Hacking Museums Count

A few years ago (has it been that long already??) I wrote about the DPLA Beta Sprint we created for the IMLS Digital Collections and Content Project (see: 12, 3). As part of the sprint, I created Linked Data representations for the IMLS DCC Collection-level records. A portion of those records included basic information about contributing IMLS DCC partners. Behind the scenes this data was used to maintain relationships with partners, but we also started using this information to build browse features and  visualizations of what the collection looked like (see the current IMLS DCC interface, my paper on Collections Dashboards).

In the course of this project I discovered a there is a fundamental ontological difference between how museums and libraries are represented in the current Linked Data cloud.   It was pretty easy to reconcile library entities, because the Public Library Survey data had been ingested into Freebase.  Museums were much more hit-or-miss.  Looking closer that the data, I  realized that libraries were usually represented as a kind of organization, but museums were considered a kind of building.  This may be because much of the information about museums in the U.S. is derived from the National Register of Historic Places dataset that was also ingested into dbPedia/Freebase.

As part of the National Civic Day of Hacking, IMLS has issued the Museum Data Challenge.   Included in the challenge is a minimal set of data on 35,000 museums.   I don’t think I’ll be able to participate directly this weekend, so I thought I’d take a look at the data that IMLS has released and see what I can do to make someone else’s hacking easier this weekend. Also included in the IMLS challenge is the Public Library Service Data (and data from the work of my colleague Christie Koonz,  imaplibraries.org).  Also check out the DPLA Challenge  and the Pocket Archivist Mobile Challenge from NARA.

Goals for the week:

  1. Do any clean up needed. (right now the data *looks* pretty clean, but the challenge suggests that their names and geolocation may be faulty).  The fact that much of the LOD about museums is from NRHP might allow me to identify inconsistencies in the IMLS dataset.
  2. Convert the CSV data into Linked Data.
    1. Identify appropriate Linked Data properties for this data (see below).
    2. Transform the CSV into JSON-LD
      1. publish on GitHub
  3. Associate these representations of museums as organizations with representations of museums as buildings in the current Linked Data cloud.
    1. Submit data to dbPedia/Freebase

Here’s a start on identifying LOD properties for the IMLS data release:

IMLS Field Description   LODProperty LOD Comment
id unique identifier   this is just a autogenerated ID number. Unclear whether this has any meaning to IMLS.
name institution name skos:PrefLabel per Organization ontology.  Alternate v:organisation-name
address institution street address v:street-address vCard
city institution city v:locality vCard
state institution state v:region vCard
zip institution zip code v:postal-code vCard
zip4 institution zip+4 v:postal-code vCard
longitude longitude  decimal degree format World Geodetic System Datum 1984 wgs84_pos#lat wgs84
latitude latitude  decimal degree format World Geodetic System Datum 1984 wgs84_pos#long wgs84
phone phone number v:tel vCard
duns DUNS number  Dun & Bradstreet Numeric Identifier org:Identifier there doesn’t seem to be an RDF property for DUNS numbers yet. Is There a better way to differentiate DUNS from EIN?
ein EIN number  Federal Employer Identification Number org:Identifier there doesn’t seem to be an RDF property for EIN numbers yet.

The IMLS data also includes the following fields,  though I haven’t been able to identify any LOD properties for these yet.  This is actually a bit surprising, since you’d think that U.S. Census data (or at least the properties of Census data) would be a solved problem by now.  For the moment, the information above seems like enough of a start, so I’ll leave these aside.

fipst FIPS State code
fipsco FIPS county code
centract seven character Census tract number
cenblock four character Census block number
fipsplc five-digit place FIPS code
fipsmcd five-digit MCD (Minor Civil Division) FIPS code
fipsmsa four-digit MSA (Metropolitan Statistical Area) FIPS code
cbsa five-digit CBSA code that identifies a CBSA area.
metrod five-digit Metropolitan Division Code
microf micropolitan flag
Metropolitan Area or a “1″  indicating a Micropolitan area
mattype geocoding match type

Next up, I’ll discuss in more depth how museums have been modeled in the current Linked Data environment and suggest some possible models for the IMLS dataset.

Next: What is a Library/Archive/Museum According to Linked Data? 


Online, On-Site, OMG!

This is an unabashedly grumpy post.  For most of the Internet era museums have been obsessed with websites and their impact on real-world visitation – often with the assumption that it is detrimental to the latter.   The “if we put it online nobody will come” fear seems deep seated and won’t die.  It drives not only decisions about what we put online, but also how we do it and how we evaluate websites.  Maybe you think my grumpiness is unfair, as there are some legitimate concerns with this question.  While the research has advanced and individual museum’s attitudes may mature – this basic question eventually crops up somewhere new, like a bad weed.  And when it does, I have to go rattle around and resend links, etc. that help people talk about this question.

They’ll ask, “if we put more and more of our stuff online, are people going to stop coming to our museum?” I can’t tell you how many times I’ve been asked that question…it’s a worry that persists. I’ve developed a pat response:

“Oh my. That’s a real worry. Maybe you haven’t you heard, but ever since the State of Florida started putting pictures of beaches online, nobody vacations in Florida anymore.”
-Paul Marty (TEDxFSU)

No more!   To help us all sort this out, I’ve created a Zotero group that I’ve populated with an initial list of relevant research studies on the issue and will continue to keep adding things as I come across them (it is most certainly not comprehensive at this point). Thanks to the authors of many of the reports listed here, I’ve also used their citations, etc. to identify other resources.  Please join the group and contribute any surveys, reports, etc. that are missing.


And for gosh sakes, next time this question comes up – send people here!


Museum Map

I don’t know why…maybe a healthy dose of doctoral student procrastination…but I started wondering how many museums (and sites, parks, etc.) I’ve visited over the years.  On a lark I started posting them to a Google map and a few hours later ended up with this (click through to the larger version on Google for the second page…sheesh):

View My Museums in a larger map

I’m sure I’ve forgotten some, but I’ll try to keep adding them as they pop into my head. These days I’m using things like Yelp! and Foursquare to check into museums when I go. Wouldn’t this have been a great thing for me to keep track of in the past? But it also makes me wonder what will happen to all the footprints I’m leaving in the digital sand.


CFP: Involving Users in the Co-Construction of Digital Knowledge in Libraries, Archives and Museums


The editors of Library Trends are pleased to announce plans for a special issue titled “Involving Users in the Co-Construction of Digital Knowledge in Libraries, Archives, and Museums.”

This special issue will be guest edited by Drs. Paul F. Marty and Michelle M. Kazmer, College of Communication and Information, Florida State University, with Dr. Corinne Jorgensen (Florida State University), Katherine Burton Jones (Harvard Divinity School), and Richard J. Urban (University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign).


Many libraries, archives, and museums provide their users with social computing environments that include the ability to tag collections, annotate objects, and otherwise contribute their thoughts to the knowledge base of the institution. Information professionals and users have responded to the transition to a web 2.0 world of user-created content by developing open source tools to coordinate these activities and researching the best ways to involve users in the co-creation of digital knowledge.

This rapid influx of new technologies and new methods of interacting with users has come at a time when libraries, archives, and museums still struggle to share data across their own institutions, let alone between different types of institutions. Information professionals in libraries, archives, and museums had barely begun to make progress developing crosswalks and data interoperability standards when, as social computing became the norm on the web, providing the ability for users to manipulate data changed from a cool toy to a basic expectation. Moving forward — and keeping pace with user expectations — requires the coordination of many different users (in all their variety) as they contribute, participate, shape, and create all types of data in all types of contexts.

We need to consider what social computing really means for the future of libraries, archives, and museums, and think carefully about the future trends and long-term implications of involving users in the co-construction of knowledge online. It is important to have broad-based discussions about what happens when users are involved in shaping and directing and guiding the development of online libraries, archives, and museums and their information resources.

For this issue of Library Trends, therefore, we seek authors who can step back and think broadly about those issues that are raised when we bring users into the mix in various ways and at various points in the data/information/knowledge life-cycle. We are interested in receiving high-level theory pieces, supported by research data of course, but with a focus on the long-term trends involved and their implications for libraries, archives, and museums. In particular, we are looking for papers that explore the future trends and long-term implications of the many different ways in which information professionals in libraries, archives, and museums have, can, and should involve their users in the co-construction of digital knowledge based on their online collections.

Sample questions include, but are certainly not limited to:

  • How are libraries, archives, and museums implementing user-contributed data / descriptions of artifacts, objects, or collections on their websites? What are the long-term implications of involving users in the co-description, co-cataloguing of digital knowledge?
  • How are libraries, archives, and museums encouraging users to create online collections of personal favorites or similar items on their websites? What are the long-term implications of involving users in the co-creation, co-curation of digital knowledge?
  • How are libraries, archives, and museums encouraging users to create / structure their own online environments, designing personalized websites or portals specifically suited to individual needs? What are the implications of involving users in the design and structuring of online interfaces for the development and presentation of digital knowledge?
  • How is the education of library, archives, and museum practitioners (and in particular the increase in online and hybrid learning technologies) influencing the ways practitioners subsequently incorporate technology into their user service environments in libraries, archives, and museums?


  • Optional Abstract: December 1, 2009 (see below)
  • Submission Deadline: March 1, 2010
  • Review Decisions: May 15, 2010 (all submissions will be peer-reviewed)
  • Final Versions Due: July 15, 2010
  • Publication: Early 2011


All submissions should be emailed directly to Paul Marty at marty@fsu.edu or Michelle Kazmer at mkazmer@fsu.edu.

For formatting instructions, please see the Library Trends Author Guidelines available here:


If you wish, you may submit an optional abstract (by email to Paul Marty at marty [at] fsu.edu or Michelle Kazmer at mkazmer [at] fsu.edu) for feedback by December 1, 2009.

PDF version of this CFP is available.

More information about Library Trends


Memory Institutions

Thanks to everyone who provided some thoughtful comments on my last post about cultural heritage collections.  I’m still moving in the direction of defining my own universe of what I will consider as “cultural heritage” collections – but it may also mean that I have to craft a my own name for it.

But before I move on, I wanted to poke a little at an alternative to “cultural heritage” that has also been floated as a collective term for the kinds of institutions that I’m interested in — memory institutions.

Lorcan Dempsey described memory institutions as:

Archives, libraries and museums are memory institutions: they organise the European cultural and intellectual record. Their collections contain the memory of peoples, communities, institutions and individuals, the scientific and cultural heritage, and the products throughout time of our imagination, craft and learning. They join us to our ancestors and are our legacy to future generations. They are used by the child, the scholar, and the citizen, by the business person, the tourist and the learner. These in turn are creating the heritage of the future. Memory institutions contribute directly and indirectly to prosperity through support for learning, commerce, tourism, and personal fulfilment.

In the paper linked above, Dempsey doesn’t provide any sources for his ideas about memory institutions – I’m guessing that it may have been inspired by the discussions in scholarly communities about history, memory and culture and the emergence in the U.S. of digital projects like American Memory (followed by a series of state-level “memory” projects).  Like “cultural heritage” there are few clearly stated definitions for “memory institutions.” Birger Hjørland identifies “memory institution” as a metaphor for many kinds of institutions that create collections of materials, particularly cultural heritage materials.   Both Dempsey and Hjørland suggest that the need for such a term is driven by an increasing focus on digital materials that is jostling traditional institutional definitions.

Like cultural heritage,  memory institution has been picked up by lots of other authors without much fuss about what it could or should mean.  I’m haven’t seen any obvious difference yet when one term is used over the other – or if they are even equivalent terms (or if a cultural heritage institution is a kind of memory institution, or vice versa).  Dempsey says that having the right word is a sign of maturity – the concurrent use of LAM, ALM, “cultural heritage” and “memory institutions” suggests that the community’s ideas about convergence are still fluid.

Culture vs. Memory

On my post about cultural heritage,  Jo and Shawn pointed out the dangers of trying to pin down definitions of culture – the deep scholarship that’s considered  that question; the socially bound understandings of culture, etc. etc. Talking about “memory institutions” might seem like a safe way to avoid these pitfalls, but it comes with a whole host of other problems.   As a metaphor “memory” conjures up our personal experience with memory – it’s what’s in our head, it maybe short or long-term, you might have a better memory than me (highly possible).  What is harder to understand is how memory works on a  collective level.  (see also Hjørland on “exosomatic memory“).  We all carry some trace of individual memories that somehow add up to a larger schema that’s shared by other people – or at least would be recognized by other people as a shared memory.

The problems of understanding individual memory and collective memory seem to map nicely on top of the item-level metadata/collection-level metadata issues we’re exploring in the CIMR research group. Just as collective memory is more than just the sum of all our individual memories, collections are more than just the sum of all the items contained in them.  These distinctions could also be helpful when looking at the difference between collections created by an individual – say the Gardener Collection – verses those created by an institution (e.g. the Boston Museum of Fine Arts) or more broadly by a community of practice (a library, archive or museum).

Institutions vs. Collections

Since my last post, I’ve also been thinking about how to abstract away from collections as defined by their institutional/professional home – don’t library collections share some of the same essential features of archival collections when viewed though an archival lens? (or maybe that’s the question – what features do they share?) While there are many references to cultural heritage collections, there seem to be fewer mentions of memory collections – it’s almost always memory institutions.  (although, I admit, it is difficult to cut through the “American Memory Collection” noise in a organic Google search – relying on Google Scholar for this assertion).  Maybe it is a little easier for us to anthropomorphize an institution over a collection, whereas it is easier to see “cultural heritage” as a kind of collection as well as a kind of institution.

One thing this exploration hasn’t done is move me any closer to being able to point to a clearly understood domain.  Like cultural heritage, the domain of memory institutions also is fairly wide open for interpretation.  Perhaps by combining some of charateristics of entities identified as “cultural heritage” with those identified as “memory” a clearer picture will emerge.  But the way still seems clear to move ahead with defining a domain of my choosing (or as people are encouraging me to do, something more like a subset of that larger domain).


Bye bye Summer (Part II)

So what will I be doing this semester?

LIS590QM Qualitative Methods
Another class adding methods to my bag of tricks. This will be more about observation, ethnography, structured and semi-structured interviewing and other techniques.

Sometimes I feel a little frustrated about how difficult it is to be interdisciplinary and to be in the know about what researchers at UIUC are doing. I’ve been trying to be proactive about this and scheduled some informal coffee meetings with faculty who are working in the area (and I’m about to head off to the “Museums Writ Large” reading group). The next two classes will help me get outside of GSLIS, and maybe also get some perspective on what I’m learning here.

LIS590PPL Public Pedagogies & Learning
One of the big holes in my knowledge about museums is the educational theory that underpins much of what we do. I’ve mostly been on the collections/exhibition/technical side of the museum world and have left the educating to the educators. But the more I look at virtual worlds such as Second Life, the more I’m feeling the need to fill that hole with some knowledge. I met Brenda through the IPRH Museums Write Large reading group and was pleased to learn that she’d officially been added to the GSLIS roster of faculty. Her research has focused on how history is presented in museum settings, something close to my heart. The course will itself be historical, tracing the different learning theories used in public institutions such as libraries, archives and museums.

ANTH517 Anthropological Approaches to Memory
Last year while poking around the “community of practice” literature I read a brilliant article by Janet Keller about how blacksmiths learn to do what they do (in Chalkin and Lave. Understanding Practice). This was just around the time that I was reading Lenore Sarasan’s ASC Survey Report on museum computerization in which she says:

Through major problems exist within many documentation systems, they appear to function adequetly becasue they are supported by a strong framework of oral tradition….Indeed, without oral tradition, many collections information systems would fail to fulfill the two basic functions of museum documentation. i.e. to lead the user to the specimen in a reasonable period of time , and to interrelate all the information sources, so that a user may easily find all the information recorded about an object within the system.

There’s been plenty of ink spilled about whether museum professionals are really professionals, or what kind of professionals we are. Even more so in discussing the functional role played by museum information professionals. Most of us learn much of what it means to be a member of the community through “on the job training” (OTJT) and participation in professional associations. All of this has kept me interested in the CoP approach, because I think it helps describe MIPs.

Turns out Janet Keller is faculty right here at UIUC and will be teaching Anthropological Approaches to Memory this fall:

Examines individual memory, the construction of memories in collective practice, and the orchestration of memory in social institutions such as museums and ritual. Reflects critically on primary sources, to integrate theory and ethnography and to compare alternative approaches.

I’m hoping to explore how we, the museum professioanal community, collectively create memory and rituals about what we do, why we do it, and how we formally (museum studies + academic disciplines) and informally (OTJT) transmit that to emerging professionals.

And lastly Hooray! This will be my last full semester of coursework as a PhD student. After this it will be dusting off my notes from the last two years and getting ready for field exams.


WorldCat as a research tool

Recently I learned about OCLC’s beta FictionFinder which is one of the best FRBR inspired implementations I’ve seen. It takes one facet of Google’s page rank to order the initial results of your search – namely the more libraries that hold a Work, the more relevant it must be. Now there are lots of times where FFs model won’t work, especially when doing esoteric research (and yes you can resort on things like date, number of editions, etc. and it does other interesting cool things, but my mind is focused on this particular feature right now). So when do we get Non-FictionFinder? (/me salivates)

I’m trying to sort out some of the impact of different publications about museum cataloging practice. You can look at something and see where it fits into the big picture of the literature at your disposal – but who knows what that meant for curators/registrars/data-bankers, etc. I’d like to say, hey more libraries own this than that, it must have been more important. Except there may be things that were so important they weren’t in the library, they were on my personal reference shelf because I used them all the time. And it’s true that many museum libraries may not participate in OCLC (me thinks…). But its still tempting to think what clues might be there. At least WorldCat is proving a useful to tool for even knowing what’s out there (and cataloged in some unexpected fashion in the UIUC opac and missed in my shelf browsing).

This lead me to wonder whether OCLC tracks the number of libraries who own a work/item over time. Is there some historically relevant research data there? What books persist over time? What are the booms and busts? What does it mean when my collection of Danielle Steel goes from 50 copies to 1 vs. my collection has had 5 copies of Death of a Saleman for the last 15 years. Should that fact be weighted against how many libraries own it?

Lorcan talks about emergent and intentional data, aggregate intentions, and Making data work harder-intentionally.

If we had a similar union catalog of museum records what might it tell us about our collections in aggregate? We don’t have “circulation’ data, but we usually know when and where things have been exhibited. On the market (at least for art) this information has value. Does it translate into value for research? If our collection records are linked to the rights & reproductions database, does it mean something that a particular artwork has been reproduced more than another? Does that make it more relevant for my search?


Inspired Idiots

Hi there.

Yes I’m still alive. I had a very nice holiday traveling homeward and then off to a visit to NYC to see jennyjenny. More on that later.

I’m now wrapping up the on big loose end from last semester – namely the Big Paper. Yes folks still chasing things down ever increasing rabbit holes. I did turn up some juicy morsels at NYU.

I leave you with today’s thoughts. If Lawrence Vail Coleman – AAM President in 1920s-30s – were still alive I’d be taking him out for a gin fizz.

In museum ranks, as among workers in almost any field, there are some people born to the calling – people who work early and late for the fun of it. Museums probably have the benefit of more than the usual proportion of such inspired idiots.”
- LVC The Museum in America, 1939.

This is just one of many gems he throws out. I think I’m going to start a LVC fan page and post the better ones for all to share. An even more evil trick would be to setup a google account using his name and start posting random pieces to Museum-L. Most of these discussion are still relevant today – overworked and underpaid staff, isolated curators, out-of-touch directors. When I’ve posted some of this historical stuff before its been immediately recognized as accurate to current some current situations. But I wonder how much of it is museum professional folklore and how much of it is realistic. This is the kind of stuff you don’t get from quantitative surveys, this is the stuff you get by schlepping across 1930s America to visit 2,000 museums. Who’s doing that today? And how do you overcome a hundred years of inertia?


Modern Principles of Museum Administration

Clearly an article in jest, but there seems to be just a little too much truth in it. I don’t even know where to start unpacking this.

Modern Principles of Museum Administration
by A. Sinnik
From Museum Work, June 1919

Definition of a Museum
A museum is an institution for the collection and display of objects that are of interest only to their owners.

It is also a place where paintings, bric-a-brac, trophies of the chase, etc. are deposited whenever their owner needs to have them stored temporarily without expense to himself.

The Director and His Duties

The Director is appointed to carry out the wishes of Curators, to sign requisitions therefor, and to take steps to provide necessary funds.

He should see that each Curator gets what he wishes, while at the same time getting no more than the other Curators think he should have. In practice these duties are sometimes in conflict.

Another important duty of the Director is to receive applications for jobs from persons who have no knowledge of museum work, and to consider the purchase of worthless specimens.

The director has no rights, bit it is customary to allow him certain privileges and the Curators will see that these are not abused.

No Director is qualified for the position he holds. This applies equally to anyone who may succeed the present incumbrance.

Curators and their Duties
Curators are to be selected for their lack of interest in the public.

They should preferably be engaged in some research of personal interest, if possible on some abtuse subject that connot be finished during their lifetime and will promptly be rejected by their successors. It is also desirable that such research should entail the purchase of expensive books (see paragraphs under Library).

The principle duty of Curators is to make requisitions for supplies and services; it is not however required of them that they should employ their leisure time to do this nor expected that they will sit up nights to draw up requisitions.

If a Curator calls at the office of the Director when the latter is absent, he should leave a requisition on the desk.

Each Curator is to be provided with a private office, and an office for his stenographer. If any room is left, it may be used for the Director’s office. They should have assistants to look after the museum work and laborers or attendants for the care and arrangement of materials on exhibition.

Of the Library and the Purposes Therof

The Museum Library is a place where books may be carefully concealed from Curators. The Librarian should see that books particularly desired by Curators are not purchased. This stimulates the interest of Curators in the Librarian, and a Curator would be surprised and disappointed at finding any book he specifically needed.

Curators on their part will be careful to ask for rare or expensive books. If these are obtained, the Curator should then decide that they are unnecessary.

Curators should take care not to return books promptly, especially if they are likely to be needed by other departments. This leads the various departments to take an interest in each other’s work and may elicit candid and instructive comments theron.

Preparators or Perpatrators
The aim of the Preparator, or as he is sometimes more accurately styled Perpatrator, is to prepare series of un-finished objects; hence he should not complete any piece of work. In accordance with the principles laid down under General Considerations, as much time as possible should be spent seeking for new and complicated methods of work. His opportunities are greater in museums of natural history than in museums of art, though the work of the natural history perpatrator is often termed art because it has not resemblance to nature.

An important duty is that of carefully removing labels from objects that pass through his hands; if they can not be mislaid they should be transposed. This gives the Curator or his assistant stimulating employment and occupies time that might otherwise be wasted in what is termed research.


Attendants and cleaners should not be less than sixty years of age, and preferably in poor health. Incapacitated servants, incompetent clerks, and decrepit or slothful laborers, therefore make the best and most acceptable attendants.

Their principle duties are to read the daily papers and discuss family affairs with one another. Any time not thus occupied is at the disposal of the nearest Curator.

The elevator operator shall be provided with a comfortable seat and interesting literature. He shal make it a part of his duties to discuss personal matters with attendants on the various floors, and officers and visitors should not interrupt him when so engaged.

General Considerations
Each and every department of a museum is superior in importance and methods of administration to any and every other department. There is a seeming paradox in this, but it is practically the only point on which all Curators agreed.

As a corollary to this, it is not expected that any Curator should take any interest in the museum as a whole. Expense and time should never be considered in planning exhibits or rearranging collections. Therefore any economical method of work is to be disregarded if a more expensive method can be devised.

Rules and regulations should be made to conform to the convenience of the employees; if this cannot be done, it shows gross incompetence on the part of the Director.

Suggstions to Visitors

No visitor should harbor the delusion that the Director, or for that matter any member of the museum staff has anything special to do.

Visitors wishing to see the Director on unimportant matters should preferably call about lunch time or just before he wishes to leave the building. Visitors really desiring information should be treated with silient contempt.

Any visitor not finding on exhibition any object he may wish to see displayed and labelled as he thinks should be done is requested to file a complaint with the Trustees.

In most occupations people are supposed to know something about the work in which they are engaged, but with museum work it is different and the less acquaintance one has with museum administration and the fewer facts he has to interfere with his theories, the better.

Hence, visitors should not hesitate to offer Museum Officers advice — it is stimulating to the visitor and enlightening to the Curator.