Museum Monday – The Online Collections Database at The Cooper-Hewitt, National Design Museum

I was doing collections research related to my runaway servant clothing project and took a look at online collections database for The Cooper-Hewitt, National Design Museum. I’m a museum collections manager by training and I manage data for collections at another New York institution. The databases we use to manage our collections contain information about who made the object, who has owned it, the materials used to make the object, where it was made and used, inscriptions on the object, and so forth.  And the databases we use tend to be rather dry. Just the facts, ma’am.

Photo: Cooper-Hewitt, National Design Museum.

I had a chuckle when I stumbled on the public alpha version of the Cooper-Hewitt’s collections database. It’s quirky and loaded with commentary. On the landing page for the collections database, the page reads “This is our stuff, we have lots of it.” As a collection manager, I feel a little guilty when I’m being lazy and occasionally refer to the collection as “stuff.” Objects not on display are marked with a person in bed icon often used on highways to indicate hotels off the next exit. For some it will be funny. For others it will be too cute. I think that it’s worth a mention as a different approach to the presentation of collections online that’s more conversational. It introduces an element of surprise as you navigate the website. What will you find when you click on “It takes a village to raise an object. Here are the people who’ve been involved with this one”? It take a little of the guesswork out of the occasional museum shorthand we use, helping non-museum audiences better understand the content. Ultimately, the Cooper-Hewitt collections database connects directly to its focus on design. Visit this wallpaper sample book’s record here.

About Becky Fifield

Becky Fifield is a cultural heritage professional with 25 years experience in institutions large and small. She is currently Head of Collection Management for the Special Collections of the New York Public Library. An advocate for preventive conservation, Ms. Fifield is a Professional Associate of the American Institute for Conservation, Chair of the AIC Collection Care Network, and former Chair of Alliance for Response NYC. She is also a scholar of 18th century female unfree labor and dress. There's a bit of pun in the title The Still Room, delineating a quiet space brimming with the ingredients of memory, where consideration, analysis, and wordcraft can take place. Ms. Fifield’s interests include museum practice, dress history, historic preservation, transit, social and women’s history, food, current events, geneaology, roadtrips, and considerations on general sense of place. Becky and her husband, Dr. V, live in the Hudson Valley.