The Autry Museum of the American West
The Autry Museum of the American West uses barcoding to track a complex collections move and frequent movement of artefacts
The Autry Museum of the American West is a museum in Los Angeles, California, dedicated to exploring an inclusive history of the American West. Located across three facilities, the museum presents a wide range of exhibitions and public programs, including lectures, film and music, theatre, and festivals, and performs research and educational outreach.
In 2003, the Autry Museum of the American West and Southwest Museum of the American Indian merged, bringing the size of the collections to over half a million items. By 2005 it was decided to rehouse and move a major portion of these collections. Traditionally, museum staff had used a manual process of noting each object move in written form and entering this information into the database later. This method was not only time-consuming but also prone to errors. The multi-year and multi-faceted collections project became the driver for the museum to seek out and implement an effective and flexible technology-based solution that would save time and reduce errors in keeping track of inventories.
The Autry made the decision to use a one-dimensional barcode system as the solution to its inventory tracking challenge. It identified three important components that it needed to get right in order for a solution to work effectively:
- Creating barcodes that would work with the data.
- Ensuring that the objects would be safe in proximity to the barcode media.
- Finding a reliable way for the data to be uploaded to the database.
In addition, as collection items were rehoused and packed, there became an increasing need to track containers, such as trays, boxes, carts, and crates. Autry collections and conservation staff members worked together to determine which labels, barcode fonts, printing method and media would be used. The labels needed to be readable by scanners and humans, durable, and the media needed to be neutral and non-damaging to the objects. Autry collections staff then worked with the Information Technology department to develop a way in which the scanned information could be loaded into the database. In the historic building, where the majority of objects were housed, there was no wireless access to the IT network. From 2006 to 2011, scanners with the Windows CE operating system were used. First they were connected to local machines and then to the network using docking cradles. A multi-step process was used to upload the data to the database. It was an awkward process, but a significant improvement over hand-entry.
In 2003, the Autry selected Axiell’s Mimsy XG collection management system due to its reputation for simple implementation and its strength in cultural history collections. The Autry is able to use data fields from Mimsy XG to produce barcode labels which are both scanner and human readable. In 2011, the Autry reached out to Axiell to help streamline the data upload processes. The first step was to set up a system which would allow data to be directly loaded from the Windows CE scanner into the Mimsy XG database. Significantly, Axiell data experts identified issues arising with containers nested within larger containers, and developed a solution which organised this data and prevents errors related to it. This streamlined data structure even allowed the Autry to track empty containers for the first time. In 2015, the museum (now having installed a solid wireless network) upgraded to iOS devices and implemented Axiell Move, an application that runs on mobile devices such as laptops or smartphones, to scan and track the movements of each object in real time over the wireless network.
Axiell Move has been easy to use, and staff immediately found the new process to be significantly more efficient and understandable than the older devices and most definitely over entering locations into the database by hand. As the Autry has brought on additional user groups, the training process has become simple and streamlined. The familiar iOS interface has substantially facilitated the training. Since implementing the barcode system, the museum has successfully moved more than half of the collections in a complex two stage process. The locations have been accurately updated without having to add staff to support data entry of this data. Rebecca Menendez, Director, Information Services and Technology at the Autry Museum of the American West, said “Axiell’s products are really flexible and easy to implement. Each department has specific needs in terms of how they create and access data, and Axiell allows me to customise this. Data can be created and accessed in a variety of ways and meeting a variety of needs, while being stored in a single database. The process as a whole saves time and resources for the museum.”