Collection Systems Manager, Tate

Meet Tate’s Collection Systems Manager, Jacob Weber, in our latest installment of CI 2023: Collective Conversations. Just weeks before his TMS speaker session at Collective Imagination, Jacob was generous enough to share a look into his role at one of the world’s most renowned art institutions.

Tate is a family of four UK-based art museums, Tate Britain, Tate Modern, Tate Liverpool + RIBA North, and Tate St Ives. Together, these museums showcase British works from the 16th century into the modern day, alongside an international collection of contemporary art. Tate commits to delivering “a greater depth and range of experiences and offering visitors multiple points of engagement with our collection and ideas about art,” per its vision statement for the next years.

This November, Jacob’s CI 2023 session will delve into how Tate leveraged TMS to enhance workflows within their paper conservation department. We look forward to hearing his gleaned insights and the open-floor discussion with TMS users following the session.

Thank you for making time for an interview! Would you tell us a bit about your role at Tate?

Thank you for giving me this opportunity and I’m looking forward to attending CI 2023 this November!

I have been at Tate since 2016, joining as the Collections Database Officer, then moving to the manager role and finally expanding my remit to include both TMS and our Collection Information Service (CIS). CIS is data warehouse which combines data from TMS, our DAMS, and other sources to provide collection information and insight to Tate’s website.

As part of Tate’s Business Solutions team, I am always looking for opportunities to improve our collections management processes using technology. This can be through enhancing our existing systems or bringing in new solutions either packaged or bespoke.

Gallery Systems is honored to have you as a CI 2023 speaker this November. What was the genesis behind your upcoming presentation on enhancing museum workflows with TMS?

I have quite a selfish reason for presenting this project to CI 2023. In all honesty, I am interested to hear how other clients are using the features of TMS in interesting and inventive ways. I would hope that my presentation will kick start a conversation and sharing of ideas about this area of use on TMS.

The addition of FlexFields across TMS has opened opportunities to provide process specific data entry points and—combined with security settings, alerts, and workflow logic—it can be a transformative tool.

As soon as FlexFields were released, Tate started to explore use in providing a platform to improve our collections management processes. Initially, the idea was to deploy a location movement workflow solution. However, as we were not ready to upgrade TMS at the time, it was mothballed for a later date.

In early 2021, I was approached by our Paper Conservation department to consider the options for a digital technician request system. They were considering other options, but as TMS would allow them to track tasks against artworks and already had a workflow and alert system in place, it was the obvious choice.

I’ll leave the outcomes of the project for my presentation at CI 2023. I hope it sparks a conversation about how we can utilise TMS’s features in new ways.

We’d love to hear about your career trajectory. How did you end up in the museum field?

I studied History at university and, in my final year, attended a museology class. This got me into the idea of working in the museum sector.
After finishing my studies, I applied for a traineeship at Norfolk Museums Service. It gave me a great foundation in how museum and art galleries operate and revealed my aptitude for collections data management.

I joined Tate in 2016 as the Collections Database Officer and have been promoted and expanded my remit over the intervening years. At Tate, I have been able to invest in my skillset, adding knowledge of various applications to my repertoire.

Tate Britain unveiled a complete rehang of its free collection displays in May 2023. Image of a long museum gallery with dark blue walls, a white domed ceiling, and bright modern paintings on either side.

Tate Britain unveiled a complete rehang of its free collection displays in May 2023. Courtesy of Tate.

Throughout our careers, we tend to receive a lot of advice from mentors or peers. Is there a piece of advice that you’ve taken to heart?

My first manager within the museum sector gave me a great foundation in collections management. Her advice was to maximize the use of the data you record. Whilst a lot of information can be just for reference, most of my time is maximizing the number of uses for each piece of information.

Collections often tell a story. How would you sum up Tate’s collection in one sentence?

Varied but with a purpose.

Our driving values at Tate are to be Open, Bold, Rigorous, and Kind. In relation to our collection, our mission to be open and bold is the driving force. We do not hesitate to confront the big issues of our time and question our previous understandings.

Tate uses TMS as its collections management system. How does this software solution play a role in your daily tasks and workflows? Any TMS features you love?

Data cleaning is a regular feature of the team’s daily tasks. Whether we’re adding missing data or tidying up incorrectly added information, it makes up a large proportion of our recurring tasks.

A couple of TMS features which really help with data cleaning are Object Packages and Alerts. We have set up certain alerts to notify us of any missing data, such as Constituent records missing a “Type” or when two Constituent records have been added for the same person or organization.

For larger scale data cleaning, we also use Object Packages to keep track of all the information that needs to be checked. Our alerts are set up to be exported into Object Packages to make the process of checking the data comprehensively easier.

As a collection systems manager, what are the most engaging projects you’ve worked on and why?

The most engaging projects are where we create something completely new. A great example of such a project is the development of integration between TMS and our digital preservation solution.

The digital preservation process extracts valuable metadata from the digital files of our time-based media artworks. This metadata needs to be securely stored, visible, and searchable, so TMS was the perfect solution.

We have designed a new workflow from scratch where the ingest into the digital preservation system is begun with a checkbox FlexField in TMS. Next, using a Java app, component data from TMS is inserted into folder names and files which connect the artworks to the metadata produced from the digital preservation system. We then insert this information back into FlexFields on TMS for future use.

Photo of visitors at Tate Modern observing Christian Marclay's The Clock, 2010. A 24-hour video projection made from fragments of cinema footage where time is featured.

Christian Marclay. The Clock, 2010. Video, projection, color and sound (stereo). Purchased jointly by Tate, London with funds provided by the American Fund for the Tate Gallery; Centre Pompidou, Musée national d’art moderne, Paris; and The Israel Museum, Jerusalem 2012. Courtesy of Tate.

What’s one change you’ve made at Tate that has had a major institutional impact?

In my time at Tate, there has been an ongoing conversation about how we can best balance displaying our excellent collection and preserving it for future generations.

Light sensitive artworks and their exposure to light is an area of important discussions and debate. We have had previous attempts to inform the discussion with data, but in the past 2 years, I have engaged with our conservation departments to collect their requirements and provide a data led solution.

Using a combination of SQL functions, views, FlexFields, and reports we now have a way for them to quickly provide information to curators which protect our light sensitive artworks from overexposure.

Looking toward the future, how do you see your collections management practices evolving?

It’s an interesting question as I’m not sure at this time. I believe the future of collections management is using technology to make everyone’s lives easier, rather than adding burden to people’s roles.

Currently, I am horizon-scanning for new tech that can simplify our current highly bespoke—but fragile—systems. A lot of investment was made by Tate into both backend and front-facing applications, which require a lot of support to just keep running.

I’m looking at more off the shelf products which could perform the same scheduled tasks and move and manipulate data between applications, databases, and live reports. While proven in other sectors, and minimally in some heritage organizations, it will be a fascinating new area of work to get stuck into.

Attend Jacob Weber’s CI 2023 session

Jacob Weber will be speaking at Collective Imagination 2023 on Thursday, November 16.

His presentation is entitled “Communication is the Key: Utilizing TMS Functionality to Improve Workflows,” and if you’re attending, you won’t want to miss it!

Visit the CI 2023 schedule for full details.

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