Registrar and TMS Administrator, Bible Lands Museum Jerusalem
The Bible Lands Museum Jerusalem is a unique museum of ancient civilizations, presenting the history of the lands and civilizations mentioned in the Bible in relation to the development of the biblical narrative throughout the generations. The goal of the Museum is to connect each individual with his or her own heritage through the treasures on display. Welcoming visitors of all faiths and nationalities, it brings the universal narrative of the development of civilization to audiences through exhibitions, educational and cultural programs. The BLMJ is a universal center of education and culture.
Gallery Systems had the opportunity to speak with Hamutal Gabayev, Registrar and TMS Administrator at the Bible Lands Museum Jerusalem. She discusses how the museum is embracing the change to digital, not only by digitizing their archive materials, but in their workflows, visitor engagement programs, and even data cleansing.
What is the biggest challenge your team faces on a daily basis?
Data cleansing and digitizing archival materials are needed daily for almost any task such as curatorial object queries, provenance research for future collaborations, organizing the storage, and preparations for revealing the museum’s collection on the Internet. The BLMJ has limited staff; I am both the registrar and the TMS administrator. I am in charge of collection data accuracy and digital implementation processes, but everybody takes part in this project. We constantly chase our own tails, especially nowadays when the BLMJ is enriching its special displays and temporary exhibitions program, as well as increasing the number of outgoing loans both in Israel and abroad.
Working in two, and sometimes in three languages is a challenge in all platforms. Any work with more than one language simply doubles the workload in content writing and research, as well as in digital data management. Even the most common challenge of having Hebrew and Arabic align to the opposite direction of English, requires entering the data into separate fields. It doubles the admin’s work in managing layouts, reports and forms designs, it adds extra work for graphic designers, and it broadens all correspondence and paperwork.
How do you see the use of technology evolving at your institution?
The museum is definitely moving forward in all digital platforms. Using TMS helps us perform better queries in more than 10,000 entries. We constantly improve our workflows and gradually set better work standards—more digital, less paper and less external files. We digitize our archive materials and have better control over all our data, both digital and physical.
As for the multilingual challenge, thanks to TMS, we finally have the opportunity to manage several languages in one system. I am gradually customizing more views and reports to help us work with languages in a much more efficient and clearer way.
The languages are one aspect of preparing our data and internal views and reports for future usage of other departments in the museum, as well as future projects to share the BLMJ’s collection on the Internet, on different online platforms. This long process requires multitasking, teamwork and recruiting temporary staff. Nevertheless, in the future, everybody will profit – the museum will enjoy a more holistic work experience, and audiences, scholars and peers will benefit from the museum’s knowledge, and will surely contribute back to the museum.
Data-driven projects are not the only ones currently taking place. The BLMJ is developing better ways to combine the museum’s knowledge with contemporary technologies, both in smaller and in more advanced projects. Visitors are encouraged to enhance their engagement with the museum’s story and see how the ancient worlds reflect into their own story. They can use AR/VR glasses in select galleries and play on scavenger hunt apps, among other activities.
The goal is to expose the museum’s treasures and to better communicate them to the audiences, who would in turn add to the BLMJ’s story as well.
What is the one change that you’ve made at your institution that has had the biggest impact?
I started by making small, yet important changes at first, as they established the grounds for advancing into a much more digital, efficient and accessible work environment. Having TMS teaches the museum’s team a great deal on how to evolve digitally and forgo old and tedious routines. The more digital we are, the more space we will make for creative work, as well as for creative solutions for the banal tasks we all face.
A recent example is related to how the museum is growing its usage of technology. As we are becoming more digital in our workflows, I brought in an OCR PDF creator. The program generates live text out of PDF scans and jpeg images. The many texts on physical panels and wall labels that are too old to have a digital file (and I will not have any of my colleagues type the text manually) are now being photographed and processed easily into a text file. This allows a proper documentation and knowledge preservation, export of materials, and future editing on those texts.
Any big change must start with little steps, minding the tiniest of details. With daily implementation of digital terminology and performing many tasks in new manners, we are slowly getting everybody to notice the small details that make the difference; from performing data cleansing, to mastering complex queries and knowledge management, to using reports, or planning an exhibition without using papers or Word documents. This gradual change is already showing positive results both in internal work and in the museum’s engagement with exterior bodies such as governmental and municipal authorities, insurance and shipping companies, peer institutions, etc.
If you were given $100,000 to spend on management of your collection or department, how would you use it?
I would use part of the budget to have our archival materials scanned, digitally stored and imported into TMS. I would also invest in upgrading our server systems to better handle our growing digital storage needs.
Sharing the museum’s knowledge and its marvelous collection is so important. I would invest a great deal in growing the professional staff and also in technical work to perform a smooth implementation of eMuseum in our new and improved website (which is currently being revamped).
I find great importance in investing time and labor in further customization of TMS and our other platforms, as well as in data cleansing, in order to improve our control over our data, so this would also call for a significant budget investment.
Do you have a favorite book, event or training resource that has helped or motivated you in your career?
I learn best from experience, so I would always seek to support any guide or lesson with actual case studies. Assuming a peer or colleague has already dealt with a similar challenge or problem, I follow the posts in the TMSUsers listserve. and learn a lot from each question. This is my first go-to place when I need to learn more about functionalities in TMS or if I run into an error that I cannot figure out.
The Gallery Systems webinars give me many insights and deeper understanding of what we can achieve using TMS, and the Gallery Systems staff members play a big and important role in getting me and my colleagues confident and proficient in using the system to our best ability.
For local registration cases, I consult with the Israeli Registrars and Collection Managers’ Forum. We meet several times a year and have a digital workgroup for questions. I also have a copy of MRM5 (Museum Registration Methods; AAM) to maintain a unified method of work within the museum.
What is one of the most interesting projects or exhibitions organized by your institution and why?
In 2018, the BLMJ loaned Mesopotamian objects to Sichuan University Museum in China for the exhibition “Bronze Age Mesopotamia and the Chengdu Plain”. The exhibition focused on the two ancient civilizations that developed at opposite ends of Asia: Mesopotamia in the Middle East and the East Asian Chengdu Valley. Each of these civilizations had a decisive influence on the development of their entire respective regions, East Asia and the Middle East.
I was involved in this project from its earliest stages. It was the BLMJ’s first time using TMS to prepare a major loan. It was also the first time an Israeli institution exported archaeological objects to China so we had many challenges and a mutual learning process. We conducted many complex queries in TMS to find the appropriate candidate objects and learned the importance of having archival materials integrated into the system.
Perhaps most interestingly, both the exhibition’s contents and the museums staffs’ work behind the scenes demonstrated that despite all we may have learned about cultural gaps between civilizations, especially between East and West, at the end of a day, there are more commonalities than differences.
What is your favorite item from your collection and why?
I came across this Amulet of Horus the Child during a routine vitrine cleaning work at the permanent exhibition. I am fortunate to be hands-on our data and digital assets, as well as literally “hands-on” archaeological objects.
The Egyptian god Horus, formulated as a child here, was often invoked for healing. Other than my personal interest in its topic and form, what drew me most is how every day and every work routine matters down to the smallest detail.
Many times, the seemingly minor detail is the one to evoke thought and ideas. I always try to be open to even small elements of my day, just as much as seeing the bigger picture of it all.
This miniature amulet also reminds me of our historical responsibilities, of how small we are in the time frame of humanity, but nonetheless play an important role in its evolvement.