Farewell to Christine Elias
Suzanne Fairbanks, Deputy Archivist
Sophie Garrett, Assistant Archivist
At the end of June 2015 the University of Melbourne Archives (UMA) will say farewell to Christine Elias who has been with us on a project contract since August 2013. During the almost two years that she has been with us, Christine has been the backbone of the Locations Upgrade Project Team (LUP) which has transformed aspects of how the Archives manages its holdings and provides access to material by researchers.
In 2009 the UMA upgraded its collection management database to KE EMu and a range of new access and collection management functions became possible. EMu is capable of displaying our digitised finding aids online, enabling researchers for the first time to access many details of our holdings without visiting the Reading Room. A generous Ross Trust grant enabled UMA to digitise and expose over 600 finding aids by 2012. EMu is capable of a range of behind the scenes collection management functions as well, such as recording the location of every storage unit in our 20 kilometres of holdings. Prior to 2013 our locations were recorded in a range of inefficient manual ways separate from EMu, so the LUP was conceived and an application for support submitted to the Miegunyah Committee.
The initial goals of the Project were to record location data in EMu to achieve efficiencies of staff time behind the scenes, and to build the possibility that researchers may be able to order material online. The LUP has achieved this and much more. Moving location data into EMu has confronted us with the peculiarities and inconsistencies of old systems and enabled us to create a new set of standards and procedures. It has effectively required us to audit and relabel each box; to identify estrays; repackage where absolutely necessary; shelve boxes in a more logical way; and most importantly devise efficient ways to bulk upload data which we now use constantly.
There are many advantages for staff behind the scenes; however one of the most pleasing outcomes is visible to researchers. During the LUP we discovered many more hard copy finding aids that have now been updated and made available online. Christine was able to create box lists for some of our largest and most interesting collections which are also now available online. Long before computer data bases, previous archivists recorded contents on the front of boxes before or instead of creating an inventory or finding aid. This practice was workable in the days when the storage repository and the Reading Room were in the same building and the collection was much smaller. If there was no detailed list of the contents of a collection, archivist and researcher could peruse the boxes to identify material for research use. This became a major problem after 1999 when the Reading Room and repository were physically separated. It resulted in reference staff travelling to the Repository to select material for researchers. At the instigation of Fiona Ross, Christine recorded this box front information creating close to 400 extra box lists that are now visible to the public. Due to the LUP and the creation of finding aids for new acquisitions since 2012, there are now over 1660 finding aids online.
While the task of uploading box locations will not finish when the LUP ends in late June, the Project has turned around the way UMA manages its locations, improved efficiency and standardised our practices. Staff have uploaded location data on over 68,700 boxes, Christine alone uploading 46,600.
Other Team members are Sue Fairbanks, Sophie Garrett, Rolf Linnestad, Fiona Ross, Melinda Barrie, Jane Beattie and Emma Hyde. The directing Committee has been chaired by Dr Katrina Dean.
So we thank Christine for all this work undertaken so cheerfully and we wish her well.
We will follow her work organising a collection management system for the records and artefacts of archaeological research stored at the British Institute in Amman with great interest. Having worked with Christine we know that, like us, the British Institute will be very lucky and grateful to have her on their team.
Christine Elias has a Diploma in Law and Collections Management from the Institute of Art and Law, UK; Master of Arts (Classics and Archaeology) from the University of Melbourne; and a Graduate Diploma of Museum Studies from Deakin University. She is very experienced in a range of collection management roles, and has worked as an archaeological registrar on excavations in Jordan.