Captured . . .Project Ark lead David Luoni is keen to start the cataloguing and digitising of collections in Southland's museums. He has the equipment – a camera and a light cocoon that creates soft, shadowless lighting – and is ready to start. PHOTO: SUPPLIED

A major step in cataloguing and digitising hundreds of thousands of items in Southland’s heritage collections has been taken with the implementation of a two-year pilot programme dubbed Project Ark.

Project lead David Luoni said three full-time staff employed for two years would carry out the work and they would most likely be based in Gore.

The project, which involves the cataloguing and digitising of a whole region’s collections, will be a first for New Zealand.

Each museum will have its own digital collection. That collection would be also be contained in a national digital collection accessible nationally or worldwide.

Mr Luoni said it was important museums retained their own independent collection databases.

Overseen by the Southland Regional Heritage Committee (SRHC), the project is a collaboration between the Invercargill City Council and the Southland and Gore district councils.

Mr Luoni said the resulting digital archive would allow communities and individuals to research regional history on a digital platform.

The pilot is being funded by the Southland Regional Heritage rate, which means ratepayers will not have to foot an extra bill.

“Digital records open up heritage to the world, providing instant public access,” he said.

The overarching principle would be the historical and cultural significance of items to Southland and its communities, he said.

Only the extensively remodelled Mataura Museum had its collection fully digitised. Collections in the rest of the region’s museums were partially digitised or not at all, he said.

“Some collections remain uncatalogued.”

Digital cataloguing and packing will help future-proof the collections in some of Southland’s smaller volunteer museums that experienced funding pressure and a diminishing volunteer base.

The work would be carried out under the Gore District Council arts and heritage department umbrella, Mr Luoni said.

It was envisaged the pilot work would begin in July and involve the digital cataloguing of 50 significant items from each museum. Then the team would concentrate on cataloguing and packing the Wyndham and Districts Historical Society museum collection.

The existing museum was deemed to be earthquake-prone and the collection was to be moved, he said.

Te Papa was also supporting the project with expert knowledge about carrying out significance assessments.

Gore district arts curator Jim Geddes said the pilot programme was exciting.

“A very special part of the project is the digitalisation of museum collections across Southland,” Mr Geddes said.

Most museum collections were manually recorded.

Mr Geddes paid tribute to Mr Luoni’s dedication to the project.

“It’s been an enormous amount of work for David.”

Project Ark

It is expected the Project Ark pilot involving the cataloguing and digitising of hundreds of thousands of items in Southland’s heritage collections will have multiple benefits for the region and nationally.

Those benefits include:

It will provide a co-ordinated regional approach to heritage collection management with user guides.

Museums will have a complete, backed-up record of collections.

Each item will be photographed or scanned to provide a visual record.

Collections will be marked/labelled so they can be readily identified.

The cataloguing process will capture and share the histories and stories that give items their cultural significance.

The collections can be shared on national databases.

During the cataloguing process items will be assessed for their historical and cultural significance.

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