying and selecting a collections management package on behalf of eight museums.

And the winner is . . . MultiMIMSY.

The LASSI consortium consists of the following museums and museum services: Horniman, Hull, Imperial War, Leicestershire, National Maritime, National Museums on Merseyside, National Museum of Science & Industry and City of Nottingham Museums & Art Gallery. With the help of consultants, a very detailed specification has been drawn up and an Operational Requirement was released to suppliers in March 1995. A very strong element of this requirement was support for Spectrum, including active support for collections management procedures such as acquisition and loans.

Following a thorough evaluation of bids and the drafting of a framework contract, Willoughby Associates in Chicago have been appointed to supply the LASSI museums with their Oracle-based package, MultiMIMSY. The package will be enhanced in line with LASSI’s requirement, these enhancements then forming part of the normal biennual update to the standard package.

The Science Museum and Leicestershire Museums have installed the software and are currently converting data from their old systems onto MultiMIMSY. Once the existing consortium have received their systems, other museums will be able to join if they wish. If you are interested, please contact Jeremy Warren at the Museums and Galleries Commission for details.

Alice Grant from the Science Museum and I jointly managed the project during the ‘competition’ phase. Alice will be talking about progress with LASSI at the meeting at the Museum of London.

A User Group has been set up, chaired by Terry Corbett at the National Maritime Museum. Museums considering buying the system can join this group as associate members (contact Terry for details).

Fiona Marshall

MCG Autumn Meeting 1995

Royal Botanic Gardens, Kew

The autumn 1995 meeting of the group took place at the Royal Botanic Gardens in Kew. We were treated to a very broad range of talks and demonstrations covering a wide selection of Kew’s operations.

First up, Ken Bailey explained the networking and hardware strategy at Kew, describing a dizzy range of impressive hardware (8 Novell servers, more than 800 PCs, 24 Macs, Data General Aviion server, 4 Unix workstations, fibre optic cabling etc etc). This is supported by a team of 4 programmers and 4 support staff. PACE and VMark Universe are used for most system development.

Mark Jackson then described the development of a multimedia system for visitors. Multimedia Toolkit software has been used to develop this system which it is to be networked around the gardens.

Steve Ruddy demonstrated the KewScape mapping system which provides a graphic representation of the gardens and collections. Data is taken from Kew’s Living Collections Database of 89,000 accessions held on the DG and displayed on a site map on a portable screen-based data collection unit (Gridpad). The Gridpad is used in the gardens, the AutoLisp software allowing plant records to be updated. AutoCAD is used to record 30 layers of information, including services, buildings and vegetation.

Milan Svanderlik of the Media Resources department explained how Kew is using Kodak PhotoCD to archive and access images. A database of images is being created using Kodak’s Shoebox software.

After lunch, Ken Bailey and Steve Ruddy reported on Kew’s World Wide Web pages and how these have been authored. The present trial system has been compiled largely from existing publicity and promotional material, but longterm aims are to distribute scientific information and to give outside access to Kew’s databases. (Kew’s Home page is at

Francis Cook then talked about terminology standards, including the Dictionary of Plant Names and Genera and the taxonomic standards working group.

The last speaker, Liz Dauncey, gave an excellent presentation on Kew’s prize-winning identification system for poisonous plants, PLATO. This expert system has been developed in conjunction with the National Poisons Unit for use by medical professionals in hospitals. Your Chairperson was nominated (thanks guys) to prise apart an evil-looking specimen and use the system to identify deadly nightshade (A. belladonna). She also lived to see another day . . .

After tea (and frantic handwashing), a panel discussion ranged widely over the publication and sale of information and training. Internet and the production of Web pages (inevitably?) featured strongly. Thank you to the panel members, most of whom were persuaded into action at very short notice.

Many thanks to Bill Loader and the staff at Kew for organising such a fascinating and wide-ranging day – and an excellent meal the night before.

Fiona Marshall

Victoria and Albert Museum

The Victoria and Albert Museum has embarked on a major computerisation project that will make information on more than 1.5 million objects in its collections accessible to curators, visitors and network users.

The system will be used to maintain the inventory of the Collections Department and to support other collections functions. These range from the management of loans to and from other institutions around the world, to the production of object labels in the galleries. It will enable sophisticated information retrieval, allowing quick cross-referencing of enquiries, and provide fuller information to a wider audience.

The database will contain both detailed textual descriptions of objects and electronic images. A major feature will be the provision of efficient and sophisticated search techniques for staff and visitors, opening up new opportunities for access to and research on the collections. Existing computer records and paper documentation will be transferred to the database, so that users will have a single source for core object information.

The contract for the Collections Information System (CIS) has been awarded to ICL Enterprises following a detailed analysis of the Museum’s requirements and the capabilities of available systems. ICL Enterprises is working with specialist multimedia software engineering company System Simulation Limited (SSL) to develop the system. ICL’s TeamServer hardware and SSL’s Index+ database software will form the basis for CIS. SSL’s multimedia search engine technology is already used by several institutions, including the National Gallery, the London. Transport Museum and the Hulton Deutsch Picture Library.

The new system will be installed in the recently refurbished Research and Conservation of Art Centre on the South Kensington site. Visitors to the Museum will be able to access the information through public study rooms, over a highspeed communications network which is currently being installed. Implementation will take place in phases over a period of 2 years and begins with the transfer of the existing computer inventory of over 400,000 objects. The Museum expects to make the new database available to researchers all over the world via the Internet in due course.

Dr Alan Borg, Director of the V&A, said: “This is one of the most important technology procurements among UK museums in recent times. The Collections Information System will play a vital part in the efficient management of the Museum’s objects, while increasing scholarly and public access to information via a high-speed communications network.”