Collective Conversations with Carole Campbell

Registrar for Collections Management at the Getty

Carole Campbell is the Registrar for Collections Management at the J. Paul Getty Museum at the Getty Center in Los Angeles, California. Carole and her staff work extensively within TMS to manage the Museum’s acquisitions, loans and exhibitions.

The Getty is said to be one of the most visited museum in the United States, drawing 1.3 million people annually. Beyond its unique architecture, gardens and wonderful views of L.A., it is home to European paintings, drawings, sculpture, illuminated manuscripts, decorative arts, and photography of exceptional quality and historical importance. 

1.  What is the biggest challenge your team faces on a daily basis?

The biggest challenge I face on a daily bases is the unexpected. I don’t always know what unusual circumstance may come my way—like the loan of an ancient vase in a hundred pieces from an international museum, which is to be reconstructed and returned in one piece. Dealing with the logistics of the database records, tracking the re-joining of the objects, and then generating the paperwork for the return are all a challenge.

2.  Technology continues to have a significant impact on museum management and the engagement of audiences. How do you see the use of technology in your institution evolving?

Within the Registrar’s Office, we are expanding our use of technology. For example, we now use hand-held devices which contain data exported from TMS. We moved our Packing/Unpacking Report, which is used during the arrival and departure of exhibitions and incoming loans, to an app on the iPad that is loaded with data from TMS. We currently hand enter the updates back into TMS, but I would like to explore ways to import it automatically.

In the future, we would also like to track movements of objects with hand-held devices instead of the paper trail we currently generate.

3.  What is the one change that you’ve made at your institution that has had the biggest impact?

One of the biggest impacts I have made at the Getty has been my work with imports and exports. The Registrar’s Office keeps very busy with acquisitions, loans, and exhibitions, which all require a lot of data management. I have streamlined data conversions and data uploads into TMS, resulting in a much faster turnaround and cleaner integration. Since there are only two staff members who handle our ever-increasing loan and exhibition work, it was important to reduce the amount of manual data entry to keep up with the data needs at the Getty.

I have also been creating views and Excel documents for our curatorial departments. The documents are designed to read data directly from TMS so the staff members can do a refresh to get the most recent data.

I wrote an export in TMS 9.35 of our Mapplethorpe data, which we co-own with the Los Angeles County Museum of Art. The exported data was sent to LACMA and I worked with them on my import processes for uploading into their TMS2012 database.

4.  If you were given $100,000 to spend on the management of your collection or department, how would you use it?

If I were given $100,000 to spend on the management of our database, I would use it to build plug-ins which would facilitate the updating of TMS in an easier way for staff.

One project I would like to see is a plug-in for our acquisition proposals, where curators are able to fill out a proposal and submit it for review, while the data is saved to mapped fields in TMS.

Another project I would like to see is an enhancement to exhibitions planning that tracks more of the expenses involved with an exhibition. Currently, we track courier, shipping, conservation, and production costs in Microsoft Excel. If we could track more of them in TMS, we would be able to produce a larger range of reports from the database.

Finally, I would like to see the Getty track relocations with hand-held devices, which display data directly from TMS and update the database when the moves are completed.

5.  Do you have a favorite book, event or training resource that has helped or motivated you in your career?

My favorite training resource was a two-day Crystal Reports training session I attended in Berkeley, California, shortly after the Getty purchased TMS. I had been struggling with writing reports; in particular with understanding table linking, sub reports, and the structure of TMS. The class was small and geared towards our individual needs. I brought all of my reports and questions for the trainer and she patiently sat with me to review all the ins and outs of Crystal Reports and TMS. By the time I left, I had a good understanding of report writing. I returned to the Getty and re-worked my reports, making them run more efficiently. I kept in contact with the trainer afterwards. Whenever I got stuck on report issues, she kindly helped me work through them.

6.  What is one of the most interesting recent projects or exhibitions organized by your institution and why?

One of the most interesting projects I am currently working on is the upgrade from TMS 9.35 to TMS2012. I have spent a lot of time evaluating the status of our current data and looking at better ways of tracking our processes. As I establish new approaches, I have been updating data in TMS 9.35 in preparation for the move to the new TMS2012 data structures. For example, the Rights screen in TMS 9.35 had a limited number of data fields, so we entered Rights data in user-defined fields in the Objects screen. In TMS2012, we will be tracking all the Rights data in the Rights & Reproductions screen; therefore, after the conversion, I will be moving data from Object flex fields to their proper home.

I am also plotting out where loan and exhibition data will reside once we have upgraded. This has been an interesting challenge due to the more complex database structure. I am reviewing Constituent data for both Loans and Shipping and moving data in Exhibitions to do as much pre-upgrade clean up as possible.

Finally, report re-writes are particularly difficult, but interesting. We are taking this time to improve our dated views and, in some cases, eliminate unused views. This is a good chance for me to update reports which were written 10 to 15 years ago and incorporate new standards for our formulas.


Pissarro, Louveciennes, Route de Saint-Germain

Camille Pissarro, Louveciennes, Route de Saint-Germain, 1871, Watercolor over black chalk, J. Paul Getty Museum. Digital image courtesy of the Getty’s Open Content Program

7.  If you were allowed to take home one item from your collection, what would it be and why?

The Camille Pissarro watercolor titled Louveciennes, Route de Saint-Germain from 1871—a simple yet lovely landscape. The muted colors of black, brown, green, and blue capture the last colors of fall, which is one of my favorite seasons. I like how Pissarro uses minimal pigment to suggest the blustery fall sky and how he creates diffused light with the watercolor.


About the Author:

Sheena Archer
Sheena Archer is the Director of Marketing at Gallery Systems and has over 10 years of experience in Marketing and Communications for technology companies. Sheena holds a Bachelor of Fine Arts degree and a diploma in graphic design. When she’s not building marketing plans, designing websites or interviewing clients, you can find her growing vegetables, walking the world’s cutest dog or attempting to turn herself into a human yoga pretzel.


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