Museums and the Web

An annual conference exploring the social, cultural, design, technological, economic, and organizational issues of culture, science and heritage on-line.

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David Bearman's Blog

Digital Information Strategy

As an informal advisor to Ian Wilson, Librarian and Archivist of Canada, I was invited to comment on the Library and Archives o Canada's recent draft Canadian Digital information Strategy (see Why is it that such documents are so sterile and predictable? Ian launched this exercise as a way to promote the digitization and online access to all of Canada's publications, which was a truly radical idea floated in his MW2005 keynote in Vancouver ( But the requirements of involving all the stakeholders, holding extensive public reviews, and turning it over to senior bureaucrats from the LAC, has given birth to an anodyne prescription for public policy where what is needed is strong action, now.

Museums and Scholarly Information - Near Neighbors Need to Understand Each Other Better

In a recently published article in the EDUCAUSE Review ( ), Clifford Lynch, Executive Director of the Coalition for Networked Information, grapples with the complex issue of repatriation of cultural artifacts from museums and argues that the responsibilities of stewardship extend to capturing and distributing high quality digital surrogates that can ensure continuing scholarly access to artifacts of disputed ownership and morally ambivalent provenance.

We look forward to having Cliff at the 2008 Museums and the Web conference, where he has agreed to sum up the meeting and react to it in the closing plenary. His opinion and expertise in matters of higher education networking is internationally respected and over the years, Clifford has been an interested and sympathetic observer of the affairs of museums. Occasionally, as in the planning for the Art Museum Image Consortium, Clifford has become directly involved in museum matters. I am excited that we are going to re-engage him in thinking about strategies for museum networking at what I consider a crucial time.

From sharing cycles to sharing skills

In 1999, David Anderson launched Seti@home and with it a method of enlisting the underused cycles of PC's worldwide. While Seti still hasn't found any extra-terrestrial life, it did give birth to BOINC (Berkeley Open Infrastructure for Network Computing) which Anderson established in 2002. The Economist, December 6 edition, reports that BOINC based computing supports several hundred CPU intensive scientific investigations and has recently been augmented to use PC graphic cards and Playstations for some graphically demanding processing.

The article also identifies some social applications of BOINC of interest to museums. Galaxy Zoo has employed more than 100,000 volunteers to examine the Sloan Digital Sky Survey to classify galaxies and Stardust@home is using volunteers to spot stellar tracks. The Manchester Museum has had volunteers cataloguing 12,000 herbaria specimens from the 19th century. Africa@home from the University of Geneva is enlisting volunteers to extract cartographic data on the location of roads, villages, fields etc. from satellite images.

Projects like these have led Anderson to launch a new platform he calls BOSSA (Berkeley Open System for Skills Aggregation) which he hopes will be lower the barrier to entry for such web-based knowledge sharing and collaboration projects. Check it out at


Open Archives Initiative - Object Reuse and Exchange (ORE) Specification

How can a web object have a defined meaning in the context of the objects discovered at the same site, a group of different objects with which it was sold at auction, and yet other objects displayed in the same museum exhibition years later, when each of the individual objects will have one or many URI’s and representations on the Web?

How, in other words, can the meanings of different aggregations of digital objects be retained over time?

Ranjit Makkuni at ICHIM

Sacred World Foundation logo

Ranjit Makkuni, President of the Sacred World Foundation, our ICHIM Closing Plenary speaker this year, has been receiving a great deal of attention lately. He:

ICHIM07: in memory of Xavier Perrot

xp @ ichim03




ICHIM07 is dedicated to the memory of Xavier Perrot, our partner and friend, who attended every ICHIM conference and co-chaired the meetings in 2003 (Paris), 2004 (Berlin) and 2005 (Paris) before his untimely death from cancer on July 20, 2007.

His convivial and inquisitive spirit continues to inspire us all.

ICHIM91 papers are surprisingly fresh and relevant today

Today I was indexing some papers from the first (1991) ICHIM conference, as we prepared for ICHIM07 (the tenth of these meetings) in Toronto this fall. 1991 was the year the Gopher protocol first appeared, and there was, of course, no web. Yet it was fascinating to return to these papers at to discover how much of what we assume some days is new, is actually quite persistent since the birth of interactive multimedia.

An Open Content Museum of World Culture

people at the museumLast week while we were giving a technology workshop at the Council of American Jewish Museums (CAJM) annual conference, the power of the observation that culture is additive, that cultural artifacts gain meaning as well as significance by being seen in the context of other, similar, artifacts from within and outside the culture, and that the digital world offers us the opportunity to bring dispersed cultural objects together, was self-evident. Here were hundreds of generally small museums, in diasporic communities throughout North America, that each held a tiny portion of the story of American Jewry. If only they could aggregate it – each telling their local story, yet each contributing to the larger picture of what Jewish culture means in America; and of course, they could.

Doth we protest too much?

Sometimes it seem we are fixated on copyright act reform as the only way to achieve broader access to digital culture and are overlooking the attitudinal changes that are taking place within institutions and opening the way to wider access without the need for legislative remedies. Over the past year the Metropolitan Museum of Art quietly made its images available for academic use and was followed last month by the Victoria & Albert Museum. When two major international art museums recognize that they have more to gain by making their collections open to non-commercial publication and broad discussion than they do from licensing rights to non-remunerative uses, it reflects a massive attitudinal change that should be noted, celebrated and copied. Yet in discussions of barriers to access and public policy initiatives these changes have largely gone unnoticed.

The future of museums

In November I undertook a project with the Canadian Heritage Information Network to explore potential future information technologies and their implications for museums. First I identified 25 technological scenarios based on technologies that already exist, at least in the laboratory. Then we asked a number of experts who would help to predict when, if ever, these technologies would be widespread within North America. Subsequently, we held a session with museum professionals, consultants, students and educators to explore how these technolgies might be used in museums and imagine their transformative potential. The process is continuing this month with the writing of a number of 'vignettes' that depict new realities in which the museum might find itself in the coming years and the response to these vignettes by second year Museum Studies students who are looking at their current plans for an exhibit in 2007 and how these might change in light of tgechnological opportunities envisioned for 2013.

Several very useful observations can be made on the process to date. In this posting, let me simply make one: few information professionals estimated timeframes as short as the ones predicted by our experts. The effect of their longer timeframes was largely to remove developments from the 3-6 year planning window. Yet our experts (myself, Stephen Downes of the Canadian National Research Council, Clifford Lynch on CNI, Ben Shneiderman of the University of Maryland, John Tolva of IBM and David Weinberger from the Harvard Berkman Center on Internet Law and Society), placed the following technologies in the 3-6 year window. What is intriguing, is to imagine the social world of a person who takes all these information and communications technologies for granted;-)

The experts predicted that within six years, most North American museums clients (though of course the statements say "Canadian" since the study was funded by CHIN) will consider it commonplace to: