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Collections and Connections

Online collection sites from 2012

Museum collections hold objects that are interesting because of their connections to periods, places and people. Traditionally online museum collections have been a place to present the known authoritative records for the objects. The last year has seen many organisations move beyond using the web as an online collection brochure. Providing museum audiences with new ways of contributing to and re-using the collection information has been a noticeable trend in 2012.

Crowdsourcing

Two of the biggest successes for crowdsourcing this year have been the Your Paintings project and the Trove library and museum aggregation site.

The BBC / Public Catalogue Foundations’s Your Paintings project completed their UK catalogue of the 212,000 oil paintings in national collections. Alongside the main website, the Your Paintings Tagger encourages the public to add tags to help others discover the works.

Trove - typical daily crowdsourcing statistics

Trove – typical daily crowdsourcing statistics

Trove is a site managed by the National Library of Australia. The original focus was on library collections, but increasingly it has become a broader aggregation of Australia’s digital resources. We (Vernon Systems) have several museum clients now contributing their online records to Trove. Trove has an impressive community of users helping improve the content. It’s typical to see 50,000 newspaper text corrections in a day and thousands of a new search tags added each week.

It is a challenge for crowdsourcing projects to succeed. Both of these projects have several key ingredients: there is a keen audience for the core content, there are clear summaries of the overall progress of the crowdsourcing, the crowdsourcing helps the wider audience, and contributors can view statistics on their on contributions.

Open content

2012 saw more museum move towards open access for their content.  The most notable additions were:

Europeana – the metadata for the 23 million catalogue records is now available on a public domain / CC0 licence. This is the largest one-time dedication of cultural data into the public domain under the CC0 waiver.

RijksmuseumRijksmusueum – their revamped site showcases high-resolution images now available not just for public re-use, but also for re-mixing/modification. The new site is also boldly minimal in its layout, giving images pride of place on the page and keeping options simple and straight-forward. The home page and object detail pages are particularly well done.

Programming interfaces

Museum websites are just one presentation for the rich information held about their collections. Programming interfaces offer new opportunities for the interpretation and use of this data. The list of museums providing APIs for their data is now long (see the Museums and the Machine-Processable Web for an introduction).

One excellent addition this year was the Fitzwilliam Museum. They provide OAI-PMH access for aggregation sites to copy data, a RESTful programming interface and a SPARQL end point for access to RDF format. The docs are clearly written and there are even simple URL conventions for getting to HTML and XML versions of the object detail pages.

Incorporating information from other sources

The Portable Antiquities Scheme has incorporated Wikipedia content on its site. Rather than write extensive details on topics linking back to their finds (e.g. Roman emperors), they have worked with the Wikipedia community to add and enhance Wikipedia pages as required. These pages are then incorporated into the finds.org.uk site.

The alpha Cooper-Hewitt online collection also uses Wikipedia for details about artists and countries, like the page for United Kingdom. The site has a number of other innovations which I posted on in ‘Picking apart the alpha Cooper-Hewitt online collection‘.

Other sites of note

The National Trust (UK) put their collections online for the first time. The site currently covers over 3/4 million items. The home page provides users with a range of ways to find items, although disappointingly, the search URLs are session specific so can’t be bookmarked or shared.

DigitalNZ (NZ’s national site for finding, sharing and re-using the nation’s digital content) launched their sets option. Users can save and share sets of items that illustrate any theme. It has helped some of the more interesting items bubble up to the surface. The DigitalNZ team promote selected sets on their home page. My favourite example so far is Rainbow.

The Magic Tate Ball app takes data from your mobile (date, time, weather, location) to present relevant works from the collection.

This list is far from exhaustive, but they all piqued my interest. What are your favourite new museum online collections from the last year? What museum mobile apps have you particularly enjoyed?

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