Sitting on the shore of Oakland’s picturesque Lake Merritt, the Camron-Stanford Historic House was the City’s first museum, when it served as the Oakland Public Museum from 1907-1965. Today, the meticulously restored 19th-century mansion takes visitors on a “time travel” adventure to the 1880s where they can explore daily life from the Victorian era.
Iliana Morton, Assistant Director and Collections and Exhibits Manager at the House, documents the decorative art, fine art, furniture, textiles, and household objects that embody the collection.
Iliana strives to “...make people aware of the broad scope of 19th century life in Oakland” she said. “It wasn’t all these proper Victorian ladies walking around in gorgeous dresses. There’s so much more to the 19th century than that, especially in California.”
When she joined the Camron-Stanford House as an intern, Iliana had her work cut out for her. Her job was to catalog a collection that hadn’t yet been digitized. Beyond paper records, there was limited documentation on the items’ specific locations, their descriptions, or their condition.
As Iliana grew into her current role, she worked on systematically documenting and digitizing the House’s collections. She started on a different collections software, but found the system overly complicated and difficult to use.
Before digitizing its records, the House’s collections data was stored in overflowing file cabinets, with additional records written in a faded red accession ledger
Then, the Camron-Stanford House switched to CatalogIt.
“We gave it a try with the free museum demo and it just seemed to work really well for us. It was very intuitive to use. It was something that would allow me to train future interns and our volunteers to use. So just the ease of use is what really grabbed me in and just the way you input data really made sense for us.”
A simplified but robust process for inputting photos and capturing precise location information has been “incredible” for the historic house, says Iliana. She has developed an efficient workflow for documenting each item, using the CatalogIt app to systematically go around one of the House’s elaborate rooms, each their own “beast,” to quickly snap photos and record the objects’ locations. She also conducts quick condition reports while she’s building these preliminary entries. Later, when she can sit down at her computer, she proceeds to flesh out the entries with additional details.
Preventative conservation efforts, which work to preserve an object to limit its need to be sent out for conservation, are crucial for Iliana, since the small historic house outsources much of its conservation work.
“Having a spot in CatalogIt to report all that data and track it has been really […] life-changing for us” she said. “It's something that a lot of other systems don't do well, so I was glad to see it in a way that makes sense.”
Seeing who cared for an object last and documenting when it needs to be cared for in the future are functions she can easily perform through CatalogIt’s maintenance fields.
While training docents and volunteers, Iliana uses the CatalogIt HUB, utilizing the folders she’s published to the web as a training resource. The HUB gives them access to the background information they need about the collection in a simple and searchable way.
The HUB has also helped the historic house address the ongoing challenge of making their name, mission, and collections visible. Making collections accessible to interested members of the community is in line with the institution’s goals. In the future, Iliana plans to create thematic experiences in the HUB so that community members can experience the collections online as well as in person.