This case study will reflect on what can (and can’t) be achieved in a year, will offer provocations with regard to the challenges faced by the museums sector, and suggestions as to the best direction for future activity.
In terms of training and reach, the project was highly successful: engaging 26 cultural institutions, 20 universities, creating 241 new Wikipedia editors and reaching 460 people through 23 conferences and seminars. But in terms of producing open knowledge, results are harder to quantify, with written material vastly outweighing images, largely down to repeated difficulties encountered surrounding the open licensing of out of copyright imagery. Instigating policy change was also difficult, and the presentation will explore the reasons for this.
In MGS’ experience, the sector is extraordinarily enthusiastic about the possibilities offered by collaboration with open knowledge projects, but Wikipedia’s rules and policies can be opaque and difficult to navigate. Wikipedia’s status as a tertiary resource relying on secondary sources and in search for a neutral point of view can and often does clash with an academic understanding of true objectivity as impossible, and where cutting-edge research will often disprove accepted thinking on and around a subject.
One interesting and unforeseen outcome of the project were instances of the co-production of open knowledge artefacts between cultural and educational institutions, where an alignment of objectives resulted in productive, mutually beneficial partnerships. This model will be compared with that of more traditional residencies in educational institutions. Another unexpected outcome was the internal organisational impact the residency had within Scotland’s national development agency, Museums Galleries Scotland, and Glasgow Life/Glasgow Museums, where the resident was embedded for the first four months of the project.
Studies show that the opening of museums’ collections online can increase in-person museum visits, pointing to a positive correlation between engagement with web based information about a museum and its collection, and a physical visit. (CHIN 2004, IMLS 2008) Open access to heritage collections can inspire braver, more innovative practice, and open up new revenue streams. At a time when museums are under increasing financial pressure, open culture should be able to provide both inspiration and access to new audiences. But often, open knowledge can simply feel like a luxury that cannot be afforded. So where do we go from here?
Evaluation of the project is ongoing at the time of writing, but this presentation will put forward the case for the necessity of a three pronged approach for success in open cultural heritage: Infrastructure, Skills & Attitude, which will inform the second phase of the project, due to finish in June 2016.
CHIN / Canadian Heritage Information Network: 2004 Survey of Visitors to Museums’ Web Space and Physical Space: Survey Documentation and Findings, prepared by the Statistical Consultation Group Statistics Canada for the Canadian Heritage Information Network February 2005. http://www.rcip-chin.gc.ca/contenu_numerique-digital_content/2004survey-2004survey/index-eng.jsp, accessed October 2015.
IMLS / Institute of Museum and Library Services: 2008 National Study on the Use of Libraries, Museums and the Internet, Institute of Museum and Library Services, http://interconnectionsreport.org/reports/ConclusionsFullRptB.pdf accessed October 2015.