Archive for the 'Museums' Category

OAICatMuseum now supports the LIDO XML Schema

Thursday, May 24th, 2012 by Bruce

One of the contributions made by OCLC Research to its Museum Data Exchange project was the OAICatMuseum OAI-PMH repository software. OAICatMuseum is an extension to OCLC’s OAICat software that included support for delivering records in the CDWA Lite XML schema.

Since that project completed in 2009, work has continued within the cultural materials community towards improving the ways in which object descriptions can be conveyed in machine-readable form. One result of that work is the LIDO (Lightweight Information Describing Objects) schema. Version 1 of the schema was announced at the ICOM/CIDOC conference in November 2010. LIDO was built upon the success of CDWA Lite, the German Museum Association’s museumdat, and input from the community and technology professionals.

Though a relatively recent descriptive standard, LIDO is already seeing increasing use, particularly in Europe. To facilitate its use, over the past few months we worked closely with David Parsell of the Yale Center for British Art and with Ben Rubenstein and colleagues at Cognitive Applications to extend OAICatMuseum to support LIDO XML output.

The updated version of OAICatMuseum (version 1.1) is now available from the OCLC Research website.

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 »

    Crowdsourcing Lessons

    Monday, September 14th, 2009 by Roy

    The Library of Congress, the Smithsonian Institution, more RLG Partners and others have participated in the Flickr Commons, all to try to leverage what’s become known as “crowdsourcing” — “the act of taking tasks traditionally performed by an employee or contractor, and outsourcing it to an undefined, generally large group of people or community in the form of an open call,” as Wikipedia describes it. By posting content on the web in places where many people frequent, the Library of Congress and others are hoping to attract descriptions, subject labels, and other useful content to enrich their finding tools. And this has undeniably led to enriched descriptions.

    But tossing something out on the “interwebs” and creating an effective crowdsourcing environment are two very different things. And this article, from the Nieman Journalism Lab, describes lessons from the Guardian newspaper in the UK that recently used crowdsourcing in their amazing unveiling of the British Parliament expenses scandal. The “four lessons” they point out include:

    1. “Your workers are unpaid, so make it fun.” Make it feel like a game, even if it seems like work to you.
    2. Public attention is fickle, so launch immediately.” If it is newsworthy, in other words, strike while the iron is hot.
    3. “Speed is mandatory, so use a framework.” Again, applies if something is newsworthy and has a limited span of time to attract attention. Luckily, there are fast ways you can get going with a site.
    4. “Participation will come in one big burst, so have servers ready.” Also important for when you have a short but intense focus of attention. The Guardian used Amazon’s EC2 infrastructure, for which during the brief span of their project they figure they spent somewhere under 60 pounds. Right, chump change.

    Although these tips are definitely skewed toward a crowdsourcing opportunity tied to a newsworthy situation (and therefore of a short-lived attention span), libraries, museums, and archives are not immune from such events. Therefore, it would be good for us to be ready to exploit such opportunities when they arise. For example, what about the 100th anniversary of an author’s birth? That’s a newsworthy event, were an archive chock-full of that author’s content and papers able to exploit the crowd in some useful way. Just sayin’.

    Note: Thanks to Rose Holley, of the Australian Newspapers Project and a member of our RLG Partnership Social Metadata Working Group, for pointing this out.

    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 »

    Beyond “Beyond the Silos of the LAMs”

    Thursday, August 13th, 2009 by Ricky

    Those of you in Austin for SAA might want to consider attending what promises to be a great panel presentation:
    SESSION 704 – Libraries, Archives, and Museums: Converging for Real – Sat., Aug. 15, 2009, 1:30 – 3 PM in Salon J

    We’ve got three great speakers who will tell the story of their experiences following their RLG Workshops on LAM collaboration. Dan Santamaria will tell what’s happened with the three projects Princeton committed to during the workshop. Emmanuelle Delmas-Glass will talk about intervening organizational change and its impact on collaboration at Yale. And Nancy Gwinn will talk about going beyond intra-institutional collaboration at the Smithsonian.

    See you in Austin!

    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.

    The scale of orphan relief

    Tuesday, June 9th, 2009 by John

    The phrase orphan works recalls the world of Oliver Twist, so perhaps it’s appropriate that JISC has just announced the publication of a UK report looking at the ‘orphan problem’ in UK libraries, museums and archives: In from the Cold: An assessment of the scope of ‘Orphan Works’ and its impact on the delivery of services to the public

    Access to over 50 million items held in trust by publicly funded agencies such as libraries, museums, archives and universities are being prevented from being available online due to current copyright laws. ‘In from the Cold’, a report by the Strategic Content Alliance and the Collections Trust, shows that millions of so-called ‘orphan works’ – photographs, recordings, texts and other ephemera from the last 100 years – risk becoming invisible because rights holders are not known or easy to trace.

    The report was commissioned to find the scale and impact of ‘orphan works’ on public service delivery.

    The issues for libraries are balanced up with those which affect museums and archives, which reflects the joint authorship of the report. The Strategic Content Alliance (SCA) consists of a range of UK public digital content providers (JISC, the British Library, the National Health Service, the BBC, the Museums, Libraries & Archives Council and Becta, in its own words the government agency leading the national drive to ensure the effective and innovative use of technology throughout learning). The SCA aims to build a common information environment where users of publicly funded e-content can gain best value from the investment that has been made by reducing the barriers that currently inhibit access, use and re-use of online content. It has been joined in this report by The Collections Trust, which was formerly known as the Museums Documentation Association. The scale problem is very explicitly quantified in the Executive Summary, with a number of startling figures (the emphases are mine):

    2. The mid-range estimates put the total number of Orphan Works, represented in our sample of 503
    responses to the online survey, at a total of in excess of 13 million.
    3. Individual estimates suggest that there are single organisations in the survey sample that hold in excess of 7.5 million Orphan Works. If we include even a few of these extreme examples in our calculations, it appears likely that this sample of 503 organisations could represent volumes of Orphan Works well in excess of 50 million.
    4. Extrapolated across UK museums and galleries, the number of Orphan Works can conservatively be estimated at 25 million, although this figure is likely to be much higher.

    9. Organisations spent on average less than half of one day tracing rights for each Orphan Work. Therefore it would take in the region of 6 million days effort to trace the rights holders for the 13 million works represented in our on-line survey.

    (The SCA blog translates the 6 million days of effort into 16,000 years). Read the rest of this entry »

    Digital Image Licensing – The debate rages on…

    Tuesday, May 26th, 2009 by Günter

    Whenever the topic of digital image licensing comes up, I listen closely. While my eyes tend to glaze over when somebody tries to explain the legalese of it all to me (I’m sure it’s my fault), I find this discussion fascinating when individuals relate access to high quality images to the mission of their institution, to the way they’d like to serve the public, and to the sustainability of the business enterprise their institution represents. A recent exchange on MCN-L lets your put your finger on the pulse of this spirited discussion in the museum community.

    While some of the arguments aren’t entirely new, a good bit of very creative thinking surfaced as well: Alan Newman (NGA), for example, proposed a self-service site for licensing images on a sliding scale – if the Met fares well by allowing you to set your own entry fee into the museum, so he argues, why don’t we let those who’d like to use our digital images chose how much they can afford to pay for them? At that point in the discussion, I chimed in to cheer Alan on, and to suggest that such a licensing site would be all the more powerful if it weren’t custom-built and re-built by every museum in the country, but a cloud service available to all for a reasonable fee.

    While the fear that bad things may happen if high resolution images are made available online is still present in the debate, what I heard overall leads me to believe that the gradual shift towards more open access is continuing – but maybe I’m just hearing what I’d like to hear.

    I’ve pulled out some of the statements people made on the list, and compiled them for this blog-post under the “more” link. I hope this discussion continues, and I hope others will find their way to MCN-L and join in! The complete context for all the quotes I’ve pulled can be found in the list archives here. To my mind, this discussion is a bellwether for how museums see themselves, and where they’d like to go. Enjoy!

    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 »