Burke Museum training program adopted by top university

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An innovative program developed by Beechworth’s Burke Museum has been adopted by one of Australia’s leading universities.

The Burke Museum Online Cataloguing Program (BMOCP), a digital training program developed for heritage and museum students to hone their cataloguing skills, has been embedded into Deakin University’s curriculum and will launch on Monday 2 August.

Running until the end of October, the program will engage more than 30 students and it is expected that through it, over 1000 historic items will be catalogued, including items from the Burke Museum and Chiltern Athenaeum collections.

Burke Museum Collection Manager Ashleigh Giffney played a key role in its development and is thrilled that the program, initially known as the “Digi-Squad” and born as a result of COVID restrictions, has been able to make such an impact.

“Initially, at the start of 2020, the scope of our project was to digitally capture and catalogue all 30,000 historic items at the Burke Museum and share them online via Victorian Collections, a web based collection management and publishing system. When we were first locked down, we realised that our staff, who were working from home, could assist with the program and this then grew to including students who were desperate for hands-on experience but were severely restricted due to COVID.”

Council’s new Cultural Heritage Advisory Committee also played a role in the creation of the program. Dr Jonathan Sweet from Deakin University is a member of the committee, and this link enabled the Burke team to tap into his professional network.

As a result, the team at the Burke developed the program to remotely train students in museum cataloguing, while also fulfilling their original digitisation goals.

“At the end of the first Digi-Squad program, which ran from June 2020 to April 2021, the students involved catalogued 300 historic items. Now, with Deakin picking up the program, we’ll be able to train more students and in doing so, we expect to save over 1000 hours of cataloguing time, so the benefits are two-fold,” Burke Museum Manager Cameron Auty says.

Of the five students who participated in the initial program, three have gone on to find roles at Wangaratta Art Gallery, the Australian War Memorial and the Islamic Museum of Australia, while the remaining two members continue to study.

“We very quickly recognised the value in the BMOCP for our students, so we’re really looking forward to working with the team at the Burke to grow the program further. As far as we’re aware, this is an Australian first in terms of mobilising students from across the country to gain new skills and contribute to regional cultural heritage,” Dr Sweet said.

Indigo Shire Mayor Jenny O’Connor says that it’s a credit to all involved that a small, rural museum has been recognised as an innovative leader in the industry and is now playing a key role in educating future historians.

“To be recognised and endorsed by a university such as Deakin really shows the calibre of the program the Burke team has developed. We’re very proud that a program, that originated in Indigo Shire and out of the immense challenges of the last 18 months will now go on to benefit so many students.”

The launch the BMOCP will be treated as a pilot program with a future plan to extend the program to include items from other Indigo Shire based community collecting organisations.

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