Thursday, June 10, 2010

Things to think about : questions from IMLS

Ramesh was just telling us about his recent meeting with the team from IMLS that came to Los Angeles for the recent AAM meeting. They had some important questions/points to consider, and I wanted to put them here for us to start thinking about and possibly responding to.

A. First of all, they wanted to know more about the system -- what it is going to look like, whether there will be a web page or something for public access (and by public I assume they mean everybody, not just 'public' (in-person) access at a terminal at AAMHC). Also, they were curious what the Zuni interface would look like. I think that we're getting to a point where we might start having something to show off (right Robin?) -- at the very least we have the working Filemaker Pro database that Robin and Curtis have been tinkering with, based on the catalog that the DAM sent to AAMHC last year. I think Robin will have to say more about this.

B. Something else they mentioned was the UIUC (University of Illinois Urbana Champaign) Digital Collections and Content portal.
I've seen this site before, possibly when we were working on the grant application? It seems that IMLS is encouraging their funded digital projects to participate in this portal, in essence placing all of their digital 'eggs' in one basket. Which I am not sure is exactly what we are going for -- it appears to be a big giant portal that allows access to all these nifty collections, but you still have to go through the portal to get at the collections. As laudable a goal that the interoperability of collections metadata is (with larger and larger portals), sticking it all in one place like this is just one method for making technology work better between museums and source communities.

In reference to this UIUC portal, Robin made the point, "what we are trying to do is to make real event driven data sharing." Meaning that rather than having to go through one of these portals to get at interesting information, that information is being pushed towards you (triggered by an 'event' such as an upload or annotation to a catalog record). Again, this event-driven data sharing issue goes back to the idea behind WebHooks, which I talked about in an earlier post.

C. Also, they are wanting to know more about how this project can be sustainably adopted at Zuni, and how our project can easily scale to other museums and other indigenous communities. I think the important point to make here is to focus on the 'information push' aspect of what we're doing. The biggest thing we're doing here is not that we're building a local database at Zuni with catalog records from all the different partner museums, but that we're essentially connecting that local database with the catalogs of the partner museums in a way that data can get pushed back and forth -- this connecting piece is the thing that we hope will scale to other museums and other communities. Reinventing the museum catalog as something that many communities have something to contribute to -- curatorial experts and source communities both.

So in essence, what we have to offer to other museums & source communities are two sides of the same coin -- on the one side, an ethical/social/political stance that wants to open up the way that information is accumulated and shared in museum catalogs; and on the other side, a concrete technological way of making that happen.

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