Swapping Coasts

After a blogging hiatus, I’m back! The past two weeks were field work intensive with site visits on both coasts from John Muir, Rosie the Riveter, and Eugene O’Neill historic sites in California, to downtown Boston, Mount Auburn Cemetery, Minute Man National Historic Park, and The Arnold Arboretum in Massachusetts. It was a whirlwind of information (and fun!), but it’s nice to settle back into the office and start putting some of what we learned into practice. Since the upcoming week is looking pretty database-intensive, I’ll stick to California for now and update you later about all the rest.

Keith Park, the horticulturalist for the three historic sites, served as our fearless leader and living collections tour guide in California. Our goal on the trip was twofold: meeting with park employees to discuss their current collections management practices, needs, and concerns, as well as talking with allied professionals outside the park service to get input on how other institutions manage and share their collections. We had an excellent discussion with Ralph Bell and Fernando Villalba at the parks discussing various software options, and most importantly expanding our understanding of how living collections software can accommodate both natural and cultural resources in the parks. Listening firsthand to what data they’re already collecting and what capabilities they’d love to explore adds nuance to our software evaluation and really highlights that there’s no “one size fits all” approach when it comes to national parks.

Outside the parks, we visited Filoli Estate, Stanford University, UC Davis, and Ruth Bancroft Garden to talk about their living collections management systems and policies. We are extremely grateful to Jim and Kate, Max, Mary and Shannon and Brian, and Brian respectively who made time in their busy schedules to meet with us – thank you!

Talking with so many different institutions with different goals and collections allowed us to think more critically about needs and diversity within the park system. Filoli and UC Davis are at differing stages of transitioning to new database systems, one from simple relational spreadsheets and the other from another powerful database, which provided valuable insight into the nuts and bolts of formatting a database from two very different perspectives. At Stanford, we got a look into a highly organized maintenance system that allows the staff to work efficiently in the field with tablet access and detailed maps. At Ruth Bancroft, the spirit and legacy of the collection, as well as what they hope visitors get out of it, mirrors the mission of many national parks. Overall, we came home with more questions than answers: just where we wanted to be to make sure our exploration of systems is thorough and inclusive. Stand by for part two of field adventures later this week!

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