Archive for March, 2006

Metropolitan’s Scholars’ License

Monday, March 20th, 2006 by Günter

I had a chat with Susan Chun of the Metropolitan Museum a couple of weeks ago, and she told me how their 3 year investigation into procuring a digital asset management system (they wound up purchasing Interwoven’s MediaBin) instigated a lot of change within the museum. For instance, the prospect of having a sophisticated system to manage digital assets made the Met look at cataloguing with new eyes, and they decided that they needed more metadata geared towards efficiently retrieving images – hence the STEVE project, a collaborative exploration of how museums could employ user supplied tags for searching.

How to distribute digital images widely, and especially allow them to saturate the academic sphere, became another discussion triggered by the impending DAMS installation. Susan recently announced the result of the Met’s efforts at the annual VRA conference in Baltimore, and since I couldn’t be there, she kindly shared some of the documents about what the Met short-hands as the “scholar’s license.” In the first phase of this project, the Met will make about 2,000 images available free of charge for scholarly publication. For now, the images will be distributed through ARTstor, but the Met hopes to interest other distributors as well. According to Susan, the license itself is very similar to a Creative Commons attribution, non commercial, no derivatives license – however, they modified the language to allow print-publications issued by a commercial press.

The panel on which Susan first went public with this information also featured Ken Hamma, and I think it is helpful to place the Met’s initiative in the context of Ken’s effort to make museums aware of how it serves their mission to freely share digital images of public domain artworks (more on this at hangingtogether here, here and here). To me, these approaches are complimentary and synergistic– they share the same fundamental goal of making more digital images from the museum domain available to the scholarly enterprise, yet they offer different paths towards that goal. Ken’s approach consciously breaks with the idea of requiring any license at all, and presents a compelling vision of where the community could go if it dared to. The Met’s licensed version of sharing looks like the kind of compromise museums may crave before taking the next step towards the more unfettered distribution of images Ken envisions. I hope both efforts continue to receive the thoughtful discussion they deserve, and move the community as a whole towards the realization that sharing content more freely will increase, not diminish, museums’ relevance and standing in today’s information society.

Collaborative Sourcing

Thursday, March 16th, 2006 by Jim

Aggregation – somebody has to pay.

In an earlier post I referred to an article by Lorcan Dempsey in which he’s quite convincing about the power that flows from aggregating supply and aggregating demand. He expands on this in a recent post about Libraries, Logistics and the Long Tail (which you ought to read although it is “long, long, long” but only for a blog entry.) One of the obvious things to take away from his discussion is that organizations other than the individual library, museum or archive are better suited to effectively aggregate demand. For some reason this kind of plain-speaking about the ways in which our information infrastructure has changed and the challenge that it poses to the boundaries of institutional thinking invokes irony (see this post) or sarcasm as a prerequisite to reflection. For instance, his entry drew the following in a reactive post:

“So, if exploiting the long tail requires aggregating demand, libraries aren’t the institutions to do it. You would need another institution, perhaps one that already is engaged in the business of bringing together supply and demand for bibliographic data. And who could that be? Oh, I don’t know, could be anybody really…like, say…OCLC???”

This did prompt what turned out to be an interesting and thoughtful exchange and it got me thinking about how often I’ve had to hear comparable things from people at organizations RLG was created to serve. I can’t explain this desire to label the pot of your own creation black. Maybe some of it is dysfunctional family behavior or residual academic attitude – we get cranky amongst ourselves.

RLG just got a bit of this in reaction to the release of ArchiveGrid (which is discussed elsewhere here by Anne). There was dismay at RLG’s attempt to monetize access to archival cataloging because we might have to revert to a subscription fee for the service if we’re unable to find continuing sponsorship. (And by the way the business model for archives and all cultural institutions is subsidy but that can be for another post…) This is Rumpelstiltskin economics – we say we can do it for ourselves, then when we have to rely on somebody else to accomplish the task there’s an argument about the fact that payment is in order,which engenders foot stomping, etc.

My point is that nobody in this arena is generating wealth, we’re all in it for the mission, and not only is it completely in order for organizations like RLG and OCLC to step up and provide the venue for the demands of the new environment, it ought to be expected.

That’s why these organizations were created. Our communities should insist that we take on these challenges, that we recreate ourselves in order to deliver what’s newly needed and then manage us so that the system of which we are all a part can thrive.

For me the future of collaboratively-owned, collaboratively-managed organizations like OCLC and RLG is to deliver on the need to collaboratively source (in Lorcan’s phrase) many of the functions that have long been thought to belong to an institution and have only been considered from an institution-wide perspective. At his valedictory to the assembled ARL librarians back in October 2005, Bill Bowen, the outgoing president of the Mellon Foundation said

“I probably should have said “system-wide perspective,” not just “institution-wide perspective,” because it is so clear, at least to me, that many of the most important developments will occur on a system-wide basis, will require new collaborations, and in many instances will need the catalytic contribution that a trusted third party can provide. It is important to avoid being trapped by too much institutional hubris and too much institutional competition. Technology demands a scale larger than that available to any single institution.”

Of course, he was thinking about Mellon’s own efforts to create new trusted third parties but his thought certainly applies to those supporting organizations we already have and which have earned that trust over more than thirty years.

Museum blogs – “one in a million”

Tuesday, March 7th, 2006 by Günter

My friend and colleague Rob Lancefield from Wesleyan U just alerted me to a museum blog survey by ideum, a company specializing in new media installations at and for museums. The short report is memorable for finding a total of 26 blogs, despite the fact that they counted the 6 Walker Art Center blogs as only 1 entry. The report quips:

Technorati, a popular blog search engine claims it searches 29.6 million blogs (as of March 3, 2006). Apparently, museum blogs are literally one-in-a-million.

According to the report, the earliest blog launched by a museum was a docent’s site at the Tacoma Art Museum in May 04. Hangingtogether makes an appearance as a “museum related” blog. The report is also memorable for containing the first mention I’ve seen of “Museum 2.0,” one would think in allusion to the heavily debatedLibrary 2.0” concept.

Incidentally, aiming to improve the statistical representations of museum blogs on the web, the joint MCN & AAM Media & Technology blog now has a name (which I may or may not be authorized to give a way, so for the time being, I won’t), and we just had Blake at LISHost install WordPress for us. Now comes selecting a theme, twiddling with the settings, and the seeding of the blog with fervent writers. We hope it’ll see the light of day before AAM’s annual conference in late April.

UPDATE: ideum posted an update to the list of blogs from the original paper – looks like their survey caused quite a stir, and nobody wanted to be left out in the cold! Jim Spadaccini asks fellow bloggers to re-post the list of blogs so they can gain “authority” by being more widely linked to, and since I’d really like to see the museum blogosphere thrive, I’m happy to oblige:

Blogs not included in the original survey
Exhibit Commons
NYC Museum Education Roundtable
Loreto Martin
Hamilton (Canada) Museum Educators Group
Audience Research
Portable Antiquities Blog
Museum Connect
Museum Madness
Modern Art Notes

Art Museums
Tacoma Art Museum Docents Blog
Goldwell Open Air Museum Blog
Walker Blogs (6 blogs)
Bronx Mus(eum)ings
Art @ the Katzen
Contemporary-Pulitzer Blog
Eye Level

Children’s Museums
The Children’s Museum Blog

History Museums
Port Moody Station Museum Blog
Dallas History Forum

Science Museums
RedShift Now
Science Buzz

About Museums
Museum Guru
Museum People’s Journal
Hanging Together
The Curator’s Egg
Museums and the Web
Museum Photographers Blog
Skillful Minds
Museum Pro
Ideum Blog
Mario Bucolo Museums Blog – the boon of my existence

Monday, March 6th, 2006 by Anne

Archives, the historical records, documents, evidence created by people, families, organizations and governments are essential for understanding our achievements and failures, our social and ethnic heritage. These resources are used to transmit our culture from one generation to the next and help us have a tangible connection to the past.

Like the people and organizations that create archives, the documentation has moved with them through their journeys across countries, and around the world. Their preservation, especially in the New World, has been both deliberate and serendipitous. And these stories, these records are scattered and dispersed across the country and around the world.

Back in the day, when I was a graduate student in American History, I had the somewhat amusing but mostly frustrating experience of trying to find archival materials to support my research on “American Geological Survey”, spending days combing through the printed volumes of the National Union Catalog of Manuscript Collections (lovingly known as NUCMC), with no cumulative index and by the way, finding very little. is a service designed and developed by RLG to help serve the needs of researchers – writ large – and also to help all those archivists out there to promote access to the truly remarkable collections they have acquired and preserved over time. We are a non-profit organization dependent on the subsidy of our members and others who need and want our offerings. An angel has afforded us this year to make the service better and deliver it free to all for the next three months. We continue to seek additional support for making this exceptional tool free or cheap for institutions and individuals who need it.

I think it’s great but don’t just take my word for it see what others are saying and try it out for yourself:

Sample comments received in the past three days:

“I am impressed! A great innovation to add to the growing number of online research facilities. It is especially important to people who are unable to make regular visits overseas to have ease of access to the existence of valuable material. In one stroke this morning, using the trial package, I found a map of a city in China that no longer exists in original form, as it is below 60 metres of water. Thank you.”

“This is massively impressive.”

“I have been researching Colonel Henry Wilson since 2002. He was a veteran of the War of 1812, First Seminole War, Second Seminole War, Creek Removal, Cherokee Removal, Mexican War, Comanche Uprising, and the Utah War. He served from 1814-1861. His papers are scattered from LSU to UWF to Univ. of Florida to Fla. Hist. Soc.

I did the search on ArchiveGrid for him and WHAM! Yale also has a set of his papers. Now I can add to my research activities.”

“As I’ve just been compiling an exhibition on Vita Sackville-West I used her name as a search term and found over 40 entries, most of them directly relevant so, although I’m in England, I think the site could be a useful tool.”

“Well, I tried out archivegrid last night and I really like it. It’s much more intuitive and simpler to use than other archive catalogs or databases that are currently available.”

“I went to the site yesterday afternoon and found an important collection for a study I am doing which I did not suspect existed.”

Please share your own comments, questions, and suggestions. And watch this site for continuing news.