OKCon2013 Presentation: Small Museums and Open Data

Nicole Beale nicole.beale@soton.ac.uk @nicoleebeale Good afternoon everyone. My name is Nicole Beale. I‟m here at OKCon for the first time. I‟m a PhD student at the University of Southampton. I recently returned to studies, after working for 8 years or so in archaeological curation and education for small museums in the UK, and I am lucky to find myself based with the Web Science research group. I want to contribute to exploring what place regional museums have a in this web-enabled world. I‟m here at OKCon because one of the aspects of the future for regional museums is open data. I‟m here to get your advice and feedback. There has been a clear move in the museums sector to adopt other aspects of the web. Social media in particular has an immediate and obvious impact on methods of communication with service users, particularly for smaller museums. User generated content is the bread and butter of museums, and online user generated content represents a new way for this information to be created and submitted to museums. But open data has been more problematic. I‟d like to talk to you about some of the issues that regional museums face. With „regional museum‟, I mean local authority managed and funded museums, and also independent museums; those museums that are managed by trusts: Non-national museums. The majority of these museums have small staff resources, often limited to less than five, and much of the day to day running of the organisation relies on unpaid volunteers. Of the 2,600 museums, 700 are local authority managed and funded, and 800 are independently managed (they might be in trust or managed by an organisation such as a charity). Only 60 museums receive core museums funding from the government. The type of funding and management does not necessarily reflect the significance of any one museum, or tell us about the attributes, such as the size. But most of the small museums (with less than 5 staff members) are local authority or independently managed. Off all of the staff working in museums, 60% are volunteers, they are unpaid workers in the sector. This does not mean that they are less skilled than paid staff, or less experienced, but in the case of local authority museums, the majority of volunteers are older than 65, and most volunteer, not because of specialist cultural heritage knowledge, but because of a desire to contribute to the mission of the museum. Most of the work carried out by volunteers is front of house or basic tasks relating to collections and or archives care. In the UK 1.4% of the population volunteer in museums or galleries, but the volunteers profile don‟t necessarily reflect the population of the local community. As you can imagine, there are very few information technology specialists in these teams, and even fewer who are able to produce open data. This conference is about discussion and pushing open data forwards into new areas, and I would like to get your feedback on some of the following issues.

This talk focusses on the UK situation, as this is what I know. But I hope that many of the following points will provide food for thought for all countries represented in the audience today, as well as other small organisations within other sectors. When I began on my journey looking into open data for smaller museums, I first put together an overview of national museums and open data. I‟ve been looking at the key things that large national museums have been doing with open data. In particular, what has led to the projects occurring, the resources that were required, such as time, hardware, and funding, the external agencies that were involved, and the skills needed in-house and outside of the organisations. I think that it is not the access to information, but the access to knowledge that is significant. So I am also in the middle of trying to identify what the external factors are that may have influenced the uptake of open data by museums, archives, libraries and galleries. I think that highlighting to the museums community what the national factors are that have prompted open license uptake is significant. Identifying these catalysts will help us to think about what kinds of things are influencing decision makers like the managing council or trust committees. The decision makers may not be implementing open data on the ground, but they are gatekeepers to essential resources, such as funding. The next thing that I have been thinking about is, the transferability of the factors to local authority museums. I want to find out whether we can transfer these lessons learned. What I am wondering is this. Is it the case that regional museums are a different thing to national museums, and as such our approach to the way that they should be creating, releasing and using open data is flawed? Europeana was mentioned yesterday afternoon and again today, as an example of how the cultural heritage sector is recognising the potential of open data. From a regional museums perspective, how do we persuade decision makers as well as on the ground staff, that centralised metadata databases are useful? What do regional museums get from resources like Europeana? Europeana is providing fantastic examples of this as per Jill‟s talk. Particularly with their World War One project, which has a great real-world component to it. The facts are that the audiences of Europeana are very different to the audiences of the regional museums. You and I can see that this is a positive thing, but I have interviewed museums professionals to whom this idea of connecting with new online audiences is an added bonus, rather than being part of their organisation’s core mission. To persuade these guys, we need to make clear statements about who the audiences of open are. And why they should be rethinking their remits and rethinking what the Local actually is. This is my next point. Regional museums need to rethink what the local means to them. They need to consider what open data could mean for the people who currently use regional museums, as well as what it could mean for the museums themselves, and the new audiences. It all comes back to this statement we‟ve heard again and again here at

OKCon, about realising the potential of the internet. We also need to realise the potential of some of our current institutions. I have been looking at open innovation, and thinking about the lessons from innovation at a local and national level. There is the importance in these things of both the local buzz and the national pipelines. Regional museums have something available to them. The people. It‟s all about the people anyway. So if we look at those people, and think about the web and how it has impacted on regional museums, what are the opportunities here? It‟s not just the committed (unskilled) user community that are available to the small museum. There is also the network – no local museum stands in isolation and relationships exist that can be harnessed, the Web has also opened the local up to the global unskilled audience, and to many potential audiences of specialists, again opening up the local. The people are the solution. We have to consider also the supporting organisations, from within the open data community; the OKF, CC, and outside of the open data community, the Collections Trust, and also of centralised resources, such as Wikimedia Commons and Europeana, which are offer solutions to particular issues for regional museums. Although I don‟t have time to go into this today, the Portable Antiquities Scheme is a great example of how the sharing of data is helping overstretched Finds Liaison Officers. PAS has an OAI service. But the local authority museums need to actually start using this data to their advantage. Recontextualising the data that has been added to the PAS database. The BBC‟s Your Paintings has already had a name check at OKCon, so I won‟t describe this scheme to you, but it is a real example of how sharing information can open up collections in a real way. And highlights commonalities between otherwise seemingly isolated small institutions‟ collections. It seems that the solution might be in how all of these people and networks and organisations are pulled together. Awareness has been held up over and over again as the key issue in this, and identifying the conventionally adopted communication streams for spreading the word will ensure that the message trickles down to the networks that are working with and in regional museums. One solution to kickstarting the creation and reuse of open data could be partnerships. We have seen plenty of evidence of this working in other contexts here at OKCon. Partnerships with local SMEs, with other departments in local authority councils, with local educational organisations, with the third sector. But for these partnerships to occur, motivations need to be more fully understood at a local level. I am a big supporter of the notion of museums as builders of social capital, which means that as social assets and as the Department of Culture, Media and Sport recommends, they could prove social capital contributions through stronger local partnerships. For more on this see Jeremy Ottevanger‟s recently published PhD thesis “Sustaining digital products in the museum sector”. This is a real impact, measurable and achievable. Museums have been doing this anyway, but open data could be a way for this to happen with considerably more ease than other avenues. Delivery of other local authority services has been floated numerous times in the UK in the past couple of years, and museums could do this in a real way through

releasing open data and making connections with other departments within their own, and other, local authorities. This reflects the point that Sarah Schacht was making yesterday about open data not necessarily equalling open government. An interesting example that explains some of the points I‟ve made thus far is the Bristol Know Your Place project. This is not an open data project, but it does illustrate what the benefits of connecting museums with council departments could be. The project takes data from the Bristol City Council‟s archaeology department, which is situated within Planning, namely information about the historic buildings and streets in the city from the Historic Environment Record, and combines this data with the Bristol Museums and Galleries, through an interactive map. This map includes historic mapping layers, and archive materials from the city‟s museums, such as postcards with photos of the city through time, and images of artworks from Bristol‟s art collection. The map has additional functionality allowing for user generated content, such as oral histories, personal archives of postcards and photos, and written memories to be added to the map. The GIS based platform linking to heritage data is nothing new, we have all come across fantastic resources such as HistoryPin. But what this system does do well, is that it empowers people. Local residents have been able, using this website, to find information about particular buildings and streets and oppose planning applications, and could back up applications for listing of buildings using the data. But imagine if this had been open data. Imagine if the team had CC‟d the newly created digital images, and opened up the data with an OAI service, who knows what they would have now. We can only begin to think about the additional data that could have been added to this resource, and the impacts that this dataset could have had on the communities in Bristol. This resource, based predominately on data from a museum‟s collection is having a direct impact on the urban development of a city. Which is pretty cool. There is a clear move here by the local authority to increase the relevance of the cultural heritage data in the community, which is essential to the continuing existence of many of these smaller museums. My next point is that we need to give clearer meaning to data. We as a community need to be asking regional museums not to make a change in practice (that‟s their responsibility), but to encourage a shift in understanding of what constitutes „data‟. When it comes to thinking about what data is for museums, and what data means for museums, one problem is the idea of ‘data’. What is data to a local authority museum, with a social history focus? Take the collection as an example. In a museum‟s collection, there may be a few boxes of items relating to WWII. One of these might be a gas mask. As an object, this gas mask is not unique, and there‟s nothing special about it. But the stories associated with that gas mask, about the social history of the area, are very significant and unique. In the open education session yesterday, the panel were saying that one of the biggest challenges from their perspective is the identification of derivative works. But museums, particularly small regional museums, often have images that are copies of copies of copies.

There's much confusion about even very basic actions that result in useful open data from collections. There is an argument to make clearer the possibilities for alternative degrees of releasing data. For example, the metadata about a painting held in a stored collection could be released as open, and could link to an image on a website that is not open is better than not being represented at all. These hybrid models of publishing data about collections as open need to be better explained to museums. I realise that this is almost the opposite of the general message from today, that the centralised databases need the content, not the metadata, and I support this, but surely the metadata is better than nothing at all? These been much reference to the five star model over these three days. The model is important as something to aim for, but is also daunting to museums professionals. A framework for the five stars model that is clearly linked with considerations relevant to regional museums would help dissolve some of the mystery around the model. The formats of the data are of course important. But the meaning of this format needs to be mapped to this model. So for example, what does a fixed URI actually mean for a painting or a medieval pot? And what does a URI of a medieval pot mean for a service user? And what does a URI of a medieval pot mean for the museum itself? It‟s about giving meaningful descriptions to technical requirements. One approach is the tying in of open data with projects that have a clear end use for the museum/s involved. In August, the York Museums Trust uploaded its first image to Wikimedia Commons. The Trust viewed the upload as a symbolic move to mark the launch of a partnership between YMT and Wikimedia UK, part of their Wikimedian in Residence, but also as a way to promote open access to collections data across the Trust. The image of Tempest Anderson was uploaded to time with the centenary of Anderson‟s death, and to symbolise the fact that future images to be added the Commons would come from the Tempest Anderson collection. The Wikimedian will be working on articles relating to the Tempest Anderson collection. This is a real, and useful example of how museums everywhere can quickly and effectively engage with the open data community. They don‟t even need a Wikimedian in Residence, they just need to connect with someone in the Wikimedia community to get that support, that confidence that leads to that first Commons upload. And so, to realise the potential of open data, it’s all about tools, experts and successes. More specifically, it’s all about the combination of these things. As so many people have already illustrated here at OKCon. People say of gov.uk that its strength is that it is built around user needs rather than organisational needs. But what are the user‟s needs for smaller museums? Should the digital „footfall‟ be larger than the real world footfall? We need to persuade the decision makers in these institutions that their focus should be broadened out. Beyond the local. We need to persuade small museums why a website, or even better, data, should in fact expect to get more hits, or uses, than that same museum gets visitors to its exhibitions space. I‟d just like to end with one final point. That we cannot ignore the organisational structure of small museums. As with any change, organisational makeup is an essential consideration. We should work to provide museums with instances of uses of open data that can be presented to a council committee concerned about income generation. Is this against the spirit of open data, I wonder? For instance, there has been a flurry of publications of local

history books that use only Flickr images and HistoryPin photos. Many service users of local authority museums are not online at all, but are voracious consumers of printed matter. These books are bringing the benefits of the sharing of content to the local in a real way. But a model to do this with open data where income is directed back to supporting and the delivery of the museums service has yet to surface. These kinds of small real world components to resource discovery and sharing are the kind of things that will win hearts and minds not only of the curators of local authority museums, but of the committees and trusts that support those museums. I hope that this short presentation has provided an idea of the problems that smaller museums are coming up against in the adoption of open data. My experience of OKCon has highlighted to me that the open data community are willing and the audiences are waiting. We just need the data. And that, as we all know, is not as easy as it sounds. Thank-you for listening.

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