Collections Trust, supported by the Open Data Institute’s Stimulus Fund, has been re-thinking what an open ecosystem for museum collections data might look like. The ODI’s involvement piqued the interest of stakeholders and gave fresh impetus to our discussions with them. We arrived at a way forward much simpler than we imagined at the start, visualised within a ‘framework for change’ covering three broad activities:
- Connect and collect: the process of simply gathering data from museums however they can provide it, and making it available – unprocessed – as the raw material for any potential use.
- Use and enhance: firstly, being able to find and select the right raw material; from there, any and all onward uses of it – processing it into standardised formats, using raw data for research, or curating digital products.
- Store and preserve: not only the obvious storing of image files, etc, from digitisation projects, but also capturing and futureproofing digital outputs such as interpretive text, research notes, data mappings and AI configurations.
Given the large number of stakeholders currently working with museum collections data, notably the £19m Arts and Humanities Research Council programme Towards a National Collection (TaNC), one aim of the framework is to help everyone see where their activities fit within the overall picture, and where the gaps are.
Collections Trust proposes to focus on four key interventions, in partnership with others:
- A ‘connect and collect’ service – a minimum viable solution for bringing together collection records from all museums as the raw material for any and all uses.
- In the ‘use and enhance’ part of the framework:
- A ‘find and select’ tool allowing users to find and select the data they want to work with, as the first step in countless scenarios using digital collections.
- A generic ‘content curation’ tool that demonstrates how museums might capture and re-use knowledge generated in the course of projects and collaborations.
- Underpinning the ‘store and preserve’ part of the framework, a sector-wide digital preservation strategy, making better use of existing funding to improve museums’ digital storage arrangements and futureproof the benefits of short-term projects.
The report welcomes the current TaNC activity, and also the more ambitious, longer-term proposals that might emerge in the context of UK Research and Innovation’s infrastructure roadmap. To help the academic sector work more effectively with the UK’s 1,700 museums, we call for a new museum data service, perhaps along the lines of the University of York’s Archaeology Data Service. Ideally, the new service would also be based in a university with existing links to all kinds of museums and a track record of collaborating with sector bodies. This would secure buy-in across the whole museum landscape, reinforced through advisory boards that represented the full range of stakeholder interests and expertise.