Te Papa Collections Online

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As both New Zealand’s national museum and the national art gallery, and founded on the idea of integrated collections, Te Papa has an incredibly broad collection.  Te Papa’s Collections Online provides access to a hugely diverse range of object types from artworks, to photographs, to Maori and Pacific artefacts, to social history items, to archives, through to  zoological and botanical collections.

Like many institutions we have released core metadata and images about as much of the collection as possible, but the Collections Online structure goes much further in implementing a joined up model for browsing the collections and the knowledge relating to those collections.

Collections Online aims to provide access in a way that respects the nature of each discipline but ensures visitors can navigate the entire collection.  In doing so, we want our visitors to understand the relationships between collections and benefit from the insights that can be generated from integrated collections and cross-collection browsing of Te Papa’s collections.

Collections Online achieves this in two key ways:

  • through the use of authority entities – People, Places, Taxa, and Categories –  across all collections; and
  • through the inclusion of topic narratives and scholarly publications linked to objects and other entities

 1.      Use of authorities / entities

Collections Online employs Person, Place, Taxa, and Category (subject, object classification, material etc) records as entities in their own right – i.e. a person related to the collection will have a unique page in Collections Online.  These authority records are inter-linked with records for Objects, Topics and Publications, becoming a node in a network that provides access to all that the museum has directly related to that entity, whether it be a person, a place, a taxa or a category.  These authorities / entities have been employed across all collections, enabling cross-collection browsing across both humanities and natural history collections types.

Some examples are described below:


A Person page can provide access to the:

  • objects a person owned, made, influenced or is depicted in
  • specimens a person collected or identified
  • topics (narratives) that mention that person
  • Publications authored by that person
  • places associated with that person
  • records for other People associated with that person

example: Captain James Cook

Further, filters are available for object results, so a visitor or researcher can select, for example, objects that depict the person, objects the person made, objects the person owned etc).


The Getty’s AAT and TGN and the Library of Congress TGMI are used as authority records within Collections Online.  This allows the visitor to not only browse the hierarchy of terms and view objects at each level of the hierarchy; but also to see scope notes associated with the term (utilising context we did not have to create ourselves) as well as being able to use data such as latitude and longitude to map objects, taxa / specimens and people.  These authorities have been employed across all collections, enabling cross-collection browsing across both humanities and natural history collections types.

example: Supernatural beings

example: Masks

example: Ceramics

example: Ferns


Similar to thesaurus structures, Taxon records (i.e.records for names of species of animals or plants) are linked hierarchically and a user can browse the taxonomic tree exploring broader or narrower groupings and see related specimens.  Taxa records include dynamically generated species distribution maps.  However, taxa records are not only linked to natural history specimens, they are also applied to humanities objects – artworks, photographs, Maori artefacts, archives etc where relevant – further enabling cross-collection browsing of Te Papa’s integrated collections.

example: Galaxias (koaro – type of fresh water fish) includes fish specimens, watercolours from the Art collection, fossils and Maori taonga (objects) used to catch this type of fish

example: Apteryx (kiwi) includes specimens, watercolours from the Art collection, historic photographs, and Maori cloaks made from feathers of these species

2.      Context through Topics and publications

Rather than treating narrative topics / stories and scholarly publications in discrete parts of Te Papa’s website, isolated from the online collection, Te Papa’s Collections Online integrates these.  Te Papa Collections Online provides access to narrative topics and published scholarly articles alongside and linked up to the records for the  objects, people, places, taxa or categories these texts refer to.  This means that visitors can find relevant stories and research articles associated with collection objects (or other entities) from their records, and likewise visitors can view the objects referred to in any particular topic story or publication from the record for the publication or topic.  Again, topics and publications are often cross-discipline and can reference and provide access to objects from across the humanities and natural history collections.


Topic – The aftercare of disabled soldiers (a sub-topic of a broader topic of World War 1)

Topic – King Tawhiao’s ferns

Publication – Rediscovering the collection: Cook Islands material culture…

Publication – Elsdon Best’s The Maori Volume I, 1923

Oh yeah, and there’s more:

  • The site is responsive, providing a good user experience on desktop, tablet and smartphone
  • All records – objects, topics, publications, people, places and categories, as well as all media and downloads – are delivered from a single collections database allowing easy updates by staff
  • Curatorial and collection staff from across the Museum create and update content, including media – cataloguing for access is now considered business as usual
  • 500,000 objects, 150,000 images
  • All page types have stable persistent identifiers that are also human readable identifiers e.g. collections.tepapa.govt.nz/Person/10800
  • The data structure is based on the CIDOC CRM
  • The home page has a generous interface displaying randomised topics and objects that users can refresh using the “show me more!” button
  • Open access image downloads launching in March 2014, with the first 10,000 of 30,000 public domain images being released
  • Each page pulls relevant New Zealand content from Digital NZ (New Zealand’s national collection metadata aggregator) via the Digital NZ API
  • Includes authoritative external links from any entity page for additional context
  • The design budget was very, very small