A new three-year project aiming to digitise over 80,000 of the Museum's 4.5 million items is shedding new light on the country's largest collection of specimens, objects and archival documents.

Project Coordinator Ian Proctor discusses the Improved Documentation Enhanced Access (IDEA) project.

Our collections are going digital

Auckland War Memorial Museum Tāmaki Paenga Hira holds over 4.5 million specimens, objects and archival documents that have either been collected by us over the past 160 years or donated by the public. However, only around three percent of these items are on display at the Museum.

Since the 1980s, we have created over 900,000 digital records for these items, increasing this number annually by extracting information from catalogue cards, registers, staff knowledge and from observations made about the objects themselves. We now make that information available for access and re-use through Collections Online, enabling people locally and around the world to search through and view much more of our collection that just what we put on display.

Table knife crushed by water pressure, from the wreck of the RMS Niagara; 1969.162, 42089; © Auckland Museum CC BY

The IDEA project

Launched in April 2021, the Improved Documentation Enhanced Access (IDEA) project is an example of this work. A team of eight collection technicians is partway through a three-year project to process 80,000 further Natural Science specimens, Human History objects and Documentary Heritage manuscripts, photographs and publications.

Working closely with collection managers, curators and conservators, the team will improve both the quality and quantity of information about the objects, with the Museum’s photographers creating high-quality images for use across a range of platforms.

By 2024, the Museum will be able to showcase a greater range of collections, highlight the breadth and depth of the objects in our care and make them easier to explore and research.

Obsidian flake, part of the collection of amateur archaeologist Geoff Fairfield; 1969.26, 40100; © Auckland Museum CC BY

Natural Sciences highlights

Some highlights included within our Natural Sciences collections are marine fossils; New Zealand skinks, geckoes and other native lizards; New Zealand insects including spiders, stick insects, centipedes and worms; foreign monocots (grasses) as well as New Zealand and foreign marine life such as gastropods, a class of mollusc which includes slugs and snails.

Deschampsia Nubigena, collected in Hawaii, by Botany Curator Lucy Cranwell in 1938; AK25586; © Auckland Museum CC BY

Human History highlights

From our Human History collections, we will improve the cataloguing of archaeology collections, like Geoffrey Fairfield’s collection of Māori taonga and digitise artefacts excavated from the site of Albert Barracks. We will catalogue previously uncatalogued archaeological material relating to Pitcairn Island.

The team will also work on broadening our understanding of the collections related to Australian Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander and South Asian communities. In addition, collection technicians will enhance the records for our collection of New Zealand and international studio ceramics.

Aboriginal bark painting, c.1995; 1995-152-2, 21667; Photographer Daan Hoffman; © Auckland Museum All Rights Reserved

Documentary Heritage highlights

Among the Documentary Heritage collections that will be included are the books of nineteenth-century collector James T. Mackelvie and heritage publications reflecting the history of voyaging and discovery in the Pacific. A comprehensive record of the UNESCO Memory of the World-registered Edmund Hillary manuscripts collection will be created, along with that of the photographic collections from the photographer and photojournalist Robin Morrison. We will also highlight select collections from amateur photographer soldiers of both world wars. The Museum’s own institutional archive will also feature providing a light onto its own history.

We will provide regular updates, revealing some of the amazing information we discover along the way. Look out for blogs, videos and social media posts for news and discoveries as the project unfolds.

Index of deceased members, 21st Battalion Association; MS-2008-42-OS-6-2; Photographer Daan Hoffman; © Auckland Museum CC BY


The IDEA project's Collection Technicians

Header image: Pihipihi / silvereye (Zosterops lateralis); LB1544; © Auckland Museum CC BY
Staff images: Photographer Richard Ng; © Auckland Museum All Rights Reserved