What’s up with museum data exchange?

I’ve recently received an e-mail from a researcher in Lugano, Switzerland who is asking about an update on our Museum Data Exchange Mellon grant. This request made me realize that I haven’t blogged much about this project, I believe in part because the next big milestone always seemed right around the corner, and I was just going to wait for that… So here we are, 11 months after my inaugural project blog.

A brief reminder about the grant: Mellon generously funded us to create a mechanism for museums to extract CDWA Lite XML data out of their collections management systems and share it via OAI-PMH. We’ll put the toolset through its paces by harvesting data from all participants. The resulting research aggregation (read: just records, no images, not for public access) will be analyzed, and the results of this exercise should help museums evaluated their current cataloging practices vis-à-vis sharing data.

At this point, there are a couple of next big milestone just around the corner, so yet again, I almost didn’t blog.

We’re currently harvesting data from eight participating museums (see roster below). We expect that the resulting aggregation of records will be well over 750k records. At least half of the participants are giving us 100% of their records, with the remaining institutions making sizeable chunks of data available. Among our partners I’d particular like to highlight the National Gallery of Canada, which recently joined the project, and will contribute to the research aggregation. Gayle Silverman from Willoughby was instrumental in making this connection. She saw an opportunity for Willoughby to test the nascent built-in CDWA Lite / OAI-PMH capability of MimsyXG, while the National Gallery was thrilled about the prospect of receiving help from their CMS vendor to turn on this new feature. And I saw an opportunity to add a Canadian partner to the project. Win-win-win all around.

Once we’re certain that the applications we’ve created as part of the grant hold up to the stress of this real-life test, we will make them available as a free download for any museums wanting to exchange CDWA Lite data. Our tools include a CDWA Lite enabled version of CogApp’s COBOAT publishing system, as well as a revamped version of OCLC’s OAICatMuseum (a previous version is available here). We’ve already bent the rules a little bit for the Minneapolis Institute of Arts and allowed them access to a beta-version of these applications, which they are using to transfer data to their acclaimed ArtsConnectEd portal under an IMLS grant.

Many of our participating museums are GallerySystems clients, and as part of the grant, we have tested the suite of software exclusively with TMS. However, CogApp assures me that they have used COBOAT against many other types of collections management systems in the past, and hopefully, once the application is available, others will find that tweaking the COBOAT configuration files to make the application work with their CMS of choice is reasonably painless. Robb Detlefs of GallerySystems recently asked whether he could try to make our system work with Embark, so that might become the first non-TMS application of the tool set.

I hope this post gets everybody up-to-date, at least in the broad strokes. I’ll try to be better about sharing from here on out…

Participating institutions:
Harvard University Art Museums
Metropolitan Museum of Art
National Gallery of Art
Princeton University Art Museum
Yale University Art Gallery
Cleveland Museum of Art (research aggregation only)
National Gallery of Canada (research aggregation only)
Victoria & Albert Museum (research aggregation only)

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