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Italian Semester of Presidency of the European Union

EUROPEAN CONFERENCE OF MINERVA

Quality for cultural Web sites
Online Cultural Heritage for Research, Education and Cultural Tourism Communities

Parma, 20-21 November 2003, Auditorium Paganini




Margaret Greeves
(Assistant Director, Central Services Fitzwilliam Museum)

"IPR challenges for the Museum: a case study"


I am delighted to have this opportunity to present some of the work of the Fitzwilliam Museum as a case study to this Minerva conference, to earth our discussions in the real experience of an institution whose twin purposes are preserving the collections in its care and making them freely accessible for public education and enjoyment. Throughout, we will be talking about editorially reliable, high quality content, particularly images, and its delivery over the Internet.

Our case study will illustrate the following statements from the introduction to the Minerva programme, "Cultural heritage institutions are in a key position to deliver the kind of unique learning resources that are needed at all educational levels…[Such activity] challenges the cultural institutions at their very core… Digitisation is an expensive and technically complex enterprise in the long term and this should not be underestimated…it requires noteworthy investments and a strong commitment on the part of the individual organisations that are depositories…A further commitment is required to reduce digitisation costs [ ] and to develop new business models. Among the principal challenges posed…is the conservation of digital resources in the long term".

Underlying all that I shall say in this paper will be the conundrum: how do we fund the activities that contribute to building the electronic product? and the challenge, what innovative partnerships might be developed between the cultural content providers and the commercial publisher or other funding partner to sustain these developments?

The Fitzwilliam Museum is the art museum of the University of Cambridge, containing approximately half a million objects in the care of five curatorial departments - Antiquities, Applied Arts, Coins and Medals, Manuscripts and Printed Books and Paintings, Drawings and Prints. All the collections are "designated" under a scheme which identifies 50 collections in the UK of very significant national importance. Under one roof we have museum collections, archives and two libraries, spanning civilisations and millennia.

Until five years ago our use of images was conservatively traditional. Our photographers took (and still take) colour transparencies for publication in scholarly catalogues, general guides, exhibition guides, teaching materials and for the illustration of research by our own staff, members of the University of Cambridge and scholars scattered across the world. Duplicate transparencies are deposited with the Bridgeman Art Library and photographs and reproduction rights are also sold directly by the Museum. Other photographic activities are associated with conservation for condition reporting and for
security purposes. The Fitzwilliam Museum Enterprises Company develops products based on the collections using the transparencies - mainly stationery goods - and generates revenue for the benefit of the Museum. Again, unsurprisingly, we use images for public relations, profile building and publicity purposes, to market the Museum and its services, directly and through press and media coverage. Of course, I do not need to tell this audience that the protection of our copyright in our images is fundamental in this traditional picture.

We did, however, give permission for our images to be included in scholarly websites such as the Blake Archive and the Rossetti Archive. These give access at two levels so that, using high resolution images, art historians can make comparisons of different versions of in vivo publications of the work of these two artists. We spent much time negotiating watermark protection of the images, the inclusion of statements of our copyright and direction back to the Fitzwilliam for those who tried to print off images from the website.

The introduction at the Fitzwilliam Museum of an electronic Collections Information Management System in 1999 rapidly drove a culture change. With a grant form Resource, the Council for Museums, Archives and Libraries to assist the Museum to address backlogs in documentation, and following two years of careful planning, we introduced a collections management database using Adlib software, and have been building it up ever since, adding a curatorial department at a time and seeking carefully to ensure consistency in the application of standards and terminology.

Within 18 months of embarking on this project, however, the emphasis shifted from information management to information sharing. The drivers were technological - the ease of introducing a web interface - and strategic. The expectations of users of museums such of ours, the stimulation of government funding and the University environment in which we work reinforced a new emphasis on access. In a very short space of time we were driven to look up from our dedicated inputting to create object records to consider who would use the information, and how. The first step was intranet access, which allowed the curatorial departments to look at one another's records and non-expert staff members to share the information. This demonstrated an unexpected ease of use - and usefulness. We then took a leap and went public; we offered the information to our peers in other museums and were surprised by their very positive response.

In other words, within less than two years of the start of our project its purpose needed to be radically revised. Its new scope was stimulating, exciting - and challenging. We found that our attention to the application of standards, consideration of terminology and the consistent use of fields across different types of materials was increased. As accessibility became more important we sought to define our several audiences, including those with disabilities and special needs, and are currently evaluating the usability of our website, the key interface to the information.

We have been rewarded with funding to collaborate in pilot projects, as a content provider. We are preparing 100,000 records for harvesting as metadata through the Open Archives Initiative (OAI). It will be made available to the Higher Education environment through the Arts and Humanities Data Service (AHDS) portal and the Archaeological Data Service (ADS). It will also be harvested by 24-Hour Museum which currently provides information on Museums' events and exhibitions but is building a portal that will give users a taste of the objects in the collections through thumbnail images and associated brief records. In both projects we value the opportunity to collaborate with partner museums and to benefit from the technological input of the data providers.

Both projects have stimulated the Fitzwilliam Museum team to find new routines - applying more automation to data cleansing, speeding up the capture of images (see our Coins collections information via www.fizmuseum.cam.ac.uk). Interoperability throws up issues of standards, classification, terminology, and for us, of consistency across different object and collection types. The funding support for all of the work on the database and allied projects described thus far is £500,000.

We have become more adventurous still and have developed a strategy that examines opportunities for re-purposing knowledge for delivery to different audiences in a variety of media and strives to take forward their delivery simultaneously. We are nearing the completion of Pharos, a web-accessible structured database of information which links 300 key objects across the Museum's departments. Many criteria were applied to the choice of objects all of which are rich in their potential to offer connections that empower the visitor to explore a variety of pathways, chronological and thematic. The development of the content and the design has taken three years and includes interactive demonstrations of techniques of manufacture such as the creation of a fifteenth century, gold-ground panel painting and the complex process of lost wax bronze casting. The project was achieved for £100,000 but threw up pressing IPR problems.

Now we are working on re-purposing the Pharos material and adding to it in order to offer information within the galleries via handheld computers. We will offer audio in several languages and for sight-impaired visitors. We will use floorplans to orient visitors and diagrams to locate works in their original context or reunite part works. We also intend to extend our methods and materials videos to show how coins were struck, Japanese wood blocks were printed, medieval manuscripts illuminated and pots thrown.

Creative ideas abound but as our projects grow and become increasingly complex, so the challenges increase. Our commitment to quality of content and quality of access must be maintained but greater access carries greater exposure to risk. Greater exposure of images on the Web means greater loss of control, and this, in turn, will diminish their value for exploitation in products to generate income. And all this activity requires a level of investment that in our case means constant searching for, applying for and obtaining grant support.

This diagram summarises how we see our project:

diagramm summaries

At the Fitzwilliam, on a very small scale, we have collected evidence that shows clearly that users prefer images and that they provide important information about cultural objects. Images enrich the information and extend the creative uses to which it can be put. The inclusion of images in publicity available electronic information does cause us many copyright concerns and cost, however. So the questions for us is how can we broker agreements with rights holders for the use of images in educational materials at no cost? and how can we protect our images from theft and misuse by others? How may we find funding partners to share development costs who are willing to do this with a light touch that will allow, indeed encourage us to continue to experiment. In order to continue the development, to sustain the products and to archive them securely, we would also like to discover new models for cultural organisations to fund their electronic access activities. Currently we seem to have four business models: a) commercial sponsorship such as that by British Telecom at Tate, b) the academic model that allows access at various levels by means of a subscription (that is costly to collect), c) one which relies on advertising and offers free access to the site but may compromise the integrity of the institution and d) the current unsustainable model where the institution and educational/national funders support the development on a project by project basis.

In this rapidly developing area, cultural organisations with content to provide need to test the market and need to find new funding models. Is there a role for e-commerce? Should we rely on Europe?

   



Copyright Minerva Project 2003-11, last revision 2003-11-05, edited by Minerva Editorial Board.
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