Think big, start small, move fast

How the York Museums Trust started opening up its collection – OpenGLAM Case study

More and more libraries, museums and other cultural institutions publish their collections online, often allowing users to reuse the material for research or creative purpose by licensing it openly. For institutions that start planning such a step, it may seem daunting at first: not all of their collection may be digitised, the metadata is not always perfect, copyright information is sometimes missing or the images have been taken a long time ago and are not of the best quality. Working towards having the perfect online collection is such a time-consuming process that it can get in the way of publishing any of the collection at all. Coupled with that is the fear that publishing raw, imperfect material online can damage an institution’s reputation.

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Replica Roman Figurine, York Museums Trust, YORYM : 2006.2914

This case study by OpenGLAM (an initiative run by Open Knowledge International that promotes free and open access to digital cultural heritage held by Galleries, Libraries, Archives and Museums), describes how the York Museums Trust went about publishing their online collection, as well as the effect this had, including different examples of the reuse of their content. By publishing the collection fast, and allowing people to reuse their material, even though it was not yet perfect, they managed to engage with their audience, stimulate reuse and generate new interest in their collection and museums. It is exactly this type of approach (think big, start small, move fast) that Michael Edson, Associate Director/Head of Digital at United Nations Live Museum for Humanity, identified as on of the patterns that accelerates change in organisations last year at the Openlab workshop in December 2015 (see How Change Happens).

The study is based on an interview conducted with Martin Fell, Digital Team Leader at York Museums Trust and has been written within the frame of OpenGLAM’s current involvement in Europeana Space, a project that works on increasing and enhancing reuse of Europeana and other online collections of digital cultural content by creative industries especially. We hope that the story of how York Museums Trust opened up their rich collections can inspire other institutions to take steps in this direction, because, as Martin put it: “To just say the content is not good enough for us, and therefore no one can see it, did not sit right with me”.

Read the full case study here: OpenGLAM_Case Study_York Museums Trust_Feb2016