One last post

Access to data has been central to our journey throughout this unit…

One of the things I love best about my job is the contribution that I make to the NMA’s collections online – Collection Explorer. At any one time, about only 5% of the museum’s collection is on display. Collection Explorer gives access to 50% of the museum’s collection 24 hours a day. On the surface, Collection Explorer seems effortless, but the records and images displayed have taken years of development and are undergoing continuous improvement. In some cases, we can provide better and more in depth access to objects on line than in the gallery. In the gallery you can view the exterior of a car, online you can view the engine and the interiors. In gallery you can view one page of a sketch book, online you can read from beginning to end.

I am all about possibility and access. I believe in the power of collections to help people connect with past present and future, to inspire and promote discovery. This power is lost when collections are locked away in storage. At present, Collection Explorer does not have an API, but perhaps it should. I feel I should think that an API is a great idea because it fits with the ideology that I have just outlined. I love the idea that an API might give access that inspires new creation, new ways of looking at the collection, new discovery, new connection and for aboriginal communities re- connection and engagement. But I worry about misappropriation. The NMA releases records to Collection Explorer in an effort to provide access to the collection, but the majority of the content is not copyright cleared, nor have moral rights been applied. In good faith, we are leaving it up to our online visitors to decide what is appropriate in terms of use – but are they suitably qualified or informed enough to make these kinds of decisions. When DJ’s sample music, they can use a mere 8 seconds before royalties are due. What is the equivalent in data and images in terms of what is appropriate?

I also wonder about how we can capture new discoveries about the collection, how the museum can collaborate with those who engage with the collection. In an environment of dwindling resourcing it is essential that there is a two-way conversation about what is created from the data made available through an API. In relation to collections, the NMA is merely a custodian. We have no real desire to lock the collection away, but we do have responsibilities in terms of the collection and to ensure that museum operations are sustainable so we can continue into the future. I am left conflicted, but I am just one small cog – fortunately in this case, these decisions are bigger than me!

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