Case Study

Crowdsourcing Collection Data: Using the Open-Source CatalogBot to Enable Public Participation and Enrich and Preserve Data

The Australian Computer Museum Society (ACMS), an organization dedicated to preserving the history of computing technology in Australia, embarked on a project to catalog their vast collection of artifacts and engage the public to enrich their records. After adopting CatalogIt to create a digital catalog, the ACMS created and implemented CatalogBot, an innovative, open-source feature empowering the organization to crowdsource valuable information from the public and preserve their stories for future generations.

The ACMS preserves and showcases technological artifacts of all kinds, with a particular emphasis on Australian IT.

Discovering CatalogIt and Implementing the CMS 

The ACMS is a volunteer-driven organization and museum dedicated to protecting, preserving, and showcasing technological artifacts of all kinds, with a particular emphasis on Australian IT. Established in 1994, the ACMS houses an extensive collection of over 60,000 items and has faced the challenge of documenting its artifacts in a scalable manner. For years the organization recorded information about their collection using Excel spreadsheets and corresponding photos, but in 2021 they determined it was time to implement a more formal digital catalog so they could document their full inventory and physically locate objects more easily.

Their team began a search for a CMS that would meet their needs, assessing a variety of options before selecting CatalogIt. “CatalogIt came out on top. It won over all of the others,” said George Murdocca, a DevOps Engineer and long-time member of the ACMS who works on their software integration projects. “The main reason was [because] the mobile app was the most useful, as well as the operational process to add artifacts to the catalog.” In addition, CatalogIt’s cloud-based platform was a key deciding factor. “CatalogIt is particularly helpful to us because we don’t have to worry about backups [or maintenance]- they are done automatically because it’s on a cloud server,” said Dr. Sebastian Boell, researcher of information and communication technologies at the University of Sydney Business School as well as ACMS board member who helps manage their cataloging efforts. 

The ACMS uses CatalogIt to document and manage their extensive collection of over 60,000 items, many of which are browsable on the CatalogIt HUB.

Cataloging an Extensive Collection and Improving Data Accuracy and Coverage

With CatalogIt now in place, the organization embarked on their journey to retrospectively document their extensive collection. “Efficiency was the first priority,” said Sebastian, so the team put together a comprehensive cataloging process to begin documenting their artifacts. Volunteers play a vital role in taking pictures of the collection, uploading them through bulk upload, and adding additional information to enrich the entries. By scanning QR codes for internal records, ACMS team members can quickly access and update entries. “They pick artifacts and go through the processes of taking photos, writing up a description, adding provenance, etc.,” said George. “They try to capture as much of the story as they can.”

The seamless integration of CatalogIt with the team’s workflow has expedited the cataloging process, improved data accuracy, and helped to establish a simpler process for documenting new accessions that come into the museum. Because the ACMS publishes their collection information to the web via their CatalogIt HUB page, any member of the public can now browse their artifacts.

All entries on the ACMS' CatalogIt HUB page include a link to their public forum, CatalogBot.

The Birth of CatalogBot

With a growing, digitally accessible catalog, the organization began to wonder how they could encourage public engagement and gain additional information about the artifacts in their collection. “We noticed that some museums offered a crowdsourcing approach,” said Sebastian. “We thought, how can we engage the public more with crowdsourcing some of the data?” George began to brainstorm how they could use the resources at their fingertips to facilitate this engagement. “Anyone in the public can go to our CatalogIt account and see our artifacts, so let's come up with a way to allow the public to discuss items, add their own pictures, or talk about their experience with it,” said George. “That place of choice, of course, was our public forum.”

The ACMS had already been using the public forum, Discourse, to facilitate interactions with others, so CatalogBot was born. CatalogBot is an innovative initiative created by George. Inspired by the concept of a Wiki, CatalogBot allows the public to discuss collection items, add pictures, and share their experiences with specific artifacts. “We wanted to have a two-way link where people can access a forum entry that links to the catalog entry and vice versa,” said Sebastian. The ACMS facilitated this by including a link to their forum in the details of every item entry on their HUB page. Their call to action simply reads, “Discuss this item on our forum.” 

CatalogBot allows the public to discuss collection items, add pictures, and share their experiences with specific artifacts.

Crowdsourcing Valuable Information with an Open-Source Integration 

Accessibility was a key factor in the creation of CatalogBot. “The integration itself is totally public and open source,” said George. This open-source initiative allows other organizations to freely access and utilize the integration’s code for similar projects, fostering a collaborative approach to enriching collection data and public engagement. Additionally, the ACMS envisions that CatalogBot will help to preserve personal stories about the items in their collection. “It will increase our ability to provide narratives about how things were used in the past, and in what context people were using them,” said Sebastian. “We hope to encourage people to share their stories about items in our collection so that we can capture and retain them for the future.”

Since its launch in September 2022, there have been roughly 30 artifacts in their collection that people have clicked on and discussed, “so it’s getting some traction,” said George. “The discussions are interesting- people can relate to the artifacts and want to talk about it.” Additionally, as more of the organization’s collection is cataloged and published to their CatalogIt HUB page, there are more opportunities to spark public discussion. “As it grows, there will be more momentum,” said George. By leveraging this public engagement, the ACMS is not only receiving assistance in enriching their collection records, but also preserving valuable stories for future generations. George continued, “I’m really happy to have developed this open source integration so that other users of CatalogIt can do something similar and generate discussions about their collections.”

The ACMS also uses the public forum Discourse to further facilitate interactions with others, fostering a collaborative approach to enriching collection data.

A Vision for the Future

George hopes that other like-minded organizations focused on preservation will consider an open-source engagement initiative, as well. “It’s not a difficult integration to deploy,” he said. “The CatalogBot itself is on GitHub, and I’m more than willing to answer questions for our users on how to make it work!” 

The ACMS has ambitious plans for the future of its collection management, as well. Their ultimate goal is to finish all of their retrospective cataloging while continuing to foster discussions about their collection through CatalogBot. “It’s more than just a collection of technology,” Sebastian says, “but also a collection about their use and engagement, and how they became relevant in the world.”

Australian Computer Museum Society

New South Wales, AU

“I’m really happy to have developed this open source integration so that other users of CatalogIt can do something similar and generate discussions about their collections.”

George Murdocca

DevOps Engineer and ACMS Member
Plan Type





Explore Products
More case studies

McFaddin-Ward House

Texas, USA
Read case study

Congregation B'nai Jehudah

Missouri, USA
Read case study

Temple B’rith Kodesh

New York, USA
Read case study