Tuesday, December 29, 2009

Use Rights Brainstorming

One conversation from our kickoff meeting which is worth continuing is our discussion about creating a use rights agreement. Chip Colwell-Chanthaphonh raised the issue, saying that he thinks it is important to create something simple and straightforward, granting the AAMHC and the Zuni tribe free access to use the material in the catalog, provided that the DNMS (or whichever institution) and the photographer are acknowledged.

Also, the point was raised that we may need to include something in the use agreement about the copyrights of individual artists, since some of our partners (most notably, the Denver Museum of Art) are contributing objects made by known, and often living, artists who still retain copyrights to their work.

Jim Enote also pointed out that we might want to put in an additional caveat that Zuni tribe gets to review what is being published based on the comments that they have shared. However, this is not so straightforward a request, given what happens after things get published and then they're "in the literature"-- at that point it might be too hard to enforce that condition of review by the tribe.

Robin Boast pointed out that we might benefit from looking into Creative Commons licensing, since what we're talking about is essentially what they call an "Attribution NonCommercial license".

Also, it might make sense to have two use agreements, one from the content partners to AAMHC, the other from the AAMHC to the content partners. After some thought, here is a draft of what I came up with:

[from content partners to AAMHC]
We grant free access to A:shiwi A:wan Museum and Heritage Center and the Zuni Tribe to use the material within this database, provided the [institution name] and photographer are acknowledged in all uses, and that the copyrights of individual artists are respected when appropriate.

[from AAMHC to content partners]
We grant free access to [content partner] to use the material within this database, provided the authors are acknowledged in all uses (and that the AAMHC is able to review any work that is published based on the research provided in this database).

These are just preliminary ideas, and will quite possibly change and develop in the coming months.

Recap of our recent kickoff meeting

Despite having to start our meeting several hours late due to an early winter snowstorm, we got our project off to a fantastic start at our recent kickoff meeting at Zuni, December 8-9, 2009. Jim Enote hosted us in the new media room at the A:shiwi A:wan Museum and Heritage Center. In a very productive few hours, we managed to discuss many of the essential first steps, and we ironed out several important issues.

A nontechnical discussion of the technological side of our project:

Robin Boast started off the meeting by explaining his ideas about how we can build the back-end of the collaborative catalog system. One of the main constraints is that we have to work with the existing collections management systems in the partner museums. Coincidentally, three out of the four content partners use the ARGUS system, but we might have a challenging time getting the ARGUS database to connect with the collaborative catalog. Robin's idea is to use the Web access module of ARGUS to do this, but whether this is going to work like we need it to remains an unanswered question. Robin also spent some time explaining the concept of 'information push' to us-- basically another consideration for us is that things in the museums' catalogs change as well, so we need to figure out how to keep the information in our collaborative catalog updated, without having to 'pull' the updates all the time. How do we reverse the model so that the content partners push the information? Robin's answer was to use a new tool called Web Hooks, which are (as far as I can tell) a mini-program designed to pay attention to things that are happening in a database. When a certain event occurs (such as an object record's 'remarks' field being updated with new information), this mini-program knows to take a specific action (in this case, sending the updated information along to update the collaborative catalog records). Or at least that's how I understand it.

Essentially we are building three things that are all part of this 'collaborative catalog': 1) a script to format the content coming into the collaborative catalog system from outside museum partners; 2) the actual system, which will be housed on a server at AAMHC in Zuni, and will function essentially like a local, closed database; 3) the Web Hooks 'pub-sub' protocol (publish-subscribe) that pushes information back and forth. In all likelihood, the aspects of our project that will be the most portable and adaptable to other situations are #1 and #3.

Evaluations, or what would success look like?

Understandably, IMLS is very interested in concrete measurements for project success, so one of our challenges is to figure out a means of measuring what our project is doing. They call this 'outcomes-based evaluation'-- basically, as a team we decide what outcomes would mean that we're accomplishing what we set out to accomplish, and then we figure out how to measure those outcomes. One of IMLS's recommendations is that we select a few primary activities from our project that have discrete outputs or outcomes, then evaluate those. These would be something like 1) the system at Zuni, 2) the Web Hooks scripts/ protocols, and 3) the leadership workshop that we plan on doing at the end of our second year of funding, where we present our system and methods to interested folks from other museums and tribes.

While we were discussing evaluations, the question of "what would success look like?" was put on the table. Jim Enote, the director of the AAMHC, talked about wanting schools and artists to use the system, and to be able to expand and extend it to other places and institutions (such as the National Parks & Monuments). He also spoke eloquently about the sense of hopelessness that people feel at Zuni when thinking about Zuni objects in other places, since the objects were taken and people don't know where they are. He said that this contributes to bad feelings about museums. Projects like ours are a really important part of closing the loop.

The protocols of sharing - ideas & discussion

An important part of our meeting was our discussion about the protocols of sharing information, using the appropriate protections for Zuni intellectual property -- we all agree that these protections & protocols are an important element of our project, but exactly what form they will take and what they will look like must be worked out. We had a lengthy discussion and came up with several ideas that we would like to put into practice, and see if they work. Obviously we will need to set up something and test it to see whether our ideas work the way we want them to.

What emerged from our discussion was a 'moderated' sort of system where the appropriate religious leaders would review the object information coming into the database at AAMHC and make a determination about whether specific objects can be accessed by all Zunis, only certain groups, or only religious leaders. For the objects that are accessible by everyone at Zuni, the system will allow comments, feedback, and corrections (I particularly liked Robert Breunig's idea to have a "things the museum would like to know", which I thought could also be called a "set the record straight" tab).

The steps in the process, as we see it:

  1. cultural advisors decide which objects can be shared at Zuni, and they set permissions for access to objects
  2. Zuni users come in to AAMHC & interact with catalog, adding text, audio, video, etc.
  3. individual set levels of access to their comments
    • ie. Zuni community only | museum staff only | staff and public (just ideas)
  4. advisors get to review information
  5. Zuni's info goes out to museum via WebHooks script

Our idea was to have a "parking lot" / "holding area" / "filter" where Zuni cultural advisors can monitor information coming into and out of the database. The question about how much work this filter will be was raised, and not exactly answered. We will want to phase into this, to see how it works and to see whether we need to rethink this setup.

We discussed for some time whether these comments should also be reviewed before being sent along to the outside museums, since we wouldn't want sensitive information to be inadvertently made public through our system. On the other hand, the task of reviewing (possibly) hundreds of comments about hundreds of objects is pretty intimidating. We do not yet know if people will make mistakes with sensitive information, but one decision we made was to make it as clear as we can that a user's comments can be either "Public" or "For Zunis Only", and each user will have to establish who can access their comments-- letting the community self-regulate. One idea that I had was to make the place where users enter "Public comments" be an entirely separate place in the interface (rather than setting access each time a user enters a comment).

Another method that might keep users careful about sharing sensitive information would be for the system to attach a user's name to all of their comments, and to not allow anonymous commenting. We want to be careful with that, though, because we also want people to know that this is a safe place to talk about objects, and a concern about doing it this way is that people might be discouraged from commenting if their name is attached to their comments.

All in all, this was a very productive meeting in my opinion. Thank you to everyone who made the trek and braved the snowy weather!

Published work

A list of articles that we have published about this project so far, with links to the journal's websites, where you can find the articles' abstracts (and in some cases, the full-text article).

Srinivasan, Ramesh, Jim Enote, Katherine M. Becvar, and Robin Boast. 2009. Critical and reflective uses of new media technologies in tribal museums. Museum Management and Curatorship 24(2): 169-189.

Becvar, Katherine M., and Ramesh Srinivasan. 2009. Indigenous knowledge and culturally-responsive methods in information research. Library Quarterly 79(4): 421-442.

Srinivasan, Ramesh, Robin Boast, Katherine M. Becvar, and Jonathan Furner. 2009. Digital museums and diverse cultural knowledges: Moving past the traditional catalog. The Information Society 25(4): 265-278.

Srinivasan, Ramesh, Robin Boast, Katherine M. Becvar, and Jonathan Furner. 2009. Blobgects: Digital museum catalogs and diverse user communities. Journal of the American Society of Information Science and Technology (JASIST) 60(4): 666-678.

Srinivasan, Ramesh, Katherine M. Becvar, Robin Boast, and Jim Enote. 2010. Diverse knowledges and contact zones within the digital museum. Science, Technology, and Human Values, in press.

About the project team

The Creating Collaborative Catalogs team is made up of partners from several museums and universities, both in the Southwestern United States and elsewhere. The team is led by two researchers from the University of California, Los Angeles-- Dr. Ramesh Srinivasan, an assistant professor in the Department of Information Studies, and Katherine Becvar, MLIS, the project manager. Dr. Robin Boast, deputy director of the University of Cambridge Museum of Archaeology and Anthropology, is the technological advisor on the project. Jim Enote, the director of the A:shiwi A:wan Museum and Heritage Center (AAMHC), is the leader of the project team at Zuni and provides an important link with the Zuni community. The rest of the project team is made up of Robert Breunig, director of the Museum of Northern Arizona; Chip Colwell-Chanthaphonh, curator of anthropology at the Denver Museum of Nature and Science; and Nancy Blomberg, Native arts curator at the Denver Art Museum.

Our project is generously funded by a US Ins
titute for Museum and Library Services (IMLS) National Leadership Grant, in the Advancing Digital Resources category. Thanks IMLS!

About our project

The goal of the Creating Collaborative Catalogs project is to share museum objects in more meaningful ways with the Native communities from which they originally came. We will accomplish this goal by working with the A:shiwi A:wan Museum and Heritage Center, the tribal museum of the Zuni Native American tribe, to create a collaborative catalog where Zuni people can look at, learn about, and comment on Zuni objects held by our content partners: Cambridge University Museum of Archaeology and Anthropology, Denver Museum of Nature and Science, Denver Art Museum, and the Museum of Northern Arizona. Our project is bringing museums and source communities closer together in a few important ways:

Setting the record straight
  • While museums have recently been doing a better job of working with Native communities to create events and exhibits, we believe there is still a gap in how museums are collaborating with communities to record and store information about objects in their museum catalogs. Because museums are also places where knowledge is stored (as well as objects), one of our goals is to give Native communities a method to 'set the record straight' and contribute their deep contextual knowledge about objects from their culture.

Intellectual property protocols
  • Intellectual property is a deeply important issue to many Native communities, and so one of our project goals is to design our Collaborative Catalog in such a way that native community members can decide with whom they wish to share their contributions and comments. This is an important technological and culturally-sensitive step in the right direction for communities where certain areas of knowledge are too sensitive to share widely.

Information 'pull' and information 'push'
  • A third important part of our project has to do with the idea of 'information push,' a technological concept which happens when the knowledge-holding entity (often a database or server) sends information without users having to constantly ask for that information. Since many native communities are often unaware of the latest new developments in knowledge about archaeological objects, one of our goals is to create a system that incorporates 'information push', meaning that as new research about specific collections is added to the catalogs of the partner museums, the system automatically exchanges this information with the database at AAMHC, and vice versa (when appropriate).

Later in the project, we plan on sharing what we have developed with many of our museum colleagues who are interested in creating something similar in their own museums. We will host a Leadership Workshop in the fall of 2011. Please contact us if you are interested in participating!

Our project is generously funded by a US Institute for Museum and Library Services (IMLS) National Leadership Grant, in the Advancing Digital Resources category.

The Institute of Museum and Library Services is the primary source of federal support for the nation’s 123,000 libraries and 17,500 museums. The Institute's mission is to create strong libraries and museums that connect people to information and ideas.