As our Forum speakers re-iterated time and again, our audiences don’t care whether an item is in a library, an archive or a museum – what they do care about is whether they can find it, and what they can do with it once they have access. That makes sharing collections one of the obvious winning propositions at the intersection of the three information communities. We’ve also heard (for example from Rich Szary, speaking about Yale’s Mellon funded Collections Collaborative project) that the social issues of working together may be harder to overcome than the technological issues of sharing data.
A recent phone conversation with my friend and colleague Erin Coburn reminded me that the Getty currently tries to gain leverage on both the social and the technological issues of sharing through an ingenious strategic intervention in the museum community. Ken Hamma of late has made an impassioned plea that, whenever legally possible, museums should put images squarely into the public domain instead of asserting intellectual property rights. He argues that licensing revenue from collections is generally overrated, and more good would come to an institution in terms of publicity and visitorship if collection images would widely circulate. Backing up this social / legal argument with a technological mechanism to actually let the images out of the bag, the Getty has been at work on an XML Schema coupling a time honored standard with a fairly recent one. It proposes to encode collections using a subset of data elements from CDWA, while the data content will be ruled by CCO (for those of you from the library community, think CDWA = MARC, CCO = AACR2). The plan is to transport the data created with the CDWA light schema by leveraging the OAI protocol. The end result – later this year, anyone will be able to query the Getty OAI server to harvest descriptive metadata and images, and do with the bounty as they please.
While I am sure all of this may ruffle some feathers in more conservative circles, I am intrigued by the promise that this project will revitalize the discussion about data sharing in museums (which has lately been hampered by the demise of AMICO). For the first time on US soil, we’ll have an XML data exchange format native to the museum community, plus a demonstrator project to show what can be done once the data is made portable. RLG has signed on to be one of the guinea pigs in terms of harvesting the data and re-aggregating it in Cultural Materials. To learn more about Ken Hamma’s vision, also see this infomercial (link goes straight to pdf) just posted by one of the first Collection Management System vendors (Gallery Systems) getting behind the initiative.