Don’t quit your day-job!

How can you possibly top the riveting reports on the >play Digital Media conference by Jim & Anne? Well, the blog has to go on, and while I can’t promise you information about how to quit your day-job and support yourself by building avatars in the virtual environment of Second Life, I still hope you’ll find something worthwhile in this short report on my recent trip to Boston for the Museum Computer Network (MNC) conference.

First of all, a brief disclaimer: I am an MCN Board Member, which makes me naturally prejudiced. However, I’ve heard from many attendees that this was the best MCN conference they’ve ever attended, and the numbers seem to bear out this fact: conference attendance has been up for the fourth year in a row, and membership hit an all-time high in Boston, at least as far as anybody can remember.

I’ve written before about a panel I’ve organized for this conference with the flippant title “Who’ll Archive Your Stuff?” Our very own Robin Dale opened up the discussion by arguing that “trust is good, certification is better” – of course she was referring to her ongoing involvement in efforts to create metrics which would allow the evaluation and certification of digital repositories. Stephen Abrams (Harvard) and Patricia Cruse (California Digital Library) followed up by introducing the respective repositories at their institutions. Interesting details I’ve gleaned: Harvard issues so-called “challenge grants” to university units (such as one of the many campus museums) for getting them started on a digitization plus archiving bundle, and they’ve found that all the recipients so far continued their relationship with the Digital Repository Service. At the CDL, the archiving services an institution receives is directly related to the kind of metadata they provide to the archive – simplistically put, the more metadata, the more preservation. [Presentations are now online here.]

Another session relevant to remarks I’ve made earlier on this blog – Murtha Baca had organized a panel to discuss the results of the Getty’s OAI Harvesting project. In a nutshell, this project tries to make it easier for museums to interface with content aggregators by providing them with an XML schema to encode their objects (CDWA Lite XML) and a mechanism to distribute collections of objects (OAI-PMH). Now they’ve tested their assumptions and technologies by allowing ARTstor to harvest two test-collections (a small collection of paintings from the Museum, and a collection of study images of tapestries from the Research Institute – also to be found in Cultural Materials). Patricia Harpring gave a methodical introduction to the data standards of importance to the project (CDWA and CCO). Erin Coburn candidly reported on her experience getting the descriptions ready for harvesting – it turned out that in some instances, the data couldn’t be brought into CCO compliance because of legacy issues. Nik Honeysett gave a lucid introduction to OAI, and got a good laugh out of the audience by ending his talk with “Standards are like toothbrushes – everybody thinks they’re a good idea, yet nobody wants to use anybody else’s.” At the end of the day, all involved felt that their first test-run with ARTstor was a success, and after the panel we agreed that RLG should harvest the data next. [Presentations here.]

Another item of interest to the blogosphere: it looks like MCN and the American Association of Museums (AAM) Media & Technology Committee might join forces to launch a blog of their own. I encouraged both organizations to get into the game, in part because I’m frustrated that there aren’t more museum professionals blogging. Wouldn’t it be nice to have more conversations among folks who work with technology in museums to listen in on? I hope it’ll come to pass!