39th Annual Meeting – Electronic Media Afternoon Session 6/3/11, Equipment Obsolescence, Collection Complexities of the Goodwill Computer Museum, Virginia Luerhsen

Karen Pavelka (lecturer, University of Texas at Austin, School of Information)
Virginia Luehrsen (phD student, University of Texas at Austin, School of Information) *presenter
Collection Complexities of the Goodwill Computer Museum

The Goodwill Computer Museum in Austin, TX, was opened in 2005 and presents educational exhibits in computer technology.  The museum also provides information and support on the appropriate disposal and recycling of computers.  The museum is staffed by a director and twelve volunteers from UTexas, a collaboration that started in 2009, which now supports students doing surveys, creating databases, restoration, and cataloging.  Trying to gain better intellectual control over materials.  Challenges include building and facilities at the GCM.  The museum is split into four main areas, with an additional resale shop.  Computers in the museum are not kept plugged in and running because of the cost.  The archive contains manuals, documentation, and relative software.  Computer materials are processed in the same space as the rest of goodwill donations, which causes problems.  Moving between the four storage areas is difficult, which is an issue they are trying to address in grant applications.  Major donations have come in but space for storage is limited.  Light is fluorescent so visible and UV light levels are high.  Biggest problem is the generation of dust that accumulates on al, the equipment.  Loading bays introduce a high RH, pests, and dirt into the space.  There are no clear guidelines yet for storage and handling of the electronics, implementation is problematic, staff is inadequate, and there is yet to be a clear development plan.

The museum is a functioning museum, conservation is important and has been incorporated from the beginning.  Conservation at the GCM is about preserving the artifact, and the experience of using the machine.  The current museum director is an important resource to the museum, and has a background in software engineering.  Cleaning of the electronics is performed but mainly concerns dusting exteriors.

The preservation team is developing a machine called the “ditto”, which saves information from discs on bit stream.  They are also recreating an early computer.

The paper collection has conservation needs mainly in the area of rehousing, but in some cases greater intervention is needed.  They are currently using distance education tools to learn about appropriate conservation practices, often using Skype in a setup time frame for each project.  They were surprised by how effective the Skpye system is, and how much time is saved.  The technicians are working on site at the GCM, and Skyping with conservator Karen Pavelka at UT, which about 10 miles away.  They are exploring the applications of this remote training technique for situations such as emergency response after disasters.  Considering use of telephone lines rather than wifi in areas where that service is more reliable (ie Haiti).  Also transferring images via smart phones.  Looking forward to developing these projects with the UT partnership.

Questions: has Skype technique gone to CERT?  Yes, in coordination.  How do you get people interested in the collection if the machines don’t run?  Do scheduled demonstrations now, in the future want to employ docents to monitor the systems so people can use the machines.  Did have a problem with vandalism, so require more employees.  Suggestion to set up a calendar for different days spent on particular and popular technology, which may help draw interest and visitors.  Suggestion about dust accumulation to tent the area with plastic and pressurize it.  How is the software being dealt with?  One problem is law against retaining machines with personal information, which includes systems that have been modified.  Have a store of software they can reinstall on good machines, but most info is on the original carrier.  What would the ideal storage conditions be?  Address biggest concerns such as dust, reallocating space, increasing security in the galleries, possibly move to a new space.  Ideal would be 45-50% RH and 65 degrees.  Hard to define ideal because so many different media, so really need separate storage spaces.  What is the community around the museum?  Lots of retired engineers and currently working engineers, recent engineering and IT grads, and current students in the same disciplines.