I recently stumbled upon an announcement for NZMuseums, a website run by National Services Te Paerangi, itself a department of the Museum of New Zealand Te Papa Tongarewa. NZMuseums brings together collections information from museums across New Zealand. As of today, the system knows 383 museums, and contains digitized objects (albeit sometimes only a handful) for 54 collections. It boast a clean interface, and allows you to tag items – you can add and remove tags, and they immediately become available (or unavailable) for searching.
While all that is nice and good (it’s actually more than nice and good!), what really caught my attention is the system’s architecture: in order for the often very small museums to be able to contribute, NZMuseums partnered with Vernon Systems to deploy their brand-new eHive system. In essence, eHive is the first web-based collections management system I am aware of (and you should feel free to contradict me if I’m wrong).
In a recent podcast interview [mp3] I did with Ken Hamma, he singled out the cost of ownership of technology as a key issue for museums, and he mentioned open source and web-based systems as a possible way forward. His math:
“A museum thinks about having a collections-management systems. It goes out and licenses one from between $600 and $120,000, pays 11, 12, 13 percent maintenance year after year. But, that’s only the beginning of the costs. Once you’ve got that thing, you need to be able to support it on servers. You need to be able to provide access. You need a network.”
The price point for eHive (numbers taken from the eHive factsheet[pdf]): it starts with “free” for 100MB of storage and 200 images, and tops out at $800 per year for 25GB and 50k images. No surprise that this was a good fit for NZMuseums and its quest to bring the many small museums of New Zealand online.