Archive for the 'Managing the Collective Collection' Category

Museum Data Exchange – Report Executive Summary

Friday, January 15th, 2010 by Günter

The final report of the Museum Data Exchange grant will be released on the OCLC Research website later this month. As a first impression of key outcomes, I’ve posted the executive summary below. Stay tuned!


The Museum Data Exchange, funded by the Andrew W. Mellon Foundation, brought together a group of nine museums and OCLC Research to create tools for data sharing, build a research aggregation and analyze the aggregation. The project established infrastructure for standards-based metadata exchange for the museum community and modeled data sharing behavior among participating institutions.

The tools created by the project allow museums to share standards-based data using the Open Archives Initiative Protocol for Metadata Harvesting (OAI-PMH).

  • COBOAT allows museums to extract Categories for the Description of Works of Art (CDWA) Lite XML out of collections management systems
  • OAICatMuseum 1.0 makes the data harvestable via OAI-PMH
  • COBOAT’s default configuration targets Gallery Systems’ TMS, but can be adjusted to work with other vendor-based or homegrown database systems.

    Both tools are a free download from here.
    Configuration files adapting COBOAT to different systems can be shared here.
    Read the rest of this entry »

    The Cult of Brewster Finds Its Church

    Tuesday, October 20th, 2009 by Roy

    The Internet Archive's New HomeLast night Brewster Kahle of the Internet Archive unveiled his latest project in a venue suitable for any high priest or cult leader — a former Christian Science Church in San Francisco. As it turns out, the Internet Archive recently purchased the building, and as Brewster remarked during the grand unveiling of the Bookserver project, it even matches their long-time logo, which was selected on purpose to imply a physical library.

    Although the mood in the great room of the church that eventually Brewster hopes to turn into a modern-day library reading room was more hallelujah-inspiring than anything, the day preceding had been more down-and-dirty technical. The two-day meeting (still going on as I write this), is more about AtomPub and identifiers than holy water and consecrated wafers, but all of it does take a certain amount of faith. Read the rest of this entry »

    Going Beyond: The Silos of the LAMs in the UK

    Tuesday, August 25th, 2009 by Günter

    After successfully wrapping up a series of panel presentations at ALA, SAA and AAM, we’re now taking our LAMs to the UK. CILIP asked us to create a day-long event around library, archive and museum collaboration. Internally, we’ve code-named this event “Beyond ‘Beyond the Silos of the LAMs,’” since we’re using our report [pdf] as a launch-pad for presenters and presentations going beyond our initial investigation. To the world, the event is known (without the stutter) as “Beyond the Silos of the LAMs”, and it’ll be held on September 15th in London. It’s not too late to register!
    Read the rest of this entry »

    The Smithsonian Challenge – Dr Wayne Clough @ SALT

    Wednesday, August 19th, 2009 by Günter

    Steward Brand and Wayne CloughEarlier this week, I heard Dr Wayne Clough, Secretary of the Smithsonian Institution, speak as part of the Long Now’s Seminars About Long Term Thinking (SALT) series. In his talk, he focused primarily on a part of the Smithsonian I confess I know a lot less about than its plethora of libraries, archives and museums: the Smithsonian’s science centers and the scientific work throughout the institution. Did you know that apart from all of those buildings on the mall, the Smithsonian maintains numerous research centers with activities in 88 countries, or that every 6th Smithsonian employee is working in astronomy? Or that the Smithsonian tends the longest scientifically observed plot of earth (a slice of rain forest in Panama, which it has researched for the last 100 years)? I didn’t, and I walked away newly impressed with the breadth and scope of Smithsonian engagement in science, and in particular its contributions to our knowledge about global warming.

    In the q&a, some of the question focused on what you might call more traditional “museum” concerns. A question about deaccessioning of materials triggered an interesting exchange between Clough and Steward Brand, the host of the lecture series. When Clough stated that the Smithsonian won’t duplicate collections at other museums, Brand followed up: “You have some network knowledge of what’s in all the museums of the world?” When Clough affirmed, Brand wanted to know: “Can we have access to that?”

    Of course, when Clough affirmed, the network he was talking about was the professional network among curators, as well as the published literature, which allowed the Smithsonian to know what other institutions collect. What Brand got intrigued by, however, was the idea that there might be a database system representing museum collections across the globe which the public might gain access to. Of course, such a database does not yet exist. It’s difficult to refrain from speculating how much inefficiency is built into museum practice because we lack such a resource.
    Read the rest of this entry »

    Smithsonian Web Strategy, CultureLabel: The Impact of Network Effects

    Friday, July 31st, 2009 by Günter

    The Smithonian just announced the release of its Web and New Media Strategy v 1.0 [pdf], which has come together swiftly in a process of marvelous openness and inclusion. As a campus-like institution with 19 museums and galleries, 9 research centers, 18 archives, 1 library with 20 branches, and a zoo, the Smithsonian web-presence to date is as fragmented as its administrative parts (also see this presentation), and the chief goal of the web strategy is to offer the Smithsonian Commons as a unifying platform to SI units.

    The initial Smithsonian Commons will be a Web site […] featuring collections of digital assets contributed voluntarily by the units and presented through a platform that provides best-of-class search and navigation; social tools such as commenting, recommending, tagging, collecting, and sharing; and intellectual property permissions that clearly give users the right to use, re-use, share, and innovate with our content without unnecessary restrictions.

    Starting to skim through the report, this line in particular caught my attention:

    We are like a retail chain that has desirable and unique merchandise but requires its customers to adapt to dramatically different or outdated idioms of signage, product availability, pricing, and check-out in every aisle of each store.

    I think this is an apt metaphor for how the Smithsonian currently undermines its own potential, and should serve as a memorable rallying cry for the changes the web strategy advocates.

    As coincidence would have it, this metaphor also handsomely dovetails with another intriguing piece of news, gleaned from the UK Museum Computer Group list (posted by Simon Cronshaw, Director of CultureLabel):

    If you haven’t come across CultureLabel yet, our aim is to facilitate a united alliance of museum e-stores to forge a new mainstream consumer shopping category of ‘cultural shopping’ – in a similar way to how ethical shopping or alternative gifts have crystallised as buying categories in the public consciousness. We see this as a great new opportunity for both income generation and innovative audience development for all our culture partners.

    While the Smithsonian aims to integrate its digital collection into a more cohesive webpresence, CultureLabel aims to integrate museum e-stores (for starters, those in the UK – more here) into one massive one-stop shop. What’s true for digital collections is equally true for products from the museum store: bringing together assets from a wide variety of players creates a webpresence with more gravity, which in turn will attract a wider audience. The Smithsonian Commons and CultureLabel both take advantage of a fundamental network effect: the more assets, the more users (customers / site visitors); the more users, the more participation (purchasing / tagging, commenting, etc.). The brand, a term featuring prominently both in the SI Web Strategy and on the CultureLabel website, ultimately is the biggest winner.

    The Smithsonian web strategy acknowledges that the fragmented offering severely limits the impact pan-institutional assets currently have. Taking a step back, of course this logic also applies to the larger community: fragmenting our offerings into thousands of institutional websites severely limits the impact and potential of the collective museum collection.

    With 60 participating museums and galleries, CultureLabel breaks down those institutional barriers, and stands as one of the most extensive data sharing exercise museums have engaged in to date. It’s a little sobering, if not surprising, that the gift shop is ahead of the collection in this instance. Can we do for museum collections what CultureLabel has done for museum commerce? Can we scale the model and the values of the Smithsonian Commons to a Commons for all museums? If it works for products, let’s make it work for digital collections.

    Impact Measures and Library Selection

    Thursday, May 14th, 2009 by Constance

    I have just been reading a recent article by Kathy Enger* published in Library & Information Science Research that examines the potential value of citation analysis as a selection tool in academic library acquisitions. Enger proposes that citation analysis of the journal literature might be used to identify potentially high-impact books for inclusion in a college or university library collection. The reasoning here is quite interesting: based on the observation that humanities and social science scholars rely more heavily on monographs than journals as a vehicle of scholarly communication, a sampling method is used to identify high impact journals in the social sciences and then cull from these the top cited authors. If these authors have also published books not already represented in the local collection, the titles are acquired on the premise that the content is likely to represent ‘high value’ scholarship. Library circulation figures are later examined to determine if these titles are used (borrowed) more frequently than titles selected through traditional means.

    This seems like a proposition worth testing. Read the rest of this entry »

    An open Smithsonian, all around

    Monday, May 11th, 2009 by Günter

    As part of the process for arriving at the Smithsonian’s Web and New Media strategic plan, Michael Edson created a Wiki on which Smithsonian staff discuss their points of view in plain site of anybody who is interested in listening in. This experiment in radical transparency is in and of itself noteworthy, and so is the content which surfaces on the Wiki. Encouraged by @mpedson’s tweet, I particularly took note of two short talks arguing in favor of open access to museum content. The first paper (titled “Publish Everything!”) is by Betsy Broun (Director, Smithsonian American Art Museum); the second paper (titled “Make Content Freely Available”) is by Lauryn Guttenplan (Associate General Counsel at the Smithsonian). Both papers were presented as part of the Smithsonian 2.0 Forum on April 21, 2009. One reason why I found these notes remarkable is because those who are speaking represent the class of professional who oftentimes is perceived to be scuttling plans for making data more openly available – not in this instance!

    Here are the outtakes I would have marked yellow if I had actually printed the pieces instead of saving a tree and reading online.
    Read the rest of this entry »

    Treasures on trucks (and other taboos)

    Friday, May 8th, 2009 by Merrilee

    About a million years ago (okay, in 2002) RLG held a forum called “Sharing the Wealth.” We used the event to poke and prod — why don’t special collections lend materials? Of course, some institutions do lend from special collections, but most do not. Could we use those that do lend as exemplars and learn from their experience? Could we use the SHARES partnership to pilot some good practice in this area? Could we use digitization on demand to share (“too expensive!” said most participants). We raised more than a few hackles, and started some good conversations, but the idea didn’t exactly catch fire.

    In a Shifting Gears world, with a greater emphasis on giving broader access to collections in the care of special collections, we’re raising this scary issue again. My colleagues Jennifer Schaffner and Dennis Massie are putting on a Webinar along with practitioners from the RLG Partnership: Emory University will speak from the perspective of an institution that’s been doing this successfully for years; University of Miami is new to the discussion and just starting to consider the issues involved before coming to any decision to make their treasures more widely available.

    If you are a member of the RLG Partnership, I hope you will join us for this discussion (May 28th, 8 am Pacific / 11 am Eastern, etc.).

    Contact Dennis, Jennifer, or me for more information. Also, consider signing up for one of our many Partner lists to receive information of this type more directly.

    Analysis Methodology for Museum Data

    Wednesday, April 29th, 2009 by Günter

    In a previous post, I’ve shared some background about the data analysis phase of our Museum Data Exchange Mellon grant, and posted some of the questions our museum participants wanted to have answered. In the meantime, we have created a spreadsheet [pdf] which captures our ideas to date of what questions we may want to ask of the 850K CDWA Lite XML records from 9 museums. Note that the methodology captured by this spreadsheet lays out a landscape of possibilities – it is not a definitive checklist of all the questions we will answer as part of this project. Only as we get deeper into the analysis will we know which questions are actually tractable with the tools we have at hand. I’d appreciate any thoughts on additional lines of inquiry we could pursue with our analysis, or other observations!

    Read the rest of this entry »

    “If it is controversial, we have to talk about it.”

    Tuesday, April 28th, 2009 by Jennifer

    Susan Hamson (Columbia) came out with this zinger. We were talking about public services and delivery for archives, special collections and rare books. I think the topic that day was ILL of special collections, a real hot potato.

    How can we get more people’s fingers on the pages and in the boxes? Not just in reading rooms, but on the web? Over the past three months, the RLG Steering Committee for Special Collections Delivery tackled questions at the public services end of the lifecycle of unique material. Dennis and I listened in as Cristina Favretto (Miami), Mattie Taormina (Stanford) and Susan sifted through creative ambitions to “do it better.” The committee asked, “What is the collective mind? What to stop doing? Who has the most innovative practices?”

    Mattie, Cristina and Susan each asked their administration what changes management could support. They settled on four projects for starters: sharing (really sharing) special collections, balancing copyright management and risk, tapping the expertise of users, and best practices for scan-on-demand and photography. If you want to participate in one of these projects, put your hand up.

    I felt a bit as if I was watching Wall-E sorting through the detritus of past cultures, considering each piece thoughtfully and then picking up projects that could change the world, system-wide, for real. In every case, at least one or two of the trio had good reasons not to tackle the topic at their own institution, but agreed the project would have an impact. In a Friday afternoon email volley, Susan wrote:

    “Are we representing the interests of our institutions or do we move forward representing the interests of the profession and the patron?  ILL is tricky, permission fees are too–but what are we doing if not pushing the boundaries to engage a debate and discussion?  We’re not establishing policy for our institutions, but we are professionals engaged in the work of exploration and, maybe, change.  If not where we sit but some place else.  We’re not proposing that our institutions throw caution to the wind and abandon all that it good and holy–we’re just pausing to think about something new.  Putting it out there doesn’t make it so (well…).

    “Now I’m not comfy with the ILL thing, but I still want to put it out there.  We’re archivists, dammit!   We have super powers (my bone folder is the source of all my super powers).”

    Read the rest of this entry »