Planning Kit for a Quality Site for Small and Medium Sized Museums

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The Quality Principles Handbook says:


This section examines the eighth quality principle, that «A quality Website must be committed to being interoperable within cultural networks to enable users to easily locate the content and services that meet their needs». It:

  • examines how to interpret the interoperability principle,
  • outlines criteria for establishing whether or not a Website is interoperable
  • suggests a checklist of Website characteristics to use to ensure interoperability
  • describes a number of tests which can be taken in order to verify that the Website is interoperable.


This principle broadens the focus of quality beyond the individual Website, by considering how it can interface with other cultural Websites and with entities, such as cultural portals, which are higher and lower in the information hierarchy.

The focus here is on standards. If a cultural Website is created using standard technologies and techniques, data models and interfaces, this facilitates interaction and interoperability with other cultural Websites and online entities. The standards may cover areas such as (but not restricted to):

  • Metadata
  • Website technologies
  • Harvesting
  • Distributed Search

Standards must be taken into account from the inception of the Website. It is a great deal simpler to build a Website compliant with standards, than to re-invent the wheel and then have to build translation layers and other interface elements. The details of any interfaces that the site exposes for interoperability purposes should be fully and clearly documented, to facilitate subsequent integration into distributed cultural resources.

A second important area is that of discoverability. For a site’s value to be exploited, it must be accessed by the user, either directly or in a network of sites. This is related to the Transparency criterion. A site must make clear, to automated search engines and tools as well as to the human user, what it contains and the services or content that it offers.


Interoperability for many Websites is largely a question of being able to share information across Websites and other online entities. For such applications it is important that similar data models and metadata element sets are used for semantically similar items and concepts. To that end, there are a number of standards that should be taken into account in the creation of a Website and its underlying database or data model. See, for example, the Minerva Technical Guidelines document for more information.

Website technologies

Interoperability is greatly facilitated if a predictable set of technologies is used to create and present the Website. This applies both for interoperability and for the user experience. Thus, vendor-specific extensions to the standard Web technologies (XHTML, HTML, JavaScript) should be avoided. Any Website functionality that requires the download and installation of extra technology (e.g. plugins) is also deprecated.


If Websites treat interoperability as a high priority, they should consider exposing information about their content as metadata records that can be ‘harvested’. Typically this means support for OAI metadata harvesting tools. Such metadata should include collection-level metadata as well as item-level metadata.


A related issue is discoverability. A Website must make it clear, to both human and automated intelligences (such as search engines), what the content of the Website is, what areas it focuses on and the nature of its collections, content and services.

The aim here is to profile and describe the site as a whole, rather than any databases it hosts or any specific content which can be accessed on the site. For this purpose, the RSLP collection-level metadata set may be useful. The use of Dublin Core and RSLP metadata in the META tags of a site may be appropriate. If a portal or inventory to cultural Websites exists, then any cultural Website in the domain of the inventory should consider contributing metadata to it.

Distributed search

The ability to remotely search a Website also makes the Website more useful as an element in a greater content continuum, thus building on its interoperability.

There are two aspects to this – the searching of the site itself and the searching of the databases or catalogues which are accessed via the site.

The searching of the site itself can be facilitated by the use of metadata (META) tags in the page headers of each page. In addition, a site search tool may also be in place, with a documented interface to allow it to be invoked remotely.

The searching of catalogues and databases hosted on the site may involve running a Z39.50 server or implementing an SRW/SRU Web services interface. However, a subset of such functionality can also be exposed by having a consistent web search interface.

This document can only give the most cursory of information regarding the standards needed for interoperability. Other resources (such as the Minerva Technical Guidelines document) should also be consulted (see Minerva references).


The following criteria should be met if a site is to be considered interoperable. The degree of interoperability reflects the number of these criteria which are met; thus a site can be ‘75% interoperable’ if not all the criteria are met.

  • Research into standards and best practice should have taken place before site design began.
  • The site should have been designed using the relevant standards
  • The metadata model should comply with relevant international standards and may comply with Dublin Core and/or DC.Culture
  • The Website technologies should use only standard XHTML, HTML and XML. JavaScript is acceptable but not formally recommended. Proprietary extensions are deprecated.
  • Disclosure functionality should use a standard technology such as the OAI PMH protocol.
  • Distributed search of site itself may use page-level META tags, a site map and/or a site search tool
  • Distributed search of catalogues and databases may use Z39.50 or SRW/SRU
  • A site-level metadata profile should exist. This profile may use the RSLP metadata model. The use of RSLP and/or DC in the META tags for the site homepage (or elsewhere) should be considered
  • External interfaces should be clearly documented


This section presents a number of points against which a site can be checked.


Standards and best practice research took place before site design


Site design uses relevant standards where appropriate


Metadata maps to Dublin Core or DC.Culture


Website uses no proprietary HTML extensions


Disclosure functionality uses OAI


Distributed database or catalogue search uses Z39.50 or SRW/SRU


Distributed site search possible


Distributed site search using META tags possible


Distributed site search uses a site tool with a remote interface


Discoverability profile exists


Discoverability profile uses appropriate standard such as RSLP


All external interfaces documented


Practical tests

This section suggests some simple, pragmatic tests and questions to be asked in order to assess how completely your Website meets the interoperability principle

  1. Was desk research carried out before Website design began?
  2. Did this focus on relevant standards?
  3. What standards were identified as most relevant?
  4. Is the metadata model based on Dublin Core?
    1. If not, why not?
  5. Does the Website work with any browser?
  6. Is disclosure functionality implemented using OAI harvesting?
    1. If not, why not?
  7. Does the Website have a site-level metadata profile?
    1. Does the profile use a standard such as RSLP?
    2. Is the profile also implemented using the META tags on the homepage?
    3. Are the contents of the META tags expressed in DC, DC.Culture and/or RSLP?
  8. Is distributed site searching implemented?
  9. Is distributed catalogue and/or database searching possible?

  10. If it is, can it be searched remotely? And is the remote searching method the standard in use, in the expected interoperability partners?

© Minerva Project 2005-03, last revision 2006-03-30, edited by WP5, Committee for the development of a prototype of public cultural websites.
URL: www.minervaeurope/structure/workinggroups/userneeds/prototipo/protomuseo/verificaqualita/principi/interoperabile_e.html