This approach avoids two key problems faced by ‘traditional’ cultural heritage aggregators that bring together data from different institutions and present it in a standardised way. Firstly, standardising such data is time-consuming and expensive for the contributors or the aggregating service or both. This is hard to sustain over the long term from core revenue funding, but can be achieved through ‘use and enhance’ activities as specific needs arise and short-term funding allows. Secondly, the harmonising process imposes standards that might suit one end purpose, but not others. The nuances and richness of the source records can get lost in translation. In our stripped-back proposal the original field names of the source data would be retained and, beyond identifying the field containing the unique object numbers, no mapping or other processing would be done.
What’s more, such a service could start now and start small, working with existing initiatives – such as AHRC’s Towards a National Collection programme (TaNC) and Art UK’s planned data harvesting service – that share a need to collect data from various UK museums.