Inside the Collection

Meet the Registrar: Karen Biddle

A woman with glasses and curly hair sits at an office desk.
Registrar and Collection Database Administrator Karen Biddle, at work with ‘EMu’, the Museum’s collection database system. Photo: Alison Brennan, MAAS

Name: Karen Biddle

Role: Registrar / Collection Database Administrator

What is the main focus of your role at MAAS?

My main focus is the MAAS collection database (called ‘EMu’), for which I manage user group permissions, report design, QA work, large data queries and exports, periodic statistics, and providing training/support to users for everyday usage queries. The role requires some technical skills and understanding, coupled with knowledge of the documentation standards that we are required to follow for managing the collection, so that I can assist Registrars, Curators, Conservators, Designers and Educators as they work in the database. My role is heavily involved in the development of EMu, working with stakeholders to ensure our system evolves to provide best practice for our data requirements. EMu also feeds information out to the MAAS collection online, so I also work closely with our web team, who do an awesome job of sharing our collection with the world.

What’s your background and how did you come to work at the Museum?

I’ve worked with MAAS for the past 12 years and with Sydney Botanic Gardens Herbarium collection for 5 years before that, after previously working as a technical writer and software trainer, predominantly in the finance software industry. The Botanic Gardens was also using the EMu database, so my ‘power user’ status provided my pathway into working with the wonderful MAAS collection.

Do you have a favourite collection object?

There are many things to love in our collection but yes, my current favourites are two ceramic greyhound figures. I discovered how lovely greyhounds are when my sister started fostering and adopting ex-racers 15 years ago. So I was very pleased to discover we held these delightful pieces.

An earthenware figure of two greyhound. The entire figurine is blue glazed and the greyhounds are in a running pose.
Earthenware greyhound figurine. MAAS collection: 92/1051. Photo: David James, MAAS
A ceramic figure of a greyhound dog with red coat and a black collar. The greyhound is sitting on a green grassy patch.
Ceramic greyhound figure, MAAS collection: A2015. Photo: Michael Myers, MAAS

What are you working on right now?

One of our recent projects was a major update to the EMu database. The update included a lot of new functionality and a new interface, so this involved some intense user testing before we could go live. I coordinated users from all the stakeholder teams to participate in the testing phase so that the feedback and results were as thorough as possible. I’m excited about the changes we’ve made, as it will enable us to expand and improve the quality of our collection information and facilitate workflow summaries and allocation of required actions for enhancement of our data. Implementing all the new settings requires a lot of fine tuning as we become more familiar with it and work out what needs to be done. This work and the protocols and standards that we formulate now will enable us to share even more of the MAAS collection with the world.

What has been your favourite project or proudest work during your career at the Museum?

There’s been plenty of satisfying projects in my role at MAAS, for example, when I started at the Museum there was a paper-based system for requesting object movements, which meant that there was a lot of room for error and it was difficult to update a request that involved a lot of objects. I queried whether we could use EMu to submit these requests, so that the requests were directly linked to the collection records and could be easily updated or corrected if required. We got together as a team and developed a new interface within EMu, to enable users to enter their requests electronically. No more writer’s cramp and greatly reduced room for error.  Another more recent nerdy triumph was helping our Curatorial and Design team to use EMu directly to produce the floor labels for our Reflections of Asia exhibition – the first time ever to produce labels straight from the database and a great basis for future-planning similar projects.

Written by Karen Biddle, Registrar
July 2019

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