Digital | Joined-up thinking

Kevin Gosling, Issue 119/11, 01.11.2019
There are few technical barriers to creating a nationwide collections database - so why haven't we?
Before the web came along, if you wanted to find out which museums had a certain kind of object, you did it one museum at a time. Ridiculously, that’s still the case. While many museums have online collections, far more don’t. Even if they did, who wants to slog through hundreds of standalone databases? 

But, as Mapping Digitised Collections, our study for the Department for Digital, Culture, Media & Sport, highlights, there are few technical barriers to bringing together data from every museum and making it accessible to everyone.

The study also recalls false starts such as Cornucopia (1998) and Culture Grid (2005). These proved it could be done, but faded once short-term project funding ran out.

The Museums Association’s Empowering Collections report emphasises why we need this infrastructure, but the UK apparently prefers to splash the cash creating digital assets that we can’t connect. Other countries manage to make the long-term policy commitment required to deliver this basic connectivity. Why can’t we?

Kevin Gosling is the chief executive of the Collections Trust


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29.11.2019, 23:28
Agree with Rupert Shepherd. Could we also have terminology control? Why are more and more commercial databases coming on the market? They may be customisable for individual collections/institutions use but simultaneously move further away from a universal communication system.
21.11.2019, 20:19
Why can't we? The answer's in the paragraph above: we work in a funding environment that finds it very difficult to commit to the long term, and a national collections aggregator would be a piece of infrastructure that would need ongoing maintenance and support. Until we, as a country, stop seeing something like this as a one-off project, ideally funded by external sponsors, and treat it as part of the nation's day-to-day business, we'll continue to find it very difficult to create sustainable resources for the common good.