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Paper no 48









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by Paul Bentley


Article originally published in Online Currents August 2009 and reprinted with kind permission of the publishers Thomson Reuters

Recent Australian and overseas conferences have highlighted the work of museums in an online environment. This article discusses these conferences, reviews international cataloguing and interoperability standards, and raises questions about future directions.


Museums transform minds and sharpen sensibilities.  

Islamic Arts Museum, Kuala Lumpur. Image: Malaysia Factbook

When I encountered Van Gogh at the top of the stairs of the Jeu de Paume in 1984, I saw fresh air where before, in the books, there had only been compositions. When I visited the Museum of Modern Art in 1994, graffiti in a forgotten book discarded by Newcastle Regional Library in the mid-1960s were transformed in a Cy Twombly retrospective at West 53rd Street, New York. A trip to the Malaysian Islamic Arts Museum in 2006 connected Twombly to the rich variety of Islamic calligraphic styles. In the same museum, the celebration of Islamic scholars, inventors and philosophers clearly pointed to the fact that my education had been unnecessarily biased in favour of Western achievements. 

During recent research for a biography of a Sydney businessman and sculptor who had survived the lottery of Warsaw between 1939 and 1945, I discovered Norman Davies’ book, Rising 44, which gave me an understanding of the geo-political forces at the time. I also found Samuel Kassow’s Who Will Write Our History?, which gave me a sense of what it was like to be there. But it was the memory of two exhibitions at the United States Holocaust Memorial Museum in 1994 that worked the emotions. Remembering the Children – Daniel’s Story created the numbing experience of a grey trip to an extermination camp. Assignment Rescue conveyed a fearful flight from tyranny.  

In a digital world, museums have joined libraries and archives as destinations for information as well as places of discovery and pleasure. The store has become as important as the shop window. Social media have brought them closer to customers. 

Museums embrace the fields of art, history and natural sciences. Australia has 1,184 such enterprises in 1,456 localities. They hold 52 million objects and artworks. They earn nearly $1 billion, including a 65% subsidy from governments. They employ 7,856 people who are paid and they rely on an additional 23,426 people who are not. In the year 2007/2008, they attracted well over 30 million people to their buildings and over 63 million to their websites. [i] What distinguishes them from libraries and archives is the emphasis they give to exhibitions and to the interpretation of collections. 

Glenda Browne looked at museums for Online Currents in 2006.[ii] Several recent conferences and reports provide the impetus for a fresh look at some of the issues. As someone who works on behalf of museums, I embarked on this article to explore online issues affecting those who work in them.


The Museums Australia conference

Museums Australia’s national conference in May 2009 ( underscored the attraction of working in museums.  

Ali Khangela Hlongwane, from Museum Africa, and the Powerhouse Museum’s James Wilson-Miller, among other presenters, movingly illustrated both the value and the efforts of museums as forces for reconciliation.  

The accommodation of passion and eccentricity was highlighted by Jane Clark in her presentation on David Walsh’s $75 million investment in his Museum of Old and New Art ( The private Tasmanian museum, currently under construction, with an overarching interest in sex and death, is a place where “the creative freedoms seem boundless by comparison with life in a government-funded institution”. Edith Cuffe, from the Abbey Museum of Art and Archaeology (, showed how to create something out of nothing by organising an annual medieval dress-up festival in the unlikely State of Queensland.  

Professor Barry McGaw spoke of the importance of museums to education, outlining plans by the new Australian Curriculum Assessment and Reporting Authority ( to electronically link museums to student learning entitlements. 

Two major institutions gave insights into how museums are tackling the online environment.  

Tim Hart, David Methven and Forbes Hawkins from Museum Victoria (MV,, Australia’s largest public museum organisation comprising the collections at Melbourne Museum, Immigration Museum, Scienceworks and the Royal Exhibition Building, drew attention to the need for a disciplined approach to managing information resources. Between 1995 and 2005, MV centralised power in the ICT unit and condoned maverick action. In responding to changing imperatives, it has adopted the Investment Logic Map, an IT management methodology favoured by the Victorian government, as the basis for reviewing strategies, structures, and processes. Lessons learned from producing exhibitions have been adapted to managing online projects. Managing the culture is as important as managing the technology. Collaboration and consultation have replaced hierarchy. MV has also taken a deeper interest in external images and artefacts through Collectish (, a site which invites people outside the museum to publish and comment on their personal collections.  

The Powerhouse Museum (PHM, has a justifiable reputation for using new technologies. Sebastian Chan, Head of Digital, Social and Emerging Technologies, speaking in the remote and regional museums section of the conference, encouraged delegates to think of technology as a core business. Digitisation is not just about preservation. Museums need to use technology with international, regional and local perspectives. They need to seek out new audiences and consider new business models. 

The Powerhouse Museum’s online catalogue is a richly layered presentation of catalogue records and images of objects, complemented with links to user tags, related subjects, similar objects, auto-generated tags (using Thomson Reuters’ OpenCalais,, and sources such as Wikipedia, Worldcat records and the Library of Congress Authority File. Fifty one percent of online visitors now reach the museum via Google, 18% visit it via the Powerhouse Museum website, and 15% arrive via Picture Australia. 

The Museum’s experimentation in using Flickr Commons was outlined by Chan and, in a separate presentation, by Paula Bray, Manager of Image Services. The PHM was the first museum, and the second institution in the world (after the Library of Congress), to join Flickr. Staff loaded images from the Tyrrell collection without being sure what would happen. They now have 1,200 images on Flickr attracting one million views a year.  

The experiment has stimulated partnerships with other organisations and people. When the Australian Broadcasting Corporation found the images on Flickr, they invited the Museum to become involved in the Sydney Sidetracks project (, an interactive map based on public collections and archives, including not only the PHM but also the National Film and Sound Archive, State Library of NSW, Historic Houses Trust of NSW, Museum of Contemporary Art, and The Dictionary of Sydney. Users of Flickr have been helpful in adding details to unidentified images in the PHM collection. Online dialogue has, in turn, persuaded online visitors to visit the building.  

The PHM is now reviewing the implications of this experience. There has been a 300% rise in public enquiries, but this includes a lot of noise. General sales have increased slightly, although sales from the Tyrrell collection haven’t dropped. Apart from dealing with the noise, issues under consideration include licensing arrangements and possible changes to the service to suit the needs of particular types of customers, particularly in the education sector. 

Lindie Ward, Curator of Design and Society, drew attention to the depth of curatorial information in her talk about the Powerhouse Museum’s Australian Dress Register (, which aims to document significant dress in New South Wales to 1945 and provide resources to improve care and management of costumes. The site will be officially launched later in the year. Organisations and individuals will be invited to contribute, and regional partners will host workshops across the State.  

Curator of Collection and Access, Geoff Barker, gave a curatorial perspective on upgrading documentation about Sydney Observatory collections. Matthew Connell, Principal Curator of Science and Industry, spoke about the challenges of working in partnership with the university sector to develop technologies for exhibitions. Joy Suliman, from the PHM SoundHouse VectorLab, demonstrated the potential of using Google Earth and other tools to connect local objects to global contexts. Ingrid Mason, who has just taken on the role of managing the separately-funded Collections Australia Network (, posed questions about the use of social media. Take a risk, she said, but be thoughtful before you begin. Decide your priorities. Make mistakes. Be open to surprises. Re-evaluate the experience.

The PASIG conference

At a separate conference of Museums Australia’s Performing Arts Special Interest Group (PASIG) in Newcastle on 9-10 June 2009, Jenny Fewster from the AusStage Australian performing arts gateway ( demonstrated the history of Newcastle theatres in a mash-up employing Google Earth, entries in the AusStage database and time lapse software. Julie Baird, Sue Ryan and Gionni DiGravio highlighted the importance of regional collections to the national fabric by describing collaborative efforts of Newcastle Regional Library, Newcastle Museum, and Newcastle University Archives. Selected historical materials from the Regional Library and Regional Museum can now be located using the Newcastle Cultural Collections database (


The Museums on the Web awards

Across the Pacific, in April 2009, the Museums on the Web conference at Indianapolis announced this year’s winners at the annual Best of the Web awards. The overall winner was Brooklyn Museum (, described as “the trailblazer for where museums should be heading” because “it changes the traditional balance of power between museum, audience and curator, and takes risks”. This museum also won the online community and exhibition categories for initiatives on its site.  

Among other winners were Tate Kids (education section,, My Yard Our Message (for innovation and experiment,, the Museum of Jewish Heritage Online Collection (for research,, Video Active (the peoples’ choice award, and Museum 2.0 ( for its “editorial slant that gives the site credibility, reach and influence far beyond its budget and technical provision” to win the “small” category.

Looking beyond Web 2.0

Robert Semper, Executive Associate Director of the Exploratorium, in his summation at the end of the Institute of Museum and Library Services’ 2008 Webwise conference, [iii] urged museums to think beyond Web 2.0 technologies and to reflect on Chris Anderson’s article in Wired on what it might be like to operate in a “free” economy of cheaper broadband, free software and free storage. Museums, he said, need to understand more about being an institution in a de-institutionalised world, to let go of the sense of control and authority over collections.


In 2006, the Institute of Museum and Library Services’ report, The Status of Technology and Digitisation in the Nation’s Museums and Libraries, concluded in assessing the state of play in the United States that although dramatic progress in use of technology and digitisation activities had been made since its previous survey, small museums and public libraries still lagged behind their larger counterparts. In a list of technologies used by museums, it estimated that about 15% were using federated searching in online collections and catalogues.

According to the Australian Bureau of Statistics, 5% of objects in Australian museums are on display, 25% are accessible to the public online, over 46% are documented or recorded in manual systems, and about 43% are documented or recorded in electronic form. These raw figures stimulate questions about practices, roles and strategies.


The right emphasis?

Museums are said to have a system-centric rather than a data-centric mindset – there is a theory they buy computers to fill them with information rather than make the purchase to meet detailed requirements. Australian museums, by and large, use systems from KE Services (, Adlib Information Systems (, Vernon Systems (, Maxus (, and Information Services & Technology ( The launch of the open source museum software, Madrona (, in October this year holds unexplored promise regarding possible future directions.

The quest for museum cataloguing standards

Discussions on the unification of museum catalogues seem to have originated in the late 1920s at a conference organised by the International Office of Museums.[iv] In the subsequent search for solutions, the work in the United Kingdom of the Museum Documentation Association (now the Collections Trust, and the Canadian Heritage Information Network ( has been noteworthy. 

David Bearman (, “the most important figure in contemporary archival thinking”, [v] carries his reputation into the realm of museums. In 1988, he observed that in spite of the benefits of common vocabularies, museums, particularly curators, had resisted terminology standards out of a fear that “the adoption of common languages will dictate common practices, without respect to the valid differences in size, setting, purposes, users and holdings”. [vi]

Nearly 15 years later, with Jennifer Trant, he took a fresh look at the provision of universal access to online science and culture. Museums and libraries, they said, still needed to develop methods for constructing knowledge models that “are sufficiently forgiving to permit useful aggregation of content, structured by a number of disciplines, yet sufficiently architecturally sound to enable useful computing across resource domains”. It called for museums to pay active attention to emerging approaches for metadata declaration and utilisation.


In addition to numerous discipline-based knowledge structures (biological taxonomies, thesauri of artistic terminology, etc.), museums have created semantic models of the information they manage, such as the Categories for Description of Works of Art (CDWA) which focus on the relations in the life-cycle of collected objects from a scholarly perspective, SPECTRUM which focuses on the museum object and museum business processes, and the CIDOC-CRM which emphasises the historical contextualization of objects. In a networked environment, the value of these knowledge models will be determined more by their ability to connect to other knowledge representations by other groups, than by their ability to represent all subtle aspects of terms used for indexing aspects of cultural heritage.[vii]

The basic principles of information engineering, they said, must be respected from the outset in the construction of cultural information utilities, not the least because cultural knowledge bases will be built up over many years or decades.


The promise of the web is to virtually unite and re-unite digital objects in contextual information spaces. However, our current web practices stand squarely in the way of achieving those goals. Flash-built, exhibition-focused web features that present the equivalent of a closed CD-ROM on the web, may have a sound pedagogical and communications goals. But as they are now implemented, the digital objects in these expensive and labour-intensive resources are rarely reusable, and rarely locatable outside their local navigation. They stand in the face of the developing perspectives of museums as sources of information for society…What is critical is that we begin to work together to surface the true impediments local practice has on collective knowledge construction. [viii]

The Australian scene

Where do Australian museums now stand in this landscape?

The National Standards for Australian Museums and Galleries, published in 2008, provides wide-ranging guidelines for managing museums and their collections. The management of information resources is covered in a number of sections. Selected standards are cited. There is a case for a more integrated approach in future editions and separate advice about data management standards.

Philip Hider said in 2004 that the goal of interoperability is a mammoth one and needs to be tackled from many angles. Following a survey of 19 institutions, including libraries, museums and archives, he concluded that while considerable attention has been given to the concept of interoperability, the ways in which Australian institutions are helping to achieve it are diverse. This diversity is probably healthy. [ix]

Tim Hart, in expressing a need for museums to embrace interoperable data standards at the 2006 Digital Collections Summit, [x] noted the divide between major institutions and smaller organisations and differences in the requirements of the natural sciences and material culture spheres. Natural sciences museums, he said, had formed associations with research communities in developing the standards of the Taxonomic Databases Working Group ( and the services of the Global Biodiversity Information Facility (, which aims to make biodiversity data accessible. In Australia, OZCAM (, an Australian Fauna website, provides access to the resources of a number of museums and their partners. The Australian Virtual Herbarium ( is a route to specimen records and data of scientific plant specimens in Australian herbaria. The Atlas of Living Australia ( is funded under the Australian government’s National Collaborative Research Infrastructure Strategy to develop a biodiversity data management system which will “link Australia’s biological knowledge with its scientific and agricultural reference collections and other custodians of biological information”.

The Australian Pictorial Thesaurus ( encourages common description of pictorial collections in Australian libraries, museums and archives. Developed by National and State Libraries Australasia with support from the Collections Australia Network, it offers a hierarchical online thesaurus of 15,000 Australian subject terms to describe natural and manufactured objects, people, places and structures, activities and concepts, and provides recommendations for a range of online and printed tools, including the Powerhouse Museum Collection Thesaurus.

Recent international developments

Recent international developments are also worth noting. 

The National Information Standards Organization ( published Guidelines for the Construction, Format, and Management of Monolingual Controlled Vocabularies in 2005.

OCLC ( is working on a Museum Collection Sharing Program with a number of related projects. These include the Collection Descriptions in Natural History Institutions, which aims to prepare a draft standard for describing natural history collections for ratification by Biodiversity Information Standards (TDWG). The Museum Collections Sharing Working Group is investigating a new mechanism for sharing digital images and descriptions of collection items by moving towards an implementation of CDWA Lite XML and Open Archives Initiative (OAI) harvesting. The Museum Data Exchange project, funded by the Andrew W Mellon Foundation, is creating tools to support data sharing in the art museum community, and produce related open-source software. In April 2009 it released the software COBOAT and OAICat Museum 1.0.

The Visual Resources Association Foundation ( sponsored Cataloguing Cultural Objects, a data content standard focussing on art and architecture, for describing, documenting, and cataloguing cultural works and their visual surrogates. The Getty Institute ( is developing a Cultural Objects Name Authority (CONA), expected in 2011, to accompany its Art & Architecture Thesaurus, Union List of Artist Names and Thesaurus of Geographic Names. CONA will include authority records for cultural works, visual media, and various functional objects collected by museums.

Plans by the library community to adopt the new standard Resource Description and Access –partly as a tool to forge greater interoperability between libraries, archives and museums – awaits the result of a test phase, in response to concerns about it by the Library of Congress Working Group on the Future of Bibliographic Control (

Roles and strategies

Widespread agreement about the need for collaboration, particularly in the networked world, has met with mixed results.

Degrees of difficulty

Martha Anderson’s comments on the difficulties of collaboration experienced in the US Digital Preservation Program ( are worth noting:


Relationship between public and private enterprises are not always interoperable. Even within the same domain, there are barriers to collaboration. Although partners share a common interest, their work in diverse communities is not necessarily conducive to thinking and working as a larger network. Interoperability challenges become greater as user communities broaden their interest. Metadata in standardised formats very often represent an institutional context that is not easily transferable to a larger context. At the moment, the greatest common ground for preservation processes, tools and standards lies at the bit level. Long term preservation is data-centric not system-centric. A single tool may not provide complete coverage and extraction of useful information.[xi]

The need for catalysts

Diane Zorich, Günter Waibel and Ricky Erway, in a report from the RLG program – Library, Archive and Museum Collaboration – concluded that without a “unifying, orchestrating and directing impetus of a single administrative entity” and “without many catalysts at play, it is difficult to imagine deep, long-term collaborations among independent libraries, archives and museums. It requires extraordinary motivation, committed resources over a long time horizon and significant changes in institutional perspective and behaviours”. [xii] They point to the Global Biodiversity Information Facility as the only worthwhile example of cross-domain international collaboration.

The catalysts they refer to are vision, a mandate, incentives, change agents, mooring, resources, flexibility, external catalysts and trust. These are important for successful collaborations, but not all of them are required for every collaborative activity – one or two can be sufficient to move things forward. But even when conditions seem favourable, they said, the absence of a particular catalyst can affect the collaborative inclination of an institution.

Australian cross-sectoral efforts

Governments, as the main investors in Australian museums, continue to express positive views about these institutions. Museum policies by Australian governments have been joined by policies about social inclusion and regional development. But is the positive attitude being translated into effective action?

The Cultural Ministers Council has created two cross-sectoral bodies – the Collections Council of Australia and the Collections Network Australia – to oversee developments. Museums Australia has expressed the view that “there is an awkward mismatch between the ways Australia has organised representation of these very different collecting entities at a national level and the way they are organised and recognised internationally”.[xiii] 

The Collections Council of Australia organised the Digital Collections Summit in 2006 and has continued to promote the need for careful and collaborative advocacy and planning. It has published principles, a bibliography and others resources relating to the management of digital heritage collections, and it has continued to push the agenda through submissions to government inquiries.  

But, unlike its counterpart in the United States, the Institute of Museum and Library Services, it has no funds for grants. It has to go, cap in hand, to the Australian government whenever it wants to spend anything. In its 2009/2010 budget submission, it sought $700,000 to develop an Australian Framework for Digital Heritage Collections, and among other proposals, it sought over $45 million for a 10 year program to establish, administer and evaluate its CollectionsCare proposal for developing regional hubs. In the end, all it was able to do was to congratulate the government for allocating $800,000 above routine allocations for the National Library of Australia (NLA) to develop a business case for an infrastructure project to facilitate a partnership with the National Archives of Australia, the National Film and Sound Archive, and the NLA to collaborate on digitising their existing collections. No museum involved.  

The Collections Australia Network (CAN,, was established in 2004 primarily to assist small to medium-sized collecting organisations to participate in the online environment. It grew out of an enterprise with narrower aims – Australian Museums and Galleries Online, launched in 1994. The service consists of a website with links to 1,645 partner sites, a centralised database with records from about 45 contributors (mainly museums), and relevant information resources. Its e-lists – CAN-notices with about 450 subscribers, and CAN-talk with over 1,000 subscribers nationwide – offer well-used communication channels.  

Although the CAN database does not include records from major museums and galleries, the service uses the OpenSearch protocol to enable a basic simultaneous search of the collections of the Powerhouse Museum, Museum Victoria, National Museum of Australia, Picture Australia, Libraries Australia and State Records NSW. Sometimes these searches can be frustrating. Some searches produce too many hits with questionable relevance ranking, or misleadingly, no hits, when searches of the same information on the sites of the feed institutions provide rich returns. There is no advice about searching on the search page.  

Basil Dewhurst, Resource Discovery Services Manager at the NLA, reports that a number of institutions now use the OpenSearch protocol, which relies solely on keyword searches and other factors. Alternative federated search protocols include SRU/W (Search and Retrieve via URL/Web, and TAPIR ( The NLA, he said, has implemented SRU interfaces for People Australia, Australian Research Online and a number of other services. It also uses OAI-PMH and metadata harvesting for its collaborative resource discovery services, such as Australian Research Online, Music Australia, Picture Australia and People Australia, and is in the process of enabling harvesting using OAI-PMH for Libraries Australia. It will also support richer federated search protocols like SRU and Z39.50, which offer both basic and advanced search features.

Ingrid Mason says there are plans to improve the search and browse features of the CAN website and database and to respond to other suggestions currently being canvassed. 

The Cultural Ministers Council recently embarked on a review of CAN. Although the results of the review are not expected until the end of the year, commentary reflected in the submissions of Museums Australia and the Collections Council of Australia[xiv] highlight disparities in the CAN mission and its level of funding and limited coverage of the collections sector as a whole. They support its continued development as a portal, professional networking hub and mechanism for more effective allocation of funds. They recommend appropriate levels of funding and changes to governance arrangements. The need for skills development, particularly in regional and community museums, is underscored by both organisations.  

In New South Wales, government museum policy and funding is implemented through Museums and Galleries NSW ( and, in Queensland, through Museums and Gallery Services Queensland (, managed with State government funding by Museums Australia Queensland Branch and Regional Galleries Association of Queensland. Museums Australia State branches in Victoria and Western Australia also received State government funding to operate services in those States.  

The work of the State Library of Queensland’s Queensland Memory Outreach project ( also deserves to be mentioned. In providing services to improve the level of public access to State-wide image resources and other material in local libraries, museums, archives and historical societies, it aggregates metadata and images, negotiates contracts and delivers training.

Looking inwards as well as outwards

In 2007, Karen Smith-Yoshimura, reporting on the results of a Research Libraries Group descriptive metadata practices survey, concluded: 

Although we saw some expected variations in practice across libraries, archives and museums, we were struck by the high levels of customisation and local tool development, the limited extent to which tools and policies are or can be shared (both within and across institutions), the lack of confidence institutions have in the effectiveness of their tools, and the disconnect between their interest in creating metadata to serve their primary audiences and the inability to serve that audience with the most commonly used discovery system (such as Google, Yahoo, etc). [xv]

Searches for macro solutions await micro attention. In all or most museums, the invitation to search their collections does not necessarily mean an invitation to search all their collections simultaneously. At the Powerhouse Museum and Art Gallery of NSW (, for example, access to library, archive and specialist databases are offered in separate sections of their websites. At Hurstville Council, where its library, museum and gallery are promoted as an integrated service at, separate searches are offered for library, museum and gallery, and local studies photo collections. Many cultural institutions with libraries, archives and collections of artefacts – the National Institute of Dramatic Art ( is one example – await more integrated approaches to information management.

persistent questions

Persistent questions await answers by governments, associations and institutions. An online future for museums is largely in the hands of the players.  

Although it is important to acknowledge the considerable contribution of volunteers, particularly in regional Australia, governments provide most of the fuel. How do they shape and fund agencies to provide the right type of catalysts? Is it desirable to merge the Collections Council of Australia and the Collections Australia Network? Or is it better to separate the allocation of grants and the development of online solutions? How do the three tiers of government provide a more effective coordinated approach with a more thorough appreciation of the issues to be addressed? Do State and local government policies need to adopt a more cross-sectoral approach to mirror the direction of the Australian government? Should existing funding be reorganised to give more weight to online imperatives? Is it misguided to have separate online solutions for major museums and smaller museums?


Australian museum associations trail behind their counterparts in the library and archive domains in leading their members into an online future. How do they respond to the suggestion by Kenneth Hamma from the Getty Institute that they need to be more effective in bringing metadata issues to the museum community? [xvi] Do they make too much of a mountain out of the differences? Do Museums Australia, the Council of Australian Museum Directors and Council of Australian Art Museum Directors need a more effectively coordinated approach to representing the interests of the sector as a whole?


And the role of institutions? Are online solutions for museums best left to major museums with a new mandate to work on behalf of the sector at large in the way that national and State libraries lead their sectors? Or do the National Library and the State libraries offer the potential for providing engine rooms with cross-sectoral intent in the manner of Pictures Australia, Music Australia, People Australia and Picture Queensland? 

The portal is usually represented as a key element in future developments. Some commentators see it as a stepping stone to something else. Lorcan Dempsey, for instance, has said, “We imagine that the portal is a sufficient response to the issues, [but it] is only a partial answer [and] at worst, obscures the real question…We need to look beyond it to build and sustain the services”. [xvii] On the other hand, portals can not only drive collaboration, they can highlight problems that need to be addressed in order for museum data to more readily flow into Google or Bing.  

The two prominent cross-sectoral portals in Australia are the Collections Australia Network’s website and the National Library of Australia’s suite of specialist collaborative services such as Picture Australia, Music Australia, and Libraries Australia. New ways of presenting information from multiple sources in the NLA’s catalogue flag how close the future is and how far we have to go. The NLA’s beta Single Business Discovery Site ( is one more step along the way. 

Mary Elings and Günter Waibel remind us about an issue lurking in the shadows:


The successful integration of digital images of material culture from library, archive and museum collections hinges on the emergence of a more homogenous practice in describing like materials in different institutions. While data structures can be mapped with relative ease, data content variance still effectively prohibits economic plug and play aggregation of collections. [xviii]

Online projects not only search for better access to information, they search for more productivity.

At the Museums Australia Conference, Dirk Staat, Director of Collections at the Netherlands Legermuseum, gave an entertaining presentation about the amalgamation of six major military museums as the National Military Museum. After a false start and early hassles over budgeting and directions, the project is gaining momentum, and the museum expects to open in 2013.

When asked by a member of the audience to describe quality control mechanisms being used to address the competing demands of a complex range of stakeholders, he said the process was more like “changing the horseshoe on a galloping horse”.

It was a memorable phrase that may well encapsulate the task for those linking Australian museums to information seekers. What type of horse is it? Who’s riding it? And how do we change the horseshoe?

[i] Australian Bureau of Statistics, Museums Australia 2007-08 (Catalogue No 8560.0., ABS, 2009)

[ii] Browne G, “Museums Online” (2006) 21(4) Online Currents 138.

[iii] Institute of Museum and Library Services, Webwise 2.0: The Power of Community. March 5-7, 2008 – Conference Proceedings (IMLS, 2009).

[iv] Sledge J, “SPECTRUM – A Review” (1999) 13 Archives and Museum Informatics 55.

[v] Cook T, “The Impact of David Bearman in Modern Archival Thinking” (1997) 11(1) Archives and Museum Informatics 15.

[vi] Bearman D, Framework for Terminology Standards in Museums (Paper presented at Terminology for Museums: Proceedings of an International Conference, Cambridge, England, 21-24 September 1988 – Museum Documentation Association with the assistance of the Getty Grant Program, 1990).

[vii] Bearman D and Trant J, Issues in Structuring Knowledge and Services for Universal Access to Online Science and Culture (Paper presented at Virtual Museums and Public Understanding of Science and Culture, Stockholm, Sweden, 26-29 May 2002 – Nobel Symposium, NS 120) p 7.

[viii] Bearman and Trant, n 7, p 11.

[ix] Hider P, “Australian Digital Collections: Metadata Standards and Interoperability” (2004) 35(4) Australian Academic and Research Libraries.

[x] Hart T, Digitisation: An Australian Museums’ Perspective (Paper presented to the Collections Council of Australia, Digital Collections Summit, Adelaide, Australia, 16-17 August 2006, on behalf of the Council of Australasian Museum Directors).

[xi] Bentley P, “The Digital Economy Dance: Getting into Step with Government Policy” (2009) 23(1) Online Currents 13 at 20‑21, summarising Anderson M, “Evolving a Network of Networks: The Experience of Partnerships in the National Digital Information Infrastructure Program” (2008) 3 (10 International Journal of Digital Curation.

[xii] Zorich DM, Waibel G and Erway R, Beyond the Silos of the LAMs: Collaboration Among Libraries, Archives and Museums. (OCLC, 2008) p 34, viewed 13 July 2009.

[xiii] Museums Australia, Review of the Collections Australia Network (CAN): Museums Australia submission (April 2009).

[xiv] Collections Council of Australia, Collections Australia Network: Aspirations, Achievements and Potential: Submission to Mary O’Kane & Associates Pty Ltd for the Review of the Collections Australia Network (20 April 2009); and Museums Australia, n 13.

[xv] Smith-Yoshimura K, RLG Programs Descriptive Metadata Practices Survey Results (OCLC, 2007) p 4, viewed 13 July 2009.

[xvi] Green D, Museums, Cataloguing & Content Infrastructure: An Interview with Kenneth Hamma (Academic Commons, 16 December 2007), viewed 13 July 2009.

[xvii] Dempsey L, The Recombinant Library: Portals and People (OCLC, 2003), viewed 13 July 2009.

[xviii] Elings M and Waibel G, “Metadata for All: Descriptive Standards and Metadata Sharing across Libraries, Archives, and Museums” (2007) 12(3) First Monday.

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