Nick Poole of the MDA on knowledge management

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Why we should talk about knowledge management not collections or information management

You’ve got the tip of the iceberg – which is your physical collections management, which are issues like security, environmental monitoring, conservation, preventative conservation, integrated pest management.

Those things which are to do with the physical integrity of the objects within the collection. And then you have this massive iceberg, below the line, unfunded, hard-to-get-money-for, informational collections management, and that’s the bit that hasn’t had enough of a focus.

There is a degree of interplay between the two, but what people see is that the physical safety of objects in store, and the bits that we’re trying to tackle is the area of knowledge management.

If you start here with a collections management system which might be Spectrum compliant – it might not, it might be something they’ve developed in house, it might not. It might be digital, but the idea is that there is an informational system for managing object records.

Most likely this will be linked to an additional set of metadata. Somebody might have done an exhibition and they might have created an access database. A content management system might be interlinked with their collections management system but sometimes not.

Within the content management system you’re likely to have some narrative descriptions that were written when somebody asked somebody else to write 200 words on that. That tends to be linked into the content management system, largely separate from the collections management system.

Over here, you’ll have ID metadata about who owns what, and some of that will be information about the copyright, a right management record that’s spectrum structured, some of it will be more blanket stuff, some of it will draw on personnel files.

This is then bundled up and you’ll do a website, someone else will come along with some project money and you’ll do a micro-site, and then someone else will say let’s create an internet or extranet. Others will create a book or a leaflet in hard-copy format.

How do you use the SW to navigate this information space?

If you can, if you consider the amount of information that’s shared, then you have a much more efficient business, and that comes back to the whole issue about funding. Museums are just incredibly leaky when it comes to the information process. Even the best museums think about system, system, system and integration in the middle. At the moment we lose of much of the value simply because everything exists in that very messy space.

The real argument within a museum is to say that you’re a business and your product is information and knowledge.

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