Transcript of the video "A Trip Down Memory Lane: CHIN in 1989"
Length of video: 00:09:44
PRESENTER (MARY ELLIS): Welcome. I'm Mary Ellis. Today we will be looking at CHIN, the Canadian Heritage Information Network, a program of the Department of Communications. We have several feature stories that will tell us what the Network and the people behind it are all about. But first, what does the Canadian Heritage Information Network mean?
If we break it down into, one, information networks and, two, Canadian heritage, we can get a better idea of what it's about. Information networks are like the nation’s system of roads and highways. All types of goods are transported from one end of the country to the other as we go about our daily business. In the case of the Canadian Heritage Information Network, the cargo being carried from coast to coast is information about our national heritage.
Museums preserve our cultural and physical inheritance so it can be visible to most Canadians, but through CHIN, it is also preserved and stored as data, which is available now and in the future. These banks of data are stored like books in a library, but unlike a library, information is available at the push of a button, moving quickly on this electronic highway. The Network stores millions of records, and thousands of new records are added each month. One hundred and sixty-one museums all across Canada, representing 90% of Canada's collections, have linked together to create the Canadian Heritage Information Network.
The National Inventory Program, 1973. The order comes to take stock of our collections. An inventory of all the cultural and scientific collections held in public museums in Canada is under way. Today, CHIN is responsible for creating and maintaining the national databases of heritage information.
Here's how the national database works. Museums take an object or specimen and record its basic information: what it is, where it comes from, who made it and other relevant information. This goes to CHIN directly through the museum's computer or through the mail as catalogue cards or as machine-readable records. This information from the museums makes up the two national databases: one for the humanities and one for the sciences. Along with a computerized record of their own collections, the museums can access information from any other museum in the country which participates in the Network. For example, the Royal Ontario Museum in Toronto can find out about an object or specimen from the Glenbow Museum in Calgary.
Basic information. Once you have it on computer, there are a number of ways you can use it: the name of the painting, where and when it was painted, the artist. This may not seem like much, but it can save the museum a lot of time and money. Let's see how two of Canada's national museums have made that information work for them.
NARRATOR 1: The National Gallery of Canada has over 40,000 artifacts in its collection, and they have to be moved to their new location. Keeping track of what is going where and how it should be handled could be a logistical nightmare. Greg Spurgeon is in charge of the move.
GREG SPURGEON: Having a computer database has allowed us to deal with this move in a controlled fashion as opposed to the chaos that would’ve been typical of a museum move, where, for example, you would simply have gone into a storage room, have emptied it from one side to another, much like moving an apartment, and brought it to a new room and dealt with the chaos there.
NARRATOR 1: But with CHIN, all the basic facts are already stored on the computer and are ready to be printed in the most suitable form.
GREG SPURGEON: The labels are printed in my office directly off our collections database, using a report, which was designed by the staff at CHIN.
NARRATOR 1: The multi-layered adhesive labels are attached to the object, and as each one reaches its ultimate destination, one layer comes off and goes on a master list, while the other layer remains on the object. Special instructions about how the object should be handled are also put on the label to prevent damage. CHIN helped the National Gallery move and is able to pass on that information to help other museums.
The same information that helped create the moving labels was used to make the wall labels found beside the works of art in the new gallery. Once again, the information about these artifacts exists in the museum's information bank, so why waste time recreating that information? With the help of some appropriate software and hardware, the information they needed was withdrawn from the database and changed into its wall label form.
Anne Ruggles is conserving a painting by Bartolomeo Montagna, a 15th-century Italian painter. Before she goes to work on the painting, she must do some research.
ANNE RUGGLES: I went to the CHIN Network and asked it a number of questions on a subject that I was interested in. So I used a number of keywords. One was “painting,” another was “materials” and the other one was “techniques.” And with those keywords I pulled up, I think it was, 199 records that were available to me on those subjects.
NARRATOR 1: CIN, or the Conservation Information Network, began as a joint project of CHIN, the Canadian Conservation Institute in Ottawa and the Getty Conservation Institute in Los Angeles. The Conservation Information Network is used by many countries around the world.
ANNE RUGGLES: I got materials and techniques and a cleaning method that was used by another conservator for a similar work of art, so I struck gold.
NARRATOR 1: It gives up-to-date access to books, journals, technical reports and conference proceedings. It also has information on the materials used in conservation and where to get them. Using electronic mail means online consultation with colleagues and allows the conservator to immediately contact all participants in the Network.
ANNE RUGGLES: If I had information from my analysis of this painting, I'd be very quickly able to put it on the data network myself and, therefore, help someone else.
NARRATOR 1: Instead of spending weeks waiting for regular mail, she can get current information from conservation specialists in California, Washington, Paris, Rome and Ottawa.
DR. DAVID JARZEN: The beauty of CHIN, to me, is its, one, simplicity; two, I don't have to become a technician to operate it; and, three, its use across Canada.
NARRATOR 1: Dr. David Jarzen is the curator of the Paleobotany and Palynology Division at the Museum of Natural Sciences. He relies on CHIN to document his collection of about 18,000 pollen samples. The samples are microscopic, so he must have an accurate recording system to be able to find what he needs.
DR. DAVID JARZEN: So I put a set of characters surrounding each pollen and spore (size, number of apertures, type of architecture) into the database, and then I can turn it around and say “Find, if you will…. Find pollen grains in my collection that have these three or four characters.” And it will supply me with a list—either genera, family, listing—and then that certainly narrows down the searching through thousands and thousands of slides, as you can see here.
NARRATOR 1: Jarzen and his colleagues around the world depend on an exchange program to help them expand their collections and carry out research. CHIN produces a catalogue listing the materials available for exchange and research.
DR. DAVID JARZEN: Without CHIN, something of this order—there's 14 or 15,000 specimens in here…. To reproduce that and to correct all the spelling and to correct all the locality information would now be impossible.
NARRATOR 1: CHIN helps these two museums crate, conserve and catalogue.
NARRATOR 2: As museums turn to computer technology, they need service support. Client museums depend on CHIN staff for their information needs.
CLAUDE CHAUMONT: We work as a team with the user, analyzing and documenting their user requirements in order to develop computer applications for their collections management activities.
LYN RACICOT: We offer a training course to museum personnel based on the information system called PARIS. Once users have taken the course, they can use the system to enter and retrieve data based on information about the objects in their museums.
LORNA STOREY: We have daily contact with our clients to provide them with advice on how to use the system or to help them if they have difficulty in accessing it.
MARY ELLIS: The Canadian Heritage Information Network has come a long way since its beginning as the National Inventory Program in the early seventies. The Program has progressed rapidly, and it continues to grow.
In celebration of the Canadian Conservation Institute (CCI) and the Canadian Heritage Information Network’s (CHIN) 50th anniversary, we invite you to relive some of CHIN’s key projects from the late 1980s. See how CHIN staff supported Canadian and international cultural institutions in their collections management and exhibition preparation. Also, learn more about the Conservation Information Network (now the Bibliographic Database of the Conservation Information Network [BCIN]), a project that began as a joint collaboration between CHIN, CCI and the Getty Conservation Institute. This video was created by CCI and CHIN.