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.
What distinguishes them from libraries and archives is the
emphasis they give to exhibitions and to the interpretation of
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.
FROM RECENT CONFERENCES
The Museums Australia conference
national conference in May 2009 (http://www.ma2009.com.au)
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 (http://www.mona.net.au/). 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 (http://www.abbeymuseum.asn.au/),
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 (http://www.acara.edu.au/)
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, http://museumvictoria.com.au/),
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 (http://collectish.com/), a site
which invites people outside the museum to publish and comment on their
The Powerhouse Museum (PHM,
http://www.powerhousemuseum.com) 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
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, http://www.opencalais.com/), 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
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 (http://www.abc.net.au/innovation/sidetracks/),
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 (http://www.powerhousemuseum.com/dressregister/), 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 (http://www.collectionsaustralia.net.au),
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 (http://www.ausstage.edu.au) 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
Collections database (http://collections.ncc.nsw.gov.au/keemu/pages/nrm/index.htm).
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 (http://www.brooklynmuseum.org),
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, http://kids.tate.org.uk/), My Yard
Our Message (for innovation and experiment, http://myyardourmessage.com/),
the Museum of Jewish Heritage Online Collection (for research,
http://collection.mjhnyc.org), Video Active (the peoples’ choice
award, http://www.videoactive.eu) and Museum 2.0 (http://museumtwo.blogspot.com/)
for its “editorial slant that gives the site credibility, reach and
influence far beyond its budget and technical provision” to win the
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,
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.
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 (http://www.kesoftware.com/),
Adlib Information Systems (http://www.adlibsoft.com/), Vernon
Systems (http://www.vernonsystems.com/), Maxus (http://www.maxus.net.au/),
and Information Services & Technology (http://www.istechnology.com.au/).
The launch of the open source museum software, Madrona (http://madronapro.com/),
in October this year holds unexplored promise regarding possible future
The quest for museum
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,
http://www.collectionstrust.org.uk) and the Canadian Heritage
Information Network (http://www.chin.gc.ca/) has been
David Bearman (http://www.archimuse.com/consulting/bearman.html),
“the most important figure in contemporary archival thinking”,
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”.
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.
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
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.
Tim Hart, in expressing a
need for museums to embrace interoperable data standards at the 2006
Digital Collections Summit,
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 (http://www.nhm.ac.uk/hosted_sites/tdwg/)
and the services of the Global Biodiversity Information Facility
(http://www.gbif.org/), which aims to make biodiversity data accessible.
In Australia, OZCAM (http://www.ozcam.gov.au/), an Australian Fauna
website, provides access to the resources of a number of museums and
their partners. The Australian Virtual Herbarium (http://www.anbg.gov.au/avh/)
is a route to specimen records and data of scientific plant specimens in
Australian herbaria. The Atlas of Living Australia (http://www.ala.org.au/)
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 (http://www.picturethesaurus.gov.au/) 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
developments are also worth noting.
The National Information
Standards Organization (http://www.niso.org) published
Guidelines for the Construction, Format, and Management of Monolingual
Controlled Vocabularies in 2005.
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 (http://www.vrafoundation.org/) 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 (http://www.getty.edu)
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 (http://www.loc.gov/bibliographic-future/rda/).
Widespread agreement about the need for collaboration,
particularly in the networked world, has met with mixed results.
Degrees of difficulty
comments on the difficulties of collaboration experienced in the US
Digital Preservation Program (http://www.digitalpreservation.gov/)
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]
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
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
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
Australia Network (CAN, http://www.collectionsaustralia.net), 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
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, http://www.loc.gov/standards/sru/)
and TAPIR (http://wiki.tdwg.org/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
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 (http://mgnsw.org.au) and, in Queensland, through
Museums and Gallery Services Queensland (http://www.magsq.com.au/),
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 (http://pictureqld.slq.qld.gov.au/home/outreach)
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
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).
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 (http://www.artgallery.nsw.gov.au),
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 http://www.hurstville.nsw.gov.au/lmg, 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 (http://www.nida.edu.au)
is one example – await more integrated approaches to information
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?
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?
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
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”.
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 (http://sbdsproto.nla.gov.au/) 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.
Online projects not only
search for better access to information, they search for more
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
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