Heritage Conservation Centre: Caring for the National Collection

Collections Management

The Collections Management (CM) department at HCC is responsible for the management of and facilitating access to the National Collection (NC).  Management of the NC includes storage and documentation, such as accessioning and movement documentation. Collection stores are maintained to provide the best possible environment to store the artefacts e.g. at optimal temperature and humidity, good housekeeping and pest management. Our Collections Managers and Officers also manage the movement of artefacts between the museums and HCC e.g. during installations and de-installations for exhibitions and storage, as well as movement of artefacts within HCC premises e.g. to conservation labs for treatment. One key activity of the CM department is the stocktake exercise, which is carried out together with our museum counterparts, to ensure that the NC is all accounted for. 
In addition, the CM department includes the Knowledge and Information Management (KIM) section, which facilitates documentation and digital access for the NC.

Read more about the KIM section which is a part of the Collections Management department:

Storage Matters

by Ang Boon Kok, Jia Han & Tan Xue Miao

Storage Matters

At any point in time, only less than 10% of the NC is on display at exhibitions, while the rest are in storage. With more than 250,000 NCs, collections management therefore plays a crucial role in managing and caring for artefacts.

Collections management refers to the provision of physical care and management of the collection. In HCC, a team of dedicated Collections Managers are responsible for overseeing collections functions, which include preventive maintenance, storage, and documentation.

Besides that, Collections Managers also manage work procedures such as new artefact/artwork receiving, accessioning, and facilitating access to the NC.

What Happens to a Newly Acquired Artefact at HCC?


Types of Storage

As an institution managing collections of cultural heritage, space optimisation is an ongoing concern. Hence, we maximise storage space by designing storage to best suit each artefact type, and arranging the artefacts to best fit these storage spaces. The accessibility of artefacts is also taken into consideration, ensuring safe and efficient retrieval.

Used for: Garments, 2-D Objects (e.g. Documents)

For garments, acid-free tissue is used as a buffer – allowing the garment to rest in its natural shape while laying flat. At HCC, we have nicknames for our common buffer shapes – ‘sausage’ and ‘pillow’!

Used for: Small Objects

With such a large volume of artefacts, labelling is crucial. Each label clearly states the tray’s location and contents.

Used for: Paintings

To avoid the direct handling of artworks without frames, handling frames might be created for easy handling. 

Used for: Objects, Offsite Storage

Heavy artefacts are placed on the bottom rack, while light artefacts are placed at the top. At HCC, our tallest racks are five metres high.

Used for: Textiles

Larger textiles require at least two people to roll and store.

Used for: Large Objects

Artefacts are stored in open crates to allow us to see them directly. A brief description of the artefact is also attached to the side of the crate.

A Day in the Life of Collections Managers


Knowledge & Information Management

The Knowledge and Information Management (KIM) is part of the CM department. KIM looks into documentation and facilitating digital access to our NC. This includes visual documentation of the NC, maintenance of collections management and movement systems, and heritage cataloguing. Singapore Collections Management System (SCMS) and Automated Collections Tagging System (ACTS) are both used to manage the NC. SCMS is a centralised database of our NC and is used by all parties working on the NC to update information of the artefacts. Images of artefacts by our Photographers and heritage cataloguing information by our Cataloguers are also stored in SCMS. Some of this information is made available to the public via Collections page on Roots.sg. ACTS is a RFID system which manages the location of artefacts and facilitates stocktake of our NC. 

Learn more about some of the tasks carried out by our KIM Photographers and Cataloguers in the subsequent sections.

Visual Documentation (Photography)

by Dave Lee

Visual Documentation

Visual documentation of the NC started in the 1970s using film and transparencies. In 2001, NHB made the transition to digital photography. Most of the visual documentation takes place in the photography studio at HCC. Visual documentation is part of the accessioning process. The images produced are used for multiple purposes, including in exhibition catalogues and online publishing. 

Two types of cameras are used for visual documentation at HCC: A 36 megapixel DSLR is used for most of the artefacts, while an 80 megapixel Medium Format Camera (MFC) is used for artefacts which require high colour accuracy or have a lot of fine detail. 

The Photographers’ monitors are set to auto calibrate every 200 hours to ensure accuracy in colour display. This helps to ensure that the colour of the image captured is as close to the colour of the artefact as possible. NCs are photographed in native camera RAW format and processed to TIFF and JPEG formats for archival and publication purposes respectively.

Our in-house Photographer, Dave, takes us through his task of photographing large textile pieces below.

Dave is photographing a piece of textile (2009-02101) which is about 5m long. Due to its length, it has to be taken with this setup. Dave ensures that the lighting is even across the entire textile.

Dave is checking the white balance and exposure value of the image. White balancing is the process of removing unwanted colour casts from the image to match it as closely as possible to the colour of the artefact. 

Before white balancing (left); After white balancing (right)

The process of white balance was applied to the image on the right – notice its colour is closer to the colour of the physical artefact.

While Dave is photographing the textile (2009-02004), another piece is being prepared for the next photo shoot.

Photoshoot Sets for Artefacts at HCC

Different object types need different photography set-ups due to different forms, sizes and the materials of the artefacts. 2D and 3D artefacts require different set-ups because of the height and depth of 3D objects.

2D photography set-up

The lights are set up to ensure that the whole artefact is evenly lit. The camera which is affixed to the copy-stand must be placed in the centre above the artefact to prevent any distortion of the artefact. 

3D photography set-up

Three or more lights are used to enhance the three-dimensional features of the artefacts. Hence the placing of the lights will differ according to the type of artefacts. 

Framed Prints or Paintings photography set-up

The camera’s sensor plane must be set parallel to the frame to prevent any distortions. The lights are set diagonally to reduce shadows cast by the frame. For paintings with glazing, this will help to reduce reflections from the lights.

Flat and lengthy objects photography set-up

Usually artefacts measuring between 3 to 6 meters would be photographed from this platform located in the ceiling of the studio. The textile or banner is placed flat below, while the Photographer goes up to this platform to use the camera set-up there to take the photograph. 

Guidelines for NC Artefact Photoshoot

HCC sees the benefits in developing standardised photo-documentation guidelines to communicate to both our stakeholders and partners on the process of how we photograph our NC. Check out the guidelines HCC developed to photograph artefacts using the set-ups mentioned above. 

There are two object types considered as 2D artefacts: a) Paper Artefacts; and b) Artefacts with a Flat Decorative Surface or artefacts that are unable to stand without support.

a) For paper artefacts such as manuscripts, documents, maps, photographs and currency notes etc., the mandatory view is a frontal top view of the artefact. If there is any information on the back of artefact, it is required to photograph the back view as well.

Front and back of artefact (2014-00216)


→ Click to the next image to see how an artefact with a flat decorative surface or an artefact that is unable to stand without proper support is photographed.

b) For artefacts with a flat decorative surface or artefacts that are unable to stand without support such as flat beadworks, flat pouches or wallets, flat sculptures, tiles, coins, textiles and garments etc., the mandatory view is a frontal top view of the artefact.

Frontal top view of artefact (2011-01881)

The object types considered as 3D artefacts for photography are items photographed at an angle to capture its height, width and depth. Examples include a) Caskets and Chests; b) Bowls and Plates; c) Furniture and other large artefacts; d) Sculptures.

For 3D artefacts that do not fall into the above-mentioned sub-categories, there would only be one oblique view of it.

a) For Caskets and Chests, 2 mandatory views are required. One is an oblique view of the artefact and the other view is with its hinged cover opened (if possible). If the sides of the artefact display
unique designs/ content, it is required to photograph the sides in a frontal view as well.

Oblique view and oblique view with hinge open of artefact (2017-00827)


→ Click to the next image to see how a bowl is photographed.

b) For Bowls and Plates, the mandatory view is an oblique view of the artefact. If the interior of the artefact includes unique designs/ content, a frontal top view of the artefact is photographed as well. It is also important to photograph any information (trademark, manufacturer’s mark, seal or signature etc.) at the base of the artefact.

Oblique view and frontal top view of artefact (2014-00443)

For unmounted/ framed paintings, scroll paintings and artworks etc., the mandatory view is a frontal top view of the artwork. Inclusion of the colour chart in the image is required. The colour chart is to be positioned centrally along the artefact’s edge without causing damage to the artefact. The colour chart acts as a post-production guide to ensure that the white balance and luminance is accurate.

Artwork (2017-00231) (left) Scroll painting (P-0374) (right)

For textiles and banners longer than 3.5m, the mandatory view is a frontal top view of the artefact. The artefact is shot from the ceiling platform to cover the entire length.

Frontal top view of artefact (2009-02101)

Heritage Cataloguing

by Afiqah Zainal & Ho Swee Ann

Heritage Cataloguing

In this digital age, there are new ways to facilitate access to the artefacts in the NC beyond the museums’ physical space. To tap on this potential, HCC started heritage cataloguing in 2014, which involves the attribution of metadata (terms/controlled vocabulary) to describe the artefacts in the collections digital database. The purpose of cataloguing is to organise and structure the digital artefact records to enhance search and retrieval of the artefacts on (1) the Collections page on Roots.sg (2) SCMS, our internal database, and (3) on other platforms such as digital interactives placed in the exhibition galleries at museums or heritage institutions.

Enhancing Digital Access

Tagging the artefacts with controlled vocabulary maintains a consistent use of metadata (terms) amongst the NC records which results in organised records for efficient search and retrieval. How is this done?


Enhancing digital access


A Cataloguer reads and assesses the artefact’s information that has been provided by the Curators, Collection Managers and Conservators. Additional research is then conducted to ensure the accuracy of terms used to describe the artefact. These terms are attributed according to a set list of cataloguing fields, such as the ones you see below.


Enhancing digital access


Cataloguers refer to local and international thesauri to choose the most suitable terms to complete the above fields. Cataloguers ensure that the term’s scope of use is applicable to describe the artefacts. [Examples of thesauri - Getty’s Art and Architecture Thesaurus (AAT), Library of Congress Authorities (LC), Getty’s Thesauri of Geographic Names (TGN), NLB’s Taxonomy and Thesaurus Editor (TTE)]


Enhancing digital access


These terms are called controlled vocabularies – standardised and organised terms to ensure consistency in artefact description; which aid in content organisation and online retrievals.


did you know


Check out how metadata created via heritage cataloguing can be used!


Enhancing digital access


The artefact records are published on the Collections page on Roots.sg. Click here to check out our Collections page on Roots.sg!


Digital Engagement Collaboration Project with NMS

The catalogued metadata and images taken by HCC Photographers may be used on digital platforms for various projects, such as the Interactive Discovery Map installed in An Old New World exhibition at the National Museum of Singapore from September 2019 – March 2020. Let us walk you through a few selected features of the interactive in these images, if you had missed it at the exhibition.

Visitors were presented with an animated interface of an amalgamation of maps from Laurie & Whittle’s Oriental Pilot (2018-00081) . Small animated ships glided across the screen imitating the route operated by the British East India Company, passing by significant ports of interest during the late 18th century.

An animated scene at the trading port greeted the visitors when a port of interest was clicked on, for example, Gravesend. This animation was created from an aquatint produced by Thomas and William Daniell in A Picturesque Voyage to India (2017-01042).  
Visitors could read an excerpt on Gravesend, displayed with a selection of artefacts and artworks from our National Collection associated with this location. This was made possible as these objects were attributed with the same term for the field “Place”, during the cataloguing process.
Visitors could also learn more about an artefact or artwork of interest, with the object’s information displayed by fields such as date, place, object type, material and techniques, followed with a short write-up. Visitors could also explore similar objects according to material, date, place, and object type; for example, Paper, 19th century, United Kingdom, and Books, as seen from the image. These links were made possible by standardising and linking related terms.
A variety of artefacts and artworks, with their array of colours and forms, were brilliantly displayed on each screen. Visitors could select any object or field type in this interactive, exploring these objects linked seamlessly by the catalogued metadata. These explorative links, unique to each visitor, enables greater discoverability of the National Collection.

Classifying Artefacts in the NC

Classifying Artefacts

An example of NHB Object Type Taxonomy

Have you seen groups of objects arranged in a hierarchical manner? That’s a taxonomy!

Cataloguers are also developing the NHB Taxonomy, of which the first is the Object Type Taxonomy. A taxonomy organises terms or concepts to reflect the relationships between/amongst NC, providing them with a structure. The NHB Object Type Taxonomy aims to organise the NC artefacts according to their form and function. The object type categories and labels establish hierarchical and associative relationships amongst them.

  • Hierarchical: Broader/Narrower Term relationships
  • Associative: Related Term relationships

Click here (coming soon) to explore the NHB Object Type Taxonomy which aids browsing of the NC artefacts on the Collections Classification page on Roots.sg. 

A Day in a Life of a Photographer and a Cataloguer