Frances Lloyd Baynes – the realities of museum collections in a web 2.0 world

Frances Lloyd Baynes – V&A

The museum does have expectation placed upon it by the DCMS. We have 42 key performance indicators that are part of our funding agreement and 24 of those have to do with access. Of those only three really involve electronic access to collections: they are the number of website visits, the number of unique users, the percentage of the collection that available on the Internet and then a total figure that comprises number of users, actual web and outreach.

There is an expectation that we will be creating more information online and the museum is looking at a potential collections management review, in which electronic documentation will be the focus, so we are expecting when the National Audit Office turns to us they will be querying the amount of resources and time that is going into creating electronic documentation rather than documenting in any format – a conflicting message.

There are other issues, internal as well as external. Quite often projects concerning digitization are considered by our organizations as projects. So they fund a project in which you can go out and digitize a portion of the collection and deliver that. They don’t see it as part of the core business.

Funders, on other hand, look at it and say, ‘well actually, documenting your collection in an electronic way, which is up to date, is part of your core business and therefore we won’t fund it.’

We’re moving from paper based to electronic. We’re moving from where all the information about our collections was mediated through a curator, to more and more users wanting direct access to the collections. Some within the museums feel threatened by that.

The value that the public places on the authoritativeness of the organization as well as the expectation of the curatorial staff who see that their main role is to provide this view. At what point to we stop mediating in any way? Is that really what the people what? How much do we just let the users discover?

If the Semantic Web is going to deliver something that is ultimately much more collective we will need to find ways to join up our information. At the moment, it’s safe to say we see each other as competitors, competing for funding, users. We are not working in a non-competitive environment. Getting beyond that may prove difficult for us.

Government notoriously takes short-term views. We need to take long-term views as digitizing the entirety of our collection is going to take a long time. If the V&A has 790,000, at the moment 13% of our objects that have electronic catalogue records, that’s just over 103,000. Only 3.5% of the total collections are accessible on the Internet at the moment. We are looking to put all our collections information online in the next calendar year, but we have a long way to go until we get close to 790,000.

To summarise:

- core business vs. project view

- long term planning and views

- difficulty of communicating intangible benefits

- resource constraints

- mass of documentation to get online

- Internal integration of data, not just external organization links

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