Diffusion of Museum Collections: Tools and Methods


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Currently, all looks like it’s going to be within our reach by a click or a screen touch only on the Internet. Insomuch as the technological revolution is not recent and mobile devices have a daily use. Nonetheless, reality is not absolutely utopian. People try to take giant leaps to arrive at the point where whole is suitable through our “screens” skipping years of working.

In the case of museum, collections mean a hard work to make them accessible online. Some centers are years ahead of the most of museums in automated collection management, but the most of them dedicate themself to doing minimum inventory or cataloguing of pieces from their heritage. It isn’t only a matter of backwardness in technology implementation for collection management; the barrier is consisted of the difficulty of design of any standard for description tied to a collective with very divers needs and collections (we should only know the complex organization chart of ICOM, International Council of Museums).

There are projects and proposals for description schemes for a few years: CDWA Lite (Categories for the Description of Works of Art, it started in The 90s and formalize in the next decade), Museumdat (standard developed as of the CDWA to adapt for the OAI-PMH Protocol), CCO (Cataloguing Cultural Objects, it tries to be a development of the bibliographic cataloguing normative to add correctly the description of museum pieces). Every country has tried to carry out a local standardization process (Sistema de documentació per a museus in Catalonia in 1982 and Normalización de documental de museos, published in 1993 and revised in 1998).

As well as applying fundamental cataloguing guidelines, every piece has to be introduced to an automated management system which makes possible web edition of collections. Since 2004, about 50 museums in Catalonia have adopted MuseumPlus by Zetcom, preceded by DAC (Documentació Assistida de Col·leccions), to edit their collections on web (http://www.museusenlinia.gencat.cat/ consists of 42 Catalan museums). It means that about 10% of collections of Catalan museums are suitable on web.

The situation isn’t very different in Spain. The Ministry of Culture drove the design of DOMUS, a collection management system, in 1993, which was implemented for the first time in 1999. 308 museums had this software in 2008.

Nevertheless, offer of collection management systems is more diversified (http://www.idea.org/blog/2011/04/07/collection-management-systems-museums-and-the-web-2011/) and, of course, much of this offer is consisted of open source software.

All these systems make possible web edition of catalog (though it doesn’t mean that all museums with collection management system are searchable on Internet), but other functionalities are also required:

  • Link to multimedia from pieces (photos, videos, 3D models, etc.)
  • Authority control, with bibliographic information (artists, donors, etc.)
  • Bibliography related to the piece
  • Per-collection management
  • Visualization of non-displayed works (Usually a small percentage of all collection from museums is accessible)
  • Highlight display
  • Display of recent acquisitions
  • Possibility to create virtual exhibitions
  • Socio-viral content distribution
  • Comment and assessment of pieces
  • Etc.

Rarely, management system can feed directly into other diffusion channels from museums: apps for mobile devices or to edit highlights for diffusion through channels 2.0. Interoperability of different diffusion channels from collection (web catalog, apps, official website, web 2.0 channels, etc.) and definition of diffusion policy for every channel are still a pending matter.


Posted by:

Gustavo Villazán | Project Coordinador

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