Open GLAMS

By Holly Grover

The beauty of doing research on open culture is that a wealth of case studies, conferences, discussions and blog posts is always available online – usually under a CC-license. Unsurprisingly, finding arguments against Open GLAMs (Galleries, Libraries, Archives and Museums) has been somewhat more challenging–mostly because of journal paywalls.  A handful of these are summarised below, though there is undoubtedly much more to discover. For those with an interest and stake in our cultural institutions, the debate over open GLAMs is a fascinating one to follow.

‘Open GLAM logo’ by the Open Knowledge Foundation is made available under a Creative Commons Attribution 3.0 Unported licence

Open GLAMs is a growing movement, with developments and events taking place around the globe. Joris Pekel, presenting at the EVA/MINERVA digital heritage conference in Israel, provides a good  introduction to Open GLAMs, including the opportunities and challenges presented by open content. Over in the UK, the annual Open Culture conference webpage features videos, presentations, and resources from their 2011 and 2012 events. Here in New Zealand, we’ve had the National Digital Forum, and for those who missed it, the talks from past conferences are available online.

In the US, the Open GLAM blog provides up-to-date summaries of the events, arguments, and developments in the cultural heritage sector. Amongst these posts is an eloquent argument from Nick Poole, CEO of the Collections Trust in the U.K., who presents a strong case for open culture:

“I would argue that in many ways our industry, the ‘cultural heritage sector’, has more or less operated as a Commons for decades. The principle of the Commons is written into our language – the language of the Public Realm, of accepting custodianship of material and intellectual culture on behalf of society, of culture as a civic duty. Public institutions accepting title to material culture on behalf of the wider public are accepting that material into a Commons, on the principle that the public will continue to enjoy the right to engage with and benefit from it.”

Poole pushes for the opening up and digitalisation of collections, increasing opportunities for public interaction. He is also well aware of the challenges facing the cultural heritage sector:

“I am not suggesting that museums, archives or libraries unilaterally assert all of their knowledge and collections into the Public Domain – we have to support a stable process of transition to new, more sustainable economic models.”

This transition is well underway, especially in large cultural institutions such as the Walters Art Museum, Europeana (a portal for digitised collections throughout Europe), and closer to home, the National Library of New Zealand  and Te Papa.

While these organisations are leading the way, it is widely recognised that many GLAMs face challenges in following their example. It may be a lack of human resources, insufficient staff training or budgetary constraints. There are concerns about intellectual property and copyright, especially as image reproductions are frequently relied on to generate income (although many question the validity of copyrighting reproductions of works in the first place, especially of those in the public domain).

The Bard by John Martin, 1817, is in the Public Domain. Made available via Wikimedia Commons, the image is housed in the Yale Center for British Art.

In light of (and despite) these obstacles, the NMC Horizon Report: 2012 Museum Edition predicts that in two to three years’ time open content will have gained critical momentum amongst museums. The report stresses that in order to achieve this, GLAMs will need a “comprehensive digital strategy,” and a Board of Trustees and executive management who recognise the importance of technology “in an era when audiences expect to consume information whenever and wherever they want.”

The NMC report also discusses opening up pedagogies and behind-the-scenes activity to spur public interest in Museums: a practice exemplified by the open access wiki used during the creation of the Horizon report. The idea of public and custodian interaction is taken further by the GLAM-Wiki initiative, which was designed to combine the expertise of staff with the global reach of Wikipedia – see this case study on the British Museum.

Cultural heritage institutions, summarises the Open GLAM blog, “are having to re-think the way they license material and share it with the public.” The NMC report sees this as an opportunity for GLAMs to lead the way in open culture:

“New intellectual property licensing options have resulted in some museums rethinking the dissemination of content. Many in museums believe that they should be at the forefront of open content modeling — illustrating how best to share content, establish standards, and take part in the global conversations about policy, the Creative Commons, and open culture.”

For more New Zealand discussion of Open GLAMs, check out our case studies on Te Papa, Upper Hutt City Library and UC CEISMIC.

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